Seed the Vote
Seed the Vote is a project of the Everyday People PAC.
Some of the individuals supporting this project (organizations listed for identification purposes only):
- Jason Negron-Gonzales
- Emily Lee, San Francisco Rising Action Fund
- Max Elbaum, Organizing Upgrade
- Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Organizing Upgrade
- Kimi Lee, Bay Rising Action
- Lara Kiswani, Arab Resource and Organizing Center
- Jill Shenker, San Francisco Rising Action Fund
- Michelle Foy, Liberation Road
- Sarah Jarmon, Liberation Road
- Lindsay Imai-Hong, parent activist
- Zachary Norris, Ella Baker Center
- Adam Gold, Center for Popular Democracy Action
- Rose Mendelsohn, Bay Resistance
More names were added by June 6 2020.
- Alex Tom, Center for Empowered Politics
- Blanca Vasquez
- Irene Rojas Carroll, Bay Rising Action
- Marcy Rein
- Maria Poblet, Bay Rising Action
- Nadia Khastagir
- Nato Green, comedian and formidable foe
- Navina Khanna, HEAL Food Alliance, Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor
- Peter Olney, Former Organizing Director of the ILWU
- Rachel Herzing, Center for Political Education
- Sammie Ablaza Wills, APIENC (API Equality-Northern California)
- Stacy Kono
- Steve Williams, LeftRoots
LeftRoots, a socialist organization, doesn’t normally get involved in campaigns.
This year is different. In the wake of a catastrophic Trump presidency, LeftRoots took a step back to review the whole picture. Several times a week the organization mobilizes its members and networks to canvass, phone bank and text bank for Biden through Seed the Vote, a volunteer-based coalition working with already-existing groups providing grassroots efforts to get out the vote.
“In this moment, defeating not just Trump, but also the forces that he represents, is our number one task,” says Milena Velis, LeftRoots’ training director. “That’s because of the real danger this white supremacist authoritarian minority that’s vying to take control of the country right now poses for our communities and for our organizing going forward.”
Campaigning for Biden has not been an easy decision. The establishment Democrat, who voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and rejects key left demands like Medicare for All, doesn’t reflect the socialist values that LeftRoots holds. “Biden is not a left-wing candidate,” Velis explains. “It requires us to both be honest and to not lose sight of our vision. We have to be talking about much bigger change than Biden’s platform policy.”
In its recently released situational objective document, LeftRoots says that left forces working to oust Trump should not “hide our politics,” nor become subsumed within the Democratic Party. Rather, the group says it “sees the defeat of Trump not as an ending, but as the launching point for new struggle.” The organization argues that “whenever possible we should be open socialists against Trump, voting for Biden, defending democracy.”
So far, the call to action appears to be working. The enthusiasm from the LeftRoots community around getting out the vote has been strong, despite the many other issues staff and volunteers juggle. “Many folks who are on the frontlines of community organizations, who are really engaged in fights against evictions, or trying to fight for labor protections for workers, at the end of the long day are getting on the phones for two hours to call someone in a swing state,” Velis says.
This year’s mission is to fill the gap in the Biden campaign’s outreach, which appears to be neglecting to reach some marginalized communities with a powerful voting pool. In activating those people who have traditionally been left out, Seed the Vote hopes to nurture and build onto its existing base of voters and volunteers, creating a movement independent of the Democratic Party that can be activated for change.
“We don’t know what the next weeks of the campaign will bring, but one thing is clear,” wrote Emily Lee of Seed the Vote and Peter Hogness of Water for Grassroots in New York in a recent Guardian op-ed. “Defeating Donald Trump is too important to leave up to the Biden campaign.”
The solution, they argue, lies in supporting established grassroots organizers who already have connections to communities that are at risk of voter suppression, or who aren’t yet registered to vote.
“In conversations with disenchanted voters, a group doing long-term organizing can have more credibility than a candidate’s campaign,” state Lee and Hogness. “They’re working in the community 12 months a year, not just appearing at election time, extracting a vote, and then vanishing.”
These on-the-ground organizations, however, don’t always have the staff or volunteer base available to run operations for a major campaign, particularly in dense urban areas. Seed the Vote draws from a national pool of volunteers, trains them on the needs of each geographic area, and deploys them to canvass or phone bank for small organizations. Often, community-based nonprofits or neighborhood groups are a way to start a conversation with potential voters who the Biden campaign may overlook, or not be culturally adept to talk to. For example, the Biden campaign didn’t ramp up efforts to target Puerto Rican voters in Florida until mid-September. Seed the Vote has been making Spanish-language calls in Florida since at least August.
In Florida, which Trump won by 112,911 votes in 2016, Seed the Vote partners with The New Florida Majority, which fights for inclusion of marginalized communities in the electoral process, and Mijente, which advocates for Latinx rights.
