After days of uncertainty, we can decisively declare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our next president and vice president of the United States. Let’s be clear: We have succeeded in ousting a president who’s fascist, sexist, racist, xenophobic—I could go on. But the fight is far from over. We are facing a dying planet, rampant police brutality, an immigration crisis, and a battle over basic human rights at the mercy of an out-of-touch Supreme Court. And while Donald Trump is out, electing Biden is just the start of what we need to do to meet this moment. The fact that this victory was so hard-fought shows we have a long way to go to decouple this country from its white supremacist roots.
Biden is far from the platonic ideal of the next president. Sure, he’s not a member of the Proud Boys, but he has upheld white supremacy throughout his career, such as expanding the racist system of policing we are now in crisis mode to stop. He’s not a climate denier, but he rejects the Green New Deal introduced by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and supported by young people, economists, Indigenous people, and climate activists alike. Trump mangled the nation’s COVID-19 response, but Biden has refused to back universal healthcare, even during one of the worst health crises to hit the United States since the 1918 flu pandemic. And when it comes to voting out an alleged rapist, Biden isn’t squeaky clean himself.
Many will tell you that Biden and Harris may not be perfect, but that we don’t need perfect politicians. That’s true to an extent. Because the office of the president protects a nation founded on genocide, slavery, and inequity, we will likely never find a candidate who can fully uproot us from that unjust foundation. However, we have spent all of 2020 battling multiple states of emergencies, and we deserve more. Black organizers who delivered this win, especially in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, deserve more. Indigenous voters, who showed up despite a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation and across reservations, all to be seemingly categorized as “something else” by cable news, deserve more. So where do we go from here?
First, we acknowledge that elected officials are not saviors to praise but employees to hold accountable, and we do this by not backing down. Biden’s win does not signal an end to civic engagement and a return to brunches and blind allegiance. Voting Biden and Harris in was harm reduction; it doesn’t mean we can fall asleep at the wheel. We have to be loud about what we want the first 100 days of this 46th presidential administration to look like, setting the tone for the next four years. We also have our work cut out for us considering Democrats are still fighting to gain a Senate majority, and our system of checks and balances could be limited.
If you attended the 2017 Women’s March, showed up at an airport or #AbolishICE rally against forced deportations and racialized xenophobia, spoke out against gun violence with March For Our Lives, donated to a reproductive justice group to protect access to safe abortions, went on strike for our planet, or chanted #BlackLivesMatter, then your work is far from over. Be consistent with your outrage and solidarity by becoming a recurring donor and/or volunteer for local organizations in your community that are advocating for the most vulnerable in your own backyard. If we each continue to show up—regardless of which way the media cycle goes—we will achieve far more than simply yelling in an echo chamber.
We must remember that Trump was a symptom of larger, institutionalized injustice and most, if not all, of the problems he inherited or expanded will exist and need to be addressed for years to come, regardless of who sits in the White House. As many a wise person has said before, if our basic human rights are on the line every election cycle, there’s a problem. It will take more than charisma and representation to transform the structural problems facing our society.
Lastly, we reframe what constitutes a win. Relatively speaking, we have toppled one fascist, but unilaterally many people are still under the feet of poverty, violence, and instability. What is a win that helps us sleep at night when the material realities of most people haven’t changed? The real winners of this election are those bold enough to craft a vision that includes all of us. A vision that sees Ferguson activist Cori Bush become the first Black congresswoman from the state of Missouri. A vision with more openly transgender and queer legislators than ever before. A vision of ballot measures decriminalizing drug use and investing in our communities' rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
We must demand progressive leadership that leaves no one behind. Not Black people. Not women, and especially not trans women. Not those with disabilities. Not the unhoused or those forced to live in poverty. To heal the divides that have polarized and hurt us, we must recognize everyone’s inherent value. Our vote is one part of the fight for a government that serves us all, rather than only a small elite. We are on the dawn of a new decade. What will our collective legacy be? That we succumbed to the status quo or that we were bold and imaginative enough to create a “new normal"? It all depends on whether and how we continue to show up.
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