As we show up to vote Trump out in record numbers, he’s trying to bully and cheat his way through an election he knows he’s losing. He hopes that sowing chaos and stoking fear will stop us from having our voices heard. It won’t. We can’t know exactly what will happen in these next few weeks. But we do know that we’re going to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote is counted until we swear in a government of, by, and for the people. Here are some of the best resources out there to help us prepare:
SCENARIO PLANNING AND GAME PLANS
The Game Plan – Reader & Resource GuideThis tool was developed by our movement partners at The Frontline. It includes a helpful timeline of the election process from here to Inauguration Day, identifies potential attempts Trump could make to undermine a fair election process, and provides tips for fight-back from our side. It also includes historical case studies.
What Comes Next: Scenario Planning to Protect Our Victory: Recording of a scenario planning webinar hosted by Seed the Vote that lays out the political landscape, anticipates a range of possible scenarios, and identifies next steps for our movements. Speakers include Max Elbaum with Seed the Vote and Organizing Upgrade, Nelini Stamp with The Frontline and Working Families Party, and Jill Shenker with Seed the Vote.
Ten Things You Need to Know to Stop a Coup By Daniel Hunter, trainer and organizer with Training for Change. This article sums up ten organizing principles for preventing a coup, drawing from the experience of social movements across the world.
How to Talk About a Contested ElectionThis tool was developed by movement communicators and organizers Jacob Swenson-Lengyel and Johnathan Matthew Smucker. It includes strategic messaging principles to support organizers and communicators in drawing large numbers of people into the fight to protect democracy. This guide accounts for a variety of scenarios that might unfold on November 3 and beyond.
Everyone Counts ProjectDeveloped by Race Class Narrative Action. This tool includes messaging principles and useful talking points to build public support around the idea that the election isn’t over until every vote is counted.
Songs to Stop a Coup by The Peace Poets in collaboration with social justice organizations and movement artists. This YouTube playlist features songs that are to be SUNG IN ACTION defending elections and stopping attempts at a coup.
By Jazmín Delgado, program coordinator, Center for Political Education, and volunteer with Seed the Vote
The following piece is shared with permission from the Center for Political Education, a non-partisan resource.
With the last days of the elections upon us, leftists and progressives have been getting ourselves ready for the immediate task ahead: defeating white-supremacist authoritarianism while strengthening our own forces. Some of us are leading voter turnout efforts locally and in swing states, others are getting ready to keep our communities safe from intimidation at the ballot box, and some are continuing to do work outside of the electoral arena, whether in the form of community organizing, mutual aid, or campaigning. Almost all of us are busily drawing up post-elections plans while anticipating different scenarios that could unfold on November 3, and beyond.
The coming weeks and months will bring a lot of challenges, and our ability to confront them while building power for the long haul will depend on how well we reflect on past struggles, assess the material conditions, and develop long-term strategy for the protracted fight ahead of us. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, we will still need to contend with three intertwined global crises: a deepening economic crisis, intensifying climate catastrophe, and a deadly pandemic nowhere near contained. So, what lessons can we draw from this electoral cycle that can help us build power at the scale that we need to contend with these threats?
Elections teach us that we need to struggle for power before it can be won.
Whether our organizations do electoral work or not, we can all draw lessons from elections about the nature of power. At its most basic, power, is, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “the ability to achieve purpose” and “the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes.” Determining how resources are produced and allocated in our communities requires power. Being in rightful relationship with the land and protecting it from violent extraction and pollution requires power. Protecting our homelands from occupation, warfare, and displacement requires power. Simply put, we need power to build the kind of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial future we all need.
The electoral arena is one of the key sites where the fight for power happens. An electoral victory for one side translates into securing access to key instruments of the state to get them more of what they need. At the local and state level it means having power to decide what services get funding, to make policy changes that are beneficial to our communities, to overturn bad policies, and to put people in key positions of power who have a proven record of staying accountable to our movements and communities. At the federal level, the power to do good or harm gets intensified. As a case in point, just look at how swiftly the right has used the levers of state power to tear down environmental protections, gut the asylum system, intensify its attacks against organized labor, stack the Supreme Court in its favor, and rollback basic protections for communities of color, the working class, and queer and trans people — all while enriching and empowering its key allies. If we want the power to move resources towards our communities at the scale that we need, then we can’t cede this crucial part of the political terrain to authoritarians or neoliberals. There’s a lot to learn from leftist organizers who are stepping into the contradictions of the moment to take power back for our people.
Elections teach us the importance of studying the balance of forces in any given fight.
