We’re only a month into 2020 and it has already felt like the longest year of my life.
January was a jam-packed month. We came back from the holidays engaged in a struggle with our state lawmakers, gathering tens of thousands of signatures to express our displeasure with a tax reform bill they already knew we were displeased with before it was passed. We continued to slog through the Democratic presidential primary, watching too many debates and wishing that Iowa would hurry up and vote already. And we all suffered through the endless impeachment trial, with all of the accompanying outrage that came with the realization that our government institutions were failing us.
Not only have we already been through a lot, but we have so much more ahead of us this year. We’re in the middle of our annual legislative session, which always proves to be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. We still have nine months until November, an election season that will be filled with a gubernatorial race where even supposedly moderate candidates are speeding to the right and a presidential primary that is already causing infighting among the left–heaven forbid it ends in a contested convention. And every day until the election is another day of Trump and his enablers in the administration and United States Senate doing everything they can to reverse progressive policies and undermine democratic norms.
Like I said, the longest year of my life.
With all of this weighing me down, I found myself this week in Las Vegas at Road Ahead 2020, an annual conference organized by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Activists from around the country come here each year to learn about direct democracy and strategize on its use to advance the progressive movement across the country.
The first panel of Road Ahead 2020 was, fittingly, a look at the “Road Ahead in 2020.” Talking about the election later this year, Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, described it as “the most important election of our lives.” It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before–one that’s used by every politician before every election. But rather than a meaningless phrase, Maurice went on to describe how the 2020 election really is the most important election of our lives.
Voting later this year isn’t just another instance of us fulfilling a civic duty, nor is it just an opportunity for us to officially declare whether or not we like Donald Trump. This election is a referendum on authoritarianism and the rule of law. It’s an election during which we will show our level of commitment toward core principles of our constitution and the role of government in our lives. Our votes will directly impact access to healthcare, the health of our environment, and war and peace around the globe. And although Maurice was only talking about our national elections, Utahns will determine whether or not lawmakers can get away with blatantly disregarding the will of the people by overturning ballot initiatives.
His explanation made me realize that all those politicians are actually right! Every election is the most important election of our lives. Each one determines the course of our nation. They reflect our values and ideals. They shape our future–our own individual lives, the lives of everyone in our community, the lives of those around the globe, the lives of generations to come. Is there anything more important than that?
This new perspective didn’t suddenly make the year ahead seem any shorter and it didn’t make the work seem any less daunting. But it did remind me what I’m fighting for and made all the long days and sleepless nights come to feel worth it again. It inspired me to recommit myself to doing everything I can. To do things I’ve never done. To do more than I’ve ever done.
I even took the time to make a list of 7 ways I can recommit to progress!
- Later that night, I volunteered with my county political party to help out with caucus night for the first time.
- Even though I was pretty certain that I had already updated my address after moving, I went on to vote.utah.gov to make sure I was registered to vote.
- For each election this year, I’m sitting down and filling out my ballot on the day it arrives in the mail. (I once procrastinated taking my ballot to the mailbox for so long that I ran out of time to vote in an election…)
- Despite being extremely introverted and shy, I’m going to volunteer to make calls and canvass for candidates, especially state and local campaigns!
- I’m going to be more active on social media again, even though I absolutely hate it, so that I can be engaged in the conversation, express my values, and combat disinformation.
- I’m going to re-download Vote With Me, or a similar tool that will help me leverage my network and encourage them to participate and vote.
- And probably most importantly, I’m going to practice self-care, taking physical AND mental health days, so that I can make it all the way to the end of the race.
If there’s anyone else out there who’s feeling as disheartened as I was feeling last week, I hope my list inspires you to make your own. If there’s anyone else out there who’s looking at the rest of this year and feeling as pre-exhausted as I was feeling last week, I hope this gives you a new perspective.
Ultimately, it’s up to me. But it’s also up to you. It’s up to each and every one of us in our communities, our state, and our nation. I have a voice in my future. And though you may say different things or use your voice differently, you have a voice in your future. We all have a voice in our future. And if enough of us use those voices, there’s a greater chance we will see a future next year that we’d like to share.
This is the most important election of our lives. We can do this.
Chase Thomas is the Executive Director of Alliance for a Better Utah