I’m having a kind of weird election year.
It’s been a long damn time since I didn’t have a job that revolved around electoral politics in even-numbered years. The last time that I worked for an organization that didn’t make endorsements was 2001. I’ve been doing election work, on and off, since 1992. Half of you reading this probably weren’t old enough to vote then. Hell, some of you may not even have been born yet.
It’s kind of nice, for the first time in over a decade, to just be able to talk about politics with my friends and family, and not to have ‘professional’ opinions about it. My kids are a little freaked out that I’m not doing more to get their favorite candidate for president elected–this is, after all, the first election year that either of them can remember that I don’t have an electoral job–but hey, they’re old enough to phone bank, even if they’re not old enough to vote yet.
It’s also nice to be able to express opinions that don’t match up with any organizational need to be able to make a deal, or count on a vote. It’s taken me a little while to figure out what I want to do with this newfound freedom, but it came to me, when I was looking at this list of candidates that had petitioned for the statewide ballot in PA.
On the Democratic side, there are two women, and nine men. And one person of color, who honestly, I had to google because I had never heard of him. I couldn’t get the Treasurer candidates in this screenshot, but they don’t help–on the Democratic side, it’s two more white guys.
So here goes:
white, straight, cisgendered men who consider yourselves allies in the movement–take a step back before running for office
No, I mean that. Sit down, and listen up. Oh, and get out your checkbooks while you’re at it.
Before I go any further, let’s just be clear–this post is not about the US presidential election, or the Democratic candidates therein. This is about the repetitive experience that I have had, over the past 25+ years of working in electoral politics and watching cycle after cycle happen where white men got into primaries involving candidates who didn’t look like them, because the straight white men were more “electable.” Because running as a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man inevitably means that you are operating in the world of “identity politics.”
It’s amazing to me that white men, who make up a minority of both humanity and the US electorate, get to describe other people as running on “identity issues.” Is being a white, straight, cisgendered man not an identity? Do the things that you think matter not matter to you simply because you are a white, straight man?
I understand–you’re different from all the other straight, white, cisgendered men who have ever run for office in the past. I love you, I really do. And I know you think you can help more by winning an election and becoming a legislator, or a city council person, or a dogcatcher (does any place actually have elected dogcatchers?), or a prothonotary, or a US Senator, or whatever.
But you know what will really help me? Having a legislature, or city council, or US Senate that looks more like the country of which it is allegedly representative.
That means more women have to win. And more African Americans have to win. And more Asians, and more Latinos, and more trans people, and more folks who are differently abled.
You know what helps them win? Not having to spend time convincing you that you shouldn’t run, and that they should, and instead spending time raising money & talking to voters.
It is not sexist to want a woman governor, if your state has never had one. Hell, it’s not sexist to want a woman governor if the ratio of past governors has been 40-1 in favor of men.
It’s not racist to want an African American state treasurer, if your state has never elected an African American to statewide office.
It’s not wrong to want to decide that you want to support a candidate who’s in a wheelchair, or one who is a lesbian, or one who is an immigrant.
And you might not always agree with those people, 100% of the time. Because they have viewpoints and life experiences that are different than yours.
We don’t agree with you all the time either, but we still vote for you.
Sometimes we vote for you because we think you’re the best candidate, sometimes because we don’t have other options. Sometimes we have to vote for you, because you’ve pushed the rest of us out of the race.
From now on, my standards for what makes a man progressive are changing. I’m going to think you’re a progressive when instead of standing up, to challenge a woman or a person of color, an LGBT candidate or someone who is disabled, you decide to take a seat. You decide to write them a check. You decide to mentor them, and help them find competent staff. You decide to volunteer for them, help get your organizations to endorse them, and throw your considerable networks behind them.
After all, if we’re going to be held to standards in order to consider ourselves progressives, that ought to include some standards in what white male progressives are doing to expand the electoral playing field for everyone who isn’t them.