Engaging in the fight for power means that we need to study the forces we’re up against and pose the following questions: Who are the main camps competing for power and what are their constituent factions? How stable or unstable are these alliances? What do these actors have the power to move? What are their strengths and weaknesses in relation to ours? How should leftists relate to these forces as we also try to gain some ground? If we don’t understand the balance of forces in a given fight, it’s difficult to impossible to develop an effective strategy to build power. For example, we might overestimate our influence and fail to form crucial alliances needed to make an impact, or we could miss openings where we could be making bold interventions that can lead to powerful change. Without a solid framework for thinking about elections (or politics more broadly), It’s easy to get caught up in focusing on individual characters and letting our personal predilections and aversions take center stage, while missing the larger contestation for power shaping the political terrain.
Elections teach us that a long-term strategy pays off.
Looking at the big picture helps us understand how we got here. We come to understand that Trump’s administration is not an inevitable of outgrowth of this political system, but it’s the result of long-term organizing by a coalition of right-wing forces that’s been building power over the past 45 years both in and out of the electoral terrain. From school boards to the Supreme Court, this right-wing bloc has been placing their people in key positions of power across the board. This group is not a monolith, but the glue that binds them together is a white supremacist, authoritarian ideology and a commitment to roll back all the gains that have been made by working-class, Black, Indigenous, and People of color movements. They’re doing this by actively seeking to dismantle democratic institutions and processes.
Elections teach us that the building blocks of democracy have been laid by our movements, and we are the best situated to bring true democracy into fruition.
Trump has sent out strong signals that he will not respect the results of the elections should he lose. Due to the fact that a lot of people will be casting their votes through mail-in ballots, we can anticipate that the current administration will try to disrupt the vote count or reject the results outright. We will need to come out in large numbers to protect the democratic space that our movements have been able to win. This includes defending people’s right to vote safely through programs like Election Defenders and taking action post-elections with movements like The Frontline to ensure that every vote is counted, and that the results of the election are respected in the face of possible litigation or flat-out rejection. But the fight for democratic space is also much more than that — it’s also about bringing democracy to life through the creation of new practices, capacities, and forms of organization that support liberation and self-determination for our communities.
Left organizing and the Black Radical tradition provide a deep well of knowledge and inspiration for our movements today. From the Black-led construction of a multiracial democratic society in the U.S. South during the Reconstruction project (from which we have inherited free and publicly funded education); to the organizing by Fanny Lou Hamer and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to win and protect the franchise for Black southerners in the face of white supremacist terror campaigns against them, to the recent triumph by Bolivia’s Indigenous-led Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) over the US-backed fascist regime, to the recent decision by the people of Chile to rewrite the country’s constitution put into place by another US-backed authoritarian government — all these efforts and many more, led precisely by some of the most oppressed and politically marginalized actors, have key lessons for us. And make no mistake —none of these struggles have been purely electoral; they’ve also involved direct action, uprisings, militant long-term organizing, and alternative economic experiments. We would be wise to learn from these movements in the turbulent weeks and months ahead.
As we move into the next phase of the struggle, here are some of the questions our movements need to answer:
How will our movements position themselves in this struggle, as we try to gain more ground in the political terrain and bring more people over to our side?
What role are our movements best situated to play in the fight to protect democracy?
What kind of alliances do we need to draw, and how do we ensure that we keep building independent and internationalist left political power with a clear horizon towards a liberated future where we can all thrive?
These are all big questions that none of us can answer alone but can only come to through a process of study, principled struggle, and bold experimentation. In the midst of intense repression and attacks against our communities, our movements have built significant strength and have the potential to grow even more cohesive, powerful, and effective. When our movements are disconnected, or when we’re not connected to an organization, it’s easy to feel like our political futures are at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves every election cycle. As practitioners and students of social change, let’s take seriously the lessons that elections teach about power so that through effective organizing and strategic thinking, its our people that set and steer the course towards our liberated futures.
Early voting is already underway: Election Day is every day from now until Nov. 3. Seed the Vote has activists on the (virtual) ground seven days a week in swing states, and soon will add in-person crews as well. Partnering with organizations rooted in working-class communities and communities of color, Seed the Vote aims to build connections and capacities that will last past November, while pitching in on the all-important fight to defeat Trump. Its thinking is both granular and global. Coordinating Committee member Le Tim Ly:
“There’s this question of what we do inside the empire: What is our responsibility to movements and people around the world to create the best possible conditions for our side to win? Seeing the work of defeating Trump in that context is important, to check our privileges and not let down our responsibility to the most targeted and vulnerable in our communities, to the generations who come after us and to the work that’s happening across the world to combat neoliberal fascism and support people’s struggles.”
THE CRISIS AND THE MOVEMENT COLLIDE
Seed the Vote’s organizers brought with them decades of experience in weaving together electoral work and community organizing. They had helped build the San Francisco Rising Action Fund and Bay Rising Action to amplify the voices of low-income communities and communities of color in local and regional elections. By July 2019, the depth and ferocity of the Trumpist attack made national work imperative. “The crisis and the movement are colliding,” said Emily Lee, a co-founder of Seed the Vote. After many informal conversations, Lee and others who would form the core of Seed the Vote got together to discuss how they could organize around the presidential election in a way that would both fight the right and build the left.
