There is a picture of me from when I was little, holding a poorly colored-in sign reading “What about my future?” while on my dad’s shoulders. We were protesting an education bill in the Idaho State Legislature. Though I may not have understood it at the time, this protest was the beginning of my lifetime interest in politics and advocacy.
After the 2016 election, I was terribly confused — and distraught — by President Donald Trump’s victory. I had no idea how to advance my ideals or how the country could move forward in unity. I found hope through an old cliche: All politics are local.
If progressives want to have an impact on our national policy, discourse and culture, we must return to our roots of organizing and coalition-building within our communities and beyond.
This inspiration came from being on GU Politics Fellow Marlon Marshall’s student strategy team. Marshall formerly served as director of state campaigns and political engagement for Hillary for America.
My experience on Marshall’s team quite literally changed my life, as it shifted my focus from the political drama of “the swamp” to the significance and strength of grassroots and community organizing.
Tuesday’s election in Virginia is the Democrats’ chance to reshape their image before the 2018 midterm elections as a party of the people and motivate our supporters.
Most importantly, however, it is a way to reaffirm the power of local politics by including individuals and communities in the political process. With more voices at the table, our platform will be more constructive and inclusive, and our advocacy will have a greater effect.
Gerrymandering has, in part, allowed this lack of inclusivity to happen. This issue is particularly prominent in Virginia, where analysis by outlets such as The Associated Press has shown that Republicans benefit from partisan gerrymandering.
By changing the very demographics of legislative districts, certain communities in the electorate have been privileged over others, making for poor representation and cowardly governance. Democrats must vote and continue organizing in our communities beyond election day to remedy this issue.
Representation of different identity groups, socio-economic statuses and experiences matters, especially in local politics. If our elected officials do not reflect our communities, then underrepresented groups will be left out of conversation and liable to be hurt by policies developed without their input. When everyone has a seat at the table, cooperation improves, and policies are able to better the lives of those they are intended to serve.
In Virginia this election cycle, there is an unprecedented number of women and people of color running for office, bringing their diverse experiences and ideas with them. Forty-three Democratic women are on House of Delegates ballots across the state, according to The Washington Post.
With all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates up for grabs, we must elevate the voices of these candidates and elect them. Not only does this inclusion benefit Virginia and its communities, but it also sends a national message regarding the importance and impact of representation in politics.
Additionally, outlets such as the Cook Political Report view the race for the Virginia House of Delegates as a barometer to gauge our nation’s political climate and as an indicator of how the 2018 midterm elections will go.
Right now, Republicans hold 66 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates to Democrats’ 34. If we can flip the House of Delegates blue, win the governorship and show high voter turnout — on top of electing an amazing and diverse pool of candidates — we can carry that momentum into the 2018 elections and beyond.
Local politics dictate much of our lives, and it is increasingly important that we concern ourselves with it — both at home and on the Hilltop.
As former President Barack Obama said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” If you have not phone banked, canvassed or volunteered before, start now. It is not enough to post on Facebook or tweet about it. Get up, do something, vote and change one corner of the world at a time.
Maria Cornell is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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