State of (Dis)Union or How to Lean Away from Despair Towards Hope
Voter Mobilization Must Combat Voter Suppression. By Eddie Wong. Posted January 27, 2022.
It’s now the end of January and 2022 is off to a tumultuous start. Like a berserk wrestler who has gone off-script, we’re witnessing back-to-back body slams with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring as the soundtrack. Turmoil, anger, distrust and sadness are fused together in one molten shitstorm. It’s the new zeitgeist starting with a tense Russian/US/NATO standoff in the Ukraine, inflation gobbling up pay raises and straining household budgets, Omicron still spreading illness through the world, and blistering winter storms exacerbated by climate change stalling the economy. And on the political front, the GOP obstruction abetted by Manchin and Sinema have sunk the John Lewis/Freedom to Vote Act, our most immediate recourse to newly enacted voting restriction laws in several states. Nor are things looking good for a woman’s right to choose as the Texas challenge to Roe v. Wade will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in May.
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash
The U.S. is in a state of disunion driven by disinformation about vaccines and rightwing lies about the 2020 election. A Washington Post/University of Massachusetts poll taken in December 2021 showed that 83% of Republicans polled believe President Biden won with fraudulent ballots. This is a year AFTER several states conducted audits of the election counting process and found zero fraud.
This onslaught of dumbshitness and the vitriol of the extreme right is designed to drive weary people away from the political process. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired, just bone weary and craving some solace. Falling down the rabbit hole of despair is quite easy for me because I generally doubt that people can make the sacrifices needed to put the collective good above personal entitlement. Even a simple act of prudence such as wearing a mask sets off outrage among some people. If we can’t even do that, how can we hope to save the planet from climate extinction?
Dealing with Grief
Perhaps, what I’m feeling is what psychologist Dr. Pauline Boss terms “ambiguous loss” or “frozen grief.” We can become stuck in grief for a world that has changed forever. Things we took for granted such as going to a movie, hanging out with friends, or travel abroad now must be carefully weighed on the danger vs pleasure meter. We’re living with the reality that the other shoe may drop at any time with an even deadlier variant possibly around the corner. Several regions of the U.S. have low vaccination rates and several parts of the world remain unvaccinated due to lack of vaccines and lack of a health care infrastructure. Boss advocates learning to live with ambivalent feelings and relinquishing one’s desire for control in a world that is filled with unknowns. Go with the flow and hope that science is able to combat every new deadly variant that comes down the pike.
But it’s hard to tell people that it’s going to be alright and that things will go back to normal. My autistic daughter struggles with “going back to normal” every day. Her life is built around routines and while she is willing to go along with masks and periodic isolation, she becomes frustrated and sad. I can’t tell her that things will go back to “normal,” but I do ask to enjoy the outing that she has to the beach and redwood forests and to be patient. But she can’t let go of the need to return to a pre-pandemic world and accepting changes wears upon her.
Bird of Paradise at Camphill. Photo by Eddie Wong.
At moments like this, I just have to take a deep breath, listen to music, marvel at nature and know that none of our societal problems and divisions will be solved any time soon. And we must recognize that the conditions are now much worse for the majority of working people who have lost income and savings and a sense of well-being in the pandemic. Rightwing extremists feed upon the anxieties caused by the pandemic and direct people towards blaming those who are trying to stabilize a volatile situation. It will take patient work to communicate collective values and wean people away from destructive impulses and move the away from this anti-science hostility.
The Electoral Battleground
While the US and the world deals with curbing the Omicron variant and grapples with climate change, the most immediate challenge before us is in the electoral arena. Democrats will try to salvage reform efforts by breaking up Biden’s trillion dollar Build Back Better plan into packages on climate change, expanding health care and family leave benefits, and childhood education. Right now, the public sees Congress, which is held by the Democrats by the thinnest of margins, as an ineffectual body full of bickering. Yes, there is bickering among Democrats but the biggest obstacle is a solid wall of opposition by the Republicans.
