Some people tell themselves, “I don’t care about politics.” But whether you like it or not, politics impacts you. Elections, and the decisions made by people in power, affect everything in your life: your wages and health care, the quality of schools and housing in your community, policing and safety, your freedoms and civil rights.
A very important election is coming up in a matter of weeks. I know, it seems like every election is touted as “the most important in our lifetime.” But that’s because they are, especially in this era of extreme political polarization where the direction of the country—and the future of our democracy itself—can be decided by just a few votes.
Today we are standing on a razor’s edge. It’s safe to say that President Biden’s many excellent initiatives, such as student loan relief, infrastructure investment, and expanding safety net programs will become much harder to accomplish, if not impossible, if Democrats lose their current narrow majorities on Capitol Hill.
Working people have a lot of gain if things turn out well, but a lot to lose if they don’t. In the past year we’ve witnessed the horrific scaling back of people’s rights in states across the country—one third of women have lost access to abortion, transphobic laws are preventing people from accessing gender-affirming care, and a flurry of voter suppression laws are limiting how, when, and where voters can cast a ballot.
Come November 8, Americans across the country will go to the polls to elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 35 senators. Here in New York, our governor’s seat is up for grabs along with every state senate and assembly seat, in addition to many other important statewide and local positions.
Nationally, President Biden will have to work with whatever combination of Democrats, Republicans and independents are elected to move his agenda. That’s easier said than done with the ascendance of an extremist Republican Party wholly subservient to Trump. There was a time when members of Congress were able to put aside partisan differences and work together to accomplish great things for our country. The Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the interstate highway system, the Clean Air Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that ended racist immigration quotas were all made possible because elected leaders worked across the aisle.
But that was then, and this is now. Non-cooperation has become the Republican modus operandi since 1995 when then-Republican Majority Leader Newt Gingrich shut down the government twice after President Clinton vetoed tax cuts for the rich favored by House Republicans.
The Republicans’ “my way or nothing” strategy took on a whole new meaning after Obama’s 2008 election. Senator Mitch McConnell, still the Republican Party’s Senate leader, publicly pledged that when it came to the first Black president’s political goals, Republicans would be “the party of no.”
This isn’t governance, it is sabotage, and is how the Republican Party has continued to act with increasing zeal, eschewing what’s good for Americans in favor of winning political power at any cost. Today, the deceit is glaring. Much has been written in the press, for example, about how Republican members of Congress voted against President Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill and then went back home to their districts and took credit for the roads and bridges that would be fixed under the program.
When power itself becomes the end goal of a political party, and truth, democracy, and the rule of law become hindrances to that goal, we enter very dangerous terrain. Even here in blue New York, a state long-known for Republican moderation, the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate is a right-wing extremist who himself voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Elections these days are won or lost by the narrowest of margins, and what happens afterwards in our winner-take-all system where compromise is scarce hinges entirely on who goes out to vote.
In the last midterm elections, in 2018, only 49% of eligible voters cast a ballot. As low as that number was, it was actually the highest voter turnout in a midterm election since 1914. Just imagine the power that we’d have as working people, and the changes we could make for the common good, if tens of millions more Americans who believe in principles of freedom, democracy, justice, and equality, but who don’t always show up to vote, chose to cast a ballot this year. It would be transformative for our nation. Vote November 8.
George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest healthcare union representing 450,000 members in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and the District of Columbia.