This piece stems from a comment that set me on edge this morning-- I talked about Vermont maintaining its Democratic control of both houses and regaining control of the Governor's office and was told that Vermont was lucky. Here's what I wrote:
Not Lucky.The original commenter apologized for the comment, which I respect. This piece isn't about that or meant as a rebuke. It just got me thinking and I feel as though the broader issue of what it takes to build movements and foster change is worth discussing.
We worked our assess off for this on multiple levels. This was one of the most engaged and active races we've seen here since Dean's last election to Governor here.
Elections aren't about luck. They're about extremely difficult, scrappy work and careful planning. We have tea party groups here, but they don't have power, not because we are more left wing than the rest of the country (we are not) but because our left wing is extremely active, engaged and inspired.
Political change doesn't generally come from luck. It comes from years, sometimes decades, of work. Nor does this work guarantee victory. It just makes you more likely to win. A lot of people all over the country worked ridiculously hard in this election and lost, big time. It's brutal, painful and can just wreck your day, if not your whole damned year. I once worked on a union drive for two years, that our opposition managed to dismantle with $30,000 of taxpayer money and two months. It was devastating. Sometimes no matter how much work you put in, you lose. But not always. And that's what makes the work worth it.
So let me tell you a story:
Ten years ago, we enacted Civil Unions here and the aftermath was horrendous. Howard Dean came incredibly close to losing his seat. The State House changed hands, moving into Republican control.
In two years, all that was reversed. Dean stepped down to get ready for his presidential run and we ended up with a Republican nightmare in the Governor's seat while Democrats regained majorities in the State House. Since then, the Vermont Freedom to Mary Task Force has been incredibly active. Nine years later, in a state in which civil unions were a source of bitter, divisive controversy, not only did the legislature upgrade civil unions to full marriage equality, but they had rebuilt majorities to the point where they managed to override a veto by our conservative governor.
This wasn't something that just happened by luck or circumstance. Things changed. The Freedom to Marry Task force engaged candidates and worked to keep them in office while doing broader educational issues. (Full disclosure: I did some temp work for them a few years back). They built a movement to push civil unions to the next level.
In the meantime, anti-gay rights groups were losing steam, not because they were unwilling to work, but because they had nothing left. They were wrong because they predicted dire consequences that never came to light.
When marriage equality was passed, they targeted candidates for defeat, focusing on primary challenges to Republicans. They failed. The vast majority (over 90%) of candidates who supported marriage equality won re-election and Peter Shumlin, the man who sponsored the legislation and worked his ass off to make it law, just got elected Governor of Vermont.
This didn't happen by luck. This happened because the Freedom to Marry Task Force put an immense amount of effort into supporting the Shumlin campaign and the campaigns of those who supported marriage equality.
Similarly, groups such as UPV/AFT's Early Childhood Educators United's (again, disclosure: I have multiple ties with this organization, both professional and personal) Kids Count on Me campaign did work supporting candidates at multiple levels. They met with politicians, understood their positions and promoted the candidacies of those who supported their goals.
Movements happen because of sweat and tears. They happen when we work for them. We write. We talk. We walk. We knock. We communicate. We call. We do.
We are not lucky.
We are active.
We know the numbers here. Republicans are not more popular than Democrats. But they did better in many races in terms of turnout. A lot of them voted. Not as many of us did.
We won in Vermont, because we were active, interested and engaged. We had a five way primary which brought diverse candidates together to do honorable battle with one another. The one with the highest negatives won, despite those negatives, and yet still we took the day, because we, and they, worked so very hard to do the right thing and to build the future we need to thrive as a state. Most of the people who voted for Peter Shumlin were not in love with him. But they could see the lay of the land and know that having him in office was so much better than the alternative. He received 25% of the vote in the primary, but all four of his opponents worked to see him elected. Not hoped. Not wished. Worked.
Just as I was writing this, I got this note from Peter Shumlin's campaign, and he says exactly what I'm trying to say:
This victory is your victory and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This was the best get-out-the-vote effort ever executed in the state of Vermont. We won, in part, because of the many volunteers and dedicated organizers that assisted them in reaching out to neighbors, knocking on doors, making those phone calls and emailing friends. The hard work that you put in over the course of these many months convinced Vermonters that we had the best plan for the future of our state.We've got a new governor.
We earned it.