08/20/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

Out of the Shadows: DREAMers, Democrats and Democracy

If there is anyone left wondering if there are big choices at stake in 2012, I say look to the dawn, the twilight and the shadows. I've been doing so since my first campaign, as a toddler with two sisters in a stroller pushed by mom. As we strolled precincts that fall in 1968, our Mom wore a patterned H-H-H scarf for Hubert H Humphrey, who said that our moral test, our calling , our job, is to care for those in the dawn of life, the twilight of life and the shadows of life. The dawn of life, our children; the twilight of life, our seniors; and the twilight of life, our most vulnerable Americans.

Little did we know then that 40 years later our mom, Nancy Pelosi, would have moved from kitchen to Congress, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House. But that's what politics is -- not a great leap to power, but the steps that you take for your values along the way. Now I'm taking those steps with my own toddler, Isabella, across 20 states and around California, including yesterday's Democratic BBQ & Chili Cook-Off rally in Stockton. And I find that in every community, the moral test that Humphrey talked about for 1968 is just as true today -- and, if anything, even more urgent in 2012.

Because what's at stake in 2012 is the fate of those in the dawn of life, and what kind of future we give our children: whether we invest in early education, HEAD Start, school lunches and the opportunity for each kid in Isabella's generation to reach their God-given potential regardless of race or creed or class or gender or sexual orientation.

Also at stake in this election are those in the twilight of life, our seniors: the big choice about medicare -- do we take $716 billion from insurance companies and give it to Medicare services or to tax cuts? Are you going to serve seniors or are you going to serve the Koch brothers? You decide. We have to support those who took the gutsy call - not when it was easy or where it was easy -- but where it was tough and where it was necessary -- to stand up for healthcare and Medicare.

And then we get to those in the shadows of life and that takes us right to our DREAMers. Millions of American immigrants live in the shadows, often exploited for cheap labor and victimized by under-reported crimes. What we saw happening this week with President Obama's executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were some of those immigrant children coming out of the shadows for the first time. After years of Republicans refusing to pass a DREAM Act now, all of the sudden, because President Obama decided to use a power that other presidents Republican and Democratic have used before him since the 1970s to prioritize deportations and work permits, now the Republicans say if not for Barack Obama they would be passing Marco Rubio's DREAM Act. Well I'm from San Francisco and if you believe that, I've got two bridges to sell you. Yes, the same Republicans who met on Presidential Inauguration Day January 20, 2009 and pledged to block all things Obama.

Time and time again, when given a time for comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans took a pass. First it was the McCain-Kennedy bill; then McCain walked away from his own bill and years later we are still waiting. Vulnerable Americans remain in the shadows. We cannot wait any longer -- we need to act now to help these DREAMers -- these kids who came here to America through no fault of their own. Not just Latinos, Asian Americans and others from many countries now are here.

As President Obama says, they are Americans in their lives, in their commitment to academics and in some cases military service; they are Americans everywhere but on paper. So as they came out of the shadows this week, we were faced with a stark choice: will we welcome them as fully enfranchised members of society and then pass legislation to bring their parents and grandparents out of the shadows with them, or will we slap them in the face like Jan Brewer did in Arizona?

Whether we stand with DREAMers will show not who they are but who we are as Americans. The fact that former immigration reformer turned self-deportation proponent Mitt Romney stands by Jan Brewer after what she said and did in Arizona last week to cut off public benefits and drivers' licenses for DREAMers tells you everything you need to know about who he is.

So the stakes for 2012 come down to the very essence of democracy. You make the choices. Do you want Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Do you want Joe Biden or Paul Ryan? Do you want the policies of Jerry Brown or Jan Brewer? Do you want a law enforcement officer like California Attorney General Kamala Harris or like Arizona County Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Those are your choices. It is your democracy and these are your choices.

The democracy challenge of 2012 comes as we mark the 92nd anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote. Our iron-jawed angels, our suffragettes, didn't march so that women could be silenced or limited in controlling our bodies or our healthcare choices or told by Congressmen like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan that only "forcible rape" or "legitimate" rape is rape when we know that ALL rape is rape. Our farmworkers didn't march so that unions could be denied a voice on the job and safe, decent working conditions. Our civil rights heroes didn't march so that voter suppression and voter depression could keep people from the polls. Democrats didn't march and vote and fight for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and universal healthcare so that Republicans could tear down the Americans safety net for our children, our seniors, and our vulnerable Americans. Our president and Democratic lawmakers in Congress didn't help usher DREAMers out of the shadows to see them forced back in or sent away.

If you are looking for the stakes in 2012, look with me to the dawn to the twilight and to the shadows -- to the children the seniors and the DREAMers. Look for those who stand with children, seniors and DREAMers in deeds, not just words. Then get out to your precincts, your BBQs, your rallies and, most of all, your ballot boxes to give them your vote.