I don’t think I’d ever been so disappointed to wake up sick.
It was Sunday, January 21, the anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., to protest the election of Donald Trump. To mark the occasion, the Women’s March organizers were descending on my city, Las Vegas, Nev., to hold a voter empowerment rally, Power to the Polls. I had spent the last two weeks helping plan for the event, only to get the flu just a few days before and have to miss out on some important meetings, including the rally itself.
It was disappointing, but to be completely honest, I’m not too broken up about it. While I would have loved to attend the march, I know that the real work is just beginning.
There’s no question that the 2016 election was incredibly demoralizing for many people across the country, particularly women and people of color. For those of us who had been active in voter registration and promotion in their communities, it was even harder. I had spent a lot of time and energy pushing people to vote, sometimes for the very first time, and I did it by telling people that their votes and voices mattered, that they would make a difference. A few days after Trump was elected, an older woman who had voted for the first time at my urging came up to me and said, “See? I told you our votes didn’t matter.”
It hit me hard. Irrationally, I blamed myself, as if I should have somehow had the power to bend the national election to my will. I tried to point out that Nevada itself had gone blue, and that we’d elected the first female Hispanic senator in the country, but I know that for a lot of people, the only elections that count are the national elections, and the only politics that are interesting are national politics. But that is simply not true.
Local elections are important, and this year, they’re more critical than ever. When Linda Sarsour and other organizers of the Women’s March came to Las Vegas two weeks before the date, they told us they’d chosen Vegas for a reason, and it wasn’t our world-class accommodations. Washington, D.C. doesn’t have local representatives, which means that as Linda said, they “don’t have a horse in this race.” They wanted to center the march and the voter rally on a city that and state where the local elections would matter, and for a historically red state like Nevada, the 2018 elections matter more than ever.
Republicans have control of the House and Senate, which is why can pass laws like the infamous tax bill that cuts rates for everyone except the lowest earners in the country, why they can strip away Net Neutrality, why they can protect people who discriminate against some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, and why they can continue to put hundreds of thousands of DREAMers at risk of deportation, holding them hostage against a ridiculous wall that, if it goes up, will cost us the American people billions of dollars that should be going to education, healthcare, and Social Security.
Local elections let us fight back. Progressive Congresspeople block such legislation and help pass and implement policies that will protect women, people of color, queer people, and many others. More importantly, progressive governors and mayors help protect our communities from federal laws that can harm us. This week, the Democratic governor of Montana, Steve Bullock, restored net neutrality to his state, prohibiting ISPs that serve the government from blocking websites or charging them more for speed of access. This is uncharted territory, and providers are already gearing up for a fight in the courts, but the governor’s order could easily stand.
Local elections matter. In some ways, they are even more significant than national elections. While laws passed in Washington, D.C., can take time to affect us, laws written and implemented in our towns, cities, and states impact us from day one. They set the standards for our law enforcement, for the companies in our backyards, for employers, for teachers and public servants. They can tell our neighbors that bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated, or they can tell them that neo-Nazis are “good people.”
I know what the stakes are for my own state. If Adam Laxalt, our current district attorney, wins our gubernatorial election, he will put immigrant and DREAMer families in his crosshairs. If our current Senator, Dean Heller, stays in office, we will continue to have a representative who nods along while Trump dismantles our healthcare and lets companies run wild on our public lands. The question now is: what are the stakes in your state, and what are you going to do about it?