New Hope from Ed Markey’s Win
Slack, Spoke, Slack, Spoke, ThruTalk, VoteBuilder,…repeat…It’s been a hectic few months as a volunteer for an underdog. Last week, that underdog, Senator Ed Markey, won re-election to the U.S. Senate. When rumors started to fly about a potential challenge by Joe Kennedy III last year, polling immediately put the not-yet-running Congressman Kennedy 17 points ahead, where he hovered even after entering the race. Until the pandemic struck…
Though in Congress for four decades, Ed Markey wasn’t well known in Massachusetts until this race. He wasn’t what some might call a “talking head” who is constantly doing the news circuits, and was seen as an easy target for a cute face from a Massachusetts dynasty. Many would argue that Kennedy seemed so sure of his inevitable victory that he didn’t even bother to define why he was running, a trend that continued until he stopped trying and began dodging the question. But no one tells Ed Markey where to stand, and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
What first may have seemed to an outsider to be another young progressive challenging an establishment incumbent quickly became a race for our future. Yes, Senator Markey’s record isn’t perfect. Neither is Kennedy III’s. What was different in this race was that Ed Markey didn’t just re-invent himself as a progressive for his campaign; he had long admitted his bad votes and grown from them. Arguably he had become one of, if not the, most progressive member of the United States Senate, authoring the Green New Deal and co-sponsoring bills for Medicare for All, reparations, and more. This wasn’t a younger, more progressive outsider taking on the establishment; this was a young face from a political dynasty challenging from the right. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Anyone who wants to run for office can do so and arguably should to hold our officials responsible for their records (but that’s a conversation for a different time). Had Kennedy be able to define himself in a way that represented who he was, and articulated real reasons to cast a ballot for him, this race may have turned out differently. The fact is that neither of those things happened, and the young faces Kennedy was trying to appeal to began rallying behind Markey. And faced with a global pandemic that suddenly makes campaigns change every usual tactic, the young and the savvy rallied behind the baby boomer.
I am a millennial. I’m not afraid to admit that Gen-Z ran the show in the digital world and taught me more than I could put into words. Students for Markey, Ed’s Reply Guys, The Sunrise Movement, and _insert theme here_ for Ed Markey are just a few examples of the digital organization of Gen-Z for Markey. They mobilized social media in an unprecedented way. And the Markey campaign saw the potential. The campaign gave them freedoms most wouldn’t trust to unpaid volunteers, let alone teenagers. Hosting their own phone and text banks, bringing on 400 fellows, directing ads, and leading fundraising challenges — these teens and young adults brought life, hope, and fun into a campaign and fueled it to victory.
I didn’t think that at 31 I’d already be old enough to be learning from the young folk, but I’m not ashamed to admit that despite my decade long Twitter addiction, I knew nothing of how to garner traction on social media. Their heartfelt support for one another, their endless ideas, and their constant participation pushed me to be a better volunteer — to sign up for that extra text leader shift, to push through a few more clicks on VoteBuilder, or sign up for another phone bank.
Most of all, it gave me hope. If I had to choose one issue as a voting priority, it would be climate. To me, nothing else matters if we do not have a habitable planet on which to do it. Like many my age, I’ve put off having a family for both lack of financial security and, most importantly, fear that I would bring a child into a world that wouldn’t be there for them in the way it was for me. Ed Markey won’t be around to see today’s teens have grandchildren, yet he fights for them anyway. A leader on climate before talking about climate was cool, his record stands strong. Tuesday’s victory showed all of us that when we mobilize, we have a fighting chance. It wasn’t about beating a Kennedy, it was about showing the country that we will be heard. Young people are taking their future into their own hands and giving this planet a fighting chance.
So what next? We know that our Presidential nominee isn’t the most climate forward person in politics. We know that most of our flip Senate Seats aren’t on Ed Markey’s level. But we also know that Biden has come a heck of a long way, and we need policymakers who believe in science. And if Joe Biden is not our next President and we do not have a Senate majority, we stand no chance.
We also know that progressives across the country are running for state and local positions, and now, their virtual operations can take fuel from the Markey fire and hit the ground running towards the finish. With Ed Markey winning re-election, a message was sent loud and clear. Want to win in November? You need the youth vote. How do you get the youth vote? You give a damn.
It’s a flame we needed. Seeing the establishment rally against the progressives in primaries across the country seemed to be working. The establishment could be defined as a constant voice caring not about the plights of young people, but about middle-class America.
This week, a survey came out that said more than half of all adults under 30 currently live with their parents. Crippled with student loan debt and struggling to get by, most of us under 35 aren’t middle-class America. We want to know how our leaders are going to make things better for us. The stakes are the highest of our lifetimes, so why was the so-called liberal party not speaking to us?
Then came Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. And despite the constant berating of media spinning and establishment critics, the entire squad won re-election. We didn’t win every progressive race this year, but Ed Markey’s victory is a milestone in the movement. The son of a milkman from Malden was the first person to ever defeat a Kennedy in Massachusetts. If we can come from 17 points behind to win by 10, we can do anything.
The Markey digital mecca has already begun to transform itself into a political machine. Sharing resumes, posting job opportunities, and simply encouraging supporters to fill volunteer shifts across the country, the Markeyverse is spreading their wings to be the change they want to see. And I, for one, am grateful they let this old lady join in the fun. Onward to November.