At 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 — as I type this sentence — various pundits on various networks are reminding us of what we already expected: That due to record-breaking early voter turnout, we don’t know the outcome of the 2020 presidential turnout, and we may not know for days or heaven forbid, weeks.
Regardless of who wins the Oval, this much I do know: Election Day 2020 wasn’t an ending; it’s a beginning. And if we want a more perfect union, we’ve got some work to do.
Oh, my bad. You thought all you had to do was vote. Clearly, you weren’t paying attention to the 2008 Election. That’s right – the year of Barack Obama, hope and change.
There are similarities. Weary of eight years of George W. Bush and rocked by a sudden financial crisis, a then-record 131 million voters cast their ballots. Nearly 70 million of them propelled Obama to a resounding 365-173 electoral college victory. He won with 53 percent of the popular vote in an election where more Americans voted than at any time in history.
That’s not all. Democrats rode Obama’s wave to capture both the House and the Senate. Many presidents like to claim “a mandate” from the American people after an election. I have said that if any president in recent memory had a mandate, it had to be Obama.
And then we ghosted him.
The massive coalition that elected Obama thought the work was done after Election Day and everyone went home. When Obama began to introduce sweeping policy changes on things like healthcare and immigration, he looked to see who had his back — and no one was there.
Meanwhile, Senators and Congressmen went home. And when they got there, their more conservative constituents were waiting for them, packing out town halls and yelling and screaming, demanding that their government represents them.
Eventually, that movement would be called “The Tea Party.” And its relentless efforts to reshape the GOP would frustrate Obama’s platform — damn the mandate — for years, setting the table for a nationalist like Trump to take The White House.
Which brings us back to 2020.
As the sun rose on Election Day, news outlets were reporting that more than 100 million ballots had been cast during early voting. That’s 71 percent of people who voted in total in 2016. When all votes are counted, it will be a record-breaking election. Regardless of who is president, this is a good thing.
Regardless of who wins, this Election Day was good for our democracy. Democracy works best when more citizens participate. But participation isn’t just voting. Ask the Tea Party.
You may fundamentally disagree with what would eventually become The Tea Party Movement. But don’t hate the player. Don’t even hate the game. The game is democracy. LOVE the game – and play to win by taking a page from the Tea Party.
That means that when a U.S. Representative or Senator is hosting a town hall, you pack the place out, whether you voted for them or not. It means, calling, emailing, faxing and writing letters to apply pressure to your elected officials. That applies to city and state governments as well, which frankly will have a more direct impact on your day-to-day life.
This will not be easy, for a variety of reasons. Obviously, there’s a pandemic — in-person town halls have been replaced with webcams and Zoom calls. But I’m more concerned with voter fatigue and apathy. We’ve just capped off a tumultuous presidency with a hotly contested campaign season. People are tired. I get it.
So what. Do it anyway.
Keep demonstrating for criminal justice reform and healthcare. Keep organizing and mobilizing to protect voting rights. Keep pushing for economic justice — not just with Democrats but with Republicans.
But whatever you do, don’t check out. STAY ENGAGED.
Lee Eric Smith is an NNPA and Tennessee Press Association award-winning columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]