Last night, glimmers of hope shone through.
Virginia elected Danica Roem, who’s among the first openly trans state legislators in the country, besting the anti-LGBTQ lawmaker who penned a bathroom bill. The state soundly rejected Ed Gillespie’s watered-down Trumpism in the governor’s race. A socialist running against the red-baiting Republican House Majority Whip won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Andrea Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the first black transgender woman elected to any U.S. public office, ever.
In Maine, some 80,000 low-income residents will now have access to Medicaid after state residents voted to expand one of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, even after their half-crazed, racist Republican governor callously vetoed the move.
The good news reigned across the country: Ravi Bhalla, the Sikh man labeled a “terrorist” by his opponents will be the next mayor of Hoboken, NJ; Philadelphia elected a radically pro-civil rights district attorney in Larry Krasner; Jennifer Carroll Foy, a black woman and former public defender who backed Bernie Sanders, handily defeated the Republican incumbent in a thoroughly red Virginia district. Phil Murphy put an end to eight years of Chris Christie in New Jersey.
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And in some cases, these people did it in spite of their party. After Democrats swore up and down that they were coming for Virginia Majority Whip Jackson Miller’s seat months ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the party essentially cut Lee Carter, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, off for refusing to play by their rules.
In the days ahead, there will be plenty of analysis about what happened across the country last night. Among the factors at play are undoubtedly a rejection of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-everyone-who’s-not-a-white-male administration at the local level. But voters also chose unapologetically leftist candidates, and rejected the notion that they needed to fall in line and accept the measly concessions they’re offered in a historical moment we’re told is owned by Trump and his ilk.
We’ve also been told time and time again—including by people that claim to be on our side—that “identity politics” are tearing the party apart. While the Republicans bask in their economically anxious voting base’s support from the elevated view of Koch-funded penthouses, the party with the best chance of putting up a real fight against the Trump agenda is preoccupied with infighting about diversity and representation, rather than the real issues, or so the argument goes. These progressives in name only argue we have to choose: We can either focus on rights for people of color, or champion LGBTQ people, or focus on economics and class as the basis for society’s ills. But last night was a stunning denunciation of that orthodoxy. What if the left can fight oppression on all fronts at the same time, rather than being hemmed in by a false choice about our priorities? What if we actually can have it all?
If you listen to what the people want, make plans to give it to them, and give candidates with grassroots support the extra push the Democratic Party can provide in the form of manpower, money, and resources, we can win. We don’t have to settle. We just have to fight and demand more.
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Correction: The text of this post has been updated to clarify that Roem is not the first trans person elected to a state legislature. That was Althea Garrison, who was elected to the Massachusetts House in 1992 and served one term from 1993 to 1995.