A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
What a difference a year makes! Waking up after Election Day in 2017 is incredibly different from last November, when we faced the prospect of a misogynist-in-chief in the White House, starring in a four-year reality show of his own creation at our expense.
Trump and his cronies have worked hard to undermine every fundamental of our society: trust, solidarity, and equal opportunities for all. From the environment to health care, voting rights to immigration and education, they’ve relentlessly chipped away the bonds that hold us together.
But we’ve worked harder, and smarter. We’ve come together, and dawn has finally come. We had to take to the streets and then to the polls to defend our nation’s beliefs, but we did it.
Now, just a year later, Democrats and Progressives have reasons to feel proud. Tuesday’s wins point a path towards even greater gains in midterm elections next year, which can deal a death blow to Trump’s heartless agenda.
You know the headlines: the next governors of New Jersey and Virginia are Democrats, and Maine is the first state where voters overruled their Republican governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid, opening the door for more states to demand greater access to essential care for those who need it most.
Philadelphia voters elected a Civil Rights Attorney as their new District Attorney, and a wave of progressive candidates marked wins all the way down the ballot, from school boards to city councils and state legislatures, all across the country.
But the real story of 2017 is about a movement, one that People’s Action has been proud to nurture and support. It’s about people of color, immigrants, transgender people, women and young folks moving from protesting in the streets to contesting for governing power, and taking their rightful places in city halls and state capitols all across this country.
It’s the story of the resistance movement, which has stood up to daily challenges from white supremacy, corporate greed, xenophobia and gender oppression, and kept marching, all the way from the Women’s March on Washington to the ballot box this November.
It’s the beginning of a new kind of politics in this country: movement politics. It’s a politics that is fueled by people power rather than big money. It’s a politics that empowers the folks most impacted by injustice to fight not just for a seat at the table, but to win their right to run the table.
It’s about having bold, visionary candidates who reflect their communities’ true diversity and concerns, who are unafraid to speak the truth, and run for office in ways that inspire and motivate new and infrequent voters to head to the polls. This is what won on Tuesday night.
But vision takes time, and effort to become reality. Back in 2015, People’s Action committed to developing a pipeline of candidates and campaign staff to recruit, train and run grassroots leaders for office. In April of this year, at our “Rise Up” convention in Washington, more than seventy of these leaders committed to join us as we move from protest to power, and run at every level.
In Virginia, Danica Roem defeated Bob Marshall, a 13-term Republican and the state’s most socially conservative lawmaker, to become the first openly transgender person in a U.S. statehouse. There’s poetic justice to Danica’s win. She unseated the man who once proudly called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe,” and authored a hateful bill to keep trans people out of restrooms in schools, rest stops and government buildings.
With Trump and state legislators all across the country now aiming to take rights away from transgender people, Danica’s victory is a testament to individuals and our communities standing up to fight – and win – for what we truly believe in: our best hopes for who we, and our country, can be, when we stand together.
In Montana, where Republicans control both the State House and the State Senate, and whites make up nearly 90 percent of the population, the voters of Helena, the state’s capital city, elected Wilmot Collins – a Liberian refugee – to be their next mayor. This makes Collins the first Black mayor in the state’s history.
Renee Van Nett, an Anishinaabe woman who for years has been a leader in her indigenous community and the greater Duluth area, is now the first person of color to be elected to Duluth’s city council! A longtime member of TakeAction Minnesota, a People’s Action member group, Renee has been on Duluth’s Civilian Review Board and ran on issues like community policing, employment and access to unions and accessibility to food, housing and education.
Guess what? As Tuesday shows, these are the issues that matter to voters, in Duluth as in all across this country.
Nicole Johnston, a single mother in Aurora, Colorado ran with a slate of four women for City Council. Three of these four won. Nicole, who was supported by Colorado People’s Action, made climate justice a central issue of her campaign, drawing attention to the environmental and societal damage cause by fracking. She defeated an incumbent backed by oil and gas interests in a 5-way race, by 49.6 percent of the vote.
Zak Idan, a Somali refugee, was elected to Tukwila city council in Washington State. Idan arrived in the United States at age eleven after fleeing his war-torn homeland, then spending years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
Zak knows full well the value of strong public education, having started his own path to becoming an engineer through Washington’s public university system while still in high school, taking classes at Highline Community College through the Running Start program.
A member of OneAmerica Votes, a People’s Action affiliate, Zak has rallied his community to exercise and defend their rights against the onslaught of anti-immigrant hostility coming out of Washington, DC.
Danica, Wilmot, Renee, Nicole and Zak. Remember these names, you’ll be hearing them again as the fight continues. And they’re just a few of many: all across this country, momentum for positive change is building. We are building power to fight back to the hateful rhetoric and actions of Trump and his cronies, and have shown in this year’s elections that there is a better way, one that the people want.
People’s Action is proud to have played a key role in making movement politics real in 2017. And as we head into 2018, the winds of change are in our sails. But there are more challenges to come, starting with the the GOP’s massive tax giveaway which we must rally to defeat. it will take the best of who we are to move from dawn into the light of day. It is still up to us to stand up, stand together, and move ahead, courageously.
First published by OurFuture.org.
Laurel Wales is deputy director of movement politics for People’s Action.