For exhausted Boston Marathon runners, Heartbreak Hill represents ambivalent solace and the short-term angst that is the friction of growth and promise. After a grueling 20-and-a-half miles and so much hard work, you are almost at the finish line. You are so close, but you have to find your last wind, continue forward, and march with a powerful stride until you can see Boston’s beautiful skyline. Victory is yours, but only because you stayed strong and will continue to follow through!
Leaders of color and their allies within the community are at a similar precipice. This momentous challenge will require steadfast commitment if we are to see victory. After the 2016 presidential election, many community members have felt lingering numbness and anxiety. Yet, the 2018 Midterms provided a shot in the arm. This kind of hope can be so delicious you may risk biting off more than you can chew. Moderation.
Now that vibrant leaders have blossomed like mayflowers and withstood the grueling test of the fall to rise to political positions of power, we must maintain our pace and support them through the winter to the finish line. Activism is a marathon, consistent energy and optimism will need to be brought to bear because we are in the fight of our lives and the goals posts always seem to move.
From the primary to the general, from coast to coast, the nation has been on a rollercoaster ride. Social and economic justice saw gains in races up and down the ballot, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We saw the highest voter turnout since World War I. We also saw the broad daylight theft of governorships in Georgia and Florida. Justice was deferred when Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams had to concede defeat because both instances had rampart voter suppression and this contributed directly to the result of their elections. Nevertheless, Gillum and Abrams are cut from a different cloth. In a space that can sometimes ooze gutlessness, they remain a beacon and a continuing example of what we can achieve when we work hard and come together.
Another low point happened in Mississippi, where we saw blatant racism on display when the GOP Congressional Candidate said she would love to sit in the front row of the lynching of her black opponent Mike Epsy. This was a disgusting—however, not surprising— moment in the 2018 election that pre-2016 would have likely cost the candidate. It is indicative of that fact that the tone of politics has been forever shifted with the election of this President and it’s hard to envision a future where we can return to civility. When you hear comments like that and see the unprecedented amount of openly bigoted candidates who have cropped up across the nation, it is angering and disheartening.
Even in moments where voters have made a clear choice, democracy is likely to be subverted. This is happening in Wisconsin and Michigan now. Republicans upset they lost the Governor’s office and seats in the State Legislature are going to pass laws restricting the power of the Governor. On the GOP side, multiculturalism is “transactional.” Take Mia Love, the GOP darling that many were holding up as proof that the GOP was not a racist party. Even at a time when a white supremacist that supports neo-nazis like Rep. Steve King are re-elected, the GOP loses a “moderate” voice. She was nevertheless defeated and earned herself a shoutout from our dimwitted Commander-in-Chief lambasting her for not having succumbed to his level or regurgitating Trump-apologist talking points.
On a positive note, Boston has been glowing with the recent election of Ayanna Pressley to Congress. I have worked in Boston and MA politics for 7 years and I was never as giddy and excited at the prospect of an election. People who fund upstart candidates of color in Massachusetts are a small circle. I worked with a coalition of activists, organizers, and elected officials of color that helped support and grow the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus by proactively seeking to fill 20 majority minority House seats. This made me privy to early grumblings and giddy with joy and excitement for the campaign that would unfold a year and half later.
On the flip side, when I led a coalition of civic-minded organizations in Roxbury called RoxVote and met with then current (now outgoing) Congressman Capuano, he remarked that the work of making everyone a super voter was important (which we appreciated). However, he went on to talk about how little time he spends campaigning in areas like Roxbury and how it wouldn’t “make sense” if he spent time in places where so few people voted. While the campaign consultant in me agrees, I also think that moment showed a lack of grace and that he was out of touch. I, nonetheless, appreciated the time he gave us that day.
With all this in mind, when the Young Democrats of MA Black Caucus (which I previously had the honor of chairing) held a discussion with the Congressman, I felt compelled to ask the following question: ”Given that we have no person of color elected statewide or as a member of the MA Congressional delegation, and that your district is the only majority-minority district, how committed are you to ensuring that your eventual successor is a person of color.” He flatly said “I’m not,” and that he doesn’t see color as a factor in deciding who should be elected.The best person for the job should be elected regardless of color, he said. This was after just speaking about how important it is to have diversity in the party and in its leadership. We went back and forth a few times—in what others regarded as heated—but I have the utmost respect for Congressman Capuano and believe two people can passionately disagree and still maintain that respect. That is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. So, needless to say, I have the countdown clock running on the swearing in of this next Congress and cannot wait for them to hit the ground running. This will be a historic Congressional session. If you are not following CONGRESSWOMAN ELECT AYANNA PRESSLEY on Instagram and Twitter you need to! @AyannaPressley @Ocasio2018 @RashidaTlaib @iIhanMN
Now let’s talk about NIKA, LIZ, and RACHAEL First off, I need to you to stop reading for a second and just give them a round of applause.