FIGHT THE RIGHT, BUILD THE LEFT
Before they began making work plans, the core spent a few months developing the political assessment that would guide them. They shared their thinking in December 2019:
“We identified defeating Trump and the GOP in the 2020 elections as an absolutely key step in beating the racist, authoritarian right wing. In addition, we must do a set of other things to build the left: strengthen unity and ties among different social justice organizations, build the influence of left ideas and a progressive program, and increase our numbers. Positioning the social justice forces within the massive opposition to Trump, including the electoral opposition, gives us the best chance to do those things.”
Seed the Vote’s analysis puts those hardest hit by Trumpism at the core of the effort to defeat it and build the left. Overlaid on the map of battleground states, it guided the project’s engagement strategy. Under the auspices of the Everyday People PAC, Seed the Vote and its sibling organization, Generation Rising, began to make plans. (Generation Rising, profiled here, organizes and trains young BIPOC for leadership in electoral work.)
PANDEMIC UPENDS PLANS
At first, Seed the Vote planned to send delegations from the Bay Area to spend two weeks in Arizona in October 2020. Volunteers would work with LUCHA, an organization galvanized in the resistance to Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant legislation, the 2010 “Show Me Your Papers” bill, SB 1070. The coordinating committee was set to go to Arizona to do more in-depth visioning and planning in mid-March. But their flight got cancelled when shelter-in-place started, and Seed the Vote had to get creative. It went virtual and expanded its reach, opening to volunteers from all over the country and adding new organizing partners.
Looking to the swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, Seed the Vote reached out New Florida Majority and Pennsylvania Stands Up. Not only did they share politics, but they had relationships in each group through activists who had previously worked in the Bay Area.
“Between March and June, our partner organizations were swamped with working on their primary elections, dealing with COVID, and mobilizing in response to this incredible movement moment and racial reckoning we were in as a country,” Coordinating Committee member Jill Shenker said. Seed the Vote re-tooled and held three political education sessions to pull together a first cohort of volunteers. (Videos from the sessions are available here.) June phone banks began with wellness checks, helping connect people with resources and with the partner organizations.
PODS AND BRANCHES
Seed the Vote brings together progressive anti-fascist, anti-Trump forces in several ways. Individuals can sign up for phone banks with partner groups. Organizations can form “branches” so people can call together and stay connected to their political home. Seed the Vote provides the scheduling, training, and infrastructure. Activists can also form “Seed Pods,” groups of family and friends who call together, with similar support.
“I started a seed pod for myself and friends mostly because I thought it would be fun to work with people I knew,” said volunteer Shunya Anding. “They were hesitant about getting into conversations and persuasion, so I’ve talked to them about it. Most of them probably wouldn’t be calling otherwise.” The pod gives a sense of camaraderie and support: members get on Zoom and call at the same time, with breaks in the middle of their stint and a debrief at the end.
Larisa Casillas is co-leading a pod with two other longtime social justice activists. “Our worlds overlap, but not so much, so we get to meet new people. It seems like a great opportunity to build community,” she said. “I’m drawn to the idea of the election as an opportunity to bring our people in, to organize folks. And by working with Seed the Vote, we’re not only calling around the elections, but also supporting the movement building that’s happening in Florida on the ground. That’s why I was attracted to it, because it felt movement-oriented.”
In August, the number of Seed the Vote volunteers and phone bank shifts more than doubled, and new cooperative and coalition efforts sprouted. Seed the Vote joined the United Against Trump coalition in a virtual rally during the Democratic Convention, and is offering opportunities to volunteer with other coalition groups. It’s coordinating with movement networks like the Center For Popular Democracy Action Fund and People’s Action on phone banks to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It co-hosted a town hall with People’s Action to lift up the “deep canvassing” that network is using successfully to reach out to conflicted voters.
All this collaboration builds the movement’s connective tissue—through relationships among people who call together, and among likeminded groups regionally and nationally. “We can move at the speed of trust,” Ly said. “That practice builds trust over time so we can grow more nimble and powerful.”
SEED THE VOTE, FEED SOLIDARITY
By late September, Seed the Vote had 3,500 volunteers – 700 calling Florida on one day. The group has started discussing election defense, and is collaborating with Protect the Results and The Frontline, but most of its effort is concentrated on winning the biggest victory possible Nov. 3. For the final pre-election push, the group is returning to its original vision of sending delegations out of state. It’s gathering volunteers to support canvassing in Arizona with LUCHA and UNITE-HERE Local 11, in Florida with New Florida Majority, and in Pennsylvania with the Working Families Party. Organizers in those three states have already been door-knocking, working under COVID-safety protocols developed and reviewed by public health professionals – and nothing can replace in-person connections.
