The “Blue Wave”: Reasons to hope and why we must work even harder

Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG)

There are so many news outlets today asking whether or not liberals should be disappointed with “how much” of a #BlueWave there actually was on Tuesday. I woke up Wednesday morning thinking about how proud I am of the following:

  • Amendment 4 passed in Florida, giving back 1.5 million formerly incarcerated people (majority men of color) the right to vote. This will change the voting map in Florida for decades to come from corrupt to fairer. I declare this the biggest victory of the night.
  • Andrew Gillum: Imagine if this race took place with those 1.5 million people now able to vote. That 51,000 vote lead that DeSantis had on him would vanish in 2 seconds.
  • Antonio Delgado unseated a blithering racist in a mostly white district in upstate New York. Way to be baseline decent, white people of NY-19!
  • Stacey Abrams is so close! And that’s not taking into account the hundreds of thousands of voting records purged by her opponent. Let me repeat, according to democracy (aka number of votes), A BLACK PROGRESSIVE WOMAN SHOULD BE GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA!!!
  • Tom Malinowski in NJ-7!!! Makes me [even more] excited to visit my in-laws knowing they and their neighbors fought hard to live in a blue district!
  • Connecticut and Massachusetts elected their first black women to Congress, Jahana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley (know their names!!)! We can now declare racism over in those states… JK. Don’t even think about it, CT and MA! Having a “congresswoman who is black” does not mean you are not racist. But you’ve made some progress.
  • We elected not one but TWO Muslim women to Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (know their names!!!), one of which is also a Somali-American refugee. Just one would have been historic.
  • Xochitl Torres Small — I’m proud to have started my activism career with her in college. She is the salt of the earth who embodies everything a leader should, and even though the race is still undecided, as a first go, she’s already won in my book.
  • Hey, Colorado Governor-Elect Jared Polis, you first openly gay governor in history, you!! Definitely teared up when you thanked your ‘first’ first man.
  • New York officially took down our conservative block in the state legislature, paving the way for some truly progressive reform in NY, including on voting rights and access (which is currently 46th out of 50 states).
  • Congressman-Elect Andy Kim!!! From too-close-to-call to victory! The some of Korean immigrants, he’s one of the hardest working, most genuine people I know, and he did a helluva job unseating one of the staunches opposers to Obamacare in Congress.
  • Beto, I don’t even need to use your full name. Everyone knows you. I repeat, EVERYONE KNOWS A PROGRESSIVE SENATE CANDIDATE IN TEXAS. Beto created a progressive platform and voice, and the fact that he came so close in what was solidly a red state 2 years ago is superhuman.
  • Oh, and you over there, you 19 black female judges who swept the election in an entire county in Texas — all of you are my heroes.
  • Scott Walker, hey hey hey, good-bye! Your exit has been years in the making, and the students who occupied the Wisconsin capital building seven years ago were the beginning.
  • And so many more victories, big and small…

Elections are often the convergence point for movements, a marker of how far we have come and how far we have to go. Each of these victories were a testament to larger movements or campaigns—the Movement for Black Lives, the Dreamers, #FamiliesBelongTogether, March for Our Lives, #MeToo, Be a Hero, the Women’s March, Moral Mondays—and countless other efforts locally and nationally that planted the seeds, crafted the narrative, and mobilized people.

I believe measuring the impact of the wave is the wrong question.

The real question is, did we build POWER? Did we come together? Is our collective struggle now clearer and do we, as people in the U.S., feel more connected to one another?

There is a very long list of victories from Tuesday, but perhaps the greatest achievement of all is the thousands upon thousands of people who have been showing up the last two years, and especially the last two months. Knocking, phonebanking, being small-dollar donors, marching, registering, dropping off snacks, keeping people in line, and ultimately, getting to know each other and our democracy more intimately.

These are the acts that will sustain us and continue to build the powerful movements that are bigger than voting. Because U.S. democracy will not be determined by elections alone. So if you’re feeling malaise after all the hype and don’t know what to make of it, know this:

The “wave” we are looking for is not purely electoral. It cannot be measured in House seats. The truth is that the U.S. has never had a “wave” of change, not since the 1930s, and even then it took years. But if Tuesday proves anything, it’s that like the most effective movements, the wave that is coming is local. It’s slow (more like clouds forming ahead of a storm that will produce many waves, whose impacts may not be felt for years). The “wave” will come in pockets, in fits and starts. It will be uneven. Its heroes may not be flagbearers of progressivism with a national platform. It won’t, and can’t be purely ideological if we want to win. It has to be real people with real stories facing real problems who are ready to tackle the nuances of these complex political times.

The “wave” is in the form of the laundry list of victories that started my day with hope that have yet to weave together a story. The story is that there is no story yet other than there are reasons to hope, and even more critical reasons why we cannot stop.

These midterm elections were never about sweeping, “blue” change. For people who thought they were the silver bullet, I’m sorry to report that we are in a much more dire situation than any one election can possibly solve, even after Trump is gone. These midterms were about plugging the hole in a crumbling dam so that we can live another day and have a bit more time and a slightly better chance of stopping the forces of fascism and nationalism that are sweeping through our country. This is a long game, and we are going to need people to see a role for themselves beyond this election. We’re going to need to keep plugging. Literally.