Richmond Gives Me Hope
A reflection one year after Trump.
I remember it clearly: it was a year ago, but it seems like a lifetime.
November 8, 2016 -- I had spent my day handing out progressive voting guides at a couple of polling stations. In the company of kind people, soaking up the November sun, talking with neighbors, and excited about the candidates and causes I was supporting. Afterwards, I gathered among friends at the RPA office to watch the returns on the big screen. My excitement gave way to horror, and sense that I was spiraling away from reality.
The next morning at work, we called an emergency staff meeting at Friends of the Earth; people were in shock and tears. I was able to offer some encouragement to my colleagues: We will get through this, we will resist, and I do have hope. I draw my from hope from Richmond.
It is all too easy to read the 2016 election as the triumph of a brutish, dangerous, reality television egomaniac. But that would be conferring far too much importance on Trump. The story of the 2016 election was equally about the meteoric rise of a social democrat and the blossoming of a inspiring, progressive movement. It was the story of grassroots change, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, we had just won a progressive majority on the City Council. Relying on the sweat of hundreds of volunteers, we had elected two first-time candidates who represented the future of progressive politics – young, diverse, and embedded in the movements for clean energy and the rights of poor and working class people. And that gives me hope.
It is all too easy to reflect on the past year as a series of hateful, racist policies – from a proposed Muslim ban to a border wall – and the emergence of white supremacists from the shadows. But this past year was equally about the spontaneous gathering of thousands at airports across the county, where Muslim faithful prayed between baggage carousels and parking lots. It was the story of tolerance and love, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, a local man was arrested a few years ago after making threats to a mosque in my neighborhood. What followed was an outpouring of fellowship, as people posted notes of solidarity and well-wishes on the mosque doors and gathered in the courtyard to support the congregation. That night still gives me hope.
It is all too easy to look at this past year and view it as the epitome of corrupt politics and the corporate capture of our government. After all, Trump literally handed his pen to the CEO of Dow Chemical after signing an Executive Order to eliminate regulations. But to dwell on that is to miss the fact that an unprecedented number of people are now stepping up to run for public office. Galvanized by the injustices perpetrated by this Administration, women’s groups, environmental organizations, and others are offering candidate trainings. It is the story of empowerment, and the story of Richmond.
In Richmond, it is said that Chevron once had its own desk at City Hall. But for the last ten years, a grassroots progressive movement has successfully thrown Chevron out of our government and elected City Council candidates who have refused a dime of corporate money. And that gives me hope.
In Richmond, our city is committed to environmental sustainability, even while Trump pulls out of the Paris climate agreement.
In Richmond, we are cultivating worker-owned cooperatives and raising the minimum wage, even while the Republican-controlled Congress tries to pass tax reform on the backs of the poor and middle class.
In Richmond, we have a new law to help people to stay in their homes, even while rents skyrocket astronomically in the Bay Area and cities around the country.
In Richmond, we are gradually creating a future that is more just, and doing it from the bottom up. And since that is the only way to ensure durable social change in our country, what we are doing in Richmond gives me hope far beyond.
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