Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Nov 2020, 10:52 a.m.

It Goes On One At A Time

I want to tell you a story. It's about this year's election results, and it's about hope.

Just a few days after Election Day last week, with only 58% of the vote total reported, the New York Times was already comfortable projecting that Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney will hold his seat in California's 9th Congressional District.

I used to live in that district, in the 1990s. I spent my early teen years in Stockton, an agricultural and shipping city. And that seat was Republican, Norman Shumway holding it 1978-1992 and then Richard Pombo winning and holding it after that.

In the mid-90s I came across an ad recruiting volunteers in the local alternative newspaper. I was a young teen and I was intrigued by the ad that said even people as young as 13 could volunteer for 2 hours per week, Wednesday afternoons, to do camerawork at a local cable access TV show. That's how I started volunteering with the Peace & Justice Network of San Joaquin County.

I met folks who had gotten in serious trouble for protesting the Vietnam War, for anti-nuke actions at Livermore Lab, and for various other acts of conscience. I ran the camera, then served as tech director, as a philosophy professor-turned-carpenter interviewed activists, journalists, politicians, scientists, poets, teachers, clergy, old folks with interesting stories to tell.

Every Congressional cycle they organized to try to beat Pombo. He seemed glued to that seat.

Then, years after I left, in 2004, someone ran unopposed as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination, and got 39% of the vote in the general election.

Then, in the 2006 election -- which I will always associate with this witty, angry, upsetting, didactic political music video set to "Freedom! '90" (content note for images from Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina, and the 9/11 attacks) -- he WON! Jerry McNerney, who literally used to run a wind energy company and has a Ph.D. in math, won against a guy who was one of the worst politicians in America on environmental issues. Didn't hurt that by now Pombo was tied to the Abramoff corruption scandals.

My friends helped. They helped elect McNerney in 2006, and I think they had helped lay the groundwork, with decades of on-the-ground organizing, huge Rolodexes, media and fundraising experience.... All those years, trying and trying again, growing their networks. It's like Marge Piercy said. And now McNerney has been re-elected over and over, as a solid Democrat, and again this year.

There are candidates who lost last year and won this year. Activists, teachers, clergy. There are seats and chambers we came close to flipping this year, laying the groundwork for future efforts. Whatever those efforts need to be, whatever tomorrow brings.

(originally posted as a comment on MetaFilter)