Now more than ever, states are on the frontlines in defending our democracy

Now more than ever, states are on the frontlines in defending our democracy and fighting for the soul of our country. With this Kavanaugh confirmation, it’s clear that our national level system of checks and balances is compromised. We’ll fight like hell the next 31 days to try to re-balance the scale in Congress, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. November is not the finish line. It’s never the finish line.

We need to invest in building power in states so that elected officials at all levels and everywhere can and will be held accountable. Just look at the role that the Alaskan Native community played in Murkowski’s decision to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And we have to stop making excuses for not investing more in states – they’re too blue, they’re too red, it’ll take too long, there’s not enough capacity…the list goes on. Let’s build that capacity.

In 2016, Virginia was the only southern state to go for Hillary Clinton. That same year, across the state, in every locality, Virginians handedly rejected a right to work amendment that was on the ballot. A year later, Democrats won all three statewide seats and flipped 15 House seats, electing the most diverse freshmen class ever. And everywhere I go, people ask me how that wave was possible. What’s the silver bullet?

Let me tell you a secret. There is no silver bullet. Virginia is where it is today, not just because of the demographic shifts or a 45 backlash, but because of the organizing, advocacy, communications and voter engagement infrastructure that was built over the last decade, through the hard work of state and local organizations and other stakeholders with deep commitments to our state.

And I’m proud to say that New Virginia Majorityplayed a role in that sea of change. It wouldn’t have been possible for us if someone didn’t believe in our grand experiment. We were founded 11 years ago because someone believed in our vision – that a new Virginia and a new South was possible. With a $50,000 grant and a guiding philosophy of “fail fast” (let’s be honest – I had no clue what I was doing when we started this thing), we have built our organization into the largest POC-led civic engagement organization in Virginia. And we’re winning.

We’re not alone. Across the country, strong state-based organizations exist and are being built -in southern states like Georgia, Florida, Texas; midwestern states like Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri; in the southwest in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. I could go on and on. Invest in states. Invest in these groups. We’re on the frontlines. And we’re ready to fight. Who’s with us?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Chet Strange)

Day 4 of #‎LiveTheWageVA: This has been an entirely humbling experience for me

 

This is “Live the Wage” week, an effort to highlight what it’s like for working women and men making the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (Find out more at www.livethewageva.org. or, on Twitter, at #‎LiveTheWageVA.) If the question is whether or not people CAN live on minimum wage, many folks would probably say yes. In fact, 1.2 million American workers live on minimum wage. But it takes a lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard choices to make it work. Sometimes that choice boils down to which bills you will pay this month, how much food you can put on the table, or whether or not you can visit a doctor.

The question is whether or not people SHOULD HAVE TO get by on $7.25/hr. If you are working hard and playing by the rules, you should be making enough to support yourself and your family. No one is guaranteed success in America, but everyone deserves a fair shot to succeed and make enough to pay their bills.

Truth be told, I’ve been there. My family has been there. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my early childhood, but one that sticks out for me is from a time that my dad took me to visit my mom at the end of her work shift, cleaning tables at a local McDonalds. She gave me some French fries, and oh my god, they were so tasty! Seeing me happy made her smile, but underneath that smile, was a woman who knew that this wasn’t the American dream. My parents both worked low-wage jobs. My dad also worked in the food industry as a line cook at Skillagalee in Richmond.

My dad ended up taking out a bunch of loans so that he could get a bachelor’s degree, since none of his academic or military background in Vietnam translated to a meaningful job in America. For years, my dad lived and studied in Connecticut, while my mom continued to make things work in Virginia. He graduated and still couldn’t find a job. So they borrowed more money and opened up a restaurant. A successful restaurant. By my fourth grade year, they were able to buy a house in the West End of Alexandria, Virginia. The American dream!

But success came with sacrifice. They worked around the clock, and closed the restaurant between 2 and 4 every day so that they could race home and spend at least some time with my sisters and me as we came home school. Often, they were so tired, they would nap during this break. Who could blame them?

I share this more as a reminder to myself. Because I have forgotten what it’s like to have to be consciously aware of my spending habits. As challenging as this week has been for me, I know that it is nothing compared to the reality for people who are actually living on minimum wage. I get to end my challenge at the end of this week. But my fight for economic and social justice will never end.

 

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Ralph Northam)