Florida is a vital state to watch in the upcoming election. As the third most populous state in the country, it has 29 seats in the electoral college, and has historically gone Republican.
It’s not impossible to flip. The population of people of color in Florida has grown 25% since 2010. Florida now has the third largest Latinx electorate in the country, with 3.1 million eligible to vote. But race does not always connote a political stance. As Seed the Vote states on its website, “we can expect that Trump’s campaign will aggressively pursue Latinx people and other key groups in Florida through anti-abortion and anti-socialist fearmongering.”
In Pennsylvania, Seed the Vote volunteers provide support for Pennsylvania Stands Up, an umbrella advocacy organization with nine networks statewide that supports candidates who fight for racial and social justice while battling voter suppression and working to get people to the polls.
In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by only 44,292 votes. This year, those on the ground believe the state can be flipped, but it won’t happen without a ton of work.
“When I think about the work of voter suppression, there’s a lot of work that we need to do around laws, and around really figuring out how do we change laws, how do we ensure that people show up at the voting polls, how do we ensure that people get our mail-in ballots,” she says. “All of those things we have to do, but we dually have to do the work to deal with the decolonization that exists in our minds about what our vote is, and what it can do.”
The work doesn’t stop there. Even during the pandemic, there is a call for volunteers to travel to high-density areas like Philadelphia to canvass for Biden. “Simply put, research shows us that there is no more effective way to persuade someone to vote than through a face-to-face conversation,” reads an information guide for Seed the Vote volunteers. “That is why it is critically important that you and your friends travel to Philadelphia to bring locals to these polling centers.” (The Biden campaign initially declined to do door-to-door canvassing, but recently reversed its position.)
Last but not least is Arizona, which Trump won by 91,234 votes in 2016. In this state, Seed the Vote partners with Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), which advocates for the rights of the state’s large Latinx population, and has been wildly successful.
In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, LUCHA founders Alejandra Gomez and Tomas E. Robles, Jr. state that Democrats “have long treated communities of color as instruments of someone else’s power rather than core progressives who should be instruments of their own power.” This is despite the fact that there are 1.2 million eligible Latino voters in Arizona, making them a highly impactful voter base.
In the years since its creation, LUCHA has launched a highly successful reclamation of that power. In the 2020 August primaries, 14 of the 15 legislative and county candidates LUCHA supported were victorious. In the primaries, LUCHA endorsed Sanders. The organization hasn’t openly endorsed Biden, but its work hasn’t stopped, and the mission is clear: kick Trump out of office.
For organizers who campaigned hard for Senators Sanders or Warren only to see them lose, it’s important to keep their eyes on the horizon. Change happens in increments, and this is just one step toward a more progressive nation.
“Biden is not our savior,” write Lee and Hogness. “In fact, if he wins, on many issues he may be our opponent. But defeating Trump will open possibilities for organizing that won’t exist if he remains in office.”
While existing organizations continue their legacy of voter education and empowerment, new collaborations are being born.
“Every four years there’s a chorus of voices that says ‘this is the most important election of our lifetime,’” states Maurice Moe Mitchell the national director for the Working Families Party. “This year I am one of those voices. Things are bad now, and they can get worse. But that doesn’t have to be where our story ends. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, there is much we can be hopeful and driven by.”
The Working Families Party — which identifies itself as a “progressive grassroots political party” with chapters in 15 states nationwide — is now part of a new movement christened The Frontline. Launched in September, The Frontline is a collaboration between several groups, including immigrant rights group Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project and the United We Dream Action. It’s a collaboration that centers the myriad experiences of people of color, uniting them toward one clear cause.
The movement’s goals are short and succinct: Mission one is to defeat Trump in a landslide, to make it harder for him to refuse to step down between the election and inauguration. Step two is to push candidates Biden and Kamala Harris’ policies further left.
“We must seize the opportunity in the first hundred days to lift up the demands our movements have been fighting for decades,” Frontline volunteer Cindy Wiesner recently told Green New Deal. “We have an opportunity to make the BREATHE Act real. We have the capacity to pass a Green New Deal, to continue to push for a real People’s Bailout, not a corporate bailout.”
The energy, organizers believe, is already there. The Black-led uprisings around the country in response to police violence has activated a community that is desperate for change. Black and Brown communities, meanwhile, are the ones Trump is working hardest to discredit and exclude through voter suppression and criminalization.
“Our lives and the lives of the people that we love depend on us fighting with everything we’ve got to overthrow the Trumpism, the white supremacy, the white nationalism — all the harm that is being done by this administration to our communities,” says Ash-Lee Henderson of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project. “We are committed, not to fighting for a savior on Pennsylvania Avenue, but to fighting for our next target. And we will come as hard at the new administration that we hope will follow the Trump administration as we are at Trump right now.”
