Contrary to the views of Missouri Republican Todd Akin, women are not able to “shut down” conception after “legitimate rape” but women were able to shut down some misogynistic assaults, and that’s just what happened last night. The 113th Congress will convene with binders full of women: nineteen, the highest number of women senators ever, including Claire McCaskill who soundly defeated Representative Akin in a state that voted for Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, we were talking about the campaign of a long-shot candidate, Barack Obama for the presidency. President Obama’s re-election came about thanks to long-shot movements that pulled off victories against the odds and against many conventional “wisdoms.” Long-shot victories like Tammy Baldwin’s. A pro-labor, progressive “out” lesbian in Wisconsin defeated four-term former Governor, Tommy Thompson, one of the most powerful politicians in the state. Her victory was won by a fired-up grassroots field team comprised of labor, women, LGBT and immigrant groups who forged their alliance in the fight against governor Scott Walker’s draconian attack on public workers and voting rights. First-time candidate Elizabeth Warren defeated onetime Tea Party darling Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts. A champion of Wall Street reform, Warren was persuaded and supported to run by activists outraged by the power of the too-big-to-jail banksters. Warren will now join the same Senate that refused to confirm her to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Voters approved ballot initiatives that made history on issues no party would lead on. In Colorado and Washington state voters legalized marijuana for recreational use, becoming the first US states to do so and setting up a potential clash with the federal government. In Montana, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that would limit corporate spending on elections, while Colorado voters also resoundingly approved a measure backing a constitutional amendment that would call for the same. Maryland, Maine and Washington voters became the first in this country to affirmatively approve marriage equality. Even ten years ago, nobody would have thought marriage equality was a winning issue. Elected leaders, even many movement leaders ran from the topic.
Against an unprecedented assault on voting rights and a tsunami of anonymous insidious Supreme Court–sanctioned campaign cash, people voted in spite of huge challenges. They beat back voter-suppression tactics and stood for hours in long lines in battleground states. In New Jersey and New York, survivors of Hurricane Sandy left their cold, dark homes and went out into the cold, dark streets to cast a ballot on a wing and a prayer that this vote would somehow make a difference.
Americans came back from a brink last night, but those prayers and passions are precious. The waters are still rising, the wealth gap is still gaping and 42 percent of the wealth is still in the hands of 1 percent of us. As far as the world is concerned, there is no comfort or security in Obama’s foreign policy, with its deadly disrespect for international law and lopsided, America-first moral code.
Let us learn from the Dreamers, the young immigrants who made themselves a force to be reckoned with this election. People lead; leaders follow. It could have been worse. People led us back from a brink last night, but it will require the irrepressible force of powerful, passionate social movements that believe in themselves as much as they believe any politician, if we are to force the ship of state off its conventional course, and if f we are to live up to the determination, bravery and smarts that voters showed this election.
For more on the importance of last night's elections, check out The Nation editors on "A Progressive Surge ."