Heading into 2019, political strategists and organizers have to play the long game.
Like many people in the United States, I am filled with anxiety and dread in response to such a tumultuous and painful few years. As a Black millennial woman, the dread I feel is both a response to the ongoing chaos and a post-traumatic stress reaction to living in a country whose history has always included racial oppression and violence.
In the two years since Donald Trump became president, hate crimes have continually risen, and white supremacists now openly convene in public spaces.
For me, this year has been especially heartbreaking. During the midterm elections, conservatives mounted shameless voter suppression tactics reminiscent of the Jim Crow era to stifle voices like mine. And now that recounts in critical races in Florida and Georgia have concluded, candidates who cheated their way to election wins will take office in just a few weeks.
But it’s time to move forward.
Although I’m frustrated that progressive Black candidates like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum had to fight to count every vote in elections that were stacked against them, I’m overjoyed that so many forward-thinking women of color, LGBTQ folks, and young people made history in the midterms.
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In just a few weeks, a record number of women of color will be inducted into the House: 22 Black women, 12 Latinas, six Asian/Pacific Islander women, the first two Native Americans, and the first Muslim candidates to be elected Congress. Those outcomes indicate how hungry activists of color are for change, and what we can accomplish when we strategize.
And strategize we must, but not just for the next election cycle. We need to think bigger: We should look back at the systematic origins of oppression and understand how that imbalance of power continues today. By looking backward, we can make good use of our frustration over centuries of injustice and move forward with purpose to work toward our collective vision to create and enact transformative change.
In doing so, we must consider both the generations before us and the ones that lie ahead. After all, this country’s founders —all elite white men—didn’t consider my ancestors they enslaved, the women they married, or the Native Americans whose land they stole when they envisioned freedom, democracy, and “liberty for all.” More than 300 years since the birth of this nation, that power structure has hardly changed. Privileged white men are still in power. Patriarchy and discrimination are as pervasive in our politics and our culture as ever.
It’s time for the rest of us to play the long game, too.
To do that, we must support young people’s ability to create and implement solutions to respond to the problems in their own communities. And we can’t just invest in the polished and educated among us; we must elevate those whose voices aren’t always represented to create the deep social change that their communities need.
Thankfully, there are folks already doing that work. Take 11-year old Little Miss Flint, who after helping to secure $100 million to repair Flint’s water system, continues to advocate for education equity and social change. Or 25-year-old Aisha Yaqoob, who running unsuccessfully for a seat in the Georgia State House last month, founded an organization to combat low Muslim-American voter turnout in her home state.
In communities of color, experience proves that the system wasn’t built to protect us. Yaqoob saw that borne out in the low rates of Muslim-American civic engagement—low rates that persist across Black and brown communities in the United States. But breaking through that frustration, ambivalence, and weariness is critical. Let us instead retain our energy and focus for doing the work all year long, no matter who was elected into office.
If we don’t go beyond engaging our communities simply during election seasons, we only perpetuate the illnesses of a system already rigged against us. But if we persist one step at a time, one month at a time, and one year at a time, we can build the infrastructure we need to survive and thrive over the long term.
It’s this simple: If we don’t play the long game, we lose.
The historic firsts in 2018’s midterms offer a renewed sense of hope. Millennials, people of color, and young activists will keep fighting for their values and build on the groundwork set by our elders for social change. Organizations like mine will keep supporting young people’s long-term leadership development, but it’s going to take investment from all of us to create an inclusive and progressive political world on a critical scale.
The great Angela Davis famously said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” In 2019, let’s put on our game faces and get to work.