12 Nov Everywoman and the Blue Wave
Progressives woke up the day after the election anxious and downhearted. The Blue Wave had turned out to be a Blue Trickle, and progressives, so accustomed to losing, felt predictably lost. Trump, using his deflect-attention-from-his-failures tactic, shrugged off his midterms disaster and promptly fired Jeff Sessions, naming a Trump loyalist (under FBI investigation!) as the acting attorney general who would close down or sharply limit the Muller investigation. Then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell and fractured three ribs, and progressives thought oh god oh god Trump will now get to make three Supreme Court appointments! And then a white (again) male (again) killer slew 12 people in yet another mass shooting, this time in California (again). Not to speak of that state being on fire (again). Progressives were pretty depressed.
OK, progressives! Time to wake up, sit up, and perk up!
Democrats won the House of Representatives—by a little at first, then by a bigger margin and a bigger one, and the numbers are still coming in. There is now a major check on Trump’s power. Women won in record numbers in races across the country. Democrats flipped at least seven governorships while Republicans flipped none—and four of the seven are women: Laura Kelly defeated Trump’s pal Chris Kobach for governor of Kansas. Janet Mills is now the Governor Elect of Maine, having ended the nightmarish reign of Paul LePage, whose comments were so screamingly racist and sexist that they almost made Trump look subtle; Michigan Governor Elect Gretchen Whitemore, and Governor Elect Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island are young Democrats representing fresh air to their party. Stacy Abrams is still fighting in Georgia, against what look to be classic voter suppression tactics, as is Andrew Gillum in Florida, against similar tactics.
The gender gap widened. White suburban women actually leaned left, although as a bloc they stayed Republican and voted with their men. All voters of color, gay and lesbian voters, disabled voters and older women swung left. Middle income voters returned to the Democratic Party, while voters aged 18 to 29 trended Democratic. And hey, progressives! Are we supposed to be blasé about 19 judicial wins for women who shared the mutual campaign slogan “Black Girl Magic” in Texas? And gee, progressives! How about a little patience with your own people: only late did we learn that Kyrsten Sinema, Democratic candidate from Arizona, will in fact be that states’ next senator! Plus: Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen booted out GOP favorite Dean Heller from his Senate seat. Forgotten how to celebrate, progressives?
A record number of women ran for state legislatures: 3,388! —and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more women will serve in state legislatures come January than at any point in American history.
Women won more seats to Congress than ever before. As I write this blog post, some races are still undecided, but at least 118 women were elected to the US House of Representatives; of which 101 are Democrats; of the Democrats, 42 are women of color, and at least three are lesbian women.
The victory is also in who they were! Historic firsts included Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Kansas and Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo People in New Mexico are the first two Native American women to claim their place in the House of Representatives—and Sharice Davids is the first lesbian Native American to do so. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa will be the youngest women ever to serve as lawmakers. Tennessee elected its first woman senator—unfortunately, arch conservative Marsha Blackburn. But Massachusetts elected its first African-American congresswoman, Ayanna Presley, and Connecticut broke through that same barrier with Johanna Hayes. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Latinas to represent Texas districts in the House of Representatives. Also, although it was a guy, applause for Democrat Tony Evers, who defeated Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, denying Walker—whose racial and sexual politics were toxic—a third term after years of attempts to beat him. What’s more, Colorado’s Democrat Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor of that state.
We lost two good women—Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, both Democrats straddling red states, both of whom took principled stands refusing to support the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination because both believed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, which cost both of them their seats.
More candidates with degrees in science, medicine, and engineering ran for Congress than ever before, and among the winners are four women: Chrissy Houlihan of Pennsylvania, who has a degree in industrial engineering; Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse who won Illinois’ 14th district; pediatrician Kim Schreier for Washington’s 8th district; and Virginia’s Elaine Luria, with a background in nuclear engineering. They all ran on pro-science platforms, strongly support conservation, oppose offshore drilling, and—surprise!—believe in climate change. Happily, Congress will lose its most outspoken climate change denier, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher.
Other victories to gladden the soul: Amendment 4 passed in Florida, restoring voting rights for 1.5 million convicted felons. That is huge from a civil rights standpoint, given that such ballot initiatives in Florida need to clear a 60 percent threshold, and huge from an electoral standpoint, too, since about 9 percent of the voting age population in Florida is composed of felons, many of whom are racial minorities. (Nationwide, some 6.2 million citizens cannot vote or hold office because they have felony records. But only Kentucky, Iowa, and Florida imposed lifetime bans, and now that Florida has decided to become more civilized, there’s a push on in Kentucky to change.) Furthermore, voters in three states—Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri—overwhelmingly chose to overhaul how legislative and congressional districts are drawn, stripping a traditionally partisan exercise from the politicians and instead aiming to create a more level playing field based on geography and demographics.
It was a big day, too, for actual policies (remember them?) and maybe for hope of a functioning Congress: what a concept! Study after study has found that women raise more policies related to health, education, poverty, children, and the elderly and issues like family leave than their male counterparts ever do. Moreover, women have a track record: female legislators were able to bring back $49 million more for their districts on an annual basis, compared to male legislators, according to a UC Berkeley study. Another study found that, when asked why they ran for office, women were more likely to identify a policy or issue they care deeply about, while men were more likely to say it was because they wanted to be an elected official. Encouragingly, a study from political analytics expert Amelia Showalter has found that “the more, the more.” In other words, there is a cumulative effect: when more women are elected to state wide offices like governor, senator, and attorney general, the number of women in the state legislature and in county and city government sees significant increases down the line.
