Activism is the foundation…
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” Incoming POTUS Gerald Ford, August 9, 1974 on the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Ford’s words resonate today. Our national nightmare of Donald Trump’s abuse of the American presidency is on the verge of being over. Many factors were in play regarding Trump’s defeat. I believe that the activism of the last 10-12 years played a significant role.
Karma bites him in the behind…
The major factor involved in Trump’s defeat was the large voter turnout. An estimated 160 million people voted, breaking all records. And it seems that Karma came to bite Trump in the behind. For this large turnout was driven by the pandemic that Trump ignored and even mocked.
Millions of voters voted early or by mail rather than risk exposure to the virus in crowded voting sites and long lines on election day, and the early and mail-in votes overwhelmingly favored Biden. And specifically, young people, urban and suburban women, and communities of color (Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians) are credited as having been the game changers in this election.
As an aside: Latinos and American Indians merit mention here. These two groups get a double whammy from Democrats: they are taken for granted and are blamed for not voting when Democrats lose. Both of these groups had a high turnout this election. The Biden-Harris ticket received 70% of the Latino vote (compared to Hillary Clinton’s having received 66% of the Latino vote in 2016). American Indian Reservation precincts were a big factor in the Biden-Harris victory, especially in Arizona, a normally “red” state. For example, in Tohono O’odham Nation precincts Biden-Harris received from 65% to 98% of the vote and 60-90% in Navajo Nation precincts. Hopefully, the Democrats were taking notes as they tallied the votes.
I submit that the seeds for this historically large and significant voter turnout were sown by the activism of young people, women, and communities of color over the past 15 or so years. This activism was very diverse in terms of gender, age, urban-suburban, race-ethnicity, etc. Powerful philosophical coalitions among groups that might not otherwise interact were developed.
“Tomorrow we vote” … “We vote next” …
The following sampling of popular movements laid the groundwork, at least in part, for what we witnessed on November 3. For they energized people, registered voters, and got people to vote in record numbers. Keep in mind that this is only a sampling and not a comprehensive list.
* In 2006-2007, millions of people participated in immigration rights protests. The demonstrators called for comprehensive immigration reform. There were marches throughout the U.S., including “La Gran Marcha” (“The Great March”) in Los Angeles in March, 2006, in which between 1.25 and 1.5 million people participated. In April, 2006, there were marches in 102 cities. The marches culminated on May 1 (May Day), 2006 under the theme of “A day without Immigrants.” To illustrate the country’s dependence on the labor and economic activity of immigrants, Latino immigrants across the country did not report to work nor engage in any economic activities such as shopping. The recurrent theme of these marches and demonstrations was “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”
* The demonstrations against Arizona’s “Show me your papers” law, SB 1070 and HB 2281, the law that criminalized the teaching of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District also energized people. SB 1070 sponsor Russell Pearce was also the original sponsor of the legislation to criminalize Mexican American history and ban MAS. Joe Arpaio, the racist Sheriff who was convicted of racial profiling Mexican-looking people, was a protege of Russell Pearce.
The community fought these measures and Arpaio’s racism strenuously. [My family and I were very much involved in these resistance activities.] Young people—notably the Dreamers—were at the forefront of the resistance. This activism galvanized a generation of young Latinos and Latinas to get politically involved and to run for political office.
* On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, between 3 and 5 million women participated in Women’s Marches held in cities all across the U.S. Many of the participants were young people.
The marchers were protesting anti-women or otherwise offensive statements by Trump and promoting legislation and policies regarding women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights. These marches brought together people from all parts of the country, from urban and rural areas as well from the suburbs. Likewise, the marches held in the many cities in the country brought together people from all walks of life and circumstance.
* The activism of Indigenous peoples over the last eight or so years has energized people, especially young folks. In 2012 young Navajo tribal activists defeated a Republican attempt to force the Navajo Nation to waive its water claims to the Little Colorado River. In 2014 the “Change the Name … Change the Mascot” movement emerged after young American Indian activists challenged the Washington NFL team’s trademark on the grounds that the team name is a racist term.
In 2015 Congress allowed a foreign corporation to build a copper mine in Arizona on an ancestral Apache sacred site, Oak Flat. Led by young people, over 300 tribal members and supporters occupied Oak Flat. Under the leadership of Indigenous youth, over 4,000 people representing more than 100 tribes gathered by the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota in 2016 to protest the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), which would desecrate sacred and culturally significant sites.
When Trump decreed an 85% reduction of the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, about 5,000 Navajos protested at the state capital. Bears Ears contains culturally valuable sites and is historically significant in that it was in Bears Ears that many American Indians took refuge as they escaped the genocidal “Trail of Tears.”
* In March, 2018, hundreds of thousands of students gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest gun violence. High-school students, survivors of the Feb 14 massacre in Parkland, Fla., organized the “March for our Lives,” demanding action regarding gun control. The Parkland students’ fervor spread nationally and internationally—880 marches and other events were held throughout the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., turnout was estimated to be between 1.2 and 2 million people.
The students called for universal background checks on all gun sales; raising the federal age of gun ownership and possession to 21; closing of the gun show loophole; a restoration of the 1994Federal Assault Weapons Ban; and a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines and bump stocks in the U.S. Hundreds of March for our Lives chapters have sprung up in high schools and colleges throughout the country, raising awareness about the pressing issue of gun control and registering young people to vote and urging them to vote.
* In 2019, inspired by a 16-year-old young woman, close to four million children and young people in thousands of cities and towns worldwide marched and rallied to protest government inaction on the climate crisis, the first time that young people had demonstrated to demand climate action in such numbers around the world. The United States has produced more emissions than any country since the start of the industrial age and is now repealing environmental regulations under the Trump Administration.
In New York City, close to 200,000 people marched through the streets of Lower Manhattan. They also marched, in large numbers, in Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Des Moines, San Francisco, Seattle, and Houston.
The demonstrators chanted “You had a future, and so should we,” followed by “We vote next.”
* This year, 2020, we have seen youth-led Black Lives Matter marches throughout the country. These started in 2014, protesting the killing by police of numerous Black Americans.
There have been more than 4,700 demonstrations, or an average of 140 per day, all across the U.S., since the first protests began in Minneapolis on May 26. Turnout has ranged from dozens to tens of thousands in about 2,500 small towns and large cities. Approximately 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations.
Trump and his Republican cultists were implementing harsh voter suppression measures, so the stop-police-brutality marches served a double purpose: to urge people to vote and register marchers to vote. One Voter Registration organization, HeadCount, registered 14,898 new voters in June at these marches (compared to having registered only 1,204 in June, 2016).
To be sure, the protesters described herein did not get everything they demanded or promoted. But they were eminently successful in that they brought widespread attention to their issues … they energized and enlightened people … they inspired people to get involved and stay involved in their respective communities … and most importantly, in the context of the present discussion, they registered people to vote and got people to vote. That’s how righteous movements are—they have long-range effects way after the immediate. c/s