A reversal of the 2020 elections looms on the near horizon. Republicans are imposing severe restrictions on voting rights in state after state. Democrats have failed to beat back these attacks, both at federal and state levels. The specter of resurgent Trumpism hovers like a recurring nightmare, and the waking reality is in many ways even worse.
The lessons and impact of the 2020 elections are far reaching. The constant charges of “voter fraud” – really a campaign of attempted suppression of Black voters – harken back to the Jim Crow era that followed the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The tactics used by the Trump campaign were a harbinger of continued stormy times ahead. And the efforts of mainstream congressional Democrats to blame the left for their disappointing results can be considered a preview of coming battles both inside and outside of the Democratic Party.
At a congressional Democratic Party caucus meeting on the Saturday after election day 2020 – while tens of thousands of Trump opponents were celebrating in the streets of cities across the country – mainstream Democrats stood up to blame progressives for costing them several important seats. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shot back:
“Progressive policies do not hurt candidates. Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green New Deal was not a sinker. Mike Levin was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, and he kept his seat... ” Bernie Sanders echoed AOC, adding that 70 percent of voters expressed support for Medicare for All, a massive jobs program and a Green New Deal.
AOC blasted mainstream Democrats for “trying to blame the Movement for Black Lives for their loss.” She highlighted the huge share of white support for Trump, who whipped up his supporters on the dangers of rioting, socialism and anarchism. AOC said “we need to do a lot of anti-racist, deep canvassing in this country.” She added that “a lot of Dem strategy is… to avoid poking the bear. That’s their argument with defunding police, right? To not agitate racial resentment. I don’t think that is sustainable.” She meant white racial resentment.
“I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy,” AOC continued. “And that their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for all is not the enemy… If they keep going after the wrong thing, they’re just setting up their own obsolescence.”
Neither the mainstream Democrats, nor Biden nor Harris, can be considered true friends of progressives and our base – working class people of all colors and genders who need more than merely defeating Trump and Trumpism. Now we must push for an end to police killings, to homelessness and evictions in the midst of a pandemic. We need an end to the loss of jobs and loved ones to a virulent health crisis that could have been controlled months ago – as it was in other countries. People need an end to spiraling debt, a realistic hope of having homes, and a planet to live on past 2030. And we need peace.
Power sparked by Black Lives Matter multiplied exponentially when working people and youth of all colors and nationalities marched together.
Instead of peace there is only intensified war danger. Biden’s neo-con foreign policy team is ramping up the new cold war against both China and Russia. They have raised a false war hysteria with Russia over Ukraine. The bungled, chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last August amounted to a re-direction of aggression elsewhere, and not a true change of war policy. Biden wants the U.S. to “return to the head of the table” globally – in other words, domination as usual. The budget for “defense” against Russia and China has already mushroomed. Dreams of a “peace dividend” for domestic programs – and to “build back better” – are fading fast.
As a senator, Biden voted for the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 1994 crime which he co-authored beefed up police forces and made mass incarceration of people of color increase dramatically. In 1996 he helped Bill Clinton “end welfare as we know it,” saying “the culture of welfare must be replaced with the culture of work.” (Can he deliver a massive jobs program now?) In June 2019 he assured a group of Wall Street titans that “No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change… I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you.” A change to the huge gap between rich and poor is not likely without a fight.
Black Voters and the Myth of “Voter Fraud”
After his November 2020 election victory Biden told African-Americans “I owe you,” since their votes put him over the top in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. It’s time to deliver – with an end to police violence, mass incarceration, unemployment, and institutional racism. His encouraging start has receded pitifully.
Black voters in those states overcame a juggernaut of “voter fraud” allegations designed to suppress Black voters. It was the Republicans’ main gambit for winning, one that served them well for generations, most notably in the 2000 elections. Black leaders in Jacksonville, Florida protested then that their voting rights were denied, and 28,000 ballots in Palm Beach County went uncounted in 2000. “The myth that Democratic voter fraud is common, and that it helps Democrats win elections, has become part of the Republican orthodoxy.” The late Congressman John Lewis, famous for braving police and their dogs while demonstrating for civil rights and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, said of the “voter fraud” myth that “I thought we’d passed this long ago. But it seems we must fight this over and over.”
While Trump denounced “vote fraud,” the reality was voter suppression. It’s a continuation of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 1968, Reagan’s promotion of “states’ rights” in 1980, George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton campaign ads in 1988, and George W. Bush’s vote theft in Ohio and Florida in 2000. Each time the goal was to encourage white voters and foster efforts to suppress Black voters. Trump was so incensed it didn’t work in 2020 that he mounted a barrage of bizarre efforts to change the vote.
The Electoral College and “Winner-Take-All”
Then there’s the Electoral College, through which Trump won the presidency in 2016 while losing the popular vote. It’s a “winner-take-all” game at state level, no matter how close the vote. And states with smaller populations have a disproportionate number of electors, based on the total of their congressional representatives and senators.
