Since the election, there has been a flurry of articles and discussions about why the Democrats lost and how best to move forward. While it is important to reflect on what went right and what went wrong, too much of this type of second guessing leads to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “paralysis of analysis.” But I cannot move forward without throwing in my two cents. I am frustrated and angry with those who claim the only chance of future success is for the Democratic Party, especially in the South and Midwest, to abandon speaking directly to women and people of color and the LGBT community and instead focus on the economy and other “more comfortable” topics in order to win back some of the center.
What does this move away from “identity politics” look like? What are the Democrats to do when GOP legislators attempt to pass bathroom laws that are based on fear? What are we to do when they threaten to implement policies that hurt immigrants and Muslims? What are we to do when a presidential nominee promises to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade? It’s not a matter of choosing our battles; they’ve already been chosen for us. How will we respond?
Before standing up for equality or justice, must the Democrats determine which group polls the best with this “center” we want to attract? Are we to do a cost benefit analysis? Do we say “Hey, Black Lives Matter, we will stand with you because you have a lot of support, but can you tone down the flag protests? It makes some people uncomfortable.” And to the Muslims, “We are sorry, but right now, you are not too popular with those who do not understand you all are not members of ISIS.” “Transgender friends, maybe next election we will fight for you, but we are going to back off and let them ban you from the bathrooms in order to capture more voters.” We have to understand that many, especially older voters, are uncomfortable with certain groups and topics. I don’t let that dictate my compass. And the Democratic Party shouldn’t either.
I cannot speak for those outside my demographic, but I can tell you that many of the women I know are processing this outcome differently from elections in the past. We are mourning the loss more deeply because we finally saw issues important to us like wage fairness, paid family leave and affordable childcare be front and center. We, like other historically disenfranchised groups, had a candidate in Hillary Clinton who spoke directly to us. We had the chance to have one of our voices heard at the highest level of government. We had a candidate who knew firsthand the tough choices working mothers have to make. Someone who understood what it was like to be the smartest and best but passed over because we didn’t “look the part.”
Now those who stand to lose rights under a Trump presidency are being called crybabies, buttercups and whiners from the right. And we are hearing the far left say that our candidate was terrible and all of the fault lies squarely on her shoulders. We are hearing from many in the center that she lost because she dared fight for issues important to women, the LGBT community and people of color. Some claim the Democrats should regroup and these issues should be put on hold until they are more popular. No wonder there are so many craft nights and coloring book parties and “cry-ins” being held in homes and on campuses. Despite our candidate winning the popular vote, some in our own party want to abandon many of the values and truths that motivated so many to support Hillary Clinton. And if the Democrats abandon those fights, they will lose the heart of the party. By the way, in a country with an addiction epidemic due in part to a culture that tells us to tough it up and swallow our feelings, some fun activities designed to help the participants let off some steam should not be mocked and ridiculed.
The Democratic Party should refuse to back down from our duty to protect the most vulnerable. We should continue to speak directly to those who face injustice and inequality. Their fights should be our fights. We are moving in the right direction. No need to turn back now.
Autumn Tolbert is a lawyer in Fayetteville.