This election will decide who we are as a nation

Tammy Duckworth
Nov 7, 2016 · 4 min read

This election has been challenging for all of us, but it’s also served as a testament to our strength and our resilience.

We all realize the stakes in this election — especially with the likes of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket on the other side. I know you hear it every four years, but this truly may be the most important election of our lifetime — one in which we will decide who we are as a nation.

Are we going to be a country that rewards work, rather than wealth? Are we going to open up economic opportunity for all Americans, instead of just those at the top? Are we going to take on the challenge of making college more affordable so our young people are not burdened with crippling debt?

Or are we going to give in to fear, division and scapegoating? Are we going to allow Donald Trump’s dark vision of this country — and its people — carry the day? Are we going to turn our backs on decades of progress and let an America that is less tolerant, less decent, and driven by personal insults prevail?

I don’t think so. We are better than that. We demonstrate our strength not by putting others down, but by lifting those who need a helping hand up.

Illinois’ prosperity depends on working people having opportunities to get ahead, and being able to support their families. It’s not a coincidence that the greatest force for growing this state and this country’s middle class over the years has been organized labor — and that’s exactly why I want to make sure we’re creating more union jobs, not fewer. Some folks on the other side of the political aisle seem to believe that crushing organized labor — and depressing wages — is the path to prosperity. Let me say unequivocally I could not disagree more and I will always stand shoulder to shoulder with organized labor.

It’s personal for me. My dad lost his job in his fifties when the company he worked for was sold, and my family fell on some hard times. We burned through our savings and ended up on food stamps. My brother and I relied on reduced school lunches to eat. We were struggling, but let me tell you: it wasn’t because we weren’t working hard. When you’re poor, you work really hard. You have to.

My dad eventually found a job, using his Veterans preference — and we dug ourselves out of that hole. I was able to go to college because of Pell Grants and decently-priced student loans. I had a work-study job. I waitressed at night. I worked hard, and I was able to finish school. Then, when the Army came calling and offered me the opportunity to fly helicopters, I was ready to go.

If I didn’t have that public high school diploma, I never would have gone to college. If I didn’t finish college I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things that I’ve done.

In fact, if any one of those things hadn’t been there for me, I wouldn’t be here today. I have a pretty good idea of where I’d be: trying to take care of my family and reliving that cycle of poverty. I’d be trying my best, and working as hard as I could just to get by.

That knowledge — that understanding that we’re all in this together; that sense of gratitude for the people who helped my family and me; and yes, an appreciation for things like food stamps and school lunches, without which there would have been many days I wouldn’t have eaten, and Pell Grants and the GI Bill — that’s the America I believe in, and the America I love.

Now I’m running for Senate to ensure that all Americans — no matter where you come from — have an equal opportunity to get a quality and affordable education, to raise a family and to retire with dignity.

As a new mom, I want to rest assured knowing that my own daughter, who is nearly two years old now, is able to grow up in a country that prioritizes hard work, not wealth; that sees an affordable education as an investment, not an entitlement; and that protects the most fundamental tenets of our democracy: the right to vote and the peaceful transition of power.

But that’s not the kind of country we’ll have if guys like Donald Trump and Mark Kirk get their way this November. So now the future of our nation rests with the voters, and at the end of the day, it all depends on one thing: who shows up.

Fortunately, the polls have been open for a couple weeks now, and many of you have already gone to the ballot box. But this isn’t over yet. We need to make sure all of our family members, our friends, our neighbors get out to vote before the polls close tomorrow. Our nation’s future depends on it.

    Tammy Duckworth

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    Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is running to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Learn more at www.tammyduckworth.com.