Senator Kevin Ranker urged the packed-out crowd of islanders to “take our country back,” focusing his talk on a set of core values and encouraging the audience to sign up and “turn our fear and sorrow into action.” Parked cars stretched from North Beach Road to the Wild Rose Meadow community on Orcas Island, and dozens of hopeful attendees were turned away as the center overflowed its maximum capacity.
Ranker began his talk by sharing the story of a 12-year-old transgender girl Stella, whom he met recently. Stella told Ranker how, when she transitioned from a boy to a girl, she assertively explained her identity to her classmates at her school.
“Other people need to know who I am,” she said to Ranker. “I’m a girl. I respect who I am, and I’m proud of who I am, and they should respect me, too.”
After Stella left Ranker’s office that day, he canceled his next appointment, sat down on his couch and cried because he recalled how “Trump had just said it was okay to bully people like Stella.”
(He was referring to the fact that on Feb. 10, the Trump administration withdrew an Obama-administration appeal of a nationwide injunction that keeps transgender students from using school bathrooms/facilities that correspond to their gender identity. The current injunction was issued in response to the federal justice and education departments, which last spring told public schools they could lose federal funding unless transgender students were accommodated in this way.)
Ranker listed these as his core values: women’s rights, minority rights, LGBTQ rights, access to quality education, reproductive health and choice and the environmental protection.
“There are core areas where we can’t compromise,” he said. “These are issues where it’s black or white; you’re with me, or you’re wrong.”
Ranker noted that between 2000 and 2004, there was a dramatic spike in Republican voter turnout, with lower turnout by progressive voters. Ranker attributed this uptick in conservative voters at the polls to two main issues: gay marriage and abortion. He also said that efforts at “voter suppression,” ie, voter ID laws in several states, were effective at preventing certain voters from participating in the 2016 presidential election. For example, he said, voter turnout for African American men and unmarried women was low.
Ranker said that while Democrats would like to persuade some voters back to voting with the Democratic party, he is not willing to “turn our backs on” the LGBTQ community or to abandon other core values such as “choice” and “women’s rights.”
Ranker described how, the morning after Donald Trump won the presidential election, he felt “floored,” wondering how on earth everything the president-elect said could be so out of touch with so many voters. Multiple media outlets dubbed it the “red wave of 2016,” a seeming sudden rise in turnout of Republican-leaning voters. But on closer examination of the percentages in each state by which Trump was elected, Ranker said, he concluded that the so-called “red wave” was a myth.
“This is not a wave,” he said, displaying charts of how the votes fell by state. “Our core values are the core values of a supermajority of Americans, and we cannot go back on them – we will fight!”
He said the Republican party is currently disenfranchising voters and unions, making protests illegal and delisting endangered species.
“How do we move beyond protests? What do we actually do?” he asked, saying that just one Trump term has to happen. “We cannot do eight years of this hatred we’re seeing now. In two years, we need to take back Congress. If we take back the U.S. Senate and the House, we can block Trump.”
He urged support for Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who recently filed a lawsuit challenging Trump’s executive order on immigration. He called Ferguson “the bully beater-upper.”
“He’s supporting our values to a T; we need to support him,” said Ranker.
One of his strong messages was “states matter.”
“We get caught up in Congress, and we often forget about the states, and what we can do at a state and local level,” he said.
Ranker noted a bill recent passed by Washington state that prohibits state agencies from helping the Trump administration compile federal registry of known Muslims. Ranker himself recently sponsored a bill (5760) intended to counteract the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The bill declares it “an unfair practice” for any employer who provides health insurance as part of its benefit package to not include contraceptive coverage. Ranker highlighted the Bellingham city council’s recent decision that its police will not enforce federal immigration laws as another example.
And he added, “We can ban [gay] conversion therapy.”
If the Affordable Healthcare Act is rescinded, said Ranker, Washington state can step up by expanding Medicaid in Washington, also known as Apple Health. He urged the audience to support the election of Manka Dhingra, who will be running for the 45th LD State Senate seat. He said the Democratic Party needs to build a deep “bench” of potential candidates, so that when positions come available, they have engaged and qualified candidates to run.
Ranker proposed chartering a bus from the islands so residents can head to the mainland and go canvassing, sharing their beliefs with others outside San Juan County face to face.
“Being driven, motivated by kindness, respect and dignity – that’s what matters,” he said.
Ranker noted that new Washington state Democratic Party Chairwoman Tina Podlodowski will be hiring dozens of staff and organizing thousands of canvassers, hinting that islanders might apply. On the scheduled March 8 “A Day Without a Woman” strike, Ranker said, “We’re gonna show white male America what happens when women don’t show up.”
Ranker listed these six agencies as key for Democrats to support: the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Legal Voice, One America and the Sierra Club. He said that in the fight to “making sure we treat all with the respect they deserve as human beings,” these six are “actually on the front lines.”
“I see them in Olympia; I see them in D.C.,” he explained.
Ranker recommended the books “Rules for Radicals” by Saul D. Alinsky and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Friere. He also pointed to the website, www.indivisibleguide.com, “A Practical Guide to Resisting the Trump agenda” as an invaluable resource for citizens who want to engage.
“We don’t get to go to sleep,” Ranker said. “This can’t stop in two months, six months, 12 months; this is a lifetime battle. We are on the right side of history, and we cannot go backwards. Our community is large, thriving and ready to fight.”
Ranker said that while it’s easy to sign a digital petition, it is handwritten letters that really get elected officials to stop, sit down and take notice.
He urged his audience, “You have got to ‘hold our (elected officials’) feet to the fire’” in regard to issues they care about. Ranker encouraged islanders to choose an issue that resonates with them and to “run with it,” inspiring others to join the cause.
Noting that most people have jobs and families that limit their time available for political involvement, Ranker nevertheless urged action, saying, “All of you can make a phone call, send a letter, call your friends.” He said he’s willing to give his talk as many times as he’s asked, to groups all over the state.
To conclude, Ranker displayed a note written by Stella, which ends, “Most of all, be kind to yourself and to others.”
“If that is what motivates us,” Ranker said, “we will leave here and we will change the world.”