Viewpoint: Voting's over now what?

By now we have all had time to recover from "Red Tuesday." Whether it's from a hangover from drowning your sorrows or celebrating your successes over the mid-term elections, everyone should have stopped hyperventilating, dried their tears and accepted that it is what it is.
The Republicans have control of Congress with 239 seats. The Democratic majority has decreased in the Senate to only 53 seats. Republican Rick Snyder is governor-elect. The state Supreme Court swung back to the right. Republicans swept most of the other state races. And the scariest result of all, Tim Walberg is going back to Washington, DC.
There are a few bright spots. Gary Peters, who has been a champion for the LGBT community was reelected and along with Dale Kildee, John Conyers and Sander Levin. They will return to represent Michigan. Our gay uber-politician Craig Covey was elected to the Oakland County Commission as well as several other openly gay candidates running in other races.
Unfortunately only 45 percent of registered voters in Michigan showed up at the polls (in Detroit it was less than 25 percent). Any hope for passing a substantive anti-bullying bill seems dashed; It will be a steep uphill climb for any environmental legislation and restricted campaign donations do not bode well for progressive/LGBT PACS.
Starting to hyperventilate again? Quick grab the bag to breathe in and hold on progressives – "it's going to be a bumpy ride!"
So what went wrong? Just about everything it seems.
The Republicans worked it like a hooker in the Red Light District. They appealed to every fear American's have been facing – unemployment, immigration, gay rights, Iraq, Afghanistan and all topics in between. Whether truthful or not, they worked their base, riled up by the Tea Party and pulled it off. More importantly they got supporters to the polls.
Where were we – youth, gay, progressive voters? Probably sitting at home, part of that 55 percent of registered voters who stayed home on Nov. 2.
Did we go down without a fight? Were we so intimidated, disempowered, disenfranchised by the predictions of pollsters and pundits that we forgot that the battle for equality wages on? Did we forget about the rash of young people across the country and right here in Michigan who took their own lives because the thought of continuing to live in a country where hate speech, homophobia and bullying run amok unabated was intolerable?
I listen to the Diane Rehm show most mornings and almost had to pull over to the curb when a caller asked why she should vote since pundits and pollsters had already called the election. Unfortunately I know she wasn't alone in thinking this way and the numbers prove it.
What the holy heck happened? Let's rewind to Nov. 4, 2008.
Like most of the world, I was dancing around the room singing Will.I.Am's "It's a New Day!" It was especially joyful as I was dancing with my 92 year-old aunt who remembered segregation and discrimination; who saw women and African Americans attain civil rights but never expected to see a women running for president or vice-president and in her wildest dreams could not imagine a Black President.
But it happened and we danced around her apartment singing "It's a New Day" and chanting "Yes we can!"
We all wanted change we could believe in. We all wanted a change from the same old politics as usual with its partisan bickering. We all wanted a change to the social, racial and economic divisions tearing our country apart.
We took all of these hopes and dreams to the polls and got what we wanted. We elected not just a Democratic, but the first Black president and sent him a Democratic majority to support moving a progressive agenda.
But apparently no one told the universe that it was a new day and the crap that had been plaguing us for the previous ten years continued its march of destruction – the economy tanked, unemployment and foreclosure soared to new heights.
Many things were promised during that campaign – over 500 – including closing the revolving door for lobbyists, revoking special interest tax loopholes, regular bi-partisan sessions on foreign policy but perhaps the most important promise to the LGBT community was the expansion of hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation and gender expression, overturning the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and rescinding the 1993 "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.
The Obama administration has done a lot in its first 21 months including hiring more openly gay officials; conceiving a National Resource Center for LGBT elders; issuing passports and providing other benefits to the partners of LGBT foreign service staff; signing the Shepard /James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and testifying in favor of ENDA. It pushed through Healthcare Reform, saved jobs in the auto industry while fighting to create new jobs and reining in Wall Street.
But for most Americans, the bad economy and other societal ills trumped our altruistic hopes for equality and justice. We abdicated our political gains to the louder, more vocal and hate filled members of the right-wing and the Tea Party.
In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln reminds us that this country was "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all … are created equal." This we believe. But we let the louder voices of those who would attack our rights, preach homophobia and practice xenophobia in immigration policies, take the high ground.
How did we lose the evolutionary social momentum so evident in the 2008 election and how do we regroup to get back on the right path between now and 2012?
It's been said this election was not so much a mandate for the Republican Party as it was frustration with the slow economic recovery.
Now that we've vented, it's time to get to work.
Start by contacting your state legislature, governor, senator, congressman even the White House and let them know you VOTE (whether for or against them) and that you are holding them accountable. Then do it. Vote in every election; lobby in your district and in Washington.
Show up at town halls, public hearings, etc. and make sure your voice is heard over the crazies. Support organizations that represent values YOU believe in. Run for office and/or support candidates who represent your values in local, statewide or national elections.
Lincoln in his address also said "we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
This is a war – A war for our freedoms, our equality, and our children. So what are YOU/WE going to do to be the change we believe in? There's no turning back.

Topics: Opinions