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Election Hot Takes #3 & #4: Luke Elliott-Negri and Carl Davidson

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Woman standing in front of a room full of seated people

Election 2020 hot takes on Playing to Win and avoiding the mistake of “White Workerism”


November 4 Message from OrgUp: Count Every Vote

#3: Always play to win

It’s 10:55 pm on Tuesday November 3rd, and one thing is clear: this is not a wave election. The Democrats have picked up a Senate seat in Colorado, and lost one in Alabama. Control of the chamber seems unlikely, and the path to the White House is – at least as I write – narrow.

First and foremost, Trump is attempting a coup. Notwithstanding millions of absentee ballots, he has declared victory. We need to ensuring the integrity of the vote counting in key states – AZ, NV, MI, WI, PA, GA, and NC – and to become ungovernable everywhere. Declaring victory with millions of votes left to count is a coup attempt.

If Trump succeeds in a coup, the lessons below are largely irrelevant. But if we protect the vote, and there is a peaceful transfer of power, there are lessons to be gleaned for the future:

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The electorate tends to change slowly, not overnight. In 2016, Donald Trump was, no doubt, a non-traditional candidate. He made fun of his Republican primary colleagues, as well as his Democratic opponents and would-be opponents. And, most notably, he turned his party’s dog whistle racism into actual racism. His primary victory was a shock to both sides of the isle, and the common-sense liberal media narrative was that a general election victory was impossible. In fact, election results conformed to what we might expect after eight years of one party controlling the White House

Four years later, some of us let ourselves dream that, even though American’s have recalled a sitting President just three times in all of U.S. history, 2020 would be different: the pandemic, Trump’s incompetence, the level of unemployment. But, sitting here at now 11:30 pm, it is clear that this election is more traditional than one might expect.

Realignments do happen, but they happen over decades not years.

Knock f***ing doors. As lockdowns began in March, it was far from clear that a mask and a face shield were enough to substantially slow the spread of this deadly virus. But by this summer, anyone with eyes could see that you can knock a door with cloth and plastic over your face, step back six feet, and engage in voter mobilization.

With the Biden campaign closing its eyes, clasping its hands and praying for the kind of miracle he experienced in Massachusetts during the primary – i.e. winning without campaigning – the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE led the way and actually started hitting doors, first out west and then in Philly.

But as Daniel Ezra Moraff noted pithily on Facebook, more people should have knocked doors and sooner.

Experimental research has long demonstrated the power of one on one interactions at the doors. While the effect is more obvious in down ballot races, the 2016 general election hinged on fewer than 200,000 votes in just three states.

Maybe, just maybe, Biden should have hit the doors the minute it became clear that Black Lives Matter protests were not super-spreader events (because protesters aren’t sociopaths and hence wear masks).

It’s always possible to lose, so play to win. To end on a somewhat optimistic note, broad swaths of the Left were more focused on the stakes of the presidential election, compared to 2016. Groups like The Frontline and Seed the Vote did lots of heavy lifting, so did the national community organizing networks, many state-based power-building organizations and issue-focused groups too numerous to name, even if Biden was a terrible candidate. And even within the ranks of DSA – which took a Bernie or Bust position on the election – some notable individuals peeled off to endorse Biden, including Dan La Botz and Eric Blanc/Neal Meyer.

While far from ubiquitous, there was a notable change on the Left, a recognition that a Trump loss was not inevitable and that the Left has a role to play in attempting to push him out of the White House.

Whatever shakes out in the coming days, it should be abundantly clear that as the Left gains strength, it has a role to play in the most important electoral decisions of our society. It is not enough to leave that work up to hack centrist Democrats, even when they sometimes wind up at the top of the ticket.

Of course, what remains unclear as I write is whether Trump will need to take a stab at a coup. In such a scenario, a lot of these lessons need to be put on hold, and we need to be in the streets and the squares every minute until each and every vote is counted.

Luke Elliott-Negri studies political parties and social movements and is active in the labor movement.

#4: Don’t be trapped by ‘White Workerism’ in election narratives

Voters in my area set a turnout record of around 80%. The counting of the ballots statewide will likely take several more days, even a week. There is a thin chance Biden can still win, but as of today, Nov 4, Trump is in the lead. Only a few areas are ‘blue’ -Philly and its collar counties, Pittsburgh, Centre County (the home turf of Penn State’s main campus and its high-tech businesses), and a few more. What you will hear is that ‘white workers’ are to blame for all the red areas.

It’s true that too many white workers here in Beaver county and elsewhere in W PA will vote for Trump. Even a majority. It’s our cross to bear, but its heavy enough without making it monolithic.

I meet many of my neighbors walking my dogs in my working class neighborhood, Plan 6 in Aliquippa, about 50/50 Black and white. This morning one pulled up and opened his window. ‘Just back from voting?’ I asked. Yes, he was. ‘Voted straight Democrat.’ He’s about 60, beaded, works construction, put in many years in the local steel mill until it was abandoned. He looks like the guys on the Trump pickups.

But a week or so ago, he stopped and asked, ‘How the hell do we get that Ku Kluxer out of the White House? He’s done everything but put on the pointy white hood.’ I agreed, and we went over a number of ways. We both knew GOPers, even in our families. ‘Keep working on them,’ I said. We agreed it would be good if we just got some of them dubious enough to stay home on election day.

‘I never voted much when I was younger,’ he tells me. ‘But when the bosses started shutting down the mills, I became a solid Democrat. I saw what the Republicans were doing to us, and they’ve only got worse.’ We talked a bit about Bernie, and the history of our families in the mill, and how we still liked the USW. We left, hoping for a great turnout for our side. I continued with my dog.

My point is simple. He’s not an oddball, There’s lots more where he came from, maybe up to 40% last round. And a lot of them look just like the Trump guys you see on TV. So don’t be fooled. Engage everyone, and start with respect. It was no picnic in the mills, or being tossed into the ranks of the unemployed for a time, or being looked down on as ‘without a college degree.’

I tell everyone they get my respect for free, no strings. But in due course, they can earn my disrespect if they work at it. Here in this area you have to work with these folks. Unlike some big cites, the industrial Rust Belt counties are only 10% minorities. Our base starts with the Black community, but you have to approach the others as well, to find out all the pro-union folks who hate the ‘Kluxers.’ Then you have a wider base that can challenge Trump and Trumpism. We’ll soon see how we’re doing tonight and through the week , but the struggle continues.

Carl Davidson is a national committee member of the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a DSA member in the Steel Valley, an activist with Progressive Democrats of American in Western PA’s 17th CD, and a LeftRoots Compa. The views here are his own.