In his acceptance speech last night, President Barack Obama said, “we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.” Though there are plenty of policies I’ll be working to change in the next four years, a number of exciting measures and candidates were affirmed at the polls yesterday.
Breakthroughs for Women and GLBTQ
Last night was truly inspiring for those passionate about women’s and LGBTQ rights; there were a number of decisive and historic outcomes. Four states voted in support of marriage equality. In Maine, Washington, and Maryland, voters approved and affirmed equal marriage rights for their citizens. In Minnesota, voters rejected a measure which would have prohibited marriage rights for LGBTQ residents.
In addition, last night was a watershed for GLBTQ representation amongst elected officials: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was elected the first openly gay Senator. Votes are still being counted in a very tight race, but it looks like Kyrsten Sinema will win the seat for Arizona’s 9th district. If elected, Ms. Sinema will be the first openly bi-sexual member of the House of Representatives.
Slowly but surely, women are increasing their numbers in political offices. A record twenty women will become members of the 113th Congressional Senate, an increase of three from the current 112th Congress. My hometown hero, former employer, and the longest serving woman in the House of Representatives, Marcy Kaptur, successfully battled to claim her 16th term representing Ohio’s 9th district. She faced election absurdities which included gerrymandering that pitted her against famous leftist Dennis Kucinich, and a general election opponent in Joe the Plumber (remember him from ‘08? Yes, he actually ran for office). HuffPost has an interactive map where you can check out where women ran and won in the House and Senate.
The Public says A’ OK to Mary-J
For those whose policy concerns are a little hazier, momentous decisions wafted in from the polls last night. Voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, which will amend the state constitution to legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for persons age 21 and older for recreational use. Washington State voters are hoping for major tax revenue by doing the same thing: they approved Initiative 502, which will also legalize and regulate the production, possession and distribution of cannabis for persons age 21 and older. The catch? A 25% tax rate will be imposed in all stages of the transaction process: “when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer,” according to CNN. A similar measure in Oregon was defeated. Massachusetts and Montana passed referendums in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use; a similar measure in Arkansas failed.
What Is “American?”
The ballot for voters in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico offered a two-part choice to voters regarding their relationship to the States. In the first section, 54% of voters say they did not favor their current commonwealth status. Following, given the choice of statehood, independence or “sovereign free association,” 61% chose statehood as the alternative, with 33% choosing the semi-autonomous “sovereign free association” and 6% voting for outright independence. The non-binding referendum is seen as a mark of popular opinion on the island. Significantly, one third of ballots cast left the question of status blank, prompting many to argue that results which favor statehood may be misleading. Barack Obama has previously stated that he will support the will of the Puerto Rican people on this issue.
In the midst of increasingly racialized political attacks, a rise in hate crimes and workplace discrimination, and a Census-projection which estimates that America’s demographics will no longer be majority white by as early as 2042, upcoming debate about Puerto Rico’s status will be an important indicator of America’s tolerance of diversity. America’s racial, linguistic, and religious diversity is expanding, and in many ways this election was characterized by these tensions and evolving attitudes.
On a personal note, I was pleased with the results of many of the races in the House of Representatives. One of my least favorite representatives, the always-Islamophobic Allen West (R-FL) was not re-elected. At least four out of the 5 Arab Americans in Congress won their reelection bids.
As the President reminded us yesterday,
“These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”
When I cast my ballot for President Obama early last week, I did so cognizant of the reservations I hold about many of his policies over the last four years. Yet, I believe in the sincerity of his promise to move the country forward, and I am ready to speak up on how I believe we can do so. When I canvassed for Obama back in 2008, I wanted to help change the image and policies of America abroad. In 2012, I look at the radical expansion and militarization of the CIA, the dramatic increase in deportations here, and the tarnished image of “Made in the U.S.A.” stamped on tear gas canisters, thrown at peaceful protestors in places like Egypt and Kenya, and I want change.
It is time to move the country forward, and finally close Guantanamo Bay.
We cannot go backward; we must repeal sections of the NDAA which permit the indefinite detention of American citizens.
We need to move forward and bring an end to the quagmire in Afghanistan.
We cannot go backward: a decade of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia has endangered innocent civilians, radicalized our enemies and fomented anti-American sentiments abroad, as well as jeopardized the safety of our troops, and has not made our country safer.
We need to move forward: members of Congress can no longer find endless funding to send my friends to war without supporting them adequately when they return.
We can not move backward by slurring and discriminating against minority communities in this country. America’s religious freedom means that all communities should be safe to practice their religion without the threat of violence, as Sikh and Muslim Americans have endured in recent months.
We can no longer selectively buy off illegitimate and unjust rulers in the Middle East in the name of stability; apartheid, destruction of religious sites, and the tyranny of the minority can no longer be accepted if we are to move forward. The politics of fear and segregation are stagnant, and will not bring peace to the region. As a religiously and ethnically diverse nation, America can assist by brainstorming creatively, promoting democratic solutions which simultaneously allow for self-determination of all citizens while ensuring the safety and participation of minority communities.
Last night was a good start, but we need to keep moving forward. I remain full of hope, and ready for change.