Co-written by Caryn McTighe Musil and Gwen Dungy, this post is inspired by Richard Oberacker’s lyrics from “Everything Happens” from the musical Bandstand.
Regardless of the outcomes of the midterms on November 8, for many it will be a catastrophe. Everyone will have their theories and ideas to explain why the results happened as they did. Some people will say there were not enough of this kind or that who voted, or a candidate’s campaign was the problem, or the election was stolen, or it was fate.
Any reason as to why/is a reason you supply.
Whatever our stand on the election, “It just happens/Everything happens.”
Once that result happens, then what do we do?
It is a fact….
And the only sane response
is to adjust
Not to wish it hadn’t happened
When it must
The challenge to some of us who believe agency is a critical dimension of being a responsible citizen is that Oberacker’s lyrics at first glance seem to suggest no one can effect change. Or it doesn’t matter what you do. “Everything happens,” he writes, insinuating perhaps that we can only be passive recipients of what is whirling around us. But is that what his lyrics are saying?
He ends his song this way:
What matters when things happen
Is what happens after.
It turns out that Oberacker is not giving away agency. Instead, he is asking us to exercise it. While you can’t change what has already happened, it takes agency—individual and collective– to influence what happens next. Regardless of whether you see the results as a catastrophe or not, it takes work to move forward in a positive direction or deny the negative impact of what we thought was a catastrophe. Instead of giving in to what happens, we are called to exercise action in response to it, whether in our favor or not.
Once the election results are in, we need to think about what happens. Now what? What will you do?
Caryn McTighe Musil is a Distinguished Fellow at the American Association of Colleges and Universities.