Those conversations are especially crucial for reaching people whose names don’t show up on lists because they’ve never voted. Florida has four million young people and people of color who are eligible to vote and not registered, or registered but not voting. Pennsylvania will have 17 early voting centers, where people can register and vote on the same day up to the Oct. 19 registration deadline.
Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania can each be pivotal in the presidential election, and in each one Seed the Vote partners are working on down-ballot races by candidates they believe will be reliable allies in building power. “If you can take a week off and go to one of these places, do it,” Ly urged.
Seed the Vote’s Political Education Committee has developed a series of info sessions to give volunteers a sense of the political contexts in the places they will be calling or visiting. At the September 23 session, New Florida Majority Organizing Director Serena Perez gave a quick sketch of that state’s complex demographics and politics.
New Florida Majority and its allies have registered tens of thousands of low-income voters and voters of color in the last several years. In 2018 they helped win passage of Amendment 4, which would have restored voting rights to 1.4 million people formerly incarcerated for felonies. The Republican legislature undermined that with a requirement that all fines and fees be paid before restoration. The U.S. Supreme Court has let this modern-day poll tax stand. Florida’s Trump-like governor, Ron DeSantis, proposes to charge many protestors with felonies; waive liability for motorists who drive into crowds in “self-defense”; and block state aid to cities that vote to defund police.
In breakout groups and then together, attendees digested this reality and discussed how the phone-banking they were doing could help to change it. Experience and ideas bubbled up. They are boosting voter turnout. Reaching people who don’t often get listened to, sharing hopes for families and communities that could be realized with people’s governance. Building solidarity across state lines. “This work that Seed the Vote is doing with our partner groups plants the seed for the kind of democracy we want to be building together,” Political Education Committee co-coordinator Jazmín Delgado said.
With Trump’s aggressive attacks on the election process, the surest way to block his push for a second term is to beat him by a decisive margin. Is the cautious, slow-moving Biden campaign up to that task?
While Biden remains generally ahead in the polls, the race in key states like Pennsylvania and Florida has tightened. That’s because Biden is falling short with key constituencies – groups that he’ll still win, but maybe not with the strong turnout he needs.
“This kind of enthusiasm gap can be extremely dangerous to a candidate,” political scientist Jaime Regalado wrote last week. ”Hillary Clinton learned this the hard way in 2016”
Since May, Latinx organizers have warned that the Biden campaign is neglecting their communities. Despite those alarm bells, the Democratic convention in August featured more Republican than Latinx speakers, and now most polls show Biden with weak support among Latinx voters in Florida. Yet his campaign’s focus on Republican voters hasn’t really paid off, drawing just 5% of their support. Meanwhile a poll of Black voters in six swing states this summer found that among those under 30, only 47% had made up their mind to cast a ballot for Biden. They are “not sold on Biden, the Democrats, or voting,” the survey found.
We don’t know what the last weeks of the campaign will bring, but one thing is clear. Defeating Donald Trump is too important to leave up to the Biden campaign.
Getting Trump out of office starts with deeper voter engagement than in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. That requires sustained outreach to “the other swing voters,” as Ibram X. Kendi describes those who swing between voting for a Democratic candidate or not voting at all. The Biden operation is not really built for that task.
But fortunately, others are.
GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS STEP UP
Grassroots organizations in working-class communities and communities of color are tackling this work. New Florida Majority, Pennsylvania Stands Up and many others have been active in their communities for years, and they know the terrain. They know how to reach people who might not otherwise cast a ballot. And if we want to defeat not just Trump, but Trumpism, we’ll need groups like these, that continue to organize after the election is over.
In conversations with disenchanted voters, a group doing long-term organizing can have more credibility than a candidate’s campaign. They’re working in the community 12 months a year, not appearing at election time and then vanishing after. They’re not just trying to extract a vote and move on – they’re making a connection, and building a movement that will continue after November 3. These grassroots groups are working to change their states in a way that lasts.
A growing number of blue-state activists are deciding that the most effective thing they can do in 2020 is volunteer with a swing-state community organizing group. It’s a way to contribute to Trump’s electoral defeat, without giving the Biden campaign a blank check for their time and energy. It’s a way to elect progressive candidates and defeat Republicans in down-ballot races. And it builds the power of a locally rooted group that will still exist when this election is over.
Our swing-state partners include New Florida Majority (NewFM), a grassroots group that has built one of the top voter-registration operations in the state. NewFM played a central role in passing Florida’s 2018 referendum on restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, and it helped bring Andrew Gillum and his progressive platform to within a half-point of victory – the best result for any Democratic candidate for governor in more than 20 years.
