It’s fitting that Run for Office Day falls in the final twenty four hours of the Trump administration. As we soak up today's deep historical significance and the incredible promise of President Biden and Vice President Harris being sworn in, it’s worth taking stock of where we are and how much work is left to do.
We have so much to celebrate on January 20th from defeating President Trump and his impossible corrupt cadre of advisors and turning Georgia blue (thank you, Stacey!) to knowing that the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is critical and time is of the essence. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we spend 2021 just taking victory laps. We’ve got a democracy to rebuild.
Despite the many reasons 2020 gave us to be wary, there are myriad reasons to be optimistic about our future. We’re living in a civic renaissance, with so many Americans finding their voices and speaking power to truth than they have been in half a century. We voted in historic numbers, record numbers of new leaders ran for office up and down the ballot. And in a time of serious economic hardship, people spent their hard-earned dollars and an equally precious commodity -- their time -- supporting campaigns and causes.
While we’re reticent to credit the 45th President of the United States with much, it’s undeniable that his presence in the Oval Office inspired a renewed wave of civic engagement. From the Women’s March to new groups like Indivisible, Swing Left, Run for Something and the Arena being built to harness this energy, we’ve seen political newcomers and party loyalists, people of every race, creed and age coming together to define and advance our shared values.
And that’s the most important lesson. The responsibility to address the many challenges confronting America lies within each of us, not just with the new leaders we’ll be sending into office next year. While this past November revolved around an incomparably divisive incumbent, there are few clues for what’s next beyond the most important takeaway of all: the fight to restore our democracy is far from over.
We must continue to nurture the active civil society that’s grown during the Trump era and be sure to keep our tent supersized. Inauguration day morning gives us many reasons to feel optimistic and yet, there’s no longer a single African-American woman in the Senate. That’s why we need to keep fighting and there’s no greater act of resistance than stepping up to run for office.
Yes, you. We still need you to give a damn and to stay involved. We’re confident people from all walks of life -- particularly far beyond the Beltway -- are capable of making an impact in their communities, because we’ve been helping them do just that at the Arena. Since 2017, we’ve convened, trained, and supported the next generation of candidates and campaign staff, helping to elect 31 candidates to Congress, state, and local offices. 67% of those candidates were women and 48% are people of color. And you’d recognize some of our their names -- like Representative Lauren Underwood and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
Civic engagement is not for the faint of heart. It’s intense and exhausting. And it is so tempting to believe our work might be done. But being citizens of a functioning democracy requires work and continuous engagement. It is our responsibility, and our privilege.
Today is the starting point, not the finish line. And now marks the beginning of what could be the best era yet for American politics in the years to come.
Sonal Shah is the Founding Executive Director of Georgetown's Beeck Center for Social Innovation. Swati Mylavarapu runs Incite.org, which funds breakthrough projects in politics, startups and nonprofits and is the co-founder of the Arena, which trains the next generation of progressive candidates and campaign staff.
Photo by Caleb Fisher on Unsplash