Reflections on the last four years

There has been a joke circulating for a while now, based on a protest sign: “If Hillary had won, we’d all be at brunch right now.” While that tongue in cheek statement, steeped in privilege, rings true for some, our communities knew that our fight for equity was happening long before Donald Trump existed as a candidate — and then president — and our fight continues now that Joe Biden is set to be the next president. While it felt like we were constantly playing defense under Trump, now is the opportunity to ensure that we never go back to the “way things were.”

Now is the opportunity to ensure that we never go back to the “way things were.”

Reflecting on the lessons and experiences of the last four years, I come to the immediate conclusion that the “way things were” did not lead to liberation for Black and Brown communities. Draconian immigration policies, stagnant wages and bailouts for corporations built on the backs of poor and working people created conditions that must be dismantled and rebuilt by our communities. If anything, the last four years exacerbated those conditions, but we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that equity existed in the United States prior to the presidency of Trump.

The morning after the election in 2016, I, like millions of other people, was hoping it had been a bad dream. Or that there were a bunch more votes for Hillary that had been counted. Or that it had all been a terrible mistake.

Reality quickly set in that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. While he lost the popular vote, he still gained millions of votes, which meant that his message of hate and divisiveness resonated with millions of voters. I, like many other people of color, felt self-conscious when I went out in public later that day. I’ve always known that racism exists, of course, but to know that people — 62,984,828 of them to be exact — were happy that the man who announced his campaign and built it on racism and fear mongering won…well, it was almost too much to bear.

A deeper reality set in quickly after that. Our communities were shocked, afraid, bewildered, betrayed. Our staff was feeling many of those same feelings. We took a day to recover from a long election season and then re-grouped with the question: what now?

While I would never give Trump or his administration an ounce of credit for the organizing that happened after the election, I will say that our community didn’t stay shocked for long. New members, existing members, friends of friends showed up for a community meeting. And then another meeting. And another. Before we knew it, we had members who are still with us, four years later — organizing, building, leading. OLÉ organizers adopted a motto: we organize locally to resist nationally.

While the presidential election captured endless news cycles in 2016, we will not allow it to outshine the wins that happened for New Mexico in the aftermath.

The fact that Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have been expanded so greatly signals what we’ve known for years: New Mexicans are ready for change in our state, and they know the only way to create change is to work for it. Voters showed up and in doing so, showed many incumbents the door.

New Mexicans are ready for change in our state, and they know the only way to create change is to work for it.

Change, however, is beyond partisan politics.

What New Mexicans know is that candidates who share their values of fairness, of making sure everyone has enough and no one is left behind, and everyone pitching in and helping out is what makes all the difference in a policy maker. OLÉ endorsed several candidates — not because of their party affiliation, but because they are trusted members of our community who will work to create lasting change.

No one is an island, and whether it’s paid sick leave, early education for all, ensuring that New Mexico’s transition to renewable energy benefits all of us, or strengthening and expanding democracy, we look forward to working with our new legislature to realize the dream of our state. New Mexicans have used their votes to send out a resounding message, and this mandate is something we take seriously.

I am immensely proud of our members, our community and our state who have unapologetically organized and demanded better for all New Mexico. I am reminded of Poem for South African Women by June Jordan, which brought many people comfort in the days, weeks, months and years following the 2016 election:

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea
we are the ones we have been waiting for.

— Andrea Serrano, Executive Director, OLÉ

OLÉ is a community organization, who uses grassroots organizing within the local community of working families in New Mexico.