Why should Virginia Democrats stay engaged? Because that’s the only way we’ll ever see change.
STAFFORD-With the Republican slate for statewide office already set weeks earlier, Virginia Democrats followed suit June 8. Democratic voters chose Terry McAuliffe for governor, Hala Ayala for lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring for attorney general. If you’ve followed my writing and advocacy, you know my picks were Jennifer Carroll Foy for governor, Sam Rasoul for lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring for attorney general. So I say this with all sincerity: The voters have spoken, and it’s now critical we move forward with our chosen slate—united.
Virginia has made excellent progress over the last eight years under Democratic governors, and over the last four years with growing and eventual Democratic majorities in the General Assembly. This includes expanding healthcare to more than 500,000 Virginians, decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana to help end the war on drugs, expanding treatment access to people suffering from addiction, banning workplace and employment discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, raising the living wage, passing paid sick time off, capping insulin at $50 a month, passing common sense firearm safety, and so much more.
Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room
I commend each of the candidates for their strong campaigns, and likewise commend leaders like Jennifer Carroll Foy, Jennifer McClellan, Sam Rasoul, and Jay Jones for quickly coalescing around the chosen nominees. But let me also address the elephant in the room. The popular narrative is that progressives lost big in the Democratic primary. I’ve received calls, emails, and direct messages from progressives wondering if their vote matters. They also ask why we should bother helping the selected nominees McAuliffe, Ayala, and Herring win if they have no guarantee that they’ll be heard?
Let me start by saying the narrative that progressives lost is wrong. The aforementioned advancements in Virginia would have been unthinkable just 15 years ago, but come at the result of progressive working relentlessly in the fight for justice. And while I sympathize and empathize with progressives that their chosen candidate isn’t the nominee, I ask people to consider a few things. For starters, we must continue driving the party internally to constantly move towards justice, away from Jim Crow extremism, and towards serving We the People. That won’t happen if we disengage and not volunteer, donate, or vote. We must remain part of the process.
Let’s State Facts
Likewise, if we make the mistake of disengaging, we risk sliding backwards with Trump lackeys at the helm—necessarily making things even worse for working Virginians. Engagement with a candidate who wasn’t your first choice doesn’t mean you’re giving up your progressive ideals as Virginia Democrats. It also doesn’t mean complacency with any status quo. On the contrary, engagement is the best way to change the status quo and build out the progress we need and deserve.
And let’s state facts. Virginia Democrats absolutely need to do a better job of engaging rural voters, BIPOC, and advancing policies that right the wrongs of institutional injustices. This isn’t a knock on the party, it’s a roadmap to continually improve. That’s where we get, as the late Congressman John Lewis reminds us, in “good trouble” to demand that change. It’s important to remember that where we are as a nation right now didn’t happen overnight, but is the result of generations. And when the obstacle we’re struggling through is the result of generations of injustices, overcoming those obstacles won’t happen overnight either. Thus, we must continue to stay engaged to ensure that change happens. It isn’t easy, can often be humiliating and frustrating, but it is necessary.
Virginia Democrats Don’t Have a ‘Perfect Destination’
Undoubtedly, there’s no perfect destination where “all will be well” because progress is ongoing. But for there to be any progress at all, especially the major and substantive issues like combating poverty, climate change, campaign finance reform, prison reform, and more—we must be engaged. Engagement helps ensure internal accountability. That’s where we look to progressive leaders like Sam Rasoul, Jennifer Carroll Foy, and Jennifer McLellan, each of whom are behind the Democratic slate for this November. And each of whom have passed major progressive policies by pushing internally to demand change.
The bottom line is this: Terry McAullife, Hala Ayala, and Mark Herring are our chosen nominees, and they will fight for Virginia’s working families. Our victory in November depends on what we do now. As Virginia Democrats, we’ve achieved immense progress over the last decade for working Virginians of all faiths, backgrounds, and politics. McAullife, Ayala, and Herring have been in the thick of making that happen. On the contrary, we see nationwide the GOP’s assaults on voting rights, racial justice, economic justice, and minority rights. We cannot risk sliding backwards now in Virginia. Let us stand united behind our slate of Terry McAullife, Hala Ayala, and Mark Herring to lead with justice and ensure we continue to move Virginia forward for We the People.
Qasim Rashid is a human rights lawyer, author, and Truman National Security Project Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.