On November 6, 2018, Democrats won back the House, flipped seven governors’ seats and seven state legislative chambers, won more than 367 state legislative seats, and a 24-year-old woman named Elaissia Sears won her race to be justice of the peace in West Mesa Precinct, District 26, Arizona.
You might not see Elaissia’s name on the front page of any newspapers, but as one of the nearly 200 young people elected to local office for the first time over the last two years through my organization, Run for Something, she’s the present and future of the Democratic Party.
She’s part of a movement of young people—primarily women and people of color—who are doing more than just knocking on doors and making calls. They’re running, winning, leading, and they’re going to change the world. While this wave election should be celebrated (and yes, acknowledged as actually a wave election), it must also be clear that the wave has not crested yet. This cycle was about building a pipeline of generational talent and rethinking how we connect with progressive voters.
Get to know Lina Hidalgo, a 28-year-old immigrant from Colombia and Kennedy School graduate, who beat a Republican incumbent to become one of the most powerful women in Texas as the Harris County Judge—she’ll oversee the management of the third-largest county in America.
Former Planned Parenthood staffer Anna Eskamani flipped a seat and will be the first Iranian American to serve in the Florida state legislature. In Texas, newly elected state representative Erin Zweiner started her campaign nearly a year ago only to find out a few weeks in that she was pregnant, and used the downtime after her epidural (but before giving birth!) to write a quick fund-raising e-mail.
Elaissia, Lina, Anna, and Erin are just four of the massive numbers of women now elected to local office who are going to ensure that, one day, it will be utterly boring to have women in office. If they choose to run for higher office one day, their campaigns will interesting and inspiring for more reasons than just the historic nature of their existence.
But it’s not just about the future. On Tuesday, we elected incredible progressives to offices where they’re going to make a difference for people on day one. J.D. Ford flipped a state legislative seat red to blue to become the first openly gay lawmaker in Indiana—the same state that is one of only five with no hate-crimes legislation on the books. Dave Hutchinson beat a horrific Republican sheriff who’d been working hand in hand with ICE to deport residents of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Dave’s plan to reform the sheriff’s department with an eye toward how it can better work with and not against people of color is going to dramatically improve the quality of life for those Minnesotans.
It’s easy to feel cynical about the political process. It’s true that the fundamentals of this election were not on our side—a strong economy, a Senate map tilted towards Republicans, and, after decades of Republican investment in state and local politicians, a system of district boundaries drawn and voter laws created intentionally to make it hard for us to take power.
Yet we persevered. Sure, we had to win the national popular vote by 9 percent in order to win the House. And yes, on the state level, it’s just as hard—in Wisconsin, for example, Democrats won all statewide offices, but the Republicans still control the state legislatures thanks to the way districts are allocated, compounded by vicious laws meant to suppress the vote.
But, real talk: We can’t undo decades of concentrated and sustained investment by our opponents in just 18 months. It will take years of hard work, day in and day out. We’ll need to focus, go local, invest in infrastructure and shake off old and dated “conventional wisdom” about what a good candidate is and how to allocate resources.
In 2018, we took the first step. We’re at the beginning of a new era for the Democratic Party. To keep it going, we have to stay focused on local politics, where we can seed the field with both good leaders and good progressive policies. We have to engage young people, women, and people of color, both as candidates and as voters.
We have to invest in groups outside of campaigns, so we can keep the energy going until candidates get ramped up again—it’s worth noting that Run for Something spent barely $2 million to elect nearly 200 people while still getting started ourselves; imagine what we could do with five times that and a full two years.
We simply can’t stop doing the damn thing. We have to hold on to that feeling we all had the weekend before Election Day, when everyone was knocking on doors, when Instagram was chock-full of clipboards, stickers, and autumnal landscapes—that sense that literally anything was possible because we were all working as hard as we could for something bigger than ourselves.
The blue wave started on November 6, 2018. But it hasn’t crashed to shore, not by a long shot. If we keep working just as hard, we’ll be able to ride it out for decades to come.