Image by Dawn Ellner
There is no reason to sugar coat it. The election of Donald Trump is a wakeup call for those of us who care about working-class families. People all across the country are struggling to make ends meet and they feel like the economy is rigged against them in favor of the wealthy. Some of those voters felt disillusioned and frustrated that their voices weren’t being heard in Washington.
This is true of places like my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, which used to have a thriving automobile industry, and now has dwindling economic opportunities. For decades now, we have not adequately addressed the basic problems that continue to worsen for the working class.
Income inequality began to grow during the 1970s as economic growth slowed. Concentration of wealth rose to the very top while safety nets protecting the most vulnerable have gradually been snipped away. Things have gone in the wrong direction for the majority of people. Explaining why this happened is often complex. On the campaign trail, Trump gave simple answers that preyed on people’s insecurities and anger, even if they weren’t solutions.
The progressive movement offers real solutions to raise wages and get Americans back on solid economic footing, but it is going to take a grassroots effort to make our voices heard.
The system has been deliberately rigged against us—by the Republican elite who use redistricting, voter ID and other voting restrictions to keep people likely to oppose them away from the polls. Yet, in my Congressional district in Wisconsin, we had very high turnout, helped by expanding early voting to new locations such as libraries to make it convenient. Voting rights activists helped students get the new voter IDs they needed on campus. This helped boost turnout despite some of the toughest anti-voter laws in any state. Every time Governor Walker’s administration looks to trample on voting or any other rights, many local governments find ways to fight back and work around the new restrictions.
In Wisconsin, efforts to overturn Citizens United, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in elections, were on the ballot in eighteen communities. Move to Amend won all of those votes and by huge margins, even in conservative areas. Nationwide, more than 700 communities have endorsed overturning Citizens United and related Supreme Court decisions.
The new political landscape has shaken people’s belief in a country that prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness. It is more important than ever to support and stand up for one another. I am encouraged by people in my District who are holding neighborhood potlucks, impromptu support gatherings, protests, vigils, and forums to come together as a community.
We can’t wait another four years to have a different President or different legislative bodies—the time to come together around our shared values is now. Turn the hurt, loss, anger and fear into action. Get more involved in the areas that interest you, get more engaged with the organizations that support the issues you care about.
An unstoppable progressive movement begins at the grassroots. We’ve already laid the foundation of public support through organizations across the country fighting for higher wages, college without debt, and protecting our environment. But it’s time to strengthen the partnership between those of us fighting like hell in Congress to prevent Trump from enacting the worst of his campaign promises and those of you going door to door to spread our progressive message. We need to raise our progressive voices in order to improve the lives of people who feel like they are being left behind and ensure they have the opportunities to get ahead.
After this election, our country is at a crossroads. We can blame one another and give in to fear. Or we can organize and fight and take back our country. I vote for the latter.
Mark Pocan has served as U.S. Representative for Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district, since 2013.