Pointing out the many achievements of the Biden administration in job creation, provision of vaccines and booster shots and home test kits won’t be effective in blunting the right because they are running a fact-free campaign. Exposing the GOP for the corporate stooges they are and the concrete steps that they are taking to move the country backward and thwart democracy may win independents and will certainly rally the Democratic base. And that truly is the crucial factor in the upcoming election. In the NBC News poll taken earlier in January, 61 % of Republicans polled stated enthusiastic support for the midterm elections vs 47% of Democrats. Those who were polled narrowly favored having Democrats in charge of Congress i.e., 47% for Democratic control vs. 46% for GOP control.
The stakes are incredibly high. GOP control of Congress would spell a complete end to reform legislation and provide added fuel to a Trump or DeSantis rightwing campaign for President in 2024. Just the thought of Trump 2.0 and four more years of rightwing reaction, not to mention his desire to be dictator for life, is just too frightening for words.
The GOP game plan is now fully in play. They want to game the system, and in the name of reform, restrict democracy by curbing wider participation by the forces that have brought Democrats to victory, i.e., people of color, working people, and younger voters. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that 19 states have passed 34 separate laws that restrict access to the polls. Those laws combined with GOP-held state legislatures which have delivered gerrymandered electoral districts to lock in safe GOP seats is intended to ensconce their dominance in several battleground states.
We can’t let this happen without a fight and indeed the resistance is already underway.
Voter Suppression is the new Jim Crow
The sweeping changes and blatant efforts to curb voter participation are too numerous to tackle in this article. Let’s focus on Georgia as a case study on the restrictions and the resistance to it.
Georgia will be a focal point in the 2022 elections, not only because Senator Raphael Warnock, who was elected narrowly in the January 2021 special election, is running for a full-term but Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2016, is running against whoever wins in the GOP dust up between incumbent Gov. Brad Kemp and former U.S. Senator David Perdue, who is backed by former President Trump. There will also be a hotly contested race for Secretary of State, which oversees the electoral process. In that race, progressive State Rep. Bee Nguyen is running in the Democratic primary and if she wins is likely to face either incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who was vilified by Trump for not “finding ballots” to ensure a Trump victory, or former U.S. Rep Jody Hice, an outspoken Biden election denier who is endorsed by Trump. If elected, Nguyen would be the first Asian American elected to statewide office in Georgia.
Rep. Bee Nguyễn, candidate for Secretary of State. Image courtesy of BeeforGeorgia.com
The sting of Trump’s loss in Georgia in 2020 infuriated the GOP-led state legislature and they have enacted some of the most restrictive laws in the nation to make it more difficult for the multi-racial, progressive coalition that fueled Democratic victories. SB 202 is a 98-page document that is a nothing but barbed wire and truncheons aimed at the expanding electorate. The law makes changes in several areas. For absentee ballots/mail-in ballots, the law will requires the following: a) cut back the time one can apply for mail-in ballots from 180 days before the election to 11 weeks before the election (note: 1.3 million Georgians voted via mail-in ballots in 2020.); b) make voters turn in mail-in ballots two Fridays before the election instead of on the Friday before the election; c) require those who request an mail-in ballot to provide a driver’s license number or state ID number; d) restrict the number of drop-off boxes for absentee/mail in ballots (note: in Fulton County (Atlanta) there will only be 10 drop-off boxes vs 38 in 2020.
Photo by ACLU Virginia.
Other parts of the law affect polling sites. The use of mobile voting buses, which were put in place to alleviate long lines at polling sites, has been banned. Only election day workers will be allowed to pass out water to those standing in line, and others who want to provide food and water to those standing in line can only do so 150 feet away from the polling site.
In addition to the new law, the GOP-led state legislature approved new legislative districts that are gerrymandered to favor Republicans in congressional races and in the state legislature. They changed the majority-minority sixth Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Lucy McBath, to a majority white district and packed minority voters into the seventh Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Carolyn Bordeaux. In order for McBath to remain in the U.S. House of Representatives, she would need to run in the 7th CD against her Democratic colleague.
On the state level, Senator Michelle Au, Georgia’s first Asian American in the state senate, would see her district shift to a majority white district that leans heavily towards the GOP. She will give up her seat and run instead for the George State House of Representatives in a more favorable district where the incumbent Democrat is retiring.
