It’s been a historic few weeks for our nation. Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States after four years of what can only be described as a lurch towards authoritarianism. As we look at the lessons of this election, many will wonder what it means for Virginia’s fast-approaching 2021 election cycle.
It’s no secret that while Biden flipped crucial red states in his favor, Democrats at the Congressional, state, and local levels took losses. These split results have raised a debate within the Democratic party. Some fear that embracing progressive ideas and standing by the Black Lives Matter movement is bad politics.
However, plenty of new data show that bold policies are broadly popular in the US. In the swing state of Florida, voters approved a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by a margin of 61%-39%. Voters in New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona all voted by a wide majority to legalize recreational use of cannabis. Every member of Congress who ran on Medicare-for-All — whether in a swing district or one that is deep blue — won their re-election.
Beyond these shifts in public opinion, this year we saw in real-time how progressive movements for justice help boost our capacity to organize and win with crucial communities. When millions of young people and people of color poured into the streets this summer, they didn’t just protest and march. They got to work harnessing the energy of the revived movement for Black lives.
Black organizers in cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee began to activate parts of their communities that were previously hard to reach. Data shows that voter registrations sharply spiked during the protests, after months of COVID-fueled declines: 1.1 million people registered to vote in just the first two weeks of June. Cash started flowing into the organizations that had been working to get out the vote and build relationships in underinvested communities. New coalitions formed around local responses to racism and police violence.
Democrats in Virginia who are gearing up for the crucial 2021 cycle should keep these outcomes in mind. We have to expand our majority in the House and hold onto our statewide offices. If we can’t clearly distinguish ourselves from what Republicans have to offer, and if we turn away opportunities to organize with movements for justice, we may be destined to lose even worse than we did in this year’s down-ballot races.
As a candidate for lieutenant governor, I’m proud to run on the impactful policies that have proven popular time and time again. Virginians want us to legalize cannabis. They want us to provide paid sick and family leave for all. They want us to confront the climate emergency with an ambitious Green New Deal. By championing these bold issues we can show those who are usually left behind by our politics — working class people, young people, people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people — that we are willing to invest in them. If we fight for people and their priorities, they will fight for us. That’s how we win in 2021 and that’s how we deliver on the promise of a Virginia that works for all.
Perryman is President of the Fairfax County Chapter of the NAACP, a technology public policy advocate, attorney, former congressional investigator, and candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
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