By MARK LEVINE
As someone who has worked both inside and outside of government, I know that politicians and activists often cannot achieve their goals without each other. Martin Luther King needed Lyndon Johnson to get civil rights laws passed.
I was hoping to be one of the rare cases of an activist who becomes a politician, like Harvey Milk. But I also know how to work the conventional route. Activists like me begin battles like marriage equality at a time when others consider them impossible. We work hard to change public opinion. And then we pass the baton to established politicians, who carry on the movement once it’s politically safe for them to do so.
Last week, I congratulated Don Beyer on his victory in the U.S. House race from Virgina’s 8th congressional district. I had pushed Don (and all the candidates in the election) to adopt some strongly progressive positions. To my delight, Don (and most of the others) did so. So now, as I resume my former role as political activist, legislation-drafter, and talk-radio/TV pundit, I will help him follow through. I have every confidence Don will carry out the “proven, principled, progressive” policies he advocated during the campaign, including measures to preserve and extend LGBT equality.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to realize how far we have come. In last week’s election, I was one of two openly gay men running (after a third left the race). Being openly gay was not an issue for us; if anything, it was an asset in the race. Not just Don, but all of the Democratic candidates accepted marriage equality, and all did so breezily as if second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian Americans had always been inconceivable.
Meanwhile, having pushed hard at the turn of the millennium to get the marriage-equality boulder off the cliff against what-was-then-impossible odds, I will resume my fight on other battles that Democrats still consider impossible today: universal health care, meaningful gun regulation, college affordability, reducing the threat of climate change and decreasing the power of big money in politics.
I look forward to working with Don Beyer as my next congressman. I’ll continue to work as a pundit to make the impossible conceivable, and then as a lawyer to draft legislation to make it achievable. It’s what I’ve done for more than 20 years. I can help Don Beyer achieve his stated goals, just as I’ve helped politicians before him. And as I told Don last week, I’m not going anywhere.
Mark Levine is an activist and former candidate for the U.S. House from Virginia’s 8th congressional district.