a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Against dire predictions, against historic precedent, Democrats held the line in this election. As I write this, we do not know the full results yet, but the red wave that was predicted turned out to be a trickle, despite vast sums of money dumped into the election, despite 24-hour news channels serving as propaganda, despite voter suppression. It would have been nice to have more wins, but we once again blocked the momentum of a fascist regressive political party. Our work is not done, but we should celebrate.
For most of my life, I’ve watched the Democrats be rolled over by a Republican agenda set in motion by Ronald Reagan. My own parents voted for Reagan in response to the recession during the Carter administration. My dad’s brothers also voted for Reagan and my grandfather was so angry about it they wouldn’t let him talk about politics at the dinner table. Democrats have lost a lot of ground over the years of my life, so I feared the worst in this election. I know I’m not alone. And for some places like Ohio, where I grew up, the worst did happen. When I was growing up, we had two progressive senators and a Democrat for governor. So much has changed since then. Jobs moved south; unions were busted. Black voters were criminalized and disenfranchised. Now, Ohio girls and women have no access to abortion not even in cases of rape or to save the life of the mother.
For most of my life the Democrats have been an anemic party: every candidate reaching across the aisle to have a pie smashed in his face when what we wanted was someone who would fight for us. I’ll never forget teaching 1984 in a literature class once and introducing students to George Orwell who volunteered in the Spanish civil war alongside many Americans who also volunteered fighting to try to liberate Spain, and one student said he was surprised to hear that a liberal had ever fought for anything. And yet, of course, the left has been fighting all along & Democrats are not the left. They are a tool the left can use to try to direct resources and shape policy.
The wealth has been consolidating. Many of the safeguards we once had in place to secure our democracy have been dismantled. Fascists are casing the joint. They know where the weak spots are in our foundation, but they cannot fathom our strength.
There are reasons to feel hopeful (and this is an incomplete list!):
Pennsylvania went all the way blue.
Democrats gained control of four state governments this election—Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, and Minnesota.
Young people tipped the scales for Democrats.
North Carolinians prevented a Republican supermajority in their statehouse which means that abortion rights will be kept safe in that state.
Maryland elected its first black governor. Women now hold a record number of governorships.
Kentucky defeated abortion restrictions on their ballot (though restrictions remain and there are more hurdles to leap).
New York state passed the largest bond act in state history to support environmental justice improvements, creating more than 84,000 local jobs.
California and Vermont approved amendments to protect abortion rights in their state constitutions.
Arizona is fighting its way blue—votes still being counted and Democrat Mark Kelly has been announced senator.
Missouri legalized marijuana. Nebraska passed a $15 wage. Kansas re-elected a Democratic governor.
Labor groups are expecting victory on a Workers Rights amendment in Illinois.
The justice Democrats kept their seats and will be joined by a growing number of culturally diverse, young, progressive Democrats in the house.
When I look at this list of wins, it is Democrats who gained ground this election. They kept their hold in well entrenched places where voter suppression and gerrymandering have been in place for a good while, but Democrats are expanding their base and winning ground, even in a tough election cycle.
All of these are signs that we who are organizing and creating culture and building community are having impact, however big or small. Our democracy still has a heartbeat. We must keep going.
Melissa Tuckey is a poet, literary activist and teaching artist. She is author of Tenuous Chapel, a book of poems and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She’s a former Poet Laureate of Tompkins County, and an emeritus fellow at Black Earth Institute. She served as founding co-director of Split This Rock, a literary organization supporting socially engaged work. Other honors include a winter fellowship from Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and writing awards from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Ohio Arts Council. She lives in Ithaca, NY.