Life before COVID-19 was different in so many ways. Year after year in the realm of politics, we held house meetings across the state, gathering voters in living rooms or around dining room tables to share stories about why the election was personal for them.
Door knocking, holding rallies and getting to know our candidates and asking them questions were important parts of the campaign process.
When the pandemic came, the switch was on. We rented billboards and our volunteers assembled along highways holding up signs for Democratic candidates. We built a deep canvassing program to engage infrequent voters with phone conversations and virtual meet-ups that focused on their personal experiences and values. We tracked absentee ballots to ensure voters were able to access their resources and make their voices heard. My excitement grew as I witnessed more and more people who had never been involved in political organizing stepping forward to put signs in their yards, make phone calls, send text messages, write letters and postcards and drop literature about our candidates at their doors.
As excited as I was to see new engagement in different ways, I was equally saddened as I talked to people who wanted to put a sign in their yard or wanted to write a letter to their local paper, but were too afraid of retaliation from their opposing political party neighbor. How did we get to this?
While I was growing up, my family would discuss what it meant to be a Democrat. Being a Democrat meant working towards providing the opportunity for a better life for everyone.
I would listen to story after story of how Democrats helped others and I knew at that very moment I was a Democrat. I mean really, how could you be anything else? I thought to myself, who doesn’t want to help people?
When stories were told of how Democrats and President Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security to ensure that those who could no longer work had a monthly income on which to live, that made sense to me. Looking at my grandmother who could no longer work after years in the workforce, I thought, wow, what if she did not have this monthly income that she and her husband paid into? How would she survive?
They talked to me about how Democrats and President Kennedy started Medicare and Lyndon Johnson had it enacted. With their contribution to the program, the elderly and people with disabilities were guaranteed continued health care later in life, even when they were no longer able to work.
They talked to me about education and the fact that Democrats enacted the G.I. Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that provided WWII Veterans with the opportunities for a higher education, so they could go on and get good jobs to raise their families. And how Democrats expanded college financial aid, making federal programs simpler, more reliable and more efficient for students.
They talked to me about Democrats who fought for the right to unionize and how much of what we now take for granted—the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, and pensions—was made possible by the hard work and dedicated struggle of America’s labor movement. They talked to me about how Democrats believe that we all have a part to play in promoting equality and protecting Americans against discrimination, and we continue to work vigorously toward greater freedom and equality in America.
They told me Democrats believe we got here by rewarding hard work and responsibility, by investing in people and by growing our country from the bottom up.
As I grew older, I carried those stories with me and used those beliefs to become the person I am today.
When I think about where we are today, I think about having those same conversations. How do you explain that today the Republican Party wants to take all of that away?
My family taught me the value of hard work, giving back, public service and looking out for those less fortunate. I continue to spread those values and remind voters of all the great things that brought our country to where it is today and how important it is to continue to look out for the less fortunate. That is why I remain a Democrat and keep fighting the fight.
But the real question lies in how and why West Virginia voters continue to vote against their own best interests, supporting an agenda that goes against what they believe? How and why do people I have known as Democrats all their lives and who have prospered from our policies, choose now to vote the opposite way?
It is not just happening in West Virginia. The same results have played out in many states.
As Democrats, we must listen to each other and do the work through meaningful outreach and personal conversations. We must earn the trust of those who no longer believe. It will not be through campaign slogans or misleading ads. It will be by listening to why people feel left behind and why they feel the Democratic Party has left them.
The simple, impactful story of what it means to be a Democrat has been drowned out by untruths and extreme, deceptive scare tactics. Stories and taglines built to divide Americas have overshadowed the fundamental values of Democratic policies. Our task must be to join together, to cut through the lies, deception and divisive tactics.
We can move forward if we work together and we can win.