The system is a time-worn relic of the Constitutional deal between northern capitalists and southern slavocrats, by which slaves were counted as “three fifths of a person” for purposes of representation in Congress. After the Civil War, Black people were counted as “five fifths,” but their votes were suppressed by intimidation and the infamous Black Codes, which denied African-Americans their rights as citizens. The framers of the Constitution never intended for Black people – or women – to vote. It took a century of struggle following passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that recognized the rights of the freed slaves after the Civil War. The 1965 Voting Rights Act reinforced those rights and sought to end the Black Codes and massive voter intimidation throughout the former Confederate states.
Long lines at scarce polling places in Black communities, massive purges of voter rolls, plus voter ID requirements and much more showed this intimidation was still alive in 2020, though Black people beat it back in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But white supremacy continues to reign across the country in myriad ways. The Electoral College reflects the disproportionate number of electors in the South and other states with smaller populations. To solve this injustice we need to abolish the Electoral College. White southern senators object. According to South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, “The desire to abolish the Electoral College is driven by the idea Democrats want rural America to go away politically.” Rural America is not the problem – racism is. And segregationist Alabama Senator James Allen in 1969 declared “The Electoral College is one of the South’s few remaining political safeguards. Let’s keep it.”
Only a much larger Republican loss in Congress could allow abolition of the Electoral College. So the alternative battle is to end “winner-take-all.” The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It has become law in 15 states and DC, with a total of 196 electoral votes. It needs an additional 74 electoral votes to go into effect. The bill has passed at least one chamber in nine additional states with 88 more electoral votes.
Fighting Against Fascists and For Democracy
The January 6 mob assault in Washington was historic. The NY Times said “the assault on the capitol was the first by a large hostile group of invaders since the British sacked the building in 1814.” Black Lives Matter activists noted the police response to white gun-toting protesters storming the capitol behind the Confederate flag, while some DC police fraternized and took selfies with them. The mother of Michael Brown, killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, told the Washington Post the lack of a police response was stunning: “no shooting, no rubber bullets, no tear gas – nothing like what we have seen.”
Trump declared “We will never give up, we will never concede… and that’s what this is all about.” Rep. Liz Cheney said, “There’s no question that the president formed the mob, incited the mob, addressed the mob. He lit the flames.” Trump tweeted to the protesters “We love you. You’re very special.” He later denounced them, backpedaling as pressure mounted against him. Facebook and Twitter took down his words and suspended his accounts. Not quite an impeachment, but it was a hint that Trump’s time was over, for a while. Trump was finally impeached for a second time – a historic first. But it fizzled.
Just before Thanksgiving 2020, Trump supporters made death threats to election officials in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada. In Milwaukee, former sheriff David Clarke declared “We need a chapter of the Proud Boys in Wisconsin because they’re the only ones with the courage to get in the face of Black Lives Matter.”(Courage?)
In Michigan, ten days after the election, 14 men were charged in a plot to kidnap the Governor and take over the capitol building with “200 combatants who would stage a week-long series of televised executions of public officials.” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel declared: “We are one of the few states that does not ban guns in our state capitol building, and clearly there have been threats made on the lives of our legislators.” She added: “In April, we had armed gunmen, some of them the same defendants in this case, that were hovering over state senators with long guns, screaming and yelling at them as they were deliberating …” The defendants were charged, arraigned, indicted – and released on bond.
Faced with these fascistic threats, labor councils across the country announced plans for a general strike if Trump were to succeed in his attempted coup. These were not the first strike pledges. The People’s Strike movement was launched on May Day 2020, by the Jackson Cooperative (of Jackson, Miss.), “after we saw working class people launch a wave of labor strike and rent strike actions across the world in response to the severe negligence” in the face of the pandemic. People’s Strike builds on the tidal wave of mass marches and rallies led by the Movement for Black Lives in the wake of police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others.
The millions of unionists and Black Lives Matter marchers vastly outnumber the proto-fascists in Washington and around the country, even though assault weapons and police support favor the fascists.
The Biden team is less horrifying than Trump’s shock troops, of course, but consider this: Richard Stengel, who headed of Biden’s transition team for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, said the government should “rethink” the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech, press and assembly. “Having once been almost a First Amendment absolutist, I have really moved my position on it,” he said in 2018, “because I just think for practical reasons in society, we have to kind of rethink some of those things.” Are those “practical reasons” the mass protests against police killings? Thousands of people were jailed for protesting in 2020, and waited months for charges to be dismissed. Thousands more face continued charges for exercising their First Amendment rights; they face pre-trial detention, felony charges, and decades-long incarceration.
“Our Task is to Hit the Ground Running!”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, says “our task is to hit the ground running” – “ground” as in streets. Key demands are defund the police, stop the continuing police murders, and a full program of people’s recovery.
Bernie Sanders says we need a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights: a job that pays a living wage; quality health care; a complete education; affordable housing; a clean environment; and a secure retirement. This is an echo of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “economic bill of rights,” proposed in his January 1944 State of the Union address. FDR said the “political rights” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” He said the government should guarantee to all people in the country employment, clothing, and leisure with enough income to support them; farmers’ rights to a fair income; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies (for small business owners); housing; medical care; social security; and education for all.