I have so much love and respect for these amazing leaders. They are defining and re-defining the new status quo at the statehouse. We need that so badly. You heard live and direct finally during a very frank discussion on Basic Black between Mayor Yvonne Spicer (which is another amazing leader and first Mayor of Framingham who happens to be a Black woman, AMAZING), State Rep Elect Nika Elugardo, State Rep Elect Liz Miranda, and DA Elect Rachel Rollins about their experiences of racism, exclusion, and hostility in the MA Democratic Party. They each had to fight tooth and nail to get elected and owe the party no favors. The people elected them and that is their primary constituency. Nika brought the party leadership to their knees when she culled the speaker “partner-in-crime.” I’m less shocked at her quote, “The Democratic Party is straight up racist,” than by how many people were shocked to hear it spoken out loud. But the fact that we have folks who will call a spade a spade is invaluable because now a real conversation can begin. They spent almost $200,000 to keep him elected, but Nika proved to them that authenticity and shoe leather is how you meet people where they are at. $200,000!!!
Now, let’s talk about Liz Miranda, who saw the 5th Suffolk divide take place similarly to that of an earlier race in my career when I worked on the election that saw Evandro Carvalho elected. The Cape Verdean community is strong in the 5th Suffolk and that is not going to change for the foreseeable future. With the election of Former Rep Carvalho, the Cape Verdean community has actualized part of their political power and they will not cede it. Even considering that, the party did not help her, and she has supported the MA Dems in the past. She said, “What I found is, I’m a Democrat. I feel I’m gung ho for the party and then I see myself really fighting against the system that is meant to support me and that is something that needs to be discussed and brought up…..It shouldn’t be black women having to shout that. I think the party understands that they are at a crossroads.” Liz Miranda is a breath of fresh air. She is a real, down-to-earth person and proof that with passion and dedication you can be the change you want to see. She brings a unique lense growing up in Roxbury and she is 100% #RoxburyStrong. As high as she has climbed in life she has never left her community behind and has been doing the most critical work you can do in Roxbury: helping to guide our youth. She has a tremendous heart and will push the envelope of what is possible.
Rachel Rollins, who has also been an active Democrat, was blunt about the how much support she received from the party, “Not any.”She beat a crowded field of candidates and now is on track to bring equity to Suffolk County. Rachel is a foster mom, a dog mom, and an all-around amazing person. As a foster care advocate, she had my support from day one. As a black man, if I get pulled over next year, I hope it’s in Suffolk County because I truly will feel safer.
Not every elected leader of color has the same strong minority base in their districts. For example, Councilwoman Lydia Edward and Council President Andrea Campbell’s districts have a strong white constituency that has generally dominated the political priorities for those districts even though both districts boast large immigrant, black, and latino populations that have until recently been civically dormant. We need to support these leaders who are already in the trenches slugging it out for us even when we don’t know it or don’t see it. I’ve come to admire Althea Garrison during my time in #BosPoli. She is a complex individual and someone who is tirelessly engaged in the civic process in the most direct way. By putting her name on a ballot. I don’t put much weight to criticism of her from folks who barely engage in the process by making a post or two about politics and voting in each election. It’s more than just that. I think that even though she will have to start running again soon she will bring a very unique lense and perspective to City Hall. Even if I disagree with every one of her positions, I will always respect her voice at the table. If folks have a problem with her getting into office then maybe they should put their name on a dang ballot.
Ultimately, the new coalition of elected officials will improve the pipeline and make an impact. This will also take the pressure off of some of the other elected leaders of color and push them to be the best version of themselves.
I look forward to a shifting tone that allows for uncomfortable and raw conversations. For example, the shameful way the City has dealt with the push to have a discussion about the renaming of Faneuil Hall deserves a real conversation. Faneuil Hall is named after a man, Peter Faneuil, whose singular legacy is being the Carnagie of the slave trade. Perhaps worthwhile discussions like these with reasonable positions on both sides won’t be dismissed outright and the dark clouds looming over uncomfortable conversations will clear in Boston.. So get your reps in and stay sharp people. We will need to be at our best to cross that finish envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The march is a marathon and we will continue to step forward even though we do not see the finish line, the light at the end of the tunnel, or even the steps on the staircase that lead to the end to our fight for racial healing.
By Ed Shoemaker