Op-ed: Building local progressive networks in the wake of Election Day 2016

By Damita Brown

Some of us would like to pretend that business as usual will suffice — that the unfortunate outcomes of Tuesday’s election have no bearing on how we go about the unending progressive movement for inclusion, equity, peace and justice in this county. Others are quite clear that it is more important than ever to make sure the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is held accountable for the ways in which it has failed to uphold a truly democratic process. After all, when it became clear that the DNC deck was stacked against Sen. Bernie Sanders, the fallout went no further than Debbie Wasserman Schultz and there was no effort to change that. Perhaps even the DNC regrets the way it ignored all the polls that had Sanders defeating the Republican candidate. Still others think it is time to rebuild the Democratic party with progressive leadership and intentions. All of these ideas and more could be given thorough examination.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on stage at College Green Park in Iowa City. With only four days until Election Day, Sanders encouraged people to vote Clinton. Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. --photo by Zak Neumann.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on stage at College Green Park in Iowa City. With only four days until Election Day, Sanders encouraged people to vote Clinton. Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. –photo by Zak Neumann.

Some of us stood in College Green Park in Iowa City last week and listened as Sanders reminded us that his campaign had served a vital purpose. It had helped to create the most progressive platform that our country has ever seen. Many of us who remain devout Sanders supporters decided to hold our noses and vote for Hillary Clinton, largely because we felt this would be a more socially responsible action than either staying at home or diluting the effort to defeat the Republican candidate.

For a long time I had refused to accept Hillary Clinton as a responsible choice. People talked about the level of misogyny they saw reflected in the comments about her. I did not see Clinton’s gender as the issue, I saw her position on the issues as an issue. Imagine, for example, if she had even modestly acknowledged the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux or the abuse of the eminent domain laws on farmland in Iowa. Imagine if she had commented on the threat to the drinking water of millions of people by a leaking oil pipeline. Most of the progressives I have read or talked to could not support her silence. And the lack of trust many of us felt had to do with her affiliations with entities like Monsanto, Wal-mart and the corporations that funded her campaign. But regardless of Clinton’s stance on the issues, I think the real problem lies elsewhere.

Who could deny that there are problems within the electoral system in this country? Examples of these problems abound: the unnecessary and corrupt influence of big money, the dearth of third party options, the specious influence of the electoral college, the failure of the government to fully protect and enforce the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression, gratuitous gerrymandering, illogical voter ID restrictions, the corrosive sway of yellow journalism, the absence of accountability among mainstream media outlets, the failure of our law enforcement or the judicial system to exact due process regarding accusations of rape, financial malfeasance, tax evasion, sexual assault, espionage, threats of violence against other candidates, inciting violence against Mexicans, Blacks, Muslims and women, and much more. These are serious problems.

We need expedient and well-coordinated action to build local progressive networks that will help us address these and other problems in the electoral system. To do so goes hand in hand with delivering candidates who are not only willing to listen to and respect the electorate (all of the electorate), but who see that as the most important part of their job. We need alternative choices to Democrats and Republicans who take the votes they get for granted. Progressives must be decisive and determined in making sure we have a well-informed public that can access not only registration and voting venues easily, but also can also enjoy independent forums that educate them about the most pressing social, economic and political issues affecting them. We need progressive coalition politics that offer 21st century platforms — those that are on a par with other advanced western political states.

In my view, sustaining any progressive gains of the last 50 years or developing strategies for the 2020 elections means organizing locally. I agree with [Johnson County Supervisor] Mike Carberry when he calls for developing a local coalition that can mobilize at a moment’s notice to support or protest issues, initiative and candidates based on our shared values. Furthermore, if ever there was a time to convene a local progressive summit to discuss and develop our options, that time in now. Let us do so while we still can. As we find out what we are made of in the next few years, I hope we put love and kindness at the center of our efforts to build democracy. I am envisioning a future that is not strangled by the dictates of the super rich.

We need a progressive summit that takes as one of its key priorities the restructuring of the electoral process. A summit that seeks to help change political discourse in this country so that it is a true reflection of the needs and ideas of the people. I hope as we go forward we can remember First Lady Michelle Obama’s words: “When they go low, we go high.”

Damita Brown, PhD, is a poet and a painter. Born and raised in Iowa, she studied at the University of Washington and University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of the self-published collection of poems ‘Beyond Struggle’ and the forthcoming work ‘Endless Road.’ This article was originally published in Little Village issue 210.


  1. If you’re serious about network building, may I suggest not starting your article with three paragraphs of the same divisive critiques and rhetoric Clinton supporters have heard from Sanders supporters for well over a year now. As an (unapologetic) Clinton supporter, I was completely turned off to your message after that 3rd paragraph. Since the election I have a renewed energy to support social justice and community organizing activities. More often than not my enthusiasm is doused with cold water by those who obviously feel they are more “woke” than me and prefer to look down on my moderate politics than accept my offer to help. You can welcome everyone with good intentions, which will eventually include Trump supporters after they realize they were conned by his campaign lies, or you can maintain what you view as your “moral purity.” The latter will definitely restrict that network you’re trying to build.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


Scattergood Friends Middle School Meet & Greet

Come and visit us at the Iowa City Holiday Farmers Market and the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center on Saturday, November 16.

Learn More
Event Details

Iowa City Farmers Market
November 16
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Robert A. Lee Rec Center

Little Village
2019 Give Guide

Get to know some of the nonprofits helping to make the CRANDIC a better place to live.