Another is Pennsylvania Stands Up (PASU), a statewide network with 9 chapters. PASU’s Philly chapter, Reclaim Philadelphia, was a leading force in electing Larry Krasner as district attorney on an anti-incarceration platform. Lancaster Stands Up helped progressive populist Jess King wage a surprisingly strong challenge to a Republican incumbent in Congress, while building 11 local teams across the county and expanding its membership to over 1,000 in 2018. This year PASU chapters have built mutual aid networks, fought against utility shutoffs in the pandemic, and won a string of primary victories against establishment candidates.
These groups and others we work with – Detroit Action, Durham For All, Mijente, and more – combine movement organizing with election action. And that’s experience we’ll need if Trump tries to cling to power after losing the vote. In that situation, challenging Trump in the courts will need to be matched by taking to the streets.
Unsurprisingly, Biden’s staff appear to be looking at only one half of that equation. For their election protection program, “Joe Biden’s campaign is recruiting lawyers, not organizers,” noted social-movement scholar Frances Fox Piven and Deepak Bhargava, former director of the Center for Community Change. To fill that gap, grassroots groups that know how to organize mass protests and civil disobedience will have a crucial role to play. Electoral work that helps these groups strengthen their local networks is a way to get prepared.
“Our communities cannot take four more years of an administration that rolls back our access to basic human rights, enables violence against our people, and keeps our movements on defense with attack after attack,” Seed The Vote emphasized this summer. “We knew this before the pandemic, but this crisis shows us more than ever the urgency of defeating Trump and sowing the seeds of a better future for all of us.”
VOTING FOR A TERRAIN OF STRUGGLE
Biden is not our savior. If he wins, on many issues he will be our opponent. But a Trump defeat can open up possibilities for organizing that won’t exist if he remains in office. “We are voting for a terrain of struggle,” says New Florida Majority’s Andrea Mercado. “In Florida we’ve lived under decades of right-wing and authoritarian rule, and seen the impact that has on our rates of incarceration, voter suppression, immigrant rights….We have a responsibility to shift this country to a place where other political victories are possible.”
Trump’s escalating attacks on basic democratic rights pose a special kind of threat. At stake is “how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power,” argues Angela Davis. “If we want to continue this work,” she told Democracy Now, “we have to persuade people to go out and vote to guarantee that the current occupant of the White House is forever ousted.”
If you agree it’s important that Trump be defeated, don’t just cross your fingers and hope. Don’t think that because you live in a Democratic state, this isn’t your fight. Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “You can pray until you faint, but if you don’t get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
Since May, Latinx organizers have warned that the Biden campaign is neglecting their communities. The Democratic convention featured more Republican than Latinx speakers, and now most polls show Biden with weak support among Latinx voters in Florida. Yet his campaign’s focus on Republican voters hasn’t really paid off, drawing just 5% of their support. Meanwhile a poll of Black voters in six swing states this summer found that among those under 30, only 47% had made up their mind to cast a ballot for Biden. They are “not sold on Biden, the Democrats, or voting,” the survey found.
We don’t know what the next weeks of the campaign will bring, but one thing is clear. Defeating Donald Trump is too important to leave up to the Biden campaign.
Getting Trump out of office starts with voter engagement at a level far beyond 2016, when Hillary Clinton won fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. That requires sustained outreach to “the other swing voters,” as Ibram X Kendi describes those who swing between voting for a Democratic candidate or not voting at all. The Biden operation is not built for that task – but fortunately, others are.
Grassroots organizations in working-class communities and communities of color are well equipped to do this work. New Florida Majority, Pennsylvania Stands Up and many others have been active in their communities for years, and know the terrain. They know how to reach people who might not otherwise cast a ballot. And if we want to defeat not just Trump, but Trumpism, we’ll need groups like these, that continue to organize after the election is over.
In conversations with disenchanted voters, a group doing long-term organizing can have more credibility than a candidate’s campaign. They’re working in the community 12 months a year, not just appearing at election time, extracting a vote, and then vanishing.
A growing number of activists in progressive states are deciding that the most effective thing they can do in 2020 is volunteer with a swing-state community organizing group. It’s a way to contribute to Trump’s electoral defeat, without giving the Biden campaign a blank check for their time and energy. It’s a way to elect progressive candidates in downballot races. And it builds the power of locally rooted groups that will still exist when this election is over.
Our swing-state partners include New Florida Majority, a grassroots group that has built one of the top voter-registration operations in the state. NewFM played a central role in passing Florida’s 2018 referendum restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, and it helped bring Andrew Gillum and his progressive platform to within a half-point of victory – the best result for any Democratic candidate for governor in more than 20 years.
