A Bit of Hope, Courtesy of the Students at Wash U: Scenes from the Presidential Debate
It’s been difficult to be hopeful during this election. Racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia and myriad isms and phobias fill the air, permeating every screaming breath we take, defended and dismissed as mere opinions, as standard party politics, while we ache and beg to be heard, to be seen, to be saved. The statistics tell us half the country at best doesn’t care about the other half the country, at worst objectively hates the other half and wants them destroyed, stripped of rights and voices. Words are attacked until they are defended as “just words” while actions are accepted and defended while kneeling is met as an act of terrorism. It’s been hard and it’s been painful and it’s fundamentally affected the way many of us view this country, view humanity, view this world.
We’ve ruined everything. So our hope falls to the younger generation. And as they are mocked, written off, cast aside with every thinkpiece about how useless and entitled millennials are, the campus of Washington University in St. Louis gave me the first pure feeling of hope I’ve had in over a year.
College is college. It’s a mixed bag of woke and bro, of apathy and a yearning for a better world, whatever that better looks like. It’s where people come together, some with a developed and deeply aware understanding of the world and some with worldviews shaped only by what their parents have told them to believe.
When I got to Wash U, I expected that mix to be more visible. I expected at least a sizable contingent of college Republicans, of signs highlighting the rape culture Trump himself seems a yuge fan of, and lots and lots of Harambe.
Harambe, yes. So much Harambe. And I did see one “I’d grab Ivanka’s pussy if she wasn’t my daughter” sign, that kind of attempt at socially aware satire that misses the mark in a way only a collegiate incest-based sexual assault joke can. But beyond that…I saw hope. I saw art. I saw passion.
I saw brave beauty, like these students with their “Meet a Muslim” sign, seen here walking around the Fox News stage.
And I saw some pretty decent jokes.
“GOP is in the stone age! Dinosaurs would vote for Hillary!”
I overheard this young man give an interview. When asked about his Trump piñata (that he was carrying by the crotch) he said something to the effect of, “it’s like a cartoon character, you just can’t believe it’s real.” And he sounded exasperated. These are 18-22 year-olds. And they sound exhausted just like the rest of us.
I saw very, very few Trump signs. Certainly not among the students themselves. The people I saw wearing Trump shirts were scant, to say the least, and middle-aged, not the average age of the Wash U students.
And the only people I saw carrying Trump signs were in fact with the Trump campaign.
I scoped their badges before taking this photo. My badge said “media.” Theirs said “campaign.”
Even the Fox News area, the area I envisioned as being the safe space for young republicans, was sparsely attended and mostly filled with signs mocking Trump and the GOP. This may have been a perspective trick. Fox News had a massive stage and a large distance between their stage and protective fence.
This was the Fox stage:
Notice how much grass there is between the stage itself and those around the fence.
MSNBC, on the other hand, had a significantly smaller and more intimate stage area with people just feet away.
I genuinely didn’t see students holding pro-Trump signs. I saw a fair amount of Gary Johnson, a couple “Hillary Killed Harambe” (so. much. Harambe.) but mostly, it was stuff like this that filled the Fox News area. Which was probably why they had so much distance between the stage and the people. So signs like this (which was almost all of them) wouldn’t be visible on air.
The students and media alike gathered in the dining hall to watch the debate.
There was a sense in that room and across the whole campus that this election was important. Important in a different way than 2008, when I was 23 and just a year removed from college myself. Barack Obama gave us hope and joy, this sense he’d save the world. The students I saw yesterday…it was the overwhelming knowledge, this shared understanding, that Trump would destroy it. They understood. And they were here to stop it. To save us from ourselves.
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