Polling station voters sign (79332)
Polling station voters sign Credit: Nia Sanders

As we mark just one month of the Trump presidency, a month in which we experienced a constant assault on our values, progress and decency, it is almost unbelievable to think that we all heard people right before the election saying that “there wasn’t much difference between who we elect” or “I’m concerned about her emails.”

In just one month, we’ve witnessed the appointment of an education secretary who has no experience in or connection to public schools, and in fact has worked to abandon neighborhood public schools. We’ve had the confirmation of an Environmental Protection Administrator who doesn’t believe in climate change and thinks too much—not too little—is being done to protect the water we drink and air we breathe. And we’ve heard President Trump continually attacking immigrants, women, the LGBT community and the press.

He has signed actions to build a wall along the Mexican border, to ramp up deportations and to ban refugees and Muslim immigrants from entering our country. He has moved to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which covers millions of New Yorkers, and vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides important services to women across our city and state. And seemingly daily, he has embarrassed our country on the world stage while refusing to investigate Russian hacking of our election.

Implausibly, despite all this damage and at a time when it is most important for Democrats to stay united in resistance, our state senator representing Upper Manhattan and the Upper West Side, Marisol Alcantara, has chosen to caucus with the Senate Republicans—whose leader has supported the Trump agenda and just this week criticized our U.S. senators Schumer and Gillibrand for voicing opposition to Trump’s actions.

Although this party swap has provided the trappings and crumbs of personal power for her and her IDC colleagues, the rest of us have gotten the shaft. Her actions are depriving Democrats of a Senate majority; undermining the efforts of Senate Democrats to raise funds and build support for candidates, preventing the election of the first female Senate Majority Leader, even when a majority of senators are in fact registered Democrats; providing critical votes to the Republican leadership on a day-to-day basis in committee and on the floor of the Senate, preventing important legislation from even getting a vote; and stymieing the efforts of Democrats to advance a progressive agenda, thus leaving public schools underfunded to the tune of billions of dollars, keeping loophole-laden rent laws that, every day, force tenants in the 31st Senate District out of their homes and preventing efforts to raise the age for criminal responsibility.

Yet there are signs of hope.

Last month, I joined hundreds of thousands of people in New York City and millions more across the country marching for women and the protection of their rights, safety and health. More recently, we saw thousands of New Yorkers rush to JFK Airport to stand up for immigrants and our Constitution.

At each of these rallies and those occurring throughout the city, we hear the crowd say loudly and proudly, “This is what democracy looks like.” And in fact, this protest is an important part of democracy. But none of it will mean anything unless all of us carry this same energy, enthusiasm and determination to our elections, the essential part of democracy.

It means taking every election seriously—starting with New York City elections this year and state and federal ones next year. It not only means not just voting, but also organizing our buildings, our blocks or our neighborhoods and making sure we all are reminding others to get involved and vote. And it means pressing candidates for where they stand, holding them accountable to their word and not again allowing candidates to pull the IDC bait-and-switch in which they run as Democrats and serve as Republicans. Elections matter. Let’s build on today’s demonstrations and make a difference. Because real change starts at the grassroots, and together we can build a better future.