We check the news: Democrats win the House, Republicans win the Senate. All of this—the sleepless nights angry at the evening news, the realization that we are hooked, that we need more (maybe even convinced that the Democrats really have changed, this time)—for one increasingly meagre sentence. This endless cycle of political speculation only naturalizes what we cannot accept: that this means everything. It may now be impossible to separate life from national politics, but, if we learned anything on Tuesday, it’s that elections don’t make a life.
For many, however, this separation was never possible. A call to arms against voter suppression in Georgia, and the enfranchisement of over a million people with felonies in Florida, might feel like the slow realization of a democratic ideal, but these victories are as partial as they are necessary. Those whose lives have been the most politicized are also those for whom democracy has rarely occurred: refugees, the incarcerated, those whose gender identities might be written out of law. As Nancy Pelosi gleefully rushes to establish “a bipartisan marketplace of ideas” as if she’s ringing the Nasdaq bell, we might remind her that our votes are not a mandate for the same old world. They are, rather, a reckoning with what we should do with what this world has left in its wake, those lives made expendable in democracy’s name. Our votes are not a sign of freedom, but of responsibility. They are not a gift, but a debt.