Fighting Voter Suppression in the Courts and on the Ground
So far, eight lawsuits including one by the U.S. Department of Justice, have been filed in U.S. District Court against the new election law and gerrymandered districts. Groups such as the New Georgia Project and the NAACP have filed suits that point out the discriminatory nature of the new absentee ballot requirements, the limits on drop-off boxes, and the ban on out-of-precinct provisional ballots. Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta’s lawsuit singles out the restrictions on mail-in ballots because it would directly affect the huge turnout of the Asian American vote in 2020 via absentee ballots. Nearly 50% of Asian American voters in Georgia voted in early voting and mail-in ballots in 2020.
The multiple lawsuits will go before a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court. The judges could deny the plaintiffs on the grounds that they did not prove discrimination. Any positive judgement for the plaintiffs would surely be challenged and then the case would go before the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives like Clarence Thomas have not favored voting challenges.
One glimmer of hope came on January 25, 2022 as a panel of judges ruled that Alabama’s redistricting of Congressional Districts violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to draw more than one district where voters could elect a Black representative. Section Two of the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in elections. Similar lawsuits are in play in Texas, which has eliminated 24 hour voting stations, enacted new voter identification requirements, and banned third-party distribution of absentee ballot requests. Challenges to GOP-draw maps are underway in North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida.
The Ohio Supreme Court threw out the GOP-drawn district maps, which were stacked to allow Republicans to win 75% to 80% of state legislative seats. Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 to forbid such blatant gerrymandering. In addition, the Ohio Supreme Court is an elected body with three Democrats and two Republicans. Three Democrats and one Republican issued the majority opinion in their January 14, 2022 ruling and compelled the legislature to redraw the maps in 30 days.
Image from People for the American Way.
Fighting through the courts is not the only remedy. Voter registration and education groups, along with the Abrams campaign and Georgia Democratic Party, are gearing up to sign up young Black voters, who were crucial to the election of Sen. Warnock and Sen. Ossoff in the January 2021 special election. Check out the research Black youth play major role in Democratic victories.
Making voters aware of the new deadlines for applying for absentee ballots and the new requirements for voter identification falls upon the state Democratic Party and numerous voter mobilization groups. Aisha Mahmood, Executive Director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia, told East Wind ezine,”Our plan is to inform our communities, early and frequently, about how and where they can vote. One of our key strategies is providing in-language materials like door hangers and mailers. We also have a strong on-the-ground plan to have volunteers and canvassers knock on doors (in a COVID safe way), and out in public places sharing voter information. Where we don’t have people on the ground, we will be reaching out through texting, phone banking, and online. We hope that by significantly expanding these efforts across Georgia, we can mitigate the impact of voter suppression efforts and show that we will not be silenced by those who seek to restrict our freedom to vote.”
In a bold move, the Southern Poverty Law Center has taken $100 million out of its endowment to seed its Vote Your Voice initiative over the next 10 years. For the 2022 election, SPLC has granted over $11 million to 55 civic groups and voter outreach efforts in the Deep South. Asian American mobilization projects which were funded include Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, and Georgia Muslim Voter Project with Council on Islamic-American Relations. These groups will receive $750,000. Latino organizations and African American voter engagement efforts will also be funded. It is unclear that this point what the Democratic Party intends to do to step up voter registration and mobilization efforts. Certainly, the Stacey Abrams for Governor campaign will be at the forefront of registering new voters, just as she did in her 2018 run.
Nationally, the When We All Vote campaign from Civic Nation, a non-profit organization co-chaired by Michelle Obama, has enlisted 31 organizations, including APIA Vote, to recruit and train 100,000 volunteers, register more than one million new voters, and organize lobbying campaigns for federal voting rights legislation.
How the 2022 elections Paves the Way for 2024
The extreme right is going for the jugular in 2022 hoping to wrest control of the electoral process in key states to position themselves for the 2024 presidential election. Exploiting the unfair nature of the Electoral College which diminishes the voters of populous states, the GOP hopes to oversee elections in swing states to a) make it harder for people of color, working people, and students to vote and b) control the ballot certification measure via Governors and Secretaries of State, which often supervise local election boards.
