Democrats won the 218 seats needed to take control of the House of Representatives. More than 100 women will sit in Congress for the first time ever.
Additionally, Democrats won control of the governor’s offices in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
National turnout for the election was 49% of eligible voters. The last time a midterm election hit this level of turnout was 1966!
All of the above occurred in spite of GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts. In fact, ten million more people voted Democratic in this election. And yet, Republicans retained their Senate majority and still reelected many incumbents to House seats (like here in Louisiana).
In many states, the progressive vote was deliberately depressed by the way district maps were drawn after the last census. The good news is there is another census coming up. It is essential that Democrats are part of the process when new boundaries are discussed and that only happens if there are more Democrats in Governor mansions and state legislatures.
So what can we do?
Let’s start by taking a lesson from survival swimming. Even strong swimmers who get caught in ocean rip tides or river undercurrents can tire easily if they fight the water directly. There are several techniques swimmers can learn, from survival breathing to treading water to combat sidestroke in order to escape the dangerous current, without wasting excessive energy. Some of the same strategies will work for Democrats, too.
Concentrate on your breathing. Feeling like you’re drowning is a terrible sensation. Becoming mindful of your breathing leaves less room for things like panic, frustration and fear. So, breathe in for a count of four and hold it for a count of four. Then breathe out for another count of four. Wait for another count of four before breathing in again. Practice this breathing regularly and it will help you remain calm and rational when you feel like you’re being pummeled by the waves.
Celebrate how far we’ve come by looking at all the historic firsts. It gladdens my heart to see so many men and women of color, muslims, and LGBTQ candidates who jumped in feet first into unknown waters and just started swimming competitively. While not everything went smoothly, with this election, we are closer than ever before to having our elected representatives looking like the electorate they are supposed to serve. Plus, think of all those first time voters that took the plunge because of all the calls and outreach we did!
Capitalize on the current tidal momentum to increase voter registration. Our votes are our voices and thwarting attempts to disenfranchise voters matters. As an example, your local League of Women Voters will usually be able to send out folks to register voters if you give them enough lead time. Promote the businesses and groups who gave voters rides to the polls (like Lyft and Uber) so we can repeat for the next GOTV drive. Pay attention to efforts by the Secretary of State to close polling locations or locate them in remote, inaccessible locations. Call them out and drown them in a sea of bad publicity.
Collaborate with other progressives by joining Democratic political organizations. For instance, I’m active with the Independent Women’s Organization here in New Orleans. Being around like minded activists helps keep all of our heads above water. It also bring us allies in our individual battles and can be the difference between swimming and sinking. Showing up for each other is how we build movements and create change.
Become better candidates by working with organizations who develop campaign skills like Emerge (check out the one in your state, for example Emerge Louisiana) who focus on women or Democracy for America who train progressives. The Victory Institute trains LGBTQ candidates. Many state Democratic parties and the National Democratic Training Committee are also doing trainings. All these groups help candidates get their feet wet and become more viable by giving them the tools to run and win.
Don’t be discouraged that this election didn’t give us all the victories we hoped for. We are not a single wave. Instead, we are the ocean itself with many waves rising, cresting, falling and rising again. Political fortunes will ebb and flow but together, we can be the rising tide that lifts all the boats.