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Win Or Lose, Democrats Must Reconcile America's Original Sin

Attendees wait to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at a campaign event at Clark Atlanta University on November 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Attendees wait to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at a campaign event at Clark Atlanta University on November 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

More than most generations, mine has had a front row seat to the crystal-clear consequences of ignoring systemic greed, injustice and corruption.

If Democrats pull off a victory on November 3rd, they will need to boldly become the political party that centers on remembrance, truth and reconciliation of American's original sin — the legacy and culture of white supremacy. The multiple crises we are living through today have arisen from this avoidance; from our inability to grapple with the deepest and darkest truths of our past and present.

What’s required is nothing less than America’s rebirth. Inaction and/or the failure to fundamentally redistribute power in this moment of pain and injustice would be a moral disaster. Critically, redistribution of power does not mean the erasure of whiteness, nor the overt centering of one group of people. Instead, it is a simple call to action: those who have been denied their inalienable rights of equality, equity and a true social safety net, will no longer have to wait their turn.

The rebirth of our nation begins with long-time Democratic party leaders stepping back and allowing the next generation of allies — those elected, running for office and activists on the ground — to become the ambassadors and builders of this transformative vision for America.

Historically for Democrats, this has meant an incremental and piecemeal offering of power to those that have been denied it. That’s not enough. For the doors of power to be opened wide, Nancy Pelosi must step down as speaker and nominate a woman of color, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) or Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07). In doing so, Democrats can open a structural pathway that permanently shifts power to Black people and other people of color.

The party must also shift policymaking from the Beltway to America’s true heartland, where swing voters, base voters and everyday people are found in our parks, schools, senior centers, coffee shops, farms, bodegas and barbershops.

Democrats can become the party of true equity in policymaking by unapologetically engaging with issues such as transforming public safety, universal basic income or abolishing the Electoral College. Imagine televised town hall debates and Congressional committee meetings focused on restoring the legitimacy of our democracy and the need to reset the rules of engagement for campaign finance, with the goal of developing a new voting bill of rights for all Americans.

Government can only be a part of this solution. To sustain this work beyond Washington D.C., party donors and philanthropic organizations must focus its political funding on social justice organizations led by Black, indigenous and other people of color. By increasing funding to the civic sector more directly, we can begin to tackle the direct corrosive impact Citizens United has had on our democracy, and more specifically on communities of color.

Our future rests upon an intergenerational body of leaders that understand deep listening and empathy are core tenets to living in a multiracial country.

All anchor institutions in our country, be they education, health care, finance or government, must be reformed with power in mind. In making this commitment, Democrats must aspire to something greater than what has come before.

We can no longer acquiesce to half measures that only offer marginal change at the edges of our institutions. For generations, we demanded reform. In this moment of crisis and upheaval, only transformation will suffice.

I am a second-generation immigrant, born in Puerto Rico and raised by a single Dominican mother in Lawrence, Mass. I know what it is like to have people see only my color, my sexual orientation, and my gender — and to count me out. I know what it is like to be seen as statistic and not the whole of my story.

We can no longer acquiesce to half measures that only offer marginal change at the edges of our institutions.

For nearly two decades, my life’s work has been driving towards this moment of transformative justice. Whether as a union organizer, political strategist or urban planner, this vision for America is one that is just, equitable and built upon sustainable communities. To arrive at this future requires us to co-build the “transition team”: a movement of multi-racial, multi-gendered and multi-class changemakers and practical visionaries that will design powerful solutions to our current challenges.

To make the change we seek will require all Americans to be vulnerable and introspective. Our future rests upon an intergenerational body of leaders that understand deep listening and empathy are core tenets to living in a multiracial country.

I am not naive. To achieve this level of structural change will require an unseen level of institutional justice and equity. But we must also find courage in ourselves. We must have honest conversations about who we as a nation have been, and who we want to become. And it is on all of us to facilitate those conversations with our loved ones, neighbors, friends and foes.

To speak, to listen, to acknowledge and to move forward. That is the deceptively simple yet challenging transformative playbook for the rebirth of a nation.

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Wilnelia Rivera Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Wilnelia Rivera is a political strategist, urban planner and project management professional. She is the president of Rivera Consulting, Inc.

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