The world of progressive college students was shocked this week when Donald Trump was elected president. As with any failure, many of us are performing our own autopsies of the past year and a half to determine how the Democratic Party failed so spectacularly in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. I, for one, feel that a good portion of the blame must go to the naive Democratic Party establishment that was more preoccupied with recreating the two Obama victories than with evolving to address the realities of today.
I initially placed U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) in that box of the out-of-touch “establishment.” Then I read her piece in The Washington Post, in which she recounted her concerns about dissatisfaction among working Michiganders and Trump’s real potential to flip the state to red. She expressed those thoughts to Democrats before the election, but her own party did not listen. Turns out Dingell has a knack for prophecy.
Though she and I have never met face to face, I have seen her many times through my involvement in the University’s chapter of College Democrats here on campus. And when I first heard her warning about Clinton’s vulnerability in Michigan at the first College Democrats mass meeting of the semester, I, too, wrote it off as a bitter reaction to Sanders’s upset win by an establishment Democrat.
But this isn’t an apology.
The road ahead will be tough for everyone in the 12th Congressional District. I cannot fathom the work cut out for Dingell as she tries to soothe both the largest Muslim community in the country as well as two college campuses that have been previously targeted by xenophobic malice. Burned in my mind is the image Dingell’s op-ed provided of a sobbing little girl who feared she would be murdered in her school just because of her faith.
If and when you get a chance to read this, Rep. Dingell, I would like to thank you. You demanded answers to the tragic death of a Muslim marine recruit. You helped Yemeni nationals who fled civil war in their homeland extend their stay without deportation fears. You even rallied student voters as they waited in the long lines at the Michigan Union. Your love of and dedication to the people you represent is crystal clear.
I admire Debbie and John Dingell as models for public servants who are in-tune with those they represent. Progressives must be advocates for the white working class as well as advocates for minorities and students. There is no mutual exclusivity here. I have been inspired to take more time to care about everyone in my community, especially in the Downriver area in and around Wayne County, a place I have my own connection to.
My history with Downriver is not admirable. While working in Allen Park a few summers ago, I met the blue-collar nature of that city not with compassion, but with disdain. I was the typical snobby, college-educated liberal. It was I who was going to go to the best university and change the world while they were stuck in a run-down town in their hopeless, mindless jobs. I am not proud of that disdain. That mindset leads nowhere but to the erasure of the working class in the minds of those who were blessed with the social circumstance of being able to do something. Well, the working class just gave a tremendous roar of “WE ARE STILL HERE” that we progressives can no longer ignore. I hope that by taking Dingell as a role model, I can do better to look past stereotypes. I need to dig my hands deep into my community, to engage with not just those like-minded to myself so that I can make the change I seek to make for everyone.
As part of my personal catharsis, I needed to hear members of the Democratic Party reflect on the failures of this election. I expected it from Sen. Sanders, but needed it from local officials like Dingell. The reality that Michigan’s electoral votes will (most likely) go to Donald Trump is a hurtful blow to me as a minority student. The state seemes like a dark place to be an Arab American. Knowing this result was avoidable makes it somewhat more palatable. It also makes me feel more comfortable with finding allies in elected officials as we try to rebuild for the future.
However, introspection in itself is not enough. We must all move forward. Rep. Dingell: I call on you to join others such as Sen. Harry Reid (D–Nev.) who have endorsed U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.) for Democratic National Committee chairperson. Your minority constituents need to be empowered, and Rep. Ellison would be a voice in the system that we have never had.
On a final note, this one to University of Michigan students: Hillary Clinton’s heartbreaking loss has left many of us grasping for some silver lining. I believe that Debbie Dingell’s re-election is one of those. The Washtenaw County bubble fooled us, yes, but it will also be our sanctuary for the next four years if you are a freshman. This sanctuary has strong guardians both in Congress and in Lansing. Washtenaw County will also be our base of operation as we work with Dingell and others in the coming years.
To all my fellow progressives, regardless of the role you play in the upcoming fight, we must work together. I look forward to working with Rep. Dingell to promote what is good and disrupt what is wrong. Because love does trump hate and we are stronger together.
Ali Safawi is a member of The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board.