Many of us awoke on Wednesday with some sense of bewilderment about the national election results. As an immigrant to this country from Mexico, as the father of two teen-aged boys and of a daughter with significant special needs, I continue to struggle with understanding how to reconcile the results of a campaign that very overtly brought hateful, racist, misogynist, nationalist, and xenophobic language into our daily existence. On a personal level, I continue to struggle with that.
Indeed, our country will continue to grapple with how to move forward in a way that bridges the tremendous divide among us that was made very evident by these election results, while ensuring that we do not normalize the divisiveness and vitriol that pervaded the campaign.
As a professional in the field of parks and recreation, I’ve reflected a great deal about how we move forward now that — as President Obama reminded us — the sun has indeed risen each day since election night. Although I take great issue with the hateful language that became very present during the national campaign, it is misguided to assume that everyone that voted for Mr. Trump is in fact racist or misogynist or xenophobic.
Indeed, I believe this election highlighted great divisions in our country, as well as the very real issue of folks feeling left behind. This has been greatly magnified in many of our communities that have not had the benefit of the economic improvements that others have enjoyed. Throughout our country, the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is stark and widening every day. Our cities have become increasingly unaffordable, and many residents are being displaced as property values increase and development pushes lower-income residents out to more affordable communities. Many of our communities outside of our urban centers have indeed been left out of the prosperity that has benefited some areas.
So, what do we do now? As parks and recreation professionals, we serve the residents and visitors in our jurisdictions each and every day as we seek to improve their lives. We respond to their needs, but we also work to advocate on behalf of the ideas and issues we believe our profession is charged with:
- encouraging the development of healthy lifestyles
- creating opportunities for communities to engage with each other and become stronger and closer
- educating about and advocating on behalf of preserving our environment
In our work, we have the privilege of working directly with millions of Americans, and NRPA’s three pillars provide cohesion and a framing for our work around health and wellness, social equity, and conservation in our efforts to improve the lives of the people we serve. Although much of our work is local and guided by state and local policies and practices, make no mistake: all three pillars of our work are at risk if the “promises” of the campaign are fulfilled. As such, we must engage with our national and federal partners and strongly advocate and hold them accountable so that much of our great work is not undone, so that our communities do not move backward.
As I speak with my family, friends and colleagues about the results of the election, I am convinced that while on some level we must professionally continue to work within the structures that are in place, we also have the responsibility of ensuring that hatred and divisiveness cannot be tolerated in our communities. We must re-double our efforts to stand up to bullying and abuse and to ensure that the residents we serve are clear about this intolerance of hate. We must also do even more to ensure that the facilities, open space, and programs that we provide are indeed open and accessible to all. In fact, we must make even greater effort to engage our neediest residents and ensure that we are serving them as well. Our residents with special needs, our immigrants and refugees, our seniors, our LGBTQ community members, our African-American and Latino neighbors, and all of our neighbors in need must know that we stand up for them and that we stand up for love.
¡Si se puede!
Jesús Aguirre is the Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation and NRPA Board Member.