By Eric Timmons
If centrist Democrats thought the left would allow them to bask in the afterglow of Donald Trump’s defeat for just a little longer, Nada Elmikashfi wasn’t listening.
“What this election has done is not only shown the deep immoral rot of the GOP but it has also shown that, in the pursuit of fairness, we have to say that those similarities run in the Democratic Party,” she said in La Crosse on Saturday. “There is a lack of progressive initiative and imagination within the established left; we hold incrementalism as a ceiling, instead of the stepping stones to really life-saving structural change.”
Elmikashfi spoke at the “Voters Decided: Fighting for a Better Tomorrow,” event at Copeland Park, which was organized by SEIU Healthcare, Citizens Action and Opportunity Wisconsin. She was defeated in the state senate District 26 Democratic primary election in August and now works as chief of staff for state Rep.-elect Francesca Hong of Madison.
“We need to grow away from the idea that what we’ve been offered is what we deserve and that it is the limit of what we can get,” Elmikashfi said at the event. “We need to reimagine what’s possible for us and for our community. Complete decarbonization by 2030 is non-negotiable. It is the difference between a viable planet and not. A $15 minimum wage is non-negotiable. Universal health care and universal broadband are essential to the livelihood of every America and are absolutely non-negotiable.”
Elmikashfi, picking up on a theme that held across several speakers at the progressive gathering, encouraged people to run for office and fight for structural change.
“We do not need permission to lead in places where other people have failed us,” she said.
About 50 people gathered at Copeland Park for Saturday’s event, which featured stand-up comedians, music and political speakers, and was billed as both a celebration of the victory over Trump by Joe Biden and a renewed call for continued activism.
Hong, fresh from her election victory, also spoke at the event, and reflected on her part in Biden’s win.
“With the Biden campaign, they asked me to help, and I felt sometimes that there was quite a bit of tokenizing going on and I was becoming pretty disappointed,” she said. “However, I had the opportunity to do something I never thought I would. They asked me to text Korean and Korean American voters in Korean about the Biden campaign, asking them for their vote. And I thought, ‘okay – things are happening, things are changing.”
One man responded to a text by saying that it was the first time he’d received a communication in Korean from a political campaign in the U.S., and it made him feel like he belonged, which moved Hong.
“We should all feel like we belong,” she said. “We should all have the power to be agents of our own change, to make our lives better and the lives of our communities better tomorrow; we have an opportunity to do that now.”
Democrat Josephine Jaynes, unlike Hong, spoke Saturday fresh from a defeat. She ran as an 18-year-old newcomer against state Rep. Loren Oldenburg, R-Viroqua, in a district that has been in Republican hands for decades.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t want me to run, they believed that I hadn’t worked hard enough yet, I was too young – I needed to, you know, work on a campaign first, maybe get a political science degree, wait a few years,” she said. “But my generation can’t wait, we don’t have the luxury to wait until we’re middle aged to run, we don’t know what our future looks like and we’re scared, we’re so scared and we often feel helpless, our voices seem to not matter. Our current political parties are really good at putting us on a stage to speak but, when we want a seat at the table, well, you’re not old enough.”
Jaynes said that, while she lost, she made an impact and hopefully inspired other young people to get involved in politics.
“We got 45% of the vote in an incredibly red district,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll have fair maps next time. I want every young person to know that it is never too early to start. It is never too early because they may not believe you in the beginning but they’ll come around, you’ll turn heads, and we’re not done yet, we’ve got work to do.”
Email questions or story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Top image: From left, Francesca Hong, Nada Elmikashfi and Josephine Jaynes in Copeland Park on Saturday.
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