Like so many, I had great hope that we would now be preparing to inaugurate America’s first woman president to carry forward the legacy of President Obama. Instead, we begin to tackle new challenges.
There is much to learn from this election and much I do not know about its meaning.
I do know that we in the Democratic Party of Oak Park worked incredibly hard and we had meaningful, tangible victories. Beyond our work in support of Hillary Clinton, we helped elect Tammy Duckworth as the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. We helped elect Susana Mendoza as Comptroller, the first Latina elected statewide, and a critical check on the Governor’s budgetary maneuvers. We helped elect Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney, and she will lead the effort to heal our county and to reform our system of justice.
My youngest daughter could not make sense of a nation, of a people, that would make this decision. It’s OK to grieve the loss of what might have been, I told her, but do not despair. Our country is resilient. Our Constitution is specifically designed to absorb such shocks to our system.
But we cannot afford to ignore the shock.
Of the many lessons we will learn, most importantly, we need to hear our fellow Americans who have been raising their voices in protest of an America they feel is leaving them behind and ignoring their needs. The issues are many — economic inequality, unfair trade and wages, a criminal justice system that dehumanizes people, an unfair tax code, and a lack of good jobs. The people giving voice to these concerns defy easy categorization. They are Trump and Sanders supporters, they are Black Lives Matters, they are immigrant families, millennials, and people beginning insecure retirements. Their concerns are real and deserve to be addressed. They want a government that works for them.
Washington D.C. is broken. Barack Obama tried to fix it, but was met with obstructionism from opponents and inertia from allies. I hope the wake-up call has been made.
Illinoisans frustrated with Springfield should hold us to the same standard. We need to take control of our own destiny and to be a model for the nation. We need to rebuild Illinois so that it works for middle-class families in Zion and Chicago, in Oak Park and Glendale Heights, in Peoria and Marion. We need to give voice to the farmer in Rushville, to the service worker in Aurora, to be sure that they too can achieve what we all want to achieve — a good education for our kids, a safe neighborhood, a decent job. We need to extend a helping hand to all those slipping out of the middle class and to those aspiring to enter it. We need to make sure the American dream survives — for everyone.
The burden and privilege of self-government means we need to hold ourselves accountable too. We who are unhappy with the result of the election have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what more we could have done to achieve a different result.
This election is a difficult, entirely unexpected bend in the road, courtesy of the beautiful monster that is democracy. But we will stand together as we always have for progressive ideals, for inclusiveness, for affordable health care and support for the vulnerable among us. We may not know today where to begin. But we will begin anew to create and fight for the more perfect nation, the better state, and the richer communities that we know and believe are possible.
Don Harmon, an Oak Park resident, is state senator from Illinois’ 39th District.