The lead up to Tuesday’s mid term election drove home the reality that right wing forces feel deeply threatened by the prospect of a country in which people of color, women, gender queer and trans people have rights and dignity and power. And they will do whatever they can to do keep that from happening, including appealing to naked white supremacy and xenophobia, rigging the system, and threatening violence.
Voter suppression in the U.S. has a long history, from the founding fathers’ attempts to protect voting as the privilege of white male property owners, to the current ruling elite’s varied strategies to keep oppressed people out of the voting booth. It’s a basic tool in the struggle to “Keep America great” – read, white – clearly driven by racial hatred with the goal of disenfranchising people of color.
Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, overt tactics to suppress votes, primarily of Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, have skyrocketed. From the efforts of Kris Kobach in Kansas to purge voter rolls using the corrupt “Interstate Crosscheck” system, to Brian Kemp in Georgia purging 1.5 million voters, closing 214 polling places, and blocking the registration of nearly 35,000 new voters, the right wing has used multiple strategies to prevent people of color from voting:
In the face of these efforts, grassroots forces, led by people of color, are engaged in impressive and inspiring organizing efforts, and on Tuesday, some important progressive victories were won. In Florida, a coalition led by formerly incarcerated people and their families, and supported by organizations such as New Florida Majority and Dream Defenders passed a measure to amend the state constitution, restoring voting rights to 1.4 million people. In North Dakota, where voter I.D. restrictions threatened to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans who live on reservations, tribal governments responded by issuing legal ID’s that allowed people to vote. A record number of women are headed to the US House of Representatives, including the first two Native American Women and the first two Muslim American women to serve in Congress. Grassroots organizing efforts used new and interesting strategies this time around, mobilizing and engaging tens of thousands of new voters. There is exciting potential in these movements for new ways of engaging people and keeping them in the fight for long-term transformative change.
In the places where grass roots organizing and mass mobilizations weren’t enough to overcome voter suppression efforts, the votes that undermined progressive movement were the votes of white people. Far right candidates campaigned on the most vicious racist, sexist, and xenophobic appeals, and white voters responded in droves. For example, according to NBC, in Georgia, where voter suppression efforts were plentiful and well documented, 73% of white men and 75% of white women voted for Kemp, the person overseeing the election and presumably benefitting from voter suppression. This pattern repeated itself across the country.
The same politicians who campaign on, and then enact, brutal racist policies, also prioritize the needs of the extremely wealthy at the expense of poor and working class people of all racial backgrounds, and they also aggressively oppose any and all efforts to address the catastrophic climate chaos that is already affecting all of us, but that hits poor people, people of color, and people in the global south first and worst .
As anti-racists, our work is cut out for us. There’s so much at stake, from the ability of people of color and poor people to access the basic workings of society, to human survival on the planet.
Moments like this, when the strategies and tactics of the extreme right are on full display, expose how central white supremacy and racism are to maintaining the current system that benefits the few at the expense of the rest of us and of the planet. Let’s let our outrage and disgust at these blatant abuses of power fuel our commitment to change. When we look to the grassroots, people of color led movements that have responded so robustly and creatively to all of this voter suppression, we find vision and leadership not only for the fight for voting rights, but also for the larger struggle for self determination, racial justice, and collective liberation.
This is the fight of our lifetime, for all of our survival. And we are in it for the long haul. Are you with us?