Columnist Russ Vernon-Jones: We made a difference

  • Russ Vernon-Jones FILE PHOTO

Thursday, November 24, 2022

I am, like a great many of you, relieved that the predicted “red wave” of Republican votes did not occur in the midterm elections. I’m thrilled that the Democrats retained a majority in the U.S. Senate and that if there is a Republican majority in the House, it will be small. This is an historic outcome. The party of the incumbent president lost fewer seats in Congress than almost any time in recent history and far exceeded expectations.

This is particularly meaningful because our very democracy was on the line in this election. Hundreds of Republican candidates based their campaigns on the lie that the 2020 presidential election was actually won by Donald Trump, despite him losing that election by over 7 million votes with no evidence of fraud.

Perhaps even more concerning, there was a concerted effort by some election-denying Republicans to become the top election officials in their states, with clear plans to guarantee Republican victories in the future regardless of the actual vote counts. They were even organized into a national right-wing “America First” slate. In the end, every one of these candidates who ran in a critical battleground state was defeated by their Democratic opponent. This was a huge national repudiation of this attempt to subvert the electoral process — a true victory for democracy.

There were other victories as well. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont added protection for abortion rights in their state constitutions and Louisiana voters defeated an anti-abortion amendment. In exit polls nationwide about 6 in 10 midterm voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Here in Massachusetts for the first time we approved a higher marginal tax rate on those with incomes over a million dollars a year and approved a right to obtain drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, as well as electing the remarkable Maura Healey as our governor.

The pundits have offered many analyses of the election results, but I think they all-too-consistently ignore the impact of everyday people who stepped up. Advocates for democracy, for voting, and for progressive candidates wrote millions of letters, postcards, and texts. They made millions of campaign phone calls and knocked on countless doors. Many made financial donations as well.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth climate movement, reached over 3 million young voters leading up to election day, urging them to vote for candidates who support climate action. (Younger voters were essential to the success that Democrats had in congressional elections.

House Democratic candidates won voters under 30 years old by 28 points. Democrats lost by at least 7 points in every age bracket over 45 years old.)

I want to express my personal gratitude to all of you, and to all those across the country, who personally impacted the election with your labor and donations. I think we made a big difference at a crucial time in our nation’s history.

Climate activist Bill McKibben is at the UN Climate Conference, COP27 in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt. He reports that the combination of the U.S. Congress approving the Inflation Reduction Act, with its huge expenditures for clean energy, the Brazilian people ousting President Bolsonaro and electing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with his pledges to stop deforesting the Amazon, and the “Red Wave” failing to appear in the U.S. midterm elections created a lighter, more optimistic attitude at the global climate conference than many had expected. The challenges ahead are immense and the time is short, but a fragile sense of possibility has survived.

Russ Vernon-Jones of Amherst was principal of Fort River School for 18 years and is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now (CAN). The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at russvj@gmail.com. He blogs regularly on climate justice at http://www.russvernonjones.org.