For Democrats anywhere in the state, Tuesday’s election results were cause for celebration. For the first time in more than two decades, we now have a real opportunity to change the rules of the game – our laws and policies – to the benefit of working people and everyday folks, while ensuring that all people get both necessary protections and a fair shot. Congratulations to all of the newly elected Democratic House and Senate members, and to everyone who held onto their seat!
While we share the excitement about flipping the legislature Blue, those of us in places like Abingdon and Clintwood, Danville and Chatham still face a sobering reality. Our political map remains completely unchanged, almost universally Red. With the exception of Del. Chris Hurst, not a single Democrat from southwest or southside Virginia won their race. In fact, most got creamed, in spite of some great credentials and strong campaigns. Believe me, I know what that feels like.
Here’s the point: Unless Democrats are content to become a party solely of cities and suburbs, we’ve got a long way to go. The work to build a party that meaningfully includes farmers, working folks and rural communities – a “town and countryside” strategy – is long term, of course. But it’s every bit as urgent. What the Democratic majority does in this next session will in part determine whether or not any candidate from rural Virginia has a chance at being elected for another 10 years. And beyond that, the choices made will either further exacerbate the rural-urban divide in our nation, or begin to undermine the narrative at its foundation.
So, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for the 53 delegates, 21 senators and the party leadership in Richmond:
First, deliver. You’ve got two years, and no doubt it will take every bit of it to get some things through. But 2020 is critical, for our state and our nation. Be hares, not turtles.
Second, put ‘incrementalism’ aside. We can always resurrect it when, if at some point in the future, we’ve built an economy and a politics that actually works for people, communities and the land. If we ever get to that point, there will still be need for tweaking the system. But at this moment, tweaking is not only insufficient, it’s utterly counterproductive. It fuels the resentment so many people feel and helps corroborate their belief that we’re out of touch.
Third, put “an economy that works for people” at the top of your policy list. Sure, the unemployment rate seems low, but in reality, the economy still sucks for millions of people. Raising the minimum wage is part of the answer, but the bigger challenge is building widely shared wealth, real wealth in the form of savings, productive capital and the ability to care for your family and community. Subsidizing Amazon or big boxes doesn’t build real wealth. Investing in infrastructure, skill building and businesses that enable people to eat better, live healthier lives, access safe and affordable housing, dramatically reduce their energy needs, generate power close to home, and use land productively in perpetuity, that’s building real wealth. And that’s the essence of the Green New Deal.
Fourth, commit yourself to breaking the power of the elites, both economic and political. The twenty-year-long bipartisan consensus that Wall Street, monopolists and big donors know what’s best for the rest of us must become utterly partisan, singularly associated with the other party. Democrats, every one of us, must be unmistakably on the side of everyday people, their communities and the livable world we all need.
And last, come on out to the countryside, not as tourists, but as representatives hoping to learn. I’ll be glad to help organize that. We’re not all batshit crazy out here, folks. In fact, there are many innovative doers and thinkers leading the charge for healthier communities, for a just and sustainable economy. They’ve got a lot to teach our party leaders and elected representatives, but almost no one ever asks. Let’s change that, starting now.