Two years ago, the Democratic Party had a plan to turn red states — including Georgia and Virginia — blue. But Democrats got a rude awakening in Virginia this year with the election of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, and a number of statewide offices and the House of Delegates going back to a GOP majority.
Republicans will use this election as an attempt to dismantle the legislative progress that Democrats have made in Virginia over the last few years. But Democrats should take it as a lesson to talk more about that progress.
Recently, Virginia passed progressive legislation designed to help working people make ends meet and get the care they need. For instance, legislation around affordable medication such as insulin, affordable healthcare, raising the minimum wage and expanding voting rights. Virginia was one of the first states to expand Medicaid access and work on restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 returning citizens in the state. In 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to pass a Voting Rights Act and to abolish the death penalty.
Without Black voters, these bills would have never made it to the Governor’s desk. The same is true with progress at the federal level. Bills like the Build Back Better Act came to fruition because of the power of Black voters and other voters of color. Grassroots movements pressured Democrats to work with us to transform our economy. But, looking ahead to next year, we will need more Black voters to turn out if we want to continue advancing a progressive agenda.
We know that Black voters had a huge impact on the outcome of previous elections like the 2021 Senate Races. Sadly though, Black voter turnout has declined over the years as we wait for Democrats to deliver on their promises. Congress has been debating for months on whether or not they were going to pass the Build Better Act and its slow progress has tainted the image of the progressive Democratic agenda that we were promised. The bill recently passed through the House without any Republican support and is now being debated in the Senate. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get to work and pass the damn bill if they want to be successful in the midterms and beyond.
Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization I work for in Georgia, along with other progressive grassroots organizations, used our direct voter contact programs to energize the Democratic base in Virginia and get voters to turn out. We canvassed neighborhoods, knocked on thousands of doors in key districts, and encouraged people to participate in the Voter Protection Super Volunteer program. Just days before the election, some of their volunteers canvased a minimum of 800 doors per day!
Kierra Perry, a Virginia-based canvasser, said the reason she volunteered was because, “The turnout in this election shifted political projections of 2022 midterm elections.” Grassroots organizations across the nation knew the importance of this election. The Terry McAuliffe campaign had people like Michelle Obama and Stacey Abrams advocating for the need to keep the economy strong and protect the freedom to vote for all eligible Virginians.
While Democrat McAuliffe used well-known public figures to empower his campaign, Youngkin demanded that this political race was about Virginians and used convincing examples of how he would have an effect on individuals’ daily existences, like giving back directly to communities in need. He ran a “people’s” campaign, while McAuliffe attempted to make it about the previous President.
McAullife’s method backfired. With Trump’s endorsement, Youngkin gave white supremacists in Virginia a safe space. In an op-ed from the Scientific American, the author mentions that Youngkin’s fear over “Critical Race Theory” worked to erase any mention of racism in the public education system to protect white voters from any idea of racial equality. And this conversation took the spotlight away from the real wins that helped Black and Brown families in the state.
But all hope is not lost. Democrats hold a slim 21-19 majority in the state Senate, which was not up for election this year. If Democrats across the country want to re-energize their voters, build their base and convince grassroots groups to throw down with them, they will have to do a better job of talking about the progress they’ve made.
The American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act helped bring our economy back from the brink, with policies like the child tax credit and getting people back to work. If they can win affordable child care, affordable housing, and greater access to healthcare — notably, without any GOP support — they can keep their majority. But only if they remember to talk about these pocketbook issues over and over again to as many voters as possible. Let Virginia be a lesson to learn from.