Who knew preschool could bring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters together?
That’s what happened in Dayton, Ohio, where Trump and Clinton supporters came together around the unlikely issue of preschool expansion.
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The presidential election split Dayton – already one of the most racially divided cities in the country – largely along racial lines, with Clinton doing better with Black voters on the West side and Trump winning support among White voters on the East side, according to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
But on the same ballot, those two groups came together to approve an expansion of preschool for Dayton’s low-income families with approximately 56 percent of the vote.
If you ask most Americans to characterize the past year – and particularly the politics – you’ll probably hear some version of “divided.” But, a closer look reveals something more complex. In the midst of one of the most bitterly divisive presidential elections in history, voters came together across longstanding divisions of race, region and political ideology to push through initiatives around the one thing they all share: family.
The preschool vote in Dayton is only one of many instances this past year in which people came together to address the daily issues families face, even as they fought bitterly over who should become president.
In Arizona, for example, voters approved $3.5 billion in new spending for schools. Renters won new rights in Silicon Valley. Residents finally secured safer drinking water in Tornillo, Texas. And across the country, cities and states raised their minimum wages.
“We are meeting people where they are in the community and having conversations with them…about the problems they want to solve,” said Michael McGovern, a spokesman for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which helped lead the preschool campaign. “That is how we think a lot about our work and certainly our work next year and the years to come.”
In statehouses and city councils across the country, these types of wins mounted throughout 2016, proving change was possible. In California, the progressive Ella Baker Center for Human Rights teamed up with the more conservative Chief Probation Officers of California for the first time to end long-term isolation in juvenile detention facilities.
Successes in California, Ohio, and elsewhere reflect that families are often not single-issue, or even single party, voters. Instead, families find common ground around challenges they all face: finding decent child care, sending their kids to high-quality schools, securing good jobs, and building healthy communities.
In Mississippi, for example, parents and grassroots organizations joined working groups that will help implement a sweeping new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Adding their voices to this work is the result of 20 years of work, according to Joyce Hall Parker of the Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable, a network of grassroots organizations.
Families make progress when they work together across political party, race, ethnicity and culture, said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“How powerful we can be when we start together – (those) are the stories people should look to,” said Poo, who is also co-director of Caring Across Generations, a movement to improve caregiving in America.
A Tale of Two Nations
Looking back, 2016 was a tale of two nations. One version was a nation so bitterly divided by political allegiances that presidential debates degenerated into name-calling and campaign rallies ended in violence. In the other version – less widely-noted, but equally important – communities came together across political divides to work together for better schools, paid family leave, worker rights, decent housing and a living wage.
Even as they grapple with the results of the presidential election, advocates express hope that these local alliances could support progress, and families, in the coming year.
“The work doesn’t stop because the Trump era is upon us. I really see this drive, this commitment,” said Sally Lew, coordinator of the Equal Voice for Southern California Families Alliance. “It is about getting our people, our families…ready to advocate and be vigilant.”
Stories of progress and collaboration in 2016 were often overshadowed by the name-calling, threats and anxiety bred by the battle for the White House. In the new year, however, a shared commitment to family and community could be a force that brings people together, even as the presidential transition threatens federal progress on everything from health care to public education.
In 2017, Equal Voice News will track whether and how families and policymakers come together on behalf of their communities. What issues are families and organizations from Birmingham, Alabama to Los Angeles tackling? Is the partisan wound opened by the presidential election of 2016 being healed, at least partially, by local progress in 2017?
States, cities and communities begin 2017 with an impressive array of local wins to build on. These include:
- The list of states and cities raising the minimum wage grew a lot longer in 2016, including: California; Washington; Colorado; Arizona; Oregon; San Jose; San Diego; Long Beach; and Washington, D.C.
- Illinois enacted a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that will ensure an estimated 35,000 domestic workers are paid the prevailing minimum wage, earn time off and gain other basic workplace rights.
- In Los Angeles, the City Council voted to increase paid sick leave to six days.
- In Arizona, voters approved Proposition 123, which will invest $3.5 billion in education over 10 years.
- After months of protests, activists stopped construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which they said threatened the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s cultural sites and water supply, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant an easement for the pipeline in southern North Dakota.
- A federal appeals court ruled that a strict voter ID law in Texas discriminates against minorities and the poor and had to be weakened before the November elections.
- Virginia restored voting rights for thousands of formerly incarcerated residents.
- The U.S. Justice Department announced it would begin reducing and then end its use of private prisons.
- Grassroots advocates won new protections for youth charged with serious crimes in Illinois, including greater access to lawyers and video recordings of in-custody interrogations.
- Louisiana made critical reforms to its juvenile justice system, such as ensuring that 17-year-olds can be placed in that system instead of adult prisons.
- In Cook County, the Board of Commissioners expanded health care coverage for 40,000 uninsured residents, following up on a task force it created to explore the problem.
- Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards began expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program.
- Texas state officials agreed to settle a lawsuit and accept identification used by immigrants so that birth certificates could be issued to all U.S.-born children in Texas, regardless of their parents’ residency status.
- In New Mexico, immigrants won a long-running battle when policymakers enacted a new plan that allows adults who are documented and undocumented to continue applying for licenses.
- In Northern California, residents in several towns won new housing protections. In Richmond, voters approved rent control. Residents in Mountain View and East Palo Alto won stronger eviction protection. Oakland voters approved stronger tenant protections.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News. This report includes information from The Associated Press.
2016 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper