Two years after the United States elected Donald Trump to the presidency—a wealthy reality TV star famously accused of assaulting multiple women, scamming his way into fortune, and whose campaign was built on racism and stoking the racial fear and resentment of white Americans—voters returned to the polls in record numbers, with record-breaking turnout from America’s young people.
The country now has its first openly gay governor, its first two Native women elected to Congress, its first two Muslim congresswomen, and the first Black woman to Congress from Massachusetts. Through ballot amendments and initiatives, 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians now have their voting rights restored; Michigan legalized marijuana; Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah expanded Medicaid coverage; Colorado removed forced-labor language from its state constitution; and Washington State passed policing reforms aimed at preventing the use of deadly force and holding accountable those who do so without justification.
At the same time, Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia passed ballot amendments protecting the “sanctity of unborn rights” that look to restrict abortion access. Montana struck down Medicaid expansion, and several states passed Marsy’s Law victim rights amendments to their state constitutions. Andrew Gillum, who was polling ahead in the Florida gubernatorial race last week, has conceded. As of writing this, the Florida senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson is still too close to call, and Stacey Abrams has refused to concede the Georgia governor’s race. As absentee and provisional ballots continue to trickle in, in the wake of some of the worst and most outright voter suppression in recent history, Abrams hopes for a runoff. Moreover, surprising few but disappointing many, Beto O’Rourke conceded late Tuesday night to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in Texas’s Senate race.
When O’Rourke addressed Texans and his progressive audience across the nation, he said: “It is the greatness to which we aspire, and the work we are willing to put into it to achieve it, by which we will be known going forward.” He’s right. After this election, there is work left to do in all of our communities. As the generation driving progressive change in this country, we are just getting started. Building lasting progressive infrastructure from the ground up was always going to take longer than one election. In 2016, Steve King won his Iowa House district with 61.2 percent of the vote; this election, his victory margin dropped a ten points to 51 percent. Even where Democratic candidates didn’t “win,” they made significant inroads that can reshape the political landscape over the next several years and election cycles—but only if we continue to meaningfully organize and invest in the progressive infrastructure in those places. Notably, in places where Democratic candidates lost or are likely to lose this cycle, progressive values still won: Florida and its reinstatement of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, while giving likely victories to Republican candidates, is one example.
This election was consequential, but more than anything, its results reflect the complex dynamics of a changing nation. A nation that desperately needs new voices representing its people—from those who are unafraid to confront forces of inequality and oppression, committed to rewriting the rules that guide our economic and social realities, and inspired to reimagine today’s systems and institutions to uplift and advocate for the most vulnerable among us. We knew this before Tuesday, and we know this now: who writes the rules matters.
What happened this week was an important step forward for our nation. However, everyone who naively believed that a blue wave was coming this election, one that would completely reshape politics as we know it, does not understand how waves work. They start far out at sea, slowly building their power before they reach the shore. The tides of this country are changing, but we must recognize that this moment is the first gust of wind on the open ocean—setting in motion a pathway toward building lasting power—that we are all part of growing over the coming years. We can change government and who is in government if we build locally, lead with our values, and refuse to compromise in our belief that a different reality is possible: one built by many, for the good of all.