Another is Pennsylvania Stands Up, a statewide network with nine chapters. PA Stands Up’s Philly chapter, Reclaim Philadelphia, was a leading force in electing Larry Krasner as district attorney on an anti-incarceration platform. Lancaster Stands Up helped progressive populist Jess King wage a surprisingly strong challenge to a Republican incumbent in Congress. This year PA Stands Up chapters have built mutual aid networks, fought against utility shutoffs in the pandemic, and won a string of primary victories against establishment candidates.
These groups and others we work with – Detroit Action, Durham For All, Mijente, and more – combine movement organizing with election action. And that’s experience we’ll need if Trump tries to cling to power after losing the vote. In that situation, challenging Trump in the courts will need to be matched by taking to the streets. Unfortunately, Biden’s staff appear to be looking at only half of that equation. For their election protection program, “Joe Biden’s campaign is recruiting lawyers, not organizers,” noted social-movement scholar Frances Fox Piven and Deepak Bhargava, former director of the Center for Community Change. To fill that gap, we’ll need grassroots groups that know how to organize protests. Mass civil disobedience may be crucial.
Biden is not our savior. In fact, if he wins, on many issues he may be our opponent. But defeating Trump will open possibilities for organizing that won’t exist if he remains in office. “We are voting for a terrain of struggle,” says New Florida Majority’s Andrea Mercado. “In Florida we’ve lived under decades of right-wing and authoritarian rule, and seen the impact that has on our rates of incarceration, voter suppression, immigrant rights…We have a responsibility to shift this country to a place where other political victories are possible.”
If you agree it’s important that Trump be defeated, don’t just cross your fingers and hope. Don’t think that because you live in a Democratic state, this isn’t your fight. Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “You can pray until you faint, but if you don’t get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
Max Elbaum interviewed Alicia Garza on May 21st about the upcoming election, movement building, and more.
ME: What do you feel like is at stake in the November elections?
AG: Everything! I feel like everything is at stake and I’m really not being facetious about that. To be real, what’s at stake is whether or not a new world order is able to take root and grow. Frankly, when we look at the conditions in our communities, when we look at the conditions inside of our governments, when we look at the conditions in our workplaces, or even when we look at the role that this country plays around the world: all of that is really hinging on not just what happens in this election cycle, but it’s contingent upon the amount of power that we are able to build in this moment. And frankly what we know is that everything is not going to change in a day. What happens on November 4th is not going to change everything in this country. But what it will do is create the conditions for us to build bigger, and to build more, and to win more. So for anybody out there who’s like, “Oh, it’s just all the same thing all the time” I can honestly say it’s not. We have not seen in my lifetime this level of vitriol, this level of dangerous policy, this level of complete disregard for life, for people, for health, for safety, for dignity.
I would say that what’s at stake this November is–we can either choose to go all in on what happens on November 3rd or November 4th, whatever day it is–but if we’re not successful, and I say this without hesitation, we are living under an administration that is changing all of the rules as we speak. And not just the rules about how resources are being distributed, but the rules about who can and can’t participate. If we are not successful in November I really do believe that what we could see is not just another four years of this administration but possibly another decade. The kinds of rules that are being shifted right now are being reshaped and reformed to keep people in power who don’t plan to give it up. Without a massive investment in changing the balance of power in the White House, and our Congress, and in our communities, we are in for a much longer time than four years of what we’ve been dealing with for the last four.
ME: Amen. I’m older than you and I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime either. Even in ‘64 with George Wallace. This is worse. Do you have any thoughts about how the pandemic has affected all of that?
AG: Yeah, absolutely. In times of crisis, there are all kinds of agendas that are being moved. Frankly we’re feeling it in the sense of, you know, having to be physically distanced and not being able to organize, perhaps, in the same ways that we’ve been used to. But I can also say that what is true about what’s happening in this pandemic is that the people in power are using the chaos of this moment to further reorganize how power operates. We face a different kind of uphill battle in that sense. While the rest of us are trying to figure out how to take care of ourselves, how to take care of each other, how to access relief–in a context where relief is pretty relative–the people who are making decisions over these things are actually using this moment of crisis, of chaos, of the unknown, to really move their agenda forward and cement it. And so while the rest of us are trying to figure out how to care for ourselves and each other and our communities, they are trying to figure out how to further re-entrench power. So that once we lift our heads up and say, “Okay, well what is happening with the election?,” the rules will be rigged in such a way where if they have their way, we won’t be able to impact it. So that’s why it’s really important right now for us to really pull on what several mentors of mine have said to me over my lifetime, which is that we have to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to be able to provide for our people and take care of our people, but we also have to make sure that we deepen our investment in changing the balance of power.
ME: Your own work over the last while with the Black Futures Lab and the Census and so on has focused on some of the special issues facing the Black community. Do you want to talk a bit about that, in terms of the election and the particular obstacles the African-American community is facing and what some of the potentials to build power there is?