Republicans are pouring resources to dump Democratic governors in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three battleground states. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a narrow lead against James Craig, an African American Republican, who was formerly Detroit’s Chief of Police. Whitmer vetoed a bill passed by the GOP-dominated state legislature that would have enacted new voter id requirements and prohibited the unsolicited distribution of absentee ballots by county officials. Republicans hope to restore those restrictions via a ballot initiative in the 2022 elections.
Similarly, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers vetoed GOP bills that would have prevented the unsolicited distribution of absentee ballots and enacted stringent voter id requirements. Evers’ leading GOP opponent is former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who has called for the elimination of the bipartisan election commission that supervises elections in Wisconsin.
In Pennsylvania’s open gubernatorial race, Democrat Attorney General Josh Shapiro is likely to face Trump ally former Rep. Lou Barletta or former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. Both Barletta and McSwain favor the GOP bills to restrict the use of mail-in ballots which 2.6 million Pennsylvanian’s used in 2020. Democrats accounted for 75% of all mail-in ballots in 2020.
Volunteers mobilize for Ossoff/Warnock in Jan. 2021 special elections in Georgia. Photo from AAAF.
The Secretaries of State office has elicited the interests of Trump allies who support the “Biden stole the election” lie. In the swing state of Nevada, Jim Marchant, a former state legislator who lost his bid for a U.S. House seat in 2020, is running for Secretary of State. He is joined by former Rep. Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan. All of them have been endorsed by Trump. Finchem attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C. He along with Marchant and Karamo spoke at a QAnon conference in Las Vegas in October 2021.
So, there you have it. The extreme right and GOP have put on a full court press for 2022 with gerrymandered districts stacking the odds in their favor, voter restriction laws aimed at dampening Democratic turnout, and a slate of candidates from top to bottom that guarantees more repression and a greater subversion of democracy. The rightwing arsenal built around wealthy rightwing donors, a media infrastructure of talk radio and social media outlets plus a network of white supremacist organizations and their allies in ultra-conservative churches and community groups is determined to pave the way for a rightwing restoration in 2024.
To fight against this onslaught, we need to nuture the grassroots organizations which are doing year-round organizing at the state and local level and form a powerful coalition with national organizations and the Democratic Party. The majority of the country still favors a pluralistic view of society and Biden’s popular vote margin of over 7 million votes shows how broad and deep anti-Trump sentiment runs. We cannot fall into despair even as the Democrats flounder because our quest for equality and justice is much bigger than the Democratic Party. It’s a moral crusade for the soul of the nation.
Sunset silhouette image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay.
Our hopes for a better tomorrow rest upon a progressive majority that is still coming into being and must be fought for every step of the way. In an article on Jan. 1, 2022 in The Guardian about the Republicans’ cultural war attack tactics, Anat Shenker-Osorio, leader of the progressive messaging group ASO Communications and the podcast “Words to Win By,” exposes the GOP plans: “It’s the oldest trick in the book. It’s creating some sort of an ‘other’ so that we don’t notice that they’re actually the cause of our problems.” Finding commonality with those independent voters around shared values is an effective way to pull people away from the anxiety and fears that the extreme right exploits. Jennifer Fernandez Ancona, co-founder and chief strategy officer for the progressive funding circle Way to Win, added, “Our task is to make the idea of joining together across our differences – the idea of multiracial solidarity, as a means to collectively get these shared values that we all want – sexier than the grievance politics that the right is selling.”
It is sad to see polarization deepen in the U.S., and it makes me angry that so much disinformation is allowed to be spread by the social media giants. Teaching people critical thinking skills is vital to the health of any society. Progressives need to take the lead in connecting all the dots in the wild smorgasbord of right wing causes from anti-vaccine conspiracy advocates to neo-Nazis back to its authoritarian roots. We must root out these pernicious and vile reactionary ideologies as we bring the multicultural, multiracial, progressive majority into being.
Author’s bio: Eddie Wong is the editor and publisher of East Wind ezine. He has been a longtime cultural and political activist, primarily in the Asian American Movement.