The Road Ahead: How Progressives Can Take Our Country Back

National Equality March Activists 2009, Washington. D.C.
National Equality March Activists 2009, Washington. D.C.

The 2016 election has shaken this country to its very foundation. This election, like no other in recent history, has shown us the deep divisions that have resulted in a Trump presidency. Social media is abuzz with outrage, or gloating, or I told you so sentiments. People have taken to the streets to protest the outcome. Once again, the Electoral College has been called into question, and rightly so.

Reality bites: No matter what we do now, the next president of the United States is going to be Donald Trump, save for some divine intervention that would only give us President Mike Pence - and that would be worse, if worse is even conceivable.

Here is what we must do.

First: We must lick our wounds and accept reality. Then chill. Enjoy the upcoming holidays with family and friends. Remember what is important. Then get ready to go to work on January 2 to turn this ship around.

Second: Democrats have to accept the fact that the DNC severely miscalculated the mood of the electorate. This election was about fundamental change, and Clinton’s message of incrementalism failed to convince voters that she could or would break up the culture of corruption that has gripped Washington. It was the reason Bernie Sanders went from nowhere to packing arenas in record time.

I have friends - people I like and respect - who were for Hillary. I was for Bernie and when I talked to them about him, the answer I got was always something like this: “I like what Bernie has to say, but he’ll never get elected.” Or “It’s just like George McGovern. He doesn’t stand a chance.” They were wrong. They, like the Democratic Party machine, were relying on an old paradigm and ignored the signals that were literally being screamed at them. As has become abundantly clear, Bernie Sanders could have won this election and now, too late, even the major media that was so complicit in keeping him out of the news is realizing it. But that is all water under the bridge.

Third: The internecine fighting in the progressive movement has to stop. I was a YOOGE Bernie Sanders supporter and for that I was called vile names by some members of the Clinton camp. Then, when Bernie came in second in the primaries and I followed his lead and supported the only sane choice in the election, I was called vile names by some former Sanders supporters. In the end, we all lost.

Fourth: We have to start planning for the 2017 elections and the 2018 midterms. The Tea Party gained power because they got involved and won seats in local, state and federal races. The next two years are going to be hideous. That is a given. So we’ve got to be ready. We have got to field candidates all over the country for small races as well as the races for the House and the Senate. We need to take a cue from Bernie Sanders and what he did as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. We need to elect progressives as mayors and governors; we need to elect them to school boards, city councils, state legislatures and county offices.

Did you know that only 2 out of 3 Americans are able to pass the citizenship test? We must make sure that Civics is an integral part of our educational system so people understand how government works. Maybe then people will actually realize just how important it is to vote. In 2016, only about 55% of eligible voters cast a ballot. If you take a look at midterm elections going back to 1962, it’s clear that people stay away from the polls in droves, even though those elections can be some of the most pivotal.

Fifth: We need to understand that a lot of the things Donald Trump campaigned on were the same things Bernie Sanders stressed during his campaign: opposition to job-stealing trade deals, the influence of money in politics, access to health care. People on the right are just as concerned about those things as people on the left. Red states passed raising the minimum wage. Some red states even passed medical marijuana laws.

There are plenty of areas where common ground can be found and those are the areas where we must utilize local people who know their neighbors and are willing to run for office. Those people, especially those in solidly red states, don’t need to be bright blue progressives. They just need to be able to deliver a message that resonates with their neighbors, while backing away from the fear, hatred, misogyny and xenophobic hysteria that has inflamed a segment of the Trump electorate.

Most of us have friends or relatives who voted for Trump but would never ride around in a pick-up truck waving a Confederate flag while brandishing firearms and grabbing women by the crotch. A lot of the Trump voters are decent people who were just plain sick and tired of politics as usual. They voted for him in spite of his racist, sexist rhetoric, not because of it. Donald Trump was the only response they felt they had to give voice to their frustration. Some of them were former Obama voters.

In two years, we will see how much of what Donald Trump promised has taken place. Will that wall be built? Will he make Mexico pay for it? How? By declaring war on Mexico? Will he have deported 11 million undocumented immigrants? I would venture a guess the answer to those questions, as well as to all the other stuff he’s promised, will be no. And his voters will be angry. We can use that anger.

In those same two years, we’ll see if Republicans finally manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Altogether 20 million will lose access to health insurance and many of them are in red states. How do you think that will play? How do think it will play when food stamp benefits are inevitably cut again? Remember, red states are the biggest recipients of all sorts of federal aid that is on the GOP hit list. If we have local people in communities that don’t usually vote progressive, we can flip those votes by appealing to the kitchen table issues Bernie addressed.

To do all this, we need to organize. Fortunately, a farsighted Bernie Sanders has set up the apparatus we need. We don’t have to depend solely on the Democratic Party for funding. We can do what we did when Bernie made his bid and contribute to Our Revolution to fund the candidates who will aid us in wresting this country from the clutches of a fascist president and the dregs of what is left of the Republican Party. There is also a new organization with the name Brand New Congress that is committed to finding and supporting candidates to put forward an agenda to serve the people of this country, not special interests. Our candidates can be progressive Democrats, Independents, Greens or even right leaning Democrats in those southern states where too much liberalism will never fly. Howard Dean formed the 50-state strategy and Democrats took back Congress in 2006. We can duplicate that effort to take back our country and make our Congress more politically, racially and culturally diverse. We are not a one size fits all country and to prevail, we have to recognize that what may be great for California isn’t going to fly in Alabama, but there is common ground that can be cultivated.

Sixth and finally: All of us have to work together. During her Academy Award acceptance speech, Patricia Arquette made a plea to members of the gay and African-American communities to stand with women in their fight for equality, reminding them that women have stood with them in the battles for their rights. For that she was derided as a rich Hollywood actress who didn’t know the meaning of struggle. That is not progressive. That kind of attitude is selfish and shortsighted. The struggle women face and have been facing since time immemorial is a human struggle that affects all of us: gay, straight, trans; black, white, brown; every ethnicity under the sun; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist and agnostic. If one person isn’t equal, then none of us are.

So progressives, stop sniping at each other. Stop hurling counterproductive insults at each other. Wake up and smell the reality we are now living in. Unless we pull together, all will be lost. And that is a fact.

Ann Werner is an author and socially conscious progressive who is fed up and isn’t going to take it anymore. Check out her books Crazy, Dreams and Nightmares and Cooper’s Grove. To learn more about her and what she’s been up to, visit her at Ann Werner on the Web.