07/03/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The State of the Progressive Movement: Maryland

This was the closing email I sent out for my Senate campaign:

I'd like to give my heartfelt thanks to all who worked on and supported my campaign for the Maryland state Senate. While we did not prevail, we participated in that grandest of American dreams, representative democracy, and we did so with dignity and integrity. Our team, led by Kevin Gillogly and Crystal Ebert, with team members Aaron and Jen Beytin and their agency, Chris Gallaway, Dan Woolf and Jeffrey Knighton and the squad at Fieldworks, Celinda Lake and her world-class pollsters at Lake Research, treasurer Chris Grewell and web mistress and social media guru, Sharon Brackett, and Mara Lasko, Alan Hyman, Hank Erslev and Jalakoi Solomon who did the heavy lifting, were completely professional and dedicated to the cause with passion and skill.

I wish the victor, Rich Madaleno, all the best as he continues to represent our district in Annapolis. I enjoyed the competition, and I hope this campaign leads to bigger and better things for the residents of Montgomery County. We are faced with daunting problems, and must remain steadfast to overcome them and create a more perfect union.

I'd like to take a moment to thank my friends. Political campaigns are about issues and policies, but they are most clarifying about character. You learn who your friends really are, and whom you can trust. I don't only mean those who are willing to support you in any given race; there is greater good character shown by those who choose not to support you politically but do so with grace and dignity.

And then there are those, individuals and institutions, who do the opposite, and create a culture which discourages participation and sours potential candidates, and the electorate, on the entire process.

So, friends, thank you for your support and participation. In these days of political paralysis and disengagement, your friendship and service is most welcome and appreciated.

Finally, from the Department of Small Consolations, while I didn't manage to win, I was the most successful Democratic challenger, with 42 percent of the vote, running against an incumbent bar one, and that only by 2 percentage points. No Democratic Senate incumbent was defeated. So in a year reminiscent of George Bush Sr.'s "Stay the course," we ran, according to my opponent, an "awe-inspiring campaign," and it showed. Not bad for America's first trans Senate candidate, 45 years after the Stonewall Uprising.

So this was a victory for the status quo -- at the top in Maryland, with Lieutenant Governor Brown being the most centrist of the candidates; in Montgomery County, with the incumbent county executive, Ike Leggett, also being centrist; and down through the legislatures in the state and county. So much so that my county is now 10 percent more conservative in representation than it was, when it could have become 25 percent more progressive. And Montgomery County had the lowest turnout in the state, at only 16.2 percent. That's not the effort candidates who work their hearts out want to see. Better to be rejected by heavy turnout than to have the election decided by party stalwarts amidst an atmosphere of indifference.

We can no longer ignore the economic reality, thanks to Professor Piketty, that without forceful government intervention on behalf of the people, inequality will increase. The Supreme Court decisions from earlier this week, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn, make a bad situation worse. The situation is particularly bad for women, as most of the men on the Court had no regard for women's reproductive needs in the Hobby Lobby decision, nor for women's work in home health care, in the Harris decision.

The Tea Party knows how to put its ideology into political action, as witness the historic rebuke of Majority Leader Cantor two weeks ago in the Republican primary. Progressives, on the other hand, generally disdain political activity, which not only leads to more Republican victories, but also allows the Democratic Party to remain beholden to moneyed interests. Case in point was 2010 when the nation's Democratic majority, tired after the work to take over both Congress and the Presidency, and worn down by the Crash and ensuing recession, failed to turn up for the midterm elections. The result -- Republican control of the House, scheduled to last at least until 2022 thanks to the redistricting that occurred with the huge Republican takeover of state legislatures that same year, and the loss of a Senate Democratic supermajority. We will be paying for our fatigue and apathy for a long time.

What's to be done? Trends continue until they don't, and there is no way to predict when the turn in the trend will come. That elusive "tipping point" made famous by Malcolm Gladwell is obvious in retrospect, but all we can do now is continue working until the hoped-for spark comes to ignite a true progressive revolution dedicated to government action on behalf of the people.


I was honored to speak this past Monday at the Martin Luther King Memorial in DC for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, part of a group asking that the CRA be amended to "Add 4 words -- gender identity and sexual orientation." The speakers - black, white and Hispanic, straight and queer - were all aware of the journey traveled and the distance left to traverse. Those civil rights have been tinkered with, constrained and, in the case of the Voting Rights Amendment, stripped of critical components, but they still stand tall, like the King Memorial. We are a better people because of the courage of those who created the conditions in which it could pass, and as its beneficiaries it is incumbent upon us to continue the battle. As Rabbi Tarfon said 2000 years ago, "It is not your obligation to complete the task, but neither are you free to evade pursuing it."