So on Tuesday women did what we needed to do. We didn’t just contribute to the Blue Wave, we were the Blue Wave, and we haven’t even crested yet. Sure, Trump’s change-the-narrative gambit firing Sessions worked for a bit, since it foreshadows more heavy weather—but Holy Washington, Jefferson, and Madison! Are we ever in a better position than we were last Monday, to slow Trump, stop Trump, expose Trump, and move forward ourselves. Besides, we have to stop being reactive to him, especially now, when we have the chance to be proactive.
Remember, all this was accomplished in the face of serious impediments to voting. In notorious Georgia, Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, ran for governor and also ran the election itself—against challenger Stacy Abrams. Kemp purged millions of names from the voting rolls on dubious grounds, but finding himself still in a close race, tried to purge more names based on criteria so ridiculous that the courts blocked his efforts. Then, with no evidence or specifics, he accused the Abrams campaign of hacking the voter registration site—which his office totally controls. But in Georgia even all that may not be enough, since the state requires a run off if no candidate receives a clear majority of the vote, and Abrams argues there are too many outstanding ballots to certify a result, in particular absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted. It’s now in the courts.
Nor is Georgia unique. In Kansas, absentee voters were told they had to use the right color ink, then were given conflicting information about which color was acceptable. In North Dakota, indigenous voters were told they suddenly needed to have street addresses instead of PO boxes, although most people who live on reservations are rural and have no street addresses. Dozens of polling places in key areas opened late, including Porter County, Indiana, and Harris County, Texas. After an Indiana judge ordered the affected precincts to extend voting hours to compensate for lost time, lawyers for the GOP fought back, asking that any ballots cast after the original 6 PM deadline be counted as provisional, potentially opening up challenges. Even in New York City, at some polling places voters waited four hours as electronic ballots scanners broke down, jammed by two-page rain-soaked ballots. In New York these impediments may be less due to voter suppression than to sheer incompetence, but that’s hardly comforting.
What is it with this country that could arguably be said to have invented voting? Why do we do it so atrociously? Why can we send people to the moon and build the Hadron Collider but not devise a safe, simple, accessible means so that everyone can comfortably vote? I’m afraid the answer is that we haven’t cared that much. In getting the vote we cared. Women were jailed and brutally force-fed, and some died. African-Americans were jailed, beaten, and lynched. Native Americans—here long before anyone else—were the last to win the franchise, in 1924. But once we have the vote? Mmmm, we apparently need to be convinced to use it.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently declared that voting is a privilege, not a right—a statement that would fry the powdered wigs of the Framers were they to hear it. But people like McConnell don’t need to flat out forbid the vote if they can suppress it sufficiently, so that people give up, shrug, say voting doesn’t matter anyway, and go back to eating junk food while watching the Kardashians.
What’s exciting about the 2018 midterms is that people didn’t do that—and mostly the people who didn’t do that were female people. They started by venting to women friends over Trump’s language about women, and escalated to making weekly calls to their representatives. They went to the women’s march and came away high on their own possible power, and determined to form a local group to keep that feeling going. They began to phone bank for Planned Parenthood and then attend town hall-style meetings. They got angry. They found they been redistricted and gerrymandered and got angrier. They marched and their social life began to merge with demonstrations. They marched for science and for the climate, against families being separated at the border and against sexual assault and gun violence and corruption.
Joni Novotnak, 61, a remedial math teacher from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, told a reporter “I never knew I had so many issues!” They gathered at each other’s homes and held postcard parties writing to encourage voters to turn out, writing to lobby and to fund raise. “Everyone’s mood is up because we’re all doing something tangible,” said one. Alarmed by Trump having pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, two friends—one a Democrat and one a Republican—started IPlanetWomen to try to turn women into climate voters. They’re working with Virginia garden clubs, talking about how climate change affects women’s immediate lives, like ticks and mosquitoes having longer seasons and more children having asthma. The social connections of already established women’s friendships became an incubator for resistance groups across the country.
Women have less money than men overall, but they began donating to campaigns; women’s donations have increased by 36 percent since 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Women donated six times more than men to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center. A group in Little Rock, Moms Demand, raised $10,000 for a Democratic congressional candidate, largely by brown-bagging lunches where women donated the $10 they would have spent on lunch to the campaign instead. Another woman said, “You get on these lists and they say if you’re mad about children being held in prison, give here. And I’m like oh yeah I’m mad about that!” She added gleefully that in the South the rule is don’t talk money and don’t talk politics—”but now we’re doing both!”
These women are forever changed, and that change will have a ripple effect on others. These women have discovered the energy of consciousness and the release of activism—which, even without electoral wins, is a triumph in itself.
So, progressives, are we of so little faith that we can’t wait a few days while still believing in our own power, as the blue trickle grows stronger and the votes keep coming in even if we have to go to court to guarantee they be counted? Haven’t we yet learned what those “average” women, in discovering themselves, discovered about each other? Haven’t we yet figured out that together we constitute a creative force that is unstoppable?
These women are everywhere, as ordinary as bread. They are Everywoman. Everywoman won the election.
Oh, by the way: Justice Ginsburg has been discharged from the hospital, and is working at home but plans to be on the bench at the Court’s next sitting, November 26. In 2012, Ruth broke two ribs without missing work, in 2014 she returned to work shortly after a heart procedure; she has had cancer twice and returned to the bench less than three weeks after undergoing surgery—and she is 85.
So get with the program, progressives! This is a time to celebrate, not to feel disappointed because disappointment is a familiar state we’ve gotten used to. Look! There goes Everywoman! Follow her. She’ll lead us home.