A decade of change marks the U.S. elections

Shakira Sison
The Democrats won this election because they were not afraid to mingle with minorities and put their needs at the forefront of their platform

Shakira Sison is a vet by education and was working towards an MBA before relocating to New York in 2002. She currently works in the financial industry while dabbling in creative writing, Web and graphic design, and various forms of geekery. She is based in Brooklyn, New York and maintains a site, www.shakirasison.com



NEW YORK, USA – My Facebook friends hate me, and I understand. In the past few months I’ve spammed their walls with election-related posts: endless articles on polls and statistics, discussions on the gap between campaigns and constituents, a daily dose of memes, and my blatant pro-Obama status updates, including one that says:

The way I see it, if you vote Republican, you are anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and anti-gay. Therefore, you are 100% anti-me and you are against everyone and everything I care about. Please scroll over my name and uncheck the box that says “Friends” as you’re definitely not one of them. Thanks (Oh, and goodbye)!

Since when did I care so much? When I moved to the US from Manila in 2002, I didn’t even know the difference between Democrats and Republicans, and I couldn’t get a clear explanation from anyone either. Their differences back then weren’t very clear and seemed irrelevant, other than that one party was supposedly more conservative than the other. It definitely wasn’t anything exciting, and I understood why most people often stayed home during elections. They felt their votes didn’t matter, and life as they knew it wouldn’t change regardless of who was in power.

I came from the Philippines where corruption was rampant and the same faces took turns ascending to power or trying to tear the current administration down. Elections were contests of how many celebrities politicians could pay to attend their campaign functions. This dictated how the masses voted, and often the result would be a government of movie actors and the pretty faces that adorned the giant billboards announcing the “sponsors” of each street and public project during the election season. Although I still voted, I always felt that the best way to get the most from the government was to have zero dependence on it.

Nothing ever changes

I felt the same way when I moved to New York. I was invisible as a new immigrant quadruple-whammied by being gay, female, and brown-skinned. I was too busy making sense of my cultural crash course and navigating the immigration maze to even hope for any change in the system, because as a non-citizen I knew I did not have a voice. I walked away from the TV during the 2004 elections because nobody ever said anything in a speech that made me stop to say, “Hey, he’s talking about me!”

The demographic shift in this year’s electorate shows just how much things have changed in the past decade. The fact that 53% of voters were female and 55% of them voted for Obama (67% for single women) along with 81% of non-white voters is proof that platforms built on firing up the Republican base of white males using outdated, ultra-conservative views no longer win elections. The white majority is shrinking every year and the results of this election will force Republicans to finally consider the concerns of Americans outside their base, whether they like it or not.

Minority voices change elections

For one, Mitt Romney’s only answer to a fractured immigration system was for undocumented immigrants to “self-deport,” which is simply a nice way of saying, “Papers or GTFO!” That might have been acceptable a few years ago and made perfect sense to white Americans who only saw immigration issues as a simple paperwork problem, instead of the deadend it actually is for many who are stuck in its limbo.

This no longer works when millions of Hispanics (10% of this year’s electorate and 16.7% of the US population) still have family members who are in constant fear of deportation. Immigrants want answers to a failing system, and it shouldn’t include a mass exodus from a country they call home.

The loud voices of women in this election proved that any candidate who dared challenge abortion rights and reproductive freedom will be voted out. Famous rape comments made by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cost these Senate candidates the election even if they were favored to win prior to their ignorant comments.

American women told the world on Tuesday that they will not sit down and let misogynistic remarks and anti-woman platforms slide. They remembered Barack Obama’s mention of his Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act versus Romney’s “binders full of women” and how, to him, fair treatment meant that he sends his secretary home early so she can make dinner for her kids.

Tides are turning on same-sex marriage

The unprecedented approval of same-sex marriage by ballot in 4 states (Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington) was evidence that marriage equality is no longer just the pursuit of the radical left but a sentiment now felt by majority of Americans.

President Obama’s earlier endorsement of same-sex marriage and refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act only cemented his stand on this issue, and Americans felt they could identify with this candidate more than Romney’s firm anti-gay marriage equality stance, as well as his failure to mention gay citizens in any of his speeches or debates. 

Social issues are not separate from economic issues

It also turns out that social issues like women’s rights, immigration reform and gay marriage are not the “left” or “liberal” or “radical” sentiments that Republicans have made them out to be. The wave of Democratic support in Tuesday’s polls showed that these concerns are not outside the mainstream. Rather, they are the struggles of the general population and ignoring them will cost their opponents their government seats.

One of the more misinformed arguments I’ve heard in favor of a Romney administration was that the failing economy should be the Number One concern and must therefore trump all other issues in this election. What was always difficult for me to understand was how this improvement in the economy was going to happen without uplifting the lives of the middle class or ensuring the welfare and fair treatment of women.

Fortunately, good reason prevailed this week and the results showed that this thinking will no longer fly. We cannot go on believing that the economic progress is separate from social progress, or worse, that it is more important than addressing these needs. The economy and social welfare must go hand in hand.

A more accurate cross-section

Obama’s reelection, despite a large unemployment rate and poor economic forecasts, was evidence that even if the economy is an undeniable moving force, voters will not sacrifice their core principles they believe they shared with the President over his rival.

In Obama’s acceptance speech following Romney’s gracious concession, he said:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

This wasn’t new to me as I heard my 4 demographic qualifiers in almost all of the major Democratic campaign speeches, as opposed to almost never in the Republican ones. The Democrats won this election because they were not afraid to mingle with minorities and put their needs at the forefront of their platform. Obama won because all of his campaign gatherings were more accurate cross-sections of present-day America, in contrast with the mostly white Republican events.

Small steps and big waves 

An election is remembered by its fever, and not by its numbers. This latest one taught us a few lessons. First, that right-wing Christians no longer create our governments. Second, pretending that minorities and marginalized citizens do not exist does not make them go away. In fact, it causes them to speak louder.

In this election, Asian-American voters increased their presence by a full percentage point (voting 71% in favor of Obama). African-Americans, whose traditionally low turnouts were first reversed in 2008, maintained their support for the President at 91% and made up 13% of the electorate.

On Tuesday night, I consciously avoided the suspense of the election coverage by working a shift at my food cooperative, when a Filipina co-worker got a phone call that made her jump for joy. Her lifelong Republican parents in Pennsylvania decided to vote for Obama because of her influence. “This is so huge! Sorry, I know it’s just a couple of votes!” But Pennsylvania was a swing state, and that evening it turned blue by a narrow margin – thanks to her.

It was from small steps like this – children questioning their parents’ long-held beliefs, friends asking each other how they can vote for a person who defies their own principles, relentless phone calls from volunteers to gather support for same-sex marriage, a personal disgust for being referred to as lazy moochers, and a good hard look at the choices before us – these things change election outcomes and set off waves around the world towards thinking outside what we’ve always accepted as facts of life.

Across the globe, the 2012 US elections sent a message I wish I heard as a jaded young person a decade ago when I already lost faith in the Philippines’ version of a democracy. It said: Your voice is louder than you think. – Rappler.com