By Jasmine Nazarett, an Arlington resident and senior media specialist for the Center for Community Change Action.
I was 19 years old when I cast my first vote in the Florida gubernatorial election. I was in my senior year of college, filled with hope and pride for what the future had in store. Two years later, I would cast my ballot to reelect Barack Obama, whose election marked the beginning of my political involvement.
Over the past 10 months, my hope has been tested. I have seen my fellow Americans attack immigrants in communities across America. I have heard the racist and hurtful rhetoric that contaminated last year’s presidential election move from the campaign trail to the Oval Office. I have feared for my safety as white supremacists boldly marched in Charlottesville, less than 100 miles from my home. I have seen families torn apart and the gaping pain of the children and loved ones left behind when a mother or father is detained and deported. I have watched cowards bow down to the same white supremacists at varying levels of government, defending and excusing reprehensible actions.
But I’ve been buoyed as of late. Last month, I was in a room full of energized voters. All around me were people – young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian – ready to knock doors and call voters. We were there to support Dr. Ralph Northam for Virginia governor. One of Northam’s chief supporters, President Obama, joined us at the Richmond convention center to endorse the Army doctor and son of Virginia.
Watching these two leaders on stage reminded me of the dignity and respect a president – and anyone running for office – should have for the office they hold. I remember when the country was hopeful for a better future and the hope we have to come together as a nation.
“If you start a campaign by dividing them, you won’t be able to govern them,” President Obama said.
Think about it. We have all witnessed the current administration’s repeated failures to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We have seen what happens when you try to pit Americans against each other with vile campaign speeches that turn words into fights. We have also seen the violence that occurs when you dredge up the ugliest fears inside of people, as we saw in Charlottesville. It does not get you very far.
In fact, Americans from coast to coast are rejecting this hateful agenda. Thousands of people mobilized at airports when the Muslim ban was announced. Millions gathered nationwide on May 1 in support of immigrants’ rights. When white supremacists planned speeches and rallies, Americans showed up to denounce their hate. We are marching and standing up for our shared values: freedom, opportunity, equality and justice. We are defending the ideals we hold close to our hearts.
Tomorrow, Virginians have the responsibility to do the same. We must elect Dr. Northam as the next governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia – and Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor, Mark Herring for Attorney General and as many Democratic House of Delegates candidates as possible.
Dr. Northam understands (as do the other Democrats on the ballot tomorrow) that we have to work to unify the Commonwealth by finding common ground. He believes in finding solutions to Virginia’s problems, not creating new ones. Dr. Northam believes that everyone deserves access to the same opportunities and benefits, like access to healthcare and a good, quality education. He has stood repeatedly for all Virginians, regardless of where they come from or what religion they practice.
Republican Ed Gillespie is running plays from the same racist playbook we have become all too familiar with. His Trump-style campaign ads aim to demonize immigrants and stir up the same fears that are driving a wedge in the country. In Gillespie’s world, inclusivity of other races bizarrely equates with support for gang violence, which of course none of us support. We cannot invite that Trump-style hate into Virginia, into our schools, our communities and our lives.
The truth is that Ed Gillespie is a corporate lobbyist who has dedicated his career to serving corporate interests and to putting those corporate interests ahead of working Americans.
Dr. Northam, meanwhile, is an Army veteran who has dedicated his life to serving fellow veterans and his own community. His whole life has been about caring for other people, regardless of sexual orientation, party affiliation, race or ethnicity. Dr. Northam cares about Virginians.
We are living in difficult political times and our vote has never mattered more. We often think that politics does not affect us, but the reality is it affects all of us. There is no room for bigotry in Virginia — and tomorrow, we all have to make sure it stays out.
Tomorrow, I will proudly cast my ballot for Dr. Ralph Northam for Governor, Justin Fairfax for Lieutenant Governor and Mark Herring for Attorney General. This ticket has renewed my hope for the future of Virginia and the nation.