AG: Absolutely. Well you know, I’ll say that we started the Black Futures Lab in 2018 as a project that is focused on making Black communities powerful in politics so that we can be powerful in the rest of our lives. At the Lab, we are not ambivalent about the role that electoral organizing and the rule that electoral power-building plays in making sure that Black communities have what we need and get what we deserve in the same ways that all communities deserve health and safety and wellness and dignity. A lot of our work has been focused on changing the story of who Black people are in this country, broadening out our understanding of who is Black as in this nation and why is that important. We spent a lot of time listening to Black communities across the country about what it is that we experience everyday in the economy and our democracy and in our society. And bigger than that, we spent a lot of time asking our communities about what it is that we want to see for our futures. And so from that project, which is the Black Census–that is the largest survey of Black people in America conducted in 155 years–we actually took that data and we translated it into what we’re calling a Black Agenda for 2020 and Beyond. It really takes the hopes, experiences, needs, and dreams of the people who responded to our Black Census project and it translates it into an actionable policy agenda that we think needs to be adopted at every level of government–whether it be in your town or city or all the way up to the federal government.
We didn’t know in February when we released this Black Agenda that there was a global pandemic on the horizon. We did, however, know about the public health crisis that we were already inside of. We were very clear about the pending economic crisis that was coming. But at that time that was a speculation, and now here we are, and we find that the Black Agenda is actually more relevant now than it was in February. We have literally laid out a path for what legislators can do right now in this moment to improve the lives of Black communities in every aspect that you can think of, whether it be access to housing, incarceration, whether it be access to child care and other healthcare services, whether it be at how to make Black people powerful in democracy. Of course what we found is that in this moment, where there’s tons of bills that are being passed, related to so-called relief and eventual recovery, we’re finding that Black communities and other disenfranchised communities are being left far behind.
For example, if there was a several trillion dollar, several billion dollar bill that was passed to try and bouey and bolster the economy and society in a moment of incredible change. And yet, what we didn’t know was that behind the scenes there were all kinds of machinations that were happening to some of our communities away from access for relief or recovery. So, we learned about you know lobbyists who were trying to attach anti-abortion provisions to receiving $1,200 of stimulus money–which we all know, $1,200 does not a rich person make. We’re hearing about the ways in which some of the provisions of the CARE act make stimulus money not available to people who are already in debt, which is like all of us at this point. So we have actually taken our black agenda for 2020 and Beyond and we’ve developed what we’re calling coronavirus released in response platform that we are advocating for actively in states and cities Across the Nation and also advocating for actively with our federal government.
I will say that we’re also finding during this triple crisis that we face: a Public Health crisis, a looming and deepening economic crisis, and also a crisis in our democracy; what we’re finding is that as it relates to Public Health, as well as all of those other axes, black communities are disproportionately impacted by the ways in which corporations have overtaken our government, by the ways in which legislators and legislators who are actually trying to dismantle our government right now are are not stepping in to mediate this crisis, and we’re finding that black communities are also being disproportionately impacted by the enduring legacy of racism and white supremacy that invades every structure in our society and in our economy. And so, when we talk about the fact that black communities are are 12% or 13% of the US population but yet we make up more than 80% of, you know, coronavirus cases in cities and states across the country, and certainly we make up more than 80% of deaths from this virus in cities and states across the country; I think it’s important for us to acknowledge and remember that this isn’t just because of coronavirus. If anything, coronavirus has pulled back the curtains on the disparities that have been existing for decades in this country and getting worse as a result of corporate greed, as a result of pushing off the responsibilities of government to the private sector, and also it’s certainly in response to the ways in which so many of our structures have been designed to disenfranchise and marginalize black communities amongst others. And so what we’re really focused on at this moment is making sure that black communities are not giving up. We are are essential workers, we are people who are trying to keep and hold our families together, we are people who are also dealing with multiple crises at the same time – whether it be the crises of hyper-incarceration and where that means the crises of Public Health. We are really intent on making sure that black voices are heard. We’re intent on making sure that in this election cycle, and in every election cycle from this point, that we are cognizant of not repeating the same mistakes that were made in 2016 and some of those mistakes were really based in not investing in and not deeply, deeply engaging black communities as one of the strongest wings of this party and really making sure that black communities feel like this process is ours, and it’s fighting for us just as much as it’s fighting for others. So for us in this moment what’s feels most important about civic engagement is that we do not allow for our opposition to dismantle the very structure that we have left for black communities to be able to participate in the decisions that shape our lives every single day. And more than that, we’re bent on making sure that you know we continue to work to shift the transactional nature of politics in such a way where everybody in this country who has a stake in what’s happening whether it be here domestically, or internationally, is not only able to every so often wave our flag and say what we want but also that we are the protagonist in the story of what it took to get this country right back on the right track.
ME: So you’ve talked about both the Electoral engagement and power building for the communities. Do you have any advice for people out here about practical ways people can walk and chew gum at the same time – either organizations you are directly involved in or others on the landscape that you think are promising or different campaigns and so on?
