What it means to stay in the struggle after the election

On Saturday, for the first time in months, nightmares didn’t disturb my rest. Instead, I woke — several times — to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” running through my head. 

No complaints here. 

When you heard the news that Joe Biden won the election, I hope you let yourself feel joy. I hope you danced in your living room or in the street. Maybe you waved your rainbow flag, called your chosen family or kissed someone wonderful. I, for one, cried in relief.

We didn’t just deserve to rejoice this weekend; we needed to. Happiness is healing. Celebrations build community. Laughter is strengthening. So drink up this moment because we are going to need all of our strength for the battle ahead. 

We need to go forward into a new future, not back to what we have come to think of as normal. A return to normal is a return to a world where most of our country struggles to survive. Normal is inadequate health care and student debt. Normal is low wage workers struggling to feed their families. Normal is gerrymandering, voter suppression and no campaign finance reform. Normal is transgender women murdered. Normal is police violence and an expanding prison system. Normal is tear gas at Standing Rock. We have tolerated normal for far too long.

A return to normal is also impossible. Trump’s followers aren’t going anywhere and the Republican party will almost certainly continue to embrace and court them. Organized white supremacists will continue to be shameless and bold. Fascism still looms. 

Voting Trump out of office is not the end of our battle. We’ve reached the part in the story when the rebels blow up the Death Star for the first time. This is when Fred and George Weasley drive Dolores Umbridge out of Hogwarts. This is victory at Helm’s Deep. 

The next chapter of this fight will be harder, I’m sorry to say. The Supreme Court is no longer a friend to LGBT rights and Roe v. Wade may be overturned. Black, brown and Indigenous communities continue to be devastated by COVID-19. And if you think life during a pandemic is bad, remember that we only have a few years to stop climate change. 

I’m heartened that I probably don’t need to tell you this. For the first time in my memory, the left seems to know that simply electing a Democrat to the White House won’t be enough. We need to pressure the Democratic party to pursue progressive policies, instead of slouching back into business as usual. Equally urgent, we need to expand a progressive base.

Anyone who tells you that they know exactly how to pursue progressive politics in this moment is deluding you, or just foolish. Progressive policies, like Medicare for All and canceling student debt, remain very popular, but we can’t seem to find a way to translate that support into political capital. I’m not sure how to change that, but I am certain that our movement will be more successful if we all stay in the fight. 

Trump’s fascism galvanized wide-spread activism, but maintaining that momentum will be difficult. It’s easy to organize against an obvious threat, but it will be harder to convince the Democratic party to take meaningful steps toward the future we need. 

In this circumstance, we would be wise to focus more of our attention on the local level. While the 2020 Democratic primary process demonstrated that progressives are an important constituency, we still don’t have the numbers it will take to sway the Democratic party. Nor is it reasonable to believe that we can successfully elect third-party candidates nationally. But locally, our time, dollars and energy won’t just go further; locally, we can actually win. 

I’m talking about real victories, like voting out prosecutors such as Ron O’Brien. (All of this is a long-winded way of saying that someone besides Scott Woods had better stage a serious run against Mayor Ginther.) 

While we do this organizing, we can also take collective action to reduce suffering right here, right now. We can feed each other, care for each other and protect each other as we build a better world. 

I have hope for our movements, but I’ll be honest, readers, I don’t trust all of you. Too many of you tune into politics every four years and think the ballot box will solve your problems. I worry you’re all too ready to stop fighting before the battle is over. I fear some of you are more committed to your comfort than our collective survival. 

I may not trust you, but I know we need you. I beg you, prove me wrong.