This Is No Time for Retreat
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because pendulums can also swing back.
Aisha C. Moodie-Mills is the president and CEO of Victory Fund.
It was our opportunity to reject homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism. There was excitement on our side — and a vision for how we unite as Americans to overcome animosities. Essential American values were one nation, all created equal, and liberty and justice for all, and we subscribed to them. And the less-than-brilliant presidential contender who attacked our communities and sowed such division would spend the next four years watching Fox News and licking his wounds.
At least that was the plan. But then he won. It was 2004.
Republican operatives placed nearly a dozen anti-marriage-equality amendments on the ballot to bolster the reelection prospects of George W. Bush. They spread anti-immigrant fear and furor, and talks of terrorism and war were thinly veiled condemnations of Muslim religion and culture. It worked. Republicans gained seats in the House and Senate, President Bush won four more years in the White House, and Democrats and social-justice advocates were stunned and distraught.
This is not the time to pack our bags and run. It is not the time to retreat in despair.
But sometimes you need to have a breakdown to have a breakthrough. America quickly tired of divisiveness, and the backlash was swift. In 2006, Democrats overwhelmed the GOP — winning a resounding majority in the House and Senate, trouncing them in gubernatorial races and electing Nancy Pelosi as the first woman speaker of the House. It set the stage for the optimism of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign — inclusiveness, social justice and one America — and ultimately to the tremendous social progress we’ve seen during his administration. Just four years after breakdown, there was breakthrough.
Last Tuesday signaled another breakdown. Voters succumbed to racist, xenophobic, sexist and transphobic demagoguery and elected a president who is the antithesis of the American values I hold precious and dear. The LGBT community — like many communities — is fearful of the weeks and months and years ahead. The fear is especially palpable because LGBT people are unique in spanning all demographic groups. We are Black, we are Latino, we are women, we are Muslim, we are undocumented, we have disabilities, and the president-elect paraded his distaste for all of us. Friends are discussing four years of Canadian living, writing a book while sipping lattes along the Rue de Passy or moving to the Mexican side of Trump’s border wall. And as a Black lesbian, I get it. Damn, do I get it. But this is not the time to pack our bags and run. It is not the time to retreat in despair.
The pendulum has swung too far right to not swing back. We are poised for a breakthrough, and we must galvanize our communities so we emerge stronger than ever when that moment arrives. Beginning today, we must lay the groundwork for elections in 2017, 2018 and beyond — to ensure candidates from our communities are elected up and down the ballot. We must intensify efforts to make certain our people are represented in the halls of power — city councils, state legislatures and Congress — so we can cement our gains and create long-term political power. And communities attacked and denigrated throughout this presidential campaign must unite to create an army of influence, because our collective voices can demand accountability and respect from the new administration.
We can do this because we are fighters. Just ask Governor Kate Brown, who on Tuesday became the first openly LGBT person to be elected governor in U.S. history. As a young lawyer afraid of losing her job because she is bisexual, Brown faced pay inequities and sexual harassment — and has worked to effect positive change ever since. Ask Carlos Guillermo Smith, who just became the first openly LGBT Latino in the Florida state legislature. Days after the Pulse nightclub shooting, he spoke about the impact of racism and homophobia on him and his loved ones and the effects of the shooting on his community. Ask Daniel Hernandez, who just became the only openly LGBT member of the Arizona legislature. Anti-LGBT activists tried to oust him from a school board position because he is gay, and walking through his community he regularly witnesses the impact of failed immigration policies on those most vulnerable.
These leaders are fighters, and our people are fighters. We need elected people who understand our lives and experiences — and can counter the opponents of equality who were elected on Tuesday. Representation matters. So, let’s channel our disappointment, disgust and despair and direct it toward action. Meaningful action. Run for office, encourage others to run and support an LGBT or other equality organization. We cannot allow disappointment and disgust to breed apathy and inaction. We’ve been here before. A breakthrough is on its way. Our collective actions now will determine its pace and impact.