The President's Column: Change Is PossibleDecember 30, 2022
But it depends on us.
We dodged disaster in last month’s midterm elections. Despite all the polling and predictions, the GOP “red wave” largely receded and ended up being little more than a dribble. The Republican Party now has far too many members who openly espouse white supremacy, misogyny, contempt for science and for public health to appeal to mainstream voters.
But let’s be clear: the “red wave” was only pushed back because of the mobilization of women and young people, especially those in the labor movement—not least of all you, my 1199 family. Blocking the Republican road to control of the government is certainly cause for celebration.
We can breathe a bit easier, but we still need to understand that the fight to preserve our democracy is not over with these elections. It is a fight that we will have to wage up to the 2024 presidential elections and way beyond. It will continue until working people are able to achieve real power and are not simply beholden to a political system in which billionaires have immense power. And because this is a long-term struggle, it was particularly heartening to see the massive mobilization of young people voting for a future free from environmental disaster caused by the fossil fuel industries; a future for women’s bodily autonomy; a future for collective bargaining; and protection against poverty and hunger.
It is a generational fight, one that has echoes throughout the history of our country. The United States was founded on the slave trade, the seizure of the land of indigenous peoples and their genocide, and the forced annexation of half of Mexico to create what we now call our Southwest. The Civil War over slavery took more than 600,000 lives—more than the combined deaths of all other U.S. wars.
What we’ve seen these past six years may be new in our lifetime. But it is not new. The MAGA crowds have been at the base of the Republican Party for at least 50 years—but only in recent years have they been as openly bigoted, anti-truth and authoritarian as they are today. I personally grew up under legal segregation in Virginia when the courts and police in former Confederate states were still ruled by the Ku Klux Klan. So, I have no illusions about the January 6, 2021 insurrection designed to impose a Trump rule over our country. During the Civil War, the forces of slavery were never able to seize the Capitol carrying a Confederate flag; it took Donald Trump and the modern Republican Party to achieve that and to defend it to this day.
I salute all of our members who stood up on Election Day and in the weeks leading up to it. We made history in Maryland where we flipped the statehouse from red to blue and elected the first Black governor of that formerly slave-holding state. We made history in Massachusetts where we also flipped the statehouse from red to blue and elected the first openly lesbian governor in the country. And in New York, we elected the state’s first female governor, a victory likely would not have happened without 1199 members and the labor movement as a whole working hard to get out the vote. Despite the heroic efforts of our members—and our 1199 retirees—we suffered some difficult losses in Florida (although we helped elect Maxwell Frost, a progressive activist who, at 25, will be the youngest member of Congress) and in other down-ballot races in New York and New Jersey.
Too often, the Democrats are their own worst enemies. The national party has pretty much abandoned rural America and the red states, leaving the Republican Party in full control. It is simply foolish and self-defeating to concede half the country to the other side, leaving it fertile ground for the spread of white supremacy and anti-labor views. And too many Democrats betray their working-class voters in favor of their corporate donors.
And we need more elected officials whom we see year-round in our communities, at our meetings and demonstrations fighting alongside us. Too many come late in the day with a hand out for a contribution asking us to bail them out of trouble—who then disappear until the next election.
It will not happen overnight, but if the Democrats threw some of their ample resources into yearround organizing on the ground, underwriting an army of labor activists and youth to engage in “hand-to-hand combat” state by state, we could actually build a permanent base for democracy and civil rights. Change is possible, but we need to make the change. That said, I wish you Happy Holidays as we rest up for the many struggles ahead.