By Rev. Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network
Last night, I was glued to my television set like many others around the country, watching and waiting for election results to pour in. It was a historic evening to say the least. A liberal Democrat won in Virginia; a non-tea party candidate who openly worked with President Obama was reelected in the state of New Jersey; and a proud progressive who campaigned against current stop-and-frisk policies will be the next Mayor of New York City. In short, we witnessed a voter rebellion against the tea party that has strangled much of American politics since 2010. But before we put away our marching shoes and indulge in celebration, we must remember that big battles remain before us. Though we achieved tremendous victories yesterday, we now must prepare for the trenches — most immediately, for the 2014 midterms.
A phrase we often hear repeatedly is that elections have consequences. Indeed they do. And the major triumphs of last night will undoubtedly usher in progressive changes that are desperately needed in a political climate that has pushed the needs of the people oftentimes to last place. In areas like New York City, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to reform the draconian practice of stop-and-frisk that has criminalized an entire segment of this great metropolis. Last night’s election displayed the very clear possibility of where we can go when we actively mobilize and engage in the political process. It’s vital however that we remember that we have a clear path towards success, but not a complete arrival yet. If we don’t change Congress, the winners of yesterday’s election won’t have the resources or the appropriate legislation to make progress a sustained reality. They won’t have the ability to live up to their promises, nor deliver to their constituencies. And that will be a failure for all that we simply cannot afford.
When the tea party began gaining momentum, they strategized and made sure that their candidates were elected, and eventually took enough control of government to begin a process of obstruction that literally brought us to a standstill (as witnessed by the recent government shutdown). Instead of working with their counterparts across the aisle, they often behaved in an unprecedented manner that gave new definition to the idea of uncompromising. Political analysts and historians everywhere continuously state that they have never seen such division in Washington. But one fatal flaw of the tea party that we can learn from at this very moment is the fact that they became intoxicated with their own victories. We, progressives, cannot allow ourselves to face the same fate. It’s okay to acknowledge achievements, but if we have too long of a celebratory party, we will end up back in the dungeons of defeat. And that is something that we must prevent for the sake of our children and the future of this country.
In 2008 and 2012, many records were broken and new normalcies established. The bottom line was that we voted, and we saw the power of that vote when possibility translated to reality. But unfortunately, many initiatives that would have directly benefited the nation were either stalled or struck down because of a small group of elected officials controlling one branch of government. With gerrymandered districts, the 2014 midterm election will be more significant than ever. If you care about immigration, organize and vote. If you believe everyone deserves access to affordable health care, organize and vote. If you want to preserve landmark legislation that began to balance inequality like the Voting Rights Act, organize and vote. If you believe in a woman’s right to choose and have control of her own life and body, organize and vote. If you want to eliminate harsh laws like new photo ID requirements that disenfranchise citizens, organize and vote. And if you believe that everyone despite his/her skin tone, religion, gender or sexual orientation deserves an equal shot, make sure you organize and vote.
Many of us were excited last night, and that’s a normal sentiment when such tremendous progress took place. But in order to continue on that path of advancement for all, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. Whether we are young or old, male or female, Black or White, gay or straight, we only succeed when all of us have equal opportunities and a level playing field for those opportunities. And the only way that will come to fruition is by participating in the process and advocating for change. I was glad to see so many do that in yesterday’s election and I’m hopeful that we will continue to do so in 2014 and beyond. Let’s build on last night’s momentum. To all progressives: the time is now.