In the first week of December, I was at work meeting that featured presentations from two organizations down similar work in what progressives often think of as lost-cause states—Louisiana and Indiana. Both campaigns actually involved passing some form of transit tax that would either prevent the loss of a transit system all together (Baton Rouge) or raise it to a level of functionality that would actually let people get to their jobs on time without spending three hours on their commute each way (Indianapolis).
Both areas had tried and failed to do the same thing multiple times before. And in both cases, it was primarily turnout operations among Black voters and pro-transit constituencies that saved the day. Sound familiar to a certain recent special Senate election?
Shoshanna Spector is lead organizer for Faith in Indiana, previously known as IndyCAN, or the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network. The organizing group just expanded beyond the city because they feel like they have a shot at tipping statewide elections. Spector had some very practical, on-the-ground recommendations for organizing in our current environment.
First, she said, you cannot ignore racial politics. Not with the dog whistles coming down into the audible range on the racist side. It has to be addressed directly. This doesn’t mean it has to be the only topic, or that you can get away without making your case to voters of all races, but it cannot be ignored or “color-blinded” away. In the transit campaign, IndyCAN put “race at the center,” she said. Spector’s recommendation involved leading with values (e.g., we believe in an Indianapolis that works for all, and supporting workers trying to get to their jobs, etc), then calling out the racist arguments being made directly, and then returning to the inclusive values.
Second, she observed that turnout is essential. Old-fashioned door-to-door, working the lists, knowing your voters turnout, based on a foundation of base-building organizing. It’s so much easier to get a voter to the polls when you have sat in their living room in the years before, listening and acting on what you hear, not just asking for support.
And when it comes to bigger races, if you have neither an opponent who wants to return to slavery and molest teenagers (which hopefully we can’t count on being that common) nor a really exciting progressive candidate at the top of the ticket (which we REALLY need to work on having more of), solid local campaigns that really matter in people’s lives—transit expansion, an affordable housing bond, kicking out a racist sheriff or prosecutor, preventing an anti-immigrant city council majority (hi Troy! Nice work!)—make it much easier to inspire people to get to the polls.
Now, about that being able and allowed to get to the polls part. . . It’s amazing to see mainstream recognition of the power of Black voters in the Alabama Senate race. But, as so many Black people have said in response, thanks is not enough. (Also they didn’t do it for you, no matter how grateful you are.) The additional sobering point I have to add to that is if we thought that race-based voter suppression, disenfranchisement through mass incarceration, and gerrymandering were top priorities of the Republican Party before, this show of power (even if it was a nail biter) is only going to step that up.
If you are relieved that Roy Moore is not about to ride into Washington on his long-suffering horse, then you cannot leave Black Americans of Alabama (or the rest of the country) to face the next onslaught of attacks—on their voting rights and on their humanity and dignity—alone. If you want to say a non-meaningless thank you, considering pouring as much money into these organizations that are fighting to fix the balance of power as you gave to the ACLU after the first travel ban fight.
And let’s all also exercise our eye-rolling muscles for when mainstream Democrats want to still want to define “electable” as “white.”