For the last Thanksgiving or two, Americans could be excused for wondering why exactly they ought to be giving thanks, as they watched a cruel and ignorant man abuse the highest office to degrade our country. Since November 2016, Donald Trump has imperiled all of the great gifts that we inherited as a nation, and inflamed the most disturbing suspicions about his loyalty. Thankful is not what most of us feel when we ponder his presidency, today or any other day.
But this November, the smashing result of the midterm elections refreshed our hopes and renewed our democracy. So on Thanksgiving, I feel deeply obliged to express my gratitude to those who drove that victory.
From the very first day, women have led the political and cultural resistance to Trump’s presidency, seeing its nascent authoritarianism as a threat to their autonomy and freedom. Still furious over the undemocratic defeat of Hillary Clinton, they rose up in unprecedented millions to organize and lead the Women’s March on January 22, 2017, dwarfing the celebration of his inauguration and putting him and his regime on notice.
Echoed by massive demonstrations in cities and towns around the United States and the world, all the way to Antarctica, the march famously became the largest single day of protest in American history. And yet a jaded note could be heard in much of the response, in the mainstream media at least, as observers wondered aloud whether the marchers could sustain that day’s commitments in political action.
The answer to that question arrived, loudly and decisively, on November 6, 2018.
During the months between the march and the midterm, American women mounted an unprecedented political mobilization in their neighborhoods, under various organizational names and rubrics. Women with years of experience in politics and women who had never done politics at all; women of every ethnic and religious background; women who had supported Hillary and women who had supported Bernie; women who had done every sort of work and women who had lived and loved in every sort of family; in short, women of every kind stepped forward to defend essential values.
Hints of what that upsurge might eventually achieve could be glimpsed in a series of special elections that were electrified by the work of women activists and an outpouring of women voters — including the Georgia Congressional race in a deep red district that Jon Ossoff lost narrowly, and the Alabama Senate race that Doug Jones stunningly won.
But the most promising portent came when the women began to declare themselves as candidates for nearly every legislative and administrative office, in numbers never seen before in any cycle. As Think Progress noted:
A record 272 women ran as general election nominees for U.S. Congress or governor this year, with 124 elected thus far. An equally historic 219 people of color were nominated, with at least 115 elected. For the first time, Native American women and Muslim women will serve in Congress. Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first Black women to Congress, and Texas its first Latinas. Women will represent Arizona and Tennessee in the Senate and serve as governors of Maine and South Dakota for the first time, as well.
Indeed, female candidates overall and women of color in particular outperformed the average. Their candidacies were critical in returning control of the House to the Democrats and staving off a much worse loss for their party in the Senate.
New stars were born in this election, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York to Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan to Katie Porter in California, and many more. It is important to recognize not just the victorious but also the defeated whose brave efforts contributed so greatly to the blue wave. Their ranks include Stacy Abrams, the extraordinary Georgia gubernatorial nominee who displayed such grit and dignity in the face of an election rigged by her opponent, and Heidi Heitkamp, who cast a principled vote against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at great cost to her own electability. In a nationalized election, every viable candidate matters.
And then there is Nancy Pelosi, the once and future Speaker, who fought Trump and the Republicans on every issue, then led the Democrats back into the majority. Pragmatic and compassionate, sensitive and tough, she is a masterful tactician whose leadership is more valuable now than ever.
Yes, I’m thankful for the women who have stood up and defied expectations. They gave us the best day of the Trump presidency so far. And they may yet save our country.
IMAGE: Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March, January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston