Last night, a whole new slate of lawmakers were voted into state and federal offices throughout the United States. Voters in Washington state and across the country cast their ballots for the lawmakers who spoke most to their values, and decided on state initiatives that will create a lasting impact on the future of their communities.

Whether you are excited or disappointed by the election results in your district or in the nation, there is no denying that on many fronts, history was made. In our state, Washingtonians voted in favor of Initiative 1639, which provides common-sense guidelines to gun storage and the purchase of semi-automatic rifles. Voters also passed, by a wide margin, Initiative 940, which regulates police accountability for wrongfully using deadly force and creates a requirement that all officers undergo a deescalation and mental health training. The passage of these initiatives– which both work to reduce violence and the loss of life in our communities– is especially a win for communities of color. Gun violence, particularly at the hands of the police, disproportionately affects communities and youth of color. Although we are disappointed that Initiative 1631 ultimately didn’t pass (and that deceptive scare tactics worked with I-1634) we are happy to see Washington voters prioritizing the safety of our communities and the future of our young people.

Nationally, election results ushered in a rush of progressive and historical victories. In Florida, a state with notoriously strict voter suppression laws, voters passed a crucial amendment which restores voting rights to 1.5 million formerly-incarcerated Floridians. This is more than 9% of the eligible voting population in that state.

Cartoon drawing of the White House with people walking in and out, with the caption "we need a government that works for all of us."
Image by Nina Montenegro via Opportunity Agenda

2018 is also being dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” thanks to the fact that female candidates– particularly female candidates of color– won seats in record numbers. New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’ Sharice Davids both share the honor of being the first Native American women elected to Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29 year-old Latina from the Bronx, is now the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S House. Ayanna Pressley will be the first Black woman to represent Massachusetts in the House. Both Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. However, there is a still a lot of work to be done to ensure that women have equal representation in Congress. Even with last night’s monumental wins, only 23 Senators (23%) and 95 Representatives (22%) are women. But with last night’s wins, we are seeing amazing progress.

In the excitement and energy of the days and weeks leading up to Election Day, it can be easy to imagine that all of one’s “work,”– that is, one’s engagement with elected officials and the laws that govern communities– is done once a ballot has been filled out. In fact, voting is just a single part (although a very important one) of the political process. We have all collectively decided who will represent our communities for the next several years. Now, we must work to hold our new lawmakers accountable.  

Activism looks different for all of us, and there are many ways to be an advocate. Maybe for you, advocacy looks like keeping up to date on local and national news, or sharing your opinions via social media, or talking with loved ones about issues in your community. Maybe it means attending local marches and community events. Maybe it means signing petitions, sending emails, or calling your legislators to urge them to take action on certain issues. Maybe it means meeting your lawmakers in person and sharing your thoughts with them, such as through a lobby day. (Speaking of, be on the lookout for more news to come about Poverty Action’s Day of Action at the Capital on MLK Day– just a few months away!)

Voters have entrusted these lawmakers with the responsibility of governing our cities, states, and country, and with building a society that creates opportunities that allows us all to prosper. Let’s make sure they do just that.