The holidays are a joyous time at our house in Wichita. My husband Reuben and I share a big, blended family of five kids, now in their twenties and early thirties. One of my daughters lives in a small town with her husband, and through her extended family we get to understand the beauty and challenges of rural Kansas.
We hold it all together with traditions from our different cultures and backgrounds. Our elders keep traditions alive - with food and music from El Salvador, where I was born, and from African Americans in Wichita, where Reuben grew up. Our kids ask for their favorite dishes, whether it’s black-eyed peas or panes con pollo. So from Christmas to el Día de los Reyes, our living room overflows with joy.
Our circle includes friends we’ve known for decades, and newcomers who enliven the mix. Some are immigrants who, like my sisters and me, built families and futures here. We are Latino, Black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Jewish, people of deep faith and of no faith. Democrats and Republicans. We are rural and urban, people who work with their hands, hearts and minds: an accountant, a contractor, a truck driver, a lawyer, and an engineer. We are all of us. We are America.
Together we talk, eat, dance and laugh. Mostly, we don’t talk about politics, but when we do, we listen to each other, because these are people we trust. Sometimes we disagree, but the joy of friendship always brings us back together.
This year, however, I felt a kind of sadness that spans generations: a sense that the urgent problems we face don’t get the responses they need from our political leaders, while hopes for a better life flicker and dim.
My oldest daughter and her friends face mountains of student debt, and wonder if they will ever own homes. My youngest daughter and her friends wonder if it’s worth joining the rat race while the planet burns and violent conflicts rage. Small business owners feel squeezed from every side. The rights of women and minorities are being taken away. And those who are immigrants, or who love immigrants, fear a new wave of hatred and hostility.
To top it all off, it’s an election year, in which everything hangs in the balance. So I was surprised to hear, in the conversations I had over the holidays, how many people question if they will vote at all.
It’s hard to feel excitement when our political class seems to offer few meaningful alternatives, and the pace of change is slow. Yet I will vote, and I want everyone I know to vote, too.
I will vote because I know what the alternative to democracy is: despair. Authoritarians offer no solutions, only fear. And I will vote because I see the difference good government makes, in small ways and large.
The votes we cast in 2020 did make a difference. We rejected those who seek to divide us. And for the first time, our federal government is investing trillions to lay the foundation for a green economy: Greenhouse gas emissions fell this year, even as the economy grows. Everyone agrees this is nowhere near enough, but we are pointing in the right direction.
People’s Action Institute has a long-term vision for movement governing - with elected leaders we trust, and who truly represent our communities. This strategy is starting to bear fruits. In Chicago, a decade of grassroots organizing led to the end of cash bail and the election of Brandon Johnson as mayor, who is advancing a new vision for public safety without mass incarceration.
In Pittsburgh, Sara Innamorato was just sworn in as the first woman to serve as Allegheny County Executive. She will oversee a $3 billion budget in one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. In one of her first official acts, she raised the minimum wage for county employees and increased funding for childcare by $500,000, wth more to come for working families. The community’s priorities, she says, are hers.
"We have to be comfortable identifying injustices, naming them and understanding them, because only then can we root them out, repair our foundations and rebuild on stronger footings," Innamorato said as she was sworn in.
Finding and developing people’s champions like Sara and Brandon takes time, resources and effort. And supporting them once they are in office is just as important, when the opponents of meaningful change use unlimited pools of dark money to advance their interests.
In 2020, People’s Action did all that we could to turn out votes. We will do so again in 2024. To do this we will use deep canvassing, a technique which has proven in its power to bring people together across deep ideological divides and cultural differences. We will also forge connections to help us restore our faith in one another.
So yes, I will vote in 2024 and hope you will, too. Because the future we all need will only happen if every one of us steps up.
In 1988, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to the Democratic National Convention about our “margin of hope”: how a handful of votes can change possibilities for generations to come.
What is our margin of hope in 2024? It’s the love which helps us find common ground. We must remember that it’s only been a few years since many of us were even allowed to vote, marry who we love, and have a say in our own lives. My own family, and the gatherings we hold at my house, would not even have been legal sixty years ago.
That’s why voting, to me, is an act of love, in a time when our rights and everything we cherish is at stake. So the antidote to despair is to not let my vote be taken away.
Together, we are a family. Together, we are America. And together, we can win the world that we need.