By Guest Contributor: Timmy Lu (@timmyhlu)
I’ve been voting and tracking national electoral politics since I was nine, when I voted twice for Bill Clinton in 1992.
Like a lot of immigrant and refugee kids, my parents relied on me to interpret American society for them, and politics — including filling out mail-in ballots — was one part of that responsibility. I was raised under the requirement that I know — and be able to talk about — American politics.
I’ve noticed something really different about this year’s election.
Election years are when many people are most engaged, most attentive, and most vocal about politics. So, it really matters what candidates are saying (or not saying) through the course of an election because it sets the stage for how most people understand issues like the environment, jobs, race relations, immigration, and so on.
In this election, perhaps more so than in any other that I can remember, I’m hearing people talk about the issues. It’s happening on my Facebook feed, in the streets, and in my very large extended family too. The issues matter, and everyday people know it.
Some of this heightened interest is because of the tremendous activism we’ve seen this last decade. If you had asked me ten years ago, when we were deeply entrenched in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if an upsurge in immigrant rights, environment and climate, low-wage workers, LGBT, anti-corporate, and police accountability movements would change the landscape (and very language) of politics in the the United States, I’d say you were on something. But, that’s where we’re at as a country right now.
Work at the grassroots level is bearing fruit and changing the way that candidates for national office talk about the issues. It’s changing speeches, shaping platforms, and challenging them to be better on the things regular people care about, and not just what the candidates think or want us to care about. Name a group of people who haven’t been touched by or who isn’t talking about #BlackLivesMatter and police violence, for example.
Whether or not you voted for “that guy” in 2008 and 2012 — or whether or not you will vote for that “that woman” in 2016 — we are at a tipping point. A Black president was twice elected, a self-identified socialist had a serious shot at the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and we could be electing our country’s first woman president on November 7th. From an electoral math standpoint, “we” did that; and by “we” I mean voters of color, women voters, and progressive whites. Our coalition of voters and community organizers didn’t convince more moderate voters, and it certainly wasn’t just the parties or the candidates who cast millions of ballots by themselves. We did that.
This election matters because we can’t retreat from the advances made over the last ten years. Instead, we must build on the work we’ve accomplished together. Making a choice at the polls for president and voting on the many issues and candidate on your local and statewide ballot is only one part of the change that we need. We also need folks to talk to their neighbors and families, to argue with racists in the street, and to create culture and vision for a just and inclusive future. We need to be knocking on doors, making phone calls and organizing our communities.
The challenge of the moment, however, is that “the other side” is already mobilizing to do the same. Instead of trying to moderate their message, the Right is going all-in on a message of hate and distrust. We cannot be lulled into complacency by Trump’s antics; he has been winning real contests, and the electoral math is on his side. Millions of Republicans voted for Trump and he won state after state before the other candidates bowed out. But, the problem goes deeper than one man: the Republican party platform is not a platform that reflects its newly-crowned presidential nominee. Meanwhile, every Trump competitor looked basically like Trump before Trump knocked them out.
What’s at stake in this election isn’t a personal choice between the lesser of two evils, as some people (and cable news pundits) want you to think. It’s not even really about the electoral horse race between two candidates who are facing off this fall, or who their running mates are or will be. This election is about the setting the stage for what social movements and issues we want to fight in 2017 and beyond. This election is about taking overt racism and misogyny out of the political discourse, choosing to fight climate change, and ending disastrous war policy.
At the core of this election is a rallying cry that would compel us to build a better infrastructure so that we can finally fight back against the forces that which would divide and diminish us. We must come together as a network of millions, who are energized, mobilized, and organized to change the United States for the better.
I’m not necessarily convinced that any political party is up to that monumental task, or that they even see it as central to this election over the long haul. Nonetheless, I believe that getting this necessary outcome will require millions of people to move forward and vote this fall in national, state, and local elections. While political candidates mighty ride that energy for their own gain, we must focus on the important goal: to build what we need to build so we can fight to win in 2018, 2020, and on. I’m committed to doing that, and I’m asking for your support.
This year, I’ll be joining the Grassroots Global Justice “It Takes Roots” Caravan to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. This delegation is about highlighting the real issues at stake in this election: the economy, the environment, and world leadership. We’ll be hitting the streets with high-impact direct action protests that will change the story of these conventions by putting the issues of regular people first.
I’m a firm believer that the best politics always has an element of protest in it. That’s why I’m here in Cleveland right now for the Republican National Convention, and that’s why I will be traveling to Philadelphia later this week for the Democratic National Convention. This is not business or politics as usual, and I’m willing to put myself out there to ensure that we talk about the bigger issues. Of course, this fall I’ll also still be doing what I normally do: getting people out to vote!
That’s also why I’m asking for your support. I’m trying to raise $300 to support the “It Takes Roots” Caravan. I need just ten people to step up and kick in $30 each to hit this modest goal.
I’ll be sending daily updates so that folks can track what’s happening on the ground and get a first-hand account of what the cable news networks aren’t telling you about people’s stories. To receive those messages, follow me on Facebook, on Twitter (@timmyhlu), and on Instagram (timmyhlu).
Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) where he organizes Asian American communities for environmental and economic justice. He is also a member of Asians for Black Lives.
Learn more about Reappropriate’s guest contributor program and submit your own writing here.