Last evening, I watched the election returns late into the night with a hundred Freiburg University students and fellow teaching staff, and felt the immensity of the results.
Early this grey morning, I knelt down to Marelle, our beautiful three-month-old daughter. Holding my fingers with both hands, she looked up at me with her sweet eyes. I promised to her that she’s safe and loved, and yet I question whether I can guarantee it. A safe childhood needs not just a safe family, but safe community, nation, and world. Today, added to accelerating climate chaos, economic inequality, refugee crises, and changing political winds, uncertainty hangs like the low clouds in the air.
A new chapter
Hillary Clinton made history today by winning the popular vote. Yet for those who believe in values of progress, fairness, equality, respect, opportunity for all, and positive engagement in the world, today is a difficult day. Looking past Donald Trump’s often hurtful rhetoric towards women, immigrants, and people of color, in this election millions voters showed the pain of American’s working and nonworking class left out by our political and economic system in a way that cannot be ignored.
Among all the factors, one stands out to me: the mainstreams of both parties this election failed to engage and give voice to the reality of tens of millions of people. One party, the Democratic Party, is now out of power in the presidency, out of power in Congress, out of power in the Supreme Court. However, unlike the Republican Party, Democrats have little to fall back on. After four decades of strategically engaging their conservative grassroots base and developing political infrastructure as outlined in the 1971 Powell Memo, Republicans now fully control 32 state legislatures, whereas Democrats control just 14, down from 34 a generation ago. It is a party in existential crisis.
Many people feel that neither party’s mainstream represents them. Yet, for all our children to grow up in a nation safe and loved, we need our political parties to lead the fight for our American values of properity, inclusion, and justice for all — not just a few. As we come together to prevent dangerous forces from overtaking our democracy, we must engage all people who feel marginalized, ignored, and left out, including people working in blue-collar jobs, people out of work, young people, immigrants, people of color, and people from communities across America that feel their voices in politics either still or increasingly don’t matter. If we don’t do this, we will lose our democracy to divisive extremism. We must ensure America’s political parties become of, for, and by the citizens, and one place to start is with the party that led the fight for workers’ rights, Social Security, civil rights, women’s rights, and health care.
A time for leaders
In what seems to many of us like a new chapter of darkness, let’s make this the opportunity to lay our foundation for our bright future. Regardless of what candidates we supported this election, we must invest in a new politics that engages and empowers people to work together in constructive dialogue for a positive vision. We need to build a strategic, long-term political infrastructure that supports this democratic engagement at every level.
As one of many steps, together with another former young elected official and advocate, I’m writing a book on how we can build back our democracy. We’ll tell stories of how everyday people, town by town, have worked together to make progress on issues like marriage equality and protecting communities from fracking, and suggest how we can do this across the country. I look forward to exchanging with you and sharing from the heart about how we can move forward together.
We face uncertain times. As Marshall Ganz wrote, leadership is the ability to help others find shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.
As with all moments of change in our nation, we are all being called together to be leaders now.
This post is adapted from its original email dispatch