AG: Absolutely. I’m not going to call it advice, I’m going to call it a plea. This election cycle is probably one of the most important in a generation. And you know, it is not hyperbole when we say that this election cycle is probably one of the most important in a generation. And you know, it’s no longer about parties – at this point, this is about survival. And we cannot afford to be ambivalent about this process, we cannot afford to let somebody else figure it out, we cannot afford to just simply rest on its not good enough and it doesn’t do enough. The fact of the matter is our lives are at stake, our communities are at stake, and everything we leave on the table will be eaten by someone else. And so, as we are talking right now, our opposition is not ambivalent about electoral organizing and they are not ambivalent about winning elections because they understand that elections equal power. So, my plea to all of us is to be focused. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. And so if that means fighting for eviction moratoriums in our community that’s what it means at the same time it means getting creative about registering people to vote by mail and fighting like hell to save the Postal Service to fight back against the attacks that are happening on our democracy each and every day. The other thing that we can very practically do is join an effort that is reaching out to voters who have not heard from their politicians in decades. We already know what the problems of the system are but the only way we’re going to fix it is by a very simple math equation, right? So, zero plus zero equals zero. And we have to make sure that we are front loading the first side of that equation to make the the sum of our activities more powerful on the other end of the equation. So, you can, while you’re at home, pick up the phone and do phone banking to reach voters who are not being talked to. You can get on your phone and participate in a text bank and make sure that every voter who was already registered, and a voter who was registered but you know, hasn’t really voted in the last couple of cycles because they just couldn’t see the point. And those voters who are not yet voters, but are pissed off about what’s happening in this country, know that there is a community that is waiting to help join and link arms to make each other powerful again. So, I really want to communicate that the plea to us in this moment is to not be ambivalent about what is happening right now. To understand that elections do deeply, deeply matter. And finally, to know that the small efforts that we do every day actually do add up to something big. I can tell you right now our opposition is on the phones, they are texting people, they are rallying their people – those are the rallies that you see in front of State houses and people are holding signs about haircuts but they’re actually talking about is taking power. And so we can and we must make sure that we do not write people off as being loony or crazy they actually have a strategy and they’re moving it and I believe that with projects like Seed the Vote with organizations like Florida New Majority or Lucha, or the tons of organizations across the country who are not giving up on us: they deserve our participation, they deserve our support, and they deserve our engagement. So let’s go y’all. We might be in crisis but we are not yet defeated. We still have a role to play and I want to know that on the other side of this, when I look back on this moment and I say ‘who was I at that time but it felt like the country was completely falling apart’ I want to say ‘I was a warrior who was not going to go down without a fight. And even if I go down, I’m goin down swingin.’ So let’s go. We still have a lot of swinging to do, and we still have a lot of punches to land.
ME: Well the last question I was going to ask you is, are you hopeful? But you just sort of just answered that. But if you have any final remarks about the hope side, we can toss them in too.
AG: sure I mean I am hopeful I mean let’s not I don’t want to be like, fake happy because honestly I’m scared I am terrified of what this moment means for us. And every single day I’m just grappling with what will it mean for us to be you know under quarantine orders for the next year, for the next 18 months. That is a scary, scary proposition and the direction that we’re heading in right now is not good. So I don’t want to in any way lessen the gravity of this moment. But I also want to be clear that for me what gets me out of bed every single day is really wanting to land that much. I am so mad I can’t even see straight but I can’t let that anger eat me I have to let that anger drive me. And so, part of where my inspiration comes from – besides really wanting to kick somebody in the ass – is frankly knowing that in moments of crisis is where we tend to be the most Innovative and the most creative. And frankly, what I know is going to come out of this moment is new strategies for organizing and building power. What I know is going to come out of this moment is a new opportunity to remake and reshape who we are, what we care about, and what we do as individuals but also what we do together that change is already happening all around us and we still very much have an opportunity to impact it. So, I am finding joy in the folks who are not giving up. And I’m finding inspiration there. And I’m hoping that we Inspire each other like a game of whack-a-mole you know. I’m not feeling great every single day but you know, today, I’m feeling like we are on the right side of history. It’s time for us to build our team, it’s time for us to reach to people who didn’t even know we existed but they’re praying they’re praying that there is a resistance out there and what happens when we connect write the people for whom you know they maybe don’t know about the fact that a social movement is happening right now, but they sure do know that they want things to be different. The possibility of the opportunity in every one of those interactions is so vast and so great. So I say let’s jump into the deep end of the pool. Let’s build it. We literally have nothing to lose but our chains.
ME: I’m gonna hold onto that. I’m not gonna let this stuff feed me, I’m gonna make it drive me. That’s a great takeaway, that’s a great takeaway. I needed that this morning.