Biden launched his presidency looking like FDR – a flurry of progressive executive orders, and a big bold spending plan. We liked the plan. We fought for it. Now we need to make sure it really happens. But we can’t expect to get it without a massive popular struggle, just as it took mass mobilizations and strikes led by the left to win FDR’s New Deal.
We need a broad popular alliance. The Sunrise Movement says “By joining together – Black, brown, and white – to organize and demand the change we need, we’ll make our voices heard in record numbers on the streets and with our votes.”
The U.S. Peace Council says “our only way forward is to stay mobilized – demanding justice and accountability against racist killer cops; in defense of migrants rounded up and deported; in solidarity with LGBTQ and disabled people; and against endless wars, sanctions and occupations.”
Biden has rejected the call to stop racist militarized policing, to invest in alternatives to policing while cutting police budgets and establishing democratic community control of the police. That just means we have to keep fighting for these things – in the streets, workplaces, and city halls across the country. As Colin Kaepernick wrote recently, instead of police and prisons, “we can create space for budgets to be reinvested directly into communities to address mental health need, homelessness and houselessness, access to education, and job creation as well as community-based methods of accountability. This is a future that centers the needs of the people, a future that will make us safer, healthier, and truly free.”
There’s a dramatic change of mood in the country and rejection of Trump’s fascistic measures (with or without Trump). A new determination among labor leaders to fight can be seen in a statement from The United Electrical Workers union (UE): “The labor movement we need must be a militant movement, built from the bottom up. And it must be based on clear-cut principles: aggressive struggle, rank and file control, political independence, international solidarity and uniting all workers.” Building organizing drives of Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonalds workers, while bolstering militant teachers, nurses, longshore, transport and construction workers, could begin to feel like a CIO revival.
There’s a debate brewing about how change happens. What’s most important? Is control of Congress the key? All progressives would welcome a congress and president that could deliver Medicare for All, a massive jobs program, a Green New Deal, police reform and all the rest. But if the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s proved one thing, it’s that people marching by the thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands are the main force for change. FDR’s New Deal needed intense mass pressure in the streets and factories, which was delivered by huge campaigns organized by the left.
The movement to defund or abolish the police didn’t emerge from the 2020 elections. It was the hurricane of people power in the streets that did it. Power sparked by Black Lives Matter multiplied exponentially when working people and youth of all colors and nationalities marched together. The explosive marches focused on defund/abolish. Going forward they will tend to morph into broader struggles on all the issues. It began to happen in the hundreds of strikes, including local wildcats and stoppages, throughout 2020, and in the tenant struggles and rent strikes which have intensified everywhere.
The tenant fight is especially urgent. Millions of people face evictions as federal and state governments fail to intervene. Last year tens of thousands of tenants mobilized to push the NY State Assembly to pass a moratorium extension. It included a “Tax the Rich and House the Poor” campaign to get the funds for both housing and green energy in New York. Such a movement needs to be national. An estimated 7 to 14 million households are at risk of eviction nationally, owing about $20 billion in back rent. There was $1.3 billion in rent relief in the December 2020 federal relief package – not nearly enough to stem a homelessness crisis that threatens to explode from more than 600,000 to many times that number.
Any failure to address the housing crisis could intensify the looming real estate credit crisis, leading to bank crises that hang over the economy like an impending tornado. But it will take a people’s tornado to force federal, state and local governments to deal with it.
The strange, ever-rising stock market is not a reflection of a healthy economy. It actually shows that the trillions the Fed pumped into the corporations had nowhere to go in the real economy, so the investor class placed them on the stock market like casino bets. “The market right now is clearly foaming at the mouth,” as one market analyst told the New York Times just before Christmas 2020. Another said “We are seeing the kind of craziness that I don’t think has been in existence… since the internet bubble” in early 2000. Another said “It’s not as obvious a bubble as 20 years ago, but we’re close to bubble territory.”
There’s a question for the Biden administration: can it deliver a recovery plan that will mobilize these billions, together with trillions from the military budget and new taxes, to put people back to work converting the country to sustainable energy and guaranteeing health care? It’s an existential question – really “do or die” for Biden. But that’s true also for the rest of us. A mass people’s movement needs to manifest the strength to force real change. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says, we need to hit the ground running, to forge a future that really puts people in charge.
- Herndon, Astead, New York Times, Nov. 7, 2020: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Biden’s Win, House Losses, and What’s Next for the Left.”
- Jane Mayer, “The Voter-Fraud Myth,” The New Yorker, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, 2012 issue.
- Richard J. Hasen, The Voting Wars, Yale University Press, 2013.
- See www.nationalpopularvote.com.
- ABC News 12-Milwaukee, November 16, 2020
- ABC News report by Chuck Goudie, November 18, 2020.
- Ben Norton, TheGrayZone.com, November 11, 2020.
- See “We Don’t Even Count All the Homeless,” NY Times editorial, Jan. 29, 2020.