Jon Liss

Toward a Movement 40 Million Strong

Toward a Movement 40 Million Strong
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by Jon Liss

The battle over ideas (both in form and content, and as measured by PAC, party, and candidate spending) is breeding cynicism and driving down voter turnout.

Inspired by the disaster of Trump and Trumpism two years out most organizers are engaged in barroom or coffee shop speculation about the 2020 election.  

Among the two dozen announced Democratic candidates, many debate: will it be Sanders or Warren, with their attacks on corporate Democrats? Will it be one of Hilary’s heirs, with their cozy relationship with Wall Street?  Will Harris be the first Black woman nominated by a major party? If it’s Biden, do we sit it out?

All of it is idle speculation unless ‘we’ collectively organize tens of millions of the 108 million eligible voters who didn’t vote in 2016.  That’s right, one hundred and eight million eligible voters chose not to register or to vote in 2016. The non-voting block is disproportionately young, poor and people of color.  

This is by design.

The battle over ideas (both in form and content, and as measured by PAC, party, and candidate spending) is breeding cynicism and driving down voter turnout.

For the formerly incarcerated, people of color, and Black Southerners, rules and administrative practices are designed to prevent millions of potential voters from registering or voting.  In Virginia, for example, if you want to register other voters you need to collect each person’s full social security number. In Georgia, the Republican candidate for Governor kept his day job as Secretary of State long enough to hold up 53,000 voter registrations of which 70% were Black.  In Georgia, 1.4 million voters have been purged from the voter rolls since 2010.

Furthermore, in these places and more, the very structure of the electoral system is designed to disenfranchise voters in Presidential Elections due to the counting of votes on a state-by-state basis.  Unless you live in the 5-10 states that are electorally competitive, your vote for President is essentially of no value. If you are a Black voter in the Deep South, your vote for President doesn’t matter.  

Elections are neither fair nor democratic.  The playing field is tilted – and everyone knows it.  

However, despite, or perhaps because of this, dozens of state-based power building organizations have banded together to lead efforts to build a bottom up long term front against Trump and Trumpism.  Over the last twenty-five years, state power organizations have grown to fill the political space created by the decline of Democratic Party local organization, the breakup and collapse of ACORN, and low levels of voter turnout. This reflects a shift from narrow Alinskyism and its very limited political engagement.  

Building the State Power Caucus

Now, recall the 108 million people who were eligible but not voting?  They are largely our ‘core’ constituency, or in other terms, they are our unorganized social base. This 108 million when compared to the voting electorate is more Black, more immigrant, more working class and poor.

Many groups started locally and began building statewide over time. In part, the organizations realized the overdetermination of state-level power, which can be most aptly perceived in terms of local and state budgets, the Dillion Rule or pre-emption, the role of states in creating Federal House districts, and in the ways that state politics provides space for creative and innovative organizing-led progress.  

These organizations have deep strategic knowledge and practice in their particular states. Starting in the summer of 2017 many leading state-power organizations have come together as a caucus to support peer-to-peer learning and incubate innovate organizing practices. Included among the organizations that have been leading the State Power Caucus are New Virginia Majority, New Florida Majority, California Calls, Washington Community Action Network, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

All told, there are 22 organizations from 15 states involved in the Caucus. Importantly, these organizations recognized the need to develop a systematic and long-term alternative to Trumpism.

The State Power Caucus has worked to first analyze the collective reach of the national networks who engage in electoral and civic engagement work. This includes Community Change, People’s Action and the Center for Popular Democracy, among others.

We’ve also begun to assess the collective impact of state-based organizations. Looking at 2016, our rough estimate is that at most 4 million people were contacted and encouraged to vote. This is our high-water estimate. The actual number who actually voted is probably much lower still.

Now, recall the 108 million people who were eligible but not voting?  They are largely our ‘core’ constituency, or in other terms, they are our unorganized social base. This 108 million when compared to the voting electorate is more Black, more immigrant, more working class and poor.

If we initially target just half of the 108 million, and we acknowledge that some in that half are going to disagree with our values and politics, some aren’t going to vote no matter what, and some are in geographies that we just can’t reach, we believe our real voter mobilization target number is 40 million, and we’ve agreed as a caucus to that number as our target. That’s our natural constituency.  

These are the voters or potential voters who put AOC and Ilhan Omar into Congress. They are our friends and family, and they are the everyday members and supporters of our organizations that fight for racial justice at the state and local level.

The State Power Caucus is committed to working more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively with national social justice networks. Together, we look to take a big leap forward and move from mobilizing 4 million and organizing many less to mobilizing and organizing many times more.  

The long game to defeat white nationalism and move past neo-liberal corporatism is by building a bottom up movement of 40 million people.

At a minimum that is a movement where people vote consistently and consciously. Where people share our values for racial, gender and social justice and where people believe they have the capacity to rule.  

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04 Comments

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  • Carl Redwood
    Carl Redwood June 2, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    carlredwood@me.com
    I think organizing the 108 million into the Democratic Party is a mistake. Many of the 108 are clear that the system does not work for their families. They tried it before many times. For black people in the 108 the Democratic Party is a step backwards. They have been there before. We belittle the wisdom of those who have chosen not to vote. If you want to vote it is not difficult. Registration is not the problem like in the 1960’s. People choose not to vote. Shaming does not work. Lesser of evils does not work. We need outside electoral strategy that champions the needs of the 108. Problem with this is we have nowhere else to go but the “ lesser”.

  • Jon
    Jon June 19, 2019 at 2:22 am

    Concerning “Now, recall the 108 million people who were eligible but not voting?” As the comment points out, part of the answer is rational cynicism. Yet to an extent they throw out the baby with the bathwater, as there are some candidates worthy of supporting. So, what we need to do is say that political decisions matter very much, as they determine war vs peace, allocation of resources to whom and for whom, how and to whom health services are provided, election laws, police accountability, prison conditions, and so much else. We need to remind people of these consequences for not voting, IF there are candidates worthy of supporting, and we need to encourage authentic servants of the people to actually run as well.
    Consider a pledge by 5 million to refuse to vote for the Biden, the male version of Hillary. The media is promoting him like they did Hillary vs Trump in 2016. Time to challenge this with numbers. Look to the current mobilizations in Hong Kong, a mere city state, with 2 MILLION in the streets! “Arise ye prisoners of starvation; arise ye wretched of the earth, for justice thunders condemnation, a better world’s in birth.” –The Internationale.

  • Carl Davidson
    Carl Davidson June 19, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    I don’t think hardly any of the non-voters with progressive-to-center views do so because they have a more advanced political outlook beyond electoral politics. I think it’s because they have been trapped into cynicism, the little cop planted between our ears that tells us two lies. One, nothing changes. Two, we have no power. In truth, everything is always changing and we have immense power if we reject atomization for solidarity. Along with white supremacy, cynicism is a major ideological device of our adversaries to hold us down.

    Moreover, while nonvoters tilt left by, say, 5 points, they have a left, center and right, the same as for voters.

    Elections have consequences, even those with only evils and lesser evils on the ballots. Unless we are on the cusp of armed insurrection for workers power, we deal with the election history has placed before us, and encourage all other progressive-minded people to engage as well. Without action and practice, we’ll not do well in gaining the clout we need to shift the balance of forces, and better choices as well. And obviously, elections are only one front of struggle, even if in our times it’s a fairly important one.

  • rick rice
    rick rice June 19, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Where is a list of all of the State Power Caucus groups? See this also https://organizingupgrade.com/power-caucus/

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