The Day After

What will you do on Nov. 4?

October 19, 2020

The day after the election -- regardless of the outcome -- is going to be difficult. We are in a country that is severely divided, and we have lost hundreds of thousands to this pandemic that we refuse to take seriously. Knowledge workers are safely working from their homes, or even vacation homes, while millions are out of work and others are deemed “essential” workers who risk their health daily to face an invisible enemy that we cannot see.

With white supremacists roaming the streets with military-grade guns and plotting to kidnap governors and dismantle the local police forces, it feels like a postapocalyptic world, or, as I keep saying, the future we (aka Margaret Atwood) have long dreaded has arrived and we are living in it right now.

I am an eternal optimist, but even I am struggling to envision what the future will look like. This past week, it felt as if the topic of The Day After was everywhere I turned:

  • Minda Harts was asking on LinkedIn, "The one thing I am not seeing many conversations about is what companies and organizations are doing to prepare for after the election. We might need some therapists on deck. Are you seeing any preparation for supporting what comes next?"
  • Harvard Business Review was covering it in their daily email: "Consider sending a message to your team acknowledging the gravity of the moment and the anxiety people might be feeling right now."
  • And then it was on the agenda in our weekly senior leadership meeting.

A few weeks earlier, it had looked like this:

  • Family members and longtime friends wondered if they should have guns in the house, just in case …
  • BIPOC friends seriously considered moves to Canada, Germany, Mexico … out of this country.

These conversations have brought back memories of The Day After just four years ago. At the time, I had the privilege of being with a bunch of folks in my neighborhood, in a community organizing meeting held in a local church, with BIPOC artists, activists and heads of CBOs. Together, we held the space for processing our fears, sadness and anger and for talking about ways to strengthen ourselves for what was to come. At the center of that conversation was how do we protect BIPOC folks -- especially the Black and brown boys -- from what is to come? What has come feels like it is a time of reckoning.

Four years ago, I was in a church with community organizers and artists, a community that is my psychological safe space of resourcing and renewal and hope and optimism. It is the space where I go to resource myself and to be inspired to continue to do the work I do even when facing the direst of situations. Throughout the past year, I have returned again and again to Beverly Tatum’s description of race- and gender-based affinity groups as a space to retreat, repair, compare notes, restore and resource ourselves so we can go back out into the world and fight the good fight.

And here we are four years later, still surviving and doing the work, even though in many ways it has gotten so much more difficult: the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19, over eight million more in poverty, more rights lost, a handmaiden brought onto the Supreme Court -- and that’s just last week’s news.

What has become clear to me through dozens of conversations is that most folks want to be in what they consider to be their psychological safe place the day after, when many fear that the current climate of “unrest and retaliation” is all but guaranteed to spike. For some, that is with family and friends, for others it is with church members, for some it is in a seminar room intellectually dissecting how we got here and for others that is with protesters marching in the streets.

My first thoughts are of those in my immediate circle -- in my house. Gathering is now virtual. There will be no hugs through tears the way there was four years ago. For me, the day after will be focused on providing that space for those who want and need it. My psychological safe space is in the doing, being the coach, the friend, the mother, the neighbor, the listening ear. Actively doing the work of providing that space to others makes me feel safe.

What are your plans for the day after?

Thanks to my friend and city councilor Kim Janey for meeting with me this afternoon and helping me to find the words I needed for this post.

Mary Churchill is associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, where she also teaches in the higher education administration program. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis (spring 2021, Johns Hopkins University Press), which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.


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