After the Election – What’s Next?
“We need more women in office.” It was a cold January day in 2017 when I sat in a corner of the old Booksellers café (now Libro in Novel) and heard this call to action at our first Pantsuit Mid-South (now Together We Will West Tennessee) meeting. So I stood up and said, “My name is Racquel Collins, and I’m going to run for office!” Forced out of my comfort zone, I spent the year learning how to run for office with newly formed Emerge Tennessee. In November, I announced my candidacy for Shelby County Commission District 1 and two months later, I received my first official endorsement…from Future901. Like other Shelby County Democratic candidates running in predominantly red areas, I lost the election by low single-digit margins, but what I won was so much more: I earned the respect of folks across the county. I convinced more District 1 Democrats to get out and vote. And I was able to convince some Republican voters that I was more than just a Democrat – that I am a veteran and mom who wants to make her community better for all. For those of us who lost our races, what comes next?
In my case, the work in the community continues. (For those who follow me on social media, you also know the work that pays my bills got even busier!) For those of us who ran and lost, we must remember that we made strides in communities that haven’t had a Democrat vie to be their voice in many years…sometimes decades. We moved our neighbors to think more progressively, so our work cannot stop here. In the words of Tennessee House District 97 candidate Allan Creasy, “We need to finish what we started.” We talked the talk in 2018, and now we must continue to walk the walk beyond the election…and do it with authenticity. This means that we must align our actions with our beliefs. We don’t take on projects because we want to please others who are watching their future candidates closely. We take on projects because they add value to our lives and to those around us.
As for me, I am focusing on some passion projects on which I campaigned (and all of which could use some help if anyone is interested!). In the veteran services space, I am working on a project to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, highlighting my fellow Millington Legionnaires and their incredible service to our nation. I am also a new board member of the Shelby County Veterans Court Foundation, where our goal is to raise funds to ensure eligible veterans, who are diverted from the criminal justice system to Veterans Court, have the support and rehabilitation they need to become productive members of society again. In the education space, I am working on my non-profit called Stand for Teachers, which will provide grants directly to Shelby County teachers so that they aren’t using personal funds to pay for classroom supplies and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) projects. In the community space, I serve on the board of the Millington Crisis Center, where our goal is to ensure families in need have a better quality of life through help with rent, utility bills, baby items, and financial education workshops. Transportation justice is also a passion and one of my campaign platforms, so I’m still figuring out where my effort will help most.
My partnership with – and respect for – Future901 continues to thrive. As a member of the Steering Committee, I will be part of the work in identifying and supporting future progressive candidates in Shelby County and spreading our success into middle and east Tennessee. I will be sharing our progress with you as a regular contributor to this blog as well as working on a “Good Government in Tennessee” spot in our brand new newsletter coming out soon, so keep an eye out for that. To rise above the hyper-partisan culture we find ourselves in these days, my goal this year is to find legislation with positive impact for Tennesseans and share hope with all of you.
After the 2016 presidential election, women across the country answered the same call I did: they made the conscious decision to get out of their comfort zone and run for office. Indeed, 2018 was an historic year for Shelby County. Over 20 women of color were elected to local and statewide seats, and many of these women made history by being the first woman, the first African-American, and/or the youngest woman elected to office. (We also elected some incredible men to office, all of whom will be highlighted in my Future901 Good Government column!) For the first time in Shelby County history, the citizens have a government body that looks more like the population of Shelby County and can truly represent us. Except for the Asian American community, so I will put that call to action out there now. “We need more Asian Americans in office!”
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the loss of Asian American community leader, Mr. John Chen, who tragically lost his life on December 20, 2018 along with 3 other work colleagues/friends. As president of the Asian Americans for Tennessee nonpartisan PAC, we met shortly after my announcement, and he was thrilled to support a fellow Asian American immersing herself in the political process. We talked about equal representation at the table, creating opportunities for our community, and ensuring our children grew up in a world without racism and hate. I had hoped to see him run for office one day, and I hope his loss inspires someone else in the Asian American community to step up and remind us that his efforts were not in vain. I know one of those will be me, but I hope to see others as well.
Community work, good government, and equal representation – that’s where we go from here.