Activism defines the 2017 vote across the United States

By Newsday

History was made again and again and again on Tuesday.

Elections are measure of where we stand, and in this week’s races for statehouses, county seats and city and town halls across the country, voters seemed to be saying: Something has to change.

In choosing new faces, voters broke barriers of all kinds, and that’s especially poignant a year after the presidential glass ceiling remained intact. They also threw their support behind groups and issues that have come under attack in the last year — the LGBT community, women, refugees, minority groups, health care, immigration, ethics.

The list of victors is extraordinary in its scope of firsts and in the progress it seems to show.

Among them are Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee who became the mayor of Helena, Montana, making him the state’s first black mayor. Manchester, New Hampshire, elected its first female mayor in Joyce Craig, who defeated an incumbent. Kathy Tran, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala were elected to Virginia’sHouse of Delegates, becoming the first Asian-American woman and the first two Latinas to join the body. Also in Virginia, Danica Roem, whose opponent refused to debate her or acknowledge her identity, became the first openly transgender person in the nation elected as a state representative.

Jenny Durkan will be Seattle’s first openly lesbian mayor, while Melvin Carter will be the first African-American mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota. Vin Gopal became the first Indian-American elected to New Jersey’s legislature. Ravinder Bhalla was elected Hoboken’s first Sikh American mayor, despite a host of anonymously produced, racially motivated flyers against him that screamed, “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, voters approved a referendum allowing the state to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, despite opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Here on Long Island, Laura Curran was elected the first female Nassau County executive, while Laura Gillen became the first Democrat in a century to win the Town of Hempstead’s supervisor slot.

These were, of course, individual races with separate issues and reasons behind voters’ decisions. It would be foolish to make grand conclusions about what all this means, but it’s equally impossible to see each result in a vacuum, to refuse to feel the connective tissue that links them all in the era of President Donald Trump.

Importantly, there is a new activism, a new engagement with politics emerging. Voters across the country have responded to it, choosing leaders who look and think like them. That’s especially important in a time when white nationalism has moved out of the shadows and when, more broadly, an ugly divisiveness threatens to undermine our democratic ideals.

Election Day 2017 will be interpreted and responded to in myriad ways in the coming weeks and months. What’s unmistakable, though, is that women aren’t just marching in pink hats anymore. Now, they’re stepping forward to run for office and actively support candidates who won’t accept the politics that seek to move their communities and the nation backward. And that could be the biggest game-changer of all.

By Newsday