Among the most disturbing features of the Trump era has been the rise in aggressive and unrepentant bigotry. Hateful views that previously were publicly shamed or kept hidden are on full display. In some ways, it's been an enlightening experience -- a chance to see just how vital it is that we pass real protections for vulnerable people at state and local levels of government.
That's why I've been disappointed in many so-called progressive leaders here in New York. In our state, the Senate is a bottleneck in which vital legislation is constantly blocked. Here's the problem: Certain senators who were duly elected as Democrats have traded their fealty for leadership roles and money from special interests. They've formed a group called the Independent Democratic Conference, which cedes control of the Senate to Republican leadership.
This is the power of local elections -- a small group of turncoats are blocking critical laws (on health care, housing, ethics reform, campaign finance reform, environmental protection, transportation, taxation, to name a few) that affect tens of millions of people. That's one of the reasons I'm running for office -- City Council -- here in New York City. While so many of us have been working to vanquish the IDC, my opponent made a grand gesture to welcome a newly elected IDC member into our neighborhood. Our City Council should be leading the fight to vote in a Senate that supports New York City, not chumming with senators who undermine our ability to level the playing field and support people in need.
Here's another example of why this matters. As a transgender person, I've seen how both explicit and implicit discrimination can handicap or constrain people of all genders. Here in New York, our state legislature is considering a measure called GENDA -- the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. GENDA would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression for 20 million people. The state Assembly has passed GENDA 10 times. The Senate, controlled by the Republicans and the IDC, has not.
I've also seen the staggering hate and vitriol that is directed toward people who are different. It's depressing. But it's also galvanizing. The stunning outpouring of activism and righteous anger following the 2016 election is a sign that we're not going to take this lying down. It's given us a rare opportunity to take off our rose-colored glasses, to see the hate in our country, and to get to work. And while the White House might be a bastion of bigotry for the next four years, the opportunities we have to advance the cause of justice on the state and local level are tremendous.
The New York Senate Republicans deserve condemnation and electoral defeat. But my real outrage is reserved for the turncoat Democrats who enabled them. The members of the IDC have allowed an agenda of bigotry, regression, and elitism to persist in New York, inflicting real damage and leaving us wide open to Donald Trump.
Whether you live in New York or not, your local government matters. This is what the Tea Party did after the election of President Obama -- went local, elected conservatives to school boards, city councils, water commissions, and more. Its members organized their communities block by block. Then they won big. Now it's our turn.
I urge you to get involved. Right now we need the best leaders we can find. Support people who are running for office. Run for something yourself -- even if you're challenging a member of your own party. We have a chance to change this country from the bottom up and to create greater justice and equality every step of the way. Let's get to work.
MEL WYMORE is a longtime community leader and candidate for City Council from New York City's Upper West Side. If elected, he would be the first transgender official in a major American city.