Celebrate some. Mourn some. Keep organizing.
Two years ago, about this time, I wrote you an e-mail quoting labor organizer Joe Hill, bravely facing execution on trumped-up charges a century ago: “Don’t (just) mourn. Organize.”
Wow, did you organize. A week later, we gathered thousands-strong at Congregation Beth Elohim, where #GetOrganizedBK (and its incredible set of working groups) was born. What we’ve done together over the past two years is extraordinary -- we held down our part of a national movement to build power and solidarity, to fight back against bigotry & corruption & white nationalism, and to insist that the values of equality & inclusion & compassion & justice are the only ways forward for our country.
At first, many of us focused on the issues. Fighting the Muslim ban and family separation. Staging die-ins to save the Affordable Care Act with Safety Net Defenders. Protecting voting rights with the Brooklyn Voters Alliance. Fiercely defending reproductive justice with WHARR. Focusing on racial justice and white privilege with Racial Justice BK. And so much more.
But increasingly, we also focused on the 2018 mid-terms. Together, we poured more energy into canvassing than we would have thought possible. Through GetOrganized BK, Indivisible Nation BK, Red2Blue, RunNYC, WHARR, Water for Grassroots, Changing the Conversation Together, and together with Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, we knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors, texted, called, sent postcards. And we did not stop until the polls closed last night, when we gathered at The Bell House to watch the results.
Last night’s results offered some reasons to celebrate, and some reasons for sorrow. Here are a few takeaways. And three suggestions to keep organizing.
Celebrate Some ...
We won the House. Together, we contributed to helping Democrats win the 26+ seats we need for majority control. So many of us helped Antonio Delgado who won upstate, and we contributed thousands of hours to the mind-blowing victory of Max Rose on Staten Island. As a result, Trump and Mitch McConnell will not be able to pass legislation to further sabotage health care or enrich their 1% donors. We can start to shape a positive agenda for the future, focused on improving health care, education & infrastructure, confronting climate change, restoring voting rights. And Congress can finally start to do its job of investigating the rot of corruption that is the Trump Administration. Our friend, stalwart Congressman Jerry Nadler will chair the House Judiciary Committee, maybe the most critical post for hearings & investigation & accountability -- andhe’s ready to take action.
We won the New York State Senate, big! With the help of our work in the primary to kick out the IDC and elect rising progressive stars like Alessandra Biaggi, Zellnor Myrie, and Jessica Ramos, our work for State Senate candidates across the state, and our especially hard work for Andrew Gounardes, Democrats will hold a big majority (likely 39-23) in the State Senate. That means -- if we keep organizing (don’t think for a minute there won’t be hard push-back) we can pass the Reproductive Health Act, the DREAM Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, close the loopholes in our rent laws to protect tenants -- and, especially salient after yesterday’s election debacle, strong voting reforms including early voting & automatic voter registration. All of this is possible with Democratic control of the NYS Senate.
We saw amazing wins in the number of women and people of color rising to critical positions of leadership.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: the youngest woman to be elected to Congress.Ilhan Omar & Rashida Tlaib: the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley: Massachusetts’ first black woman sent to Congress. Sharice Davids & Debra Haaland: the first Native American women elected to Congress. (And Sharice Davids is Kansas’ first lesbian elected to Congress as well). Tish James: Right here in NY, our friend Tish became the first black woman elected to statewide office, and the first African American to be elected to Attorney General.
One of the most heartening events of the evening was the essential win for democracy in Florida where voters overwhelmingly decided to restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians who were previously convicted of felonies. Voters overwhelmingly supported voting rights, anti-gerrymandering, and campaign finance initiatives in CO, FL, MD, MI, and ND.
Here in NYC, voters said “Yes Yes Yes” to more democracy, passing all 3 of our ballot initiatives by wide margins, to reduce the influence of money in politics, open up our community boards wider, and establish a new Civic Engagement Commission to spread participatory budgeting citywide and breathe new life into our local democracy. Whether you are excited or skeptical, I hope you’ll join me in working together to make sure it lives up to its potential.
And there were many more state & local wins in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, and more -- many of them won by my amazing colleagues in Local Progress.
Mourn Some …
It was hard to watch Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke and Liuba Grechen Shirley and (probably) Stacey Abrams run such earth-shatteringly-inspiring, hope-filled races and still lose. But their time is coming. To me, they are a sign of the still-bright promise of a genuinely inclusive, multi-racial, gender-equal American democracy. I hope they all run again.
The losses in the U.S. Senate really sting. Claire McCaskill’s loss in my home-state of Missouri was especially hard (my mom & dad were out canvassing & poll-watching for her). It will be harder to win back the Senate in 2020 and pass Medicare for All, debt-free college, and a federal jobs guarantee. But we’ll keep pushing. A recent Harvard poll shows those ideas are strongly popular with young people ages 18-29.
One thing that’s especially hard here: the entrenched resistance in much of white America to a more equal and inclusive world -- empowered by the structures of gerrymandering, the electoral college, and the US Senate, and by a rising xenophobic populism around the world -- is going to be with us for a long time. And, of course, we are still stuck with the toxic narcissism of Donald Trump, which channels that racism and xenophobia in a way that I sometimes feel is making us all disordered.
And that brings us to the final and most important takeaways:
The work of organizing to build power for justice & compassion is life-long. Here are three steps for today:
Join and contribute to #GetOrganizedBK. If you haven’t already, please consider joining and making a financial contribution to GOBK and one of its many working groups, so we can keep organizing together in the days ahead.
If you want to pass voting reform in NY, get involved with the Brooklyn Voters Alliance.
Want to make sure the Reproductive Health Act is passed in Albany without compromise? Get involved with WHARR.
We are incredibly lucky to be building a force that does electoral work, issue work, and ally work together. We’ve got a lot more of it to do. So please renew your commitment today.
Help us make something real out of the Civic Engagement Commission and citywide participatory budgeting.
Some of you were deeply enthusiastic about the possibility of citywide participatory budgeting and a new city office to strengthen civic engagement. Some of you are pretty skeptical. Either way, the best choice is to help make sure it lives up to its mission to “enhance civic participation, promote civic trust, and strengthen democracy in New York City.”
Please sign up here to stay in-the-loop on the Commission, and we’ll make sure you hear about opportunities to nominate members, suggest ideas, attend forums, and get involved. That’s the only way it can possibly work.
Attend Make the Road NY’s “Dignity, Community & Power Awards Gala” in Tribeca on Wednesday, November 14th, honoring Ana-Maria Archila, Wyatt Cenac, Alyssa Milano, and my hero, Ady Barkan.
No one organizes immigrants to become powerful leaders and a fierce force for change better than Make the Road NY. We are lucky to be their allies in pursuit of justice. Your contribution will help them keep organizing.
And I can’t imagine any better way to renew our commitment to organizing for the long-term than by sharing one more evening with Ady. He is turning dying into organizing, and helping us build organizing into living. His recent article from The Nation is the new serenity/organizing prayer for our times. Come hear him in person, one last time.
Celebrate some. Mourn some. Keep organizing.