Optimism in the Face of Voter Suppression

New Orleans     It is impossible to deny that there is a huge, concerted effort to suppress voters in the ostensibly democratic process of elections in the United States.  Voter identification laws have proliferated more widely than fetal heartbeat bills.

The blatantly racist and partisan effort to embed a citizenship question into the 2020 Census, now pending before the Supreme Court, has now been complicated by from-the-grave revelations.  Making a lie of the Commerce Department’s claim that they needed a question on citizenship status for voters rights enforcement, documents, from the files of the late architect of the plan, show that their gerrymandering expert (Thomas Hofeller, whose role the Trump administration did not disclose to the courts) wrote a 2015 study saying his scheme (to use voting-age citizens for redistricting rather than total population) would require a “radical redrawing” of legislative districts that would “be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” This “would clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats,” he wrote, packing Democratic voters into fewer districts and “strengthening the adjoining GOP districts.”

Nonetheless, talking to Joshua Douglas, Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law on Wade’s World, gave current events a different twist.  In these darkening storm clouds for democracy, he found reasons for optimism by looking away from the national scene and examining some inspirational examples of local efforts at reform that have gained some hard-won traction.  Among the points of light cited by Douglas:

  • He likes the experiments in Maryland suburbs with lowering the voting age to 16 years.
  • He is bullish on the ability of felons to finally have the vote in Florida thanks to the overwhelming approval of the electorate and worries less about the legislature’s efforts to continue to disenfranchise them by adding a “poll tax” of fine repayment before balloting.
  • He likes registration from taco trucks in Houston, and of course, what’s not to like when you combine tacos and voting!
  • He’s big on the State of Oregon using the “nudge” philosophy and allowing voters to automatically register to vote unless they expressly opt-out as voters, rather than asking them to opt-in.
  • He’s encouraged by the Larimar County, Colorado initiative in creating “voting centers” central location in order to make voting as “easy as food shopping.”

Douglas is the half-full guy you hope to meet in a mostly empty glass world.  Who can argue with these big, thumping heartbeats of hope in communities around America that Douglas explicates in his book, Vote for Us:  How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting?   

Not me!

Inherent in his message:  go and do likewise!

Good luck with that!


Our Wisconsin Revolution is a Different Twist with a Great Future

Madison       Frankly, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s successor organization, Our Revolution, has been confusing to me.  In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, its maiden voyage seemed covered with the controversy of staff hiring and firing with counterclaims roiling the organization over who and what was best able to carry forward the Sanders’ vision and program.  My conversations with Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), convinced me that his steady hand as chair of the outfit could make it interesting to watch.

The major asset of Our Revolution was the huge small donor list that had fueled the Sanders campaign sufficiently to challenge Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination in 2016, almost to the final weeks before her ascendancy.  Our Revolution was going to endorse a group of candidates at different levels who had either been Sanders supporters and sometimes renegades with the Democratic Party’s Clinton consensus as well as others who seemed to share the vision.  Some won.  Some lost.

Many of the other headlines around the Our Revolution program seemed to be focusing on internal fights within the Democratic Party over control and leadership positions in various states.  That strategy was confusing to me.  It seemed a fight over an empty suit that no one really wanted to wear or would look good in, particularly in the short term and without a campaign finance report.

Talking to people in Wisconsin, there seems to be something very different happening here with Our Wisconsin Revolution (OWR).   They are a separate membership organization with a c3 and c4 that is one of the very few state offshoots of the national formation.  Another fledgling effort is in Texas where Local 100 United Labor Unions has bumped into them several times.  From what I gathered, they did get the names of Wisconsin donors at their founding, but rather than assuming this could be a cash cow, they used it as an organizing tool to hold public meetings to organize OWR throughout the state.  Talking to my longtime comrade and friend, Joel Rogers, University of Wisconsin professor, who is also the OWR treasurer, he participated in a 28-city barnstorming tour in 2017 to help build the organization.  Now that’s real grassroots organizing!

The OWR program is clear from their website.  They are decidedly NOT interested in taking over the internal workings of the Democratic Party, though in terms of political and ballot activity they are promoting and endorsing candidates who are Democrats.  They are transparent and detailed in their political program and their openness with their members and the public.  They have a leadership structure that includes representatives from every one of the state’s Congressional districts.

It’s an all-volunteer army, as so many of the most important base-building developments around the country are now, but it has big time ambitions.  Obviously, the organization is just in its early days, so no one can guarantee its future, but this is an organization that clearly is being tailored for a different kind of outfit.  This is a potential statewide party in the making.