When democracy looks more like you
A’ja is ten years old. Her hair is as black and thick as mine used to be at her age; her skin is just a few shades darker than mine. Her energy, enthusiasm and laughter are electrifying and infectious.
Accompanied by her mother, I met A’ja at my first canvasing kickoff. She attended almost every Saturday door-knocking event to meet Seattle voters on their doorsteps in my run for the open at-large City Council seat.
Every time I saw her, A’ja drew me pictures, hugged me tight, excitedly told me what she’d been up to that week, and asked to take a new selfie.
Mid-summer, her mom texted me what A’ja had just told her: “Mom, Teresa is somebody who looks like me and is making a difference. Makes me think I can, too.”
When I look back at this past election, I think of A’ja and the many kiddos like her who saw someone who looked like them stand up to run for office, or take to the bullhorn, or march in the streets to fight back. I think of the changing face of our democracy throughout our nation and of the forces we’ve set in motion to fight for a better future for A’ja and our progressive communities.
This past November we saw record numbers of women, people of color and LGBTQ community members run for office for the first time ever and win seats of power from the local to the national level.
The result of this November is that the bench for progressive public officials got a lot deeper and a vision of a more representative democracy got a little closer to reality.
This new wave of leaders rose in part because we have an atrocious man in the White House. In the labor movement, we often say the best organizer is a bad boss. Well, we got a real bad boss and it’s spurring us into action.
This year we have seen extraordinary assaults on women, on Planned Parenthood and on women’s access to health care. But as Cecile Richards, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, noted recently, it has also been a year of organizing and resistance by women and their allies.
There is no time to be complicit and complacent. Trump and the conservative agenda are fixated on attacking our health care, our bodies, workers’ rights, the right to organize, immigrants and refugees, environmental protections, and our basic human rights as women and members of the LGBTQ community.
The nation has been shaken awake. In the next few years, we need to channel that energy to make permanent progressive changes. We have this chance, one that comes maybe once in a generation, to mobilize and guide our society onto a more progressive path. Our struggles are interconnected and the injustices run deep. And at a time when our nation is too often defined by what divides us, we must continue to find the intersectionality of our movements, build broader coalitions, and unite around our shared values.
In Seattle, that means centering our policies on those who have been left out of the prosperity in the region and creating greater equity and opportunity for all. It means protecting workers and workers’ rights to organize. It means fighting for the health of our community as a human right. It means demanding equal pay as an economic, gender and racial justice issue. It means believing women and changing cultures of harassment, intimidation and assault.
I am a woman who ran for office at a time when record numbers of women are standing up, speaking their truth and demanding accountability and justice. I am a renter in a city that is facing an unprecedented housing crisis. I am a union leader at a time when workers’ rights and protections are on the cusp of being decimated. I am ready to fight for the opportunity for all of us in Seattle to have a chance to share in the prosperity that has been created and for more of us to be able to afford to live, stay, study and thrive in Seattle — for folks like me, you and A’ja.
This will require tech workers and janitors, engineers and fast food workers, lawyers and longshoremen, home owners and renters — and all who call Seattle home — to work together to create this shared vision.
I know we can do it. Our progressive city has just elected Jenny Durkan, our city’s first ever lesbian Mayor and the first female Mayor in almost a century, and after my election to City Council, we have a supermajority of women — majority people of color — and an overall feminist and progressive council. We’ve led the country in the past in fighting to lift up our lowest income workers, and we must continue to lead now in these trying times.
Because the fight for affordable housing, equal pay, health care, childcare — or the struggle to open your own small business and succeed, or the ability to start your own family and not be driven further into poverty — are shared battles that if tackled can create greater economic, racial and gender justice.
This week, A’ja visited my new office at City Hall. She brought me a small framed canvas with a hand-painted blossoming purple flower. The flower and her presence reminded me of the Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”