Editor’s note: Meg Wheeler is running for State Senate in the Plymouth and Norfolk District. — CB
When the world woke up on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, it felt as though there’d been a seismic shift. For too many of us, our belief that our country was headed in the right direction was rattled. Our faith in our fellow citizens was broken. Our strength, shattered.
Over the course of the next few years, we saw activism and engagement from all corners of the country. Mothers spoke up for gun control and LGBTQ+ rights. Women shared their #MeToo stories and rallied to elect more women to office. High school and college students organized rallies for climate change and #BlackLivesMatter.
Through all of this, the calls for change have shifted too. Not just among activists and organizers, but even at the highest levels – among the Democratic presidential candidates, who were now discussing Medicare For All and restoring voting rights to convicted persons as if they were widely-accepted solutions.
And for those of us “Progressives” – you know, the ones who champion healthcare and equality and opportunity for everyone – the tide started to turn. We started to wonder if this was the time, our time, when we would finally see the America we’ve dreamed of. And we started to look not just at the Presidency but at every level of government and whereas before we saw nothing, now we saw a sprinkling of allyship.
This sprinkling of allyship, in recent weeks, has been spotted even here, in my own district, a “purple” blip on the stark blue map of Massachusetts. Our current State Senator, Patrick O’Connor, has taken a few actions that might, dare I say, make you think he’s a progressive Democrat.
His vote to support vote-by-mail in the upcoming election.
His presence at a recent Black Lives Matter vigil.
His reported support for gun control legislation.
Is Senator O’Connor the Progressive Democrat we’ve been waiting far too long for?
For a man who has served in the State Senate for the last four years, Senator O’Connor is still tough to define. A Republican, he is often described as “moderate” and is known for playing the middle. He’s by no means a “Trump Republican” – he’s smart enough to know that wouldn’t play well in this district. But he’s also been no champion to Democratic issues in the past – he voted for the “Grand Bargain” (which really only seemed grand to the legislators who wanted to claim a win, as the deal itself failed to go far enough for workers) and voted against protecting time-and-a-half for workers.
This is also the same man who voted against criminal justice reform before ultimately voting for it (when it was clear the Senate would pass it with or without his vote; his vote on comprehensive sex ed in our schools has a similar story). This is the man who voted FOR establishing mandatory minimums for the crime of assaulting a police officer, a bill many see as a warning to dissuade protestors, especially those of color. And on that vote, as is not often the case, his vote mattered, as the bill narrowly passed the Senate.
I wouldn’t be running against him if we could depend on Senator O’Connor to vote like he did for vote-by-mail on every piece of legislation that prevents voter disenfranchisement. I wouldn’t be running if his same fervor for attending a Black Lives Matter vigil followed him into discussions on race in the chambers of the Senate, when the cameras are not there to capture a performative kneeling. And I wouldn’t be running if his sponsorship record covered immigration protections and strong gun control measures and policing reforms. But they don’t. I suspect Jim Lyons wouldn’t like it so much if they did.
And that, I believe, is the true legend of Senator O’Connor. Do the right thing when it’s clear the Senate already has the votes to get it through. Put out breadcrumbs of allyship to pull us in, make us believe you are not one of “those Republicans,” that you’re fighting for us. Show up for the photo opps and recognize that when the tide has turned, you don’t want to be on the sinking ship.
That’s not good enough for me. Because in my short time in politics, I’ve learned that what you say and do in public does not often correlate with what you champion in private. And whether it’s criminal justice reform or eradicating systemic racism or even the Compressor Station, I have to ask – are you the best we can do?