Caroline Choi in Arizona
Five days before the general election, Caroline Choi and four friends drove 14 hours from Oakland, California to Phoenix to become volunteers with Seed the Vote, a project of the social justice political fund Everyday People PAC and UNITE HERE Local 11, a local labor union. Our goal? To flip Arizona blue and deliver the state’s 11 sweet electoral college votes to Joe Biden. Not only that, but we wanted to elect former astronaut Mark Kelly as senator, and pass Arizona’s Proposition 208, a tax on those making $250,000 or more that would fund education and support teachers.
After spending hours training with tireless UNITE HERE organizers, rehearsing hypothetical conversations with apathetic voters, reviewing Kelly and Biden’s political platforms, and learning the talking points for Prop 208, we promptly dispatched into Phoenix’s tidy suburbia.
On our first day, my small team and I knocked on more than 200 doors. We spent nearly eight hours that day trudging around the scorching Maricopa County neighborhoods, banging on strangers’ doors (and sometimes windows), ringing rusty doorbells, passing out flyers with Biden’s grinning face printed on them, and talking to registered voters — Democrat and Republican alike — hoping to persuade them to vote for Biden, Kelly, and Prop 208. The results were hopeful. People assured us of their plans to vote “blue,” and if they didn’t have one, we helped them determine where their nearest polling booth or ballot drop-off box was located.
For the next few days, my mornings were full of online Zoom classes broadcasted from my Harvard professors, and my afternoons full of tense conversations with young Trump supporters, questions from first-time voters, and sweat accumulated from my double layer of face mask and plastic face shield. It felt like I was living two lives: first, a state of ignorance in which business was continuing as usual, and second, the harsh reality of a battleground where a historical war for human rights was taking place.
Out of all the volunteers, I was one of the youngest. But I didn’t feel out of place. For one of the first times in my organizing career, I felt like I was truly part of a diverse coalition where I had space to work as effectively as I could. I was the only Asian face I saw in Phoenix, but it didn’t deter me. I boldly knocked on doors and rang doorbells over and over again. The mission was so much more important than my fears or my race or my gender or my age. Everyone was united under one goal: to get Trump out of the White House and, in turn, make every person’s future as bright as possible.
By Election Day, I had personally canvassed more than 100 doors in Maricopa County. Seed the Vote and UNITE HERE volunteers had knocked on more than 1 million doors. You know what happened next. Mark Kelly — and, as of the morning of November 13, Biden — won Arizona. And Prop 208 passed with a margin clearing 3%. This is a huge deal. Arizona has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996. Volunteers like me and my friends were instrumental in flipping Maricopa County, a (once) conservative area that birthed the careers of many well-known Republicans. I saw firsthand the storied coalition of children of immigrants, young people, and white allies in action.
Defeating Trump was too important to leave merely to the Biden campaign, which youth activists saw as struggling to appear modern and appeal to critical POC voters. An August survey taken by American University showed that only 47% of young Black voters in swing states had made up their minds about voting for Biden. Most polls also displayed Biden with a concerningly weak amount of support from Latinx voters before Election Day. According to a Wall Street Journal poll from August, 48% of Hispanic voters preferred Trump’s approach to the economy over Biden’s.
But with the help of activists and volunteers, Biden was able to reach around 70% of the Latinx vote in Arizona alone. Nationally, according to the Washington Post, Biden won the Latinx vote 2 to 1. Not only that, but Black voters backed Biden nationally by nearly 87%. Neither the Biden team nor Kelly’s team could have won with their work alone. Grassroots organizations like Seed the Vote stepped up to fill the gap, reaching out to bilingual voters and working-class communities. We also talked to disillusioned voters and jaded youth, convincing them to give voting another shot.
Political campaign managers don’t determine how people vote. People determine how people vote. Our work in Arizona proved that regular, everyday people can sway a national election. We know what’s good for our communities and are willing to work to achieve it, as local organizations, unions, and grassroots volunteers have more credibility and better standing than any fancy D.C. political team. This is the future of elections. This is what’s coming to Georgia for the Senate run-off elections.
Over winter break, I’ll be traveling to Georgia to canvas voters. 
The 2020 campaign
Early voting is already underway: Election Day is every day from now until Nov. 3. Seed the Vote has activists on the (virtual) ground seven days a week in swing states, and soon will add in-person crews as well. Partnering with organizations rooted in working-class communities and communities of color, Seed the Vote aims to build connections and capacities that will last past November, while pitching in on the all-important fight to defeat Trump. Its thinking is both granular and global. Coordinating Committee member Le Tim Ly:
- “There’s this question of what we do inside the empire: What is our responsibility to movements and people around the world to create the best possible conditions for our side to win? Seeing the work of defeating Trump in that context is important, to check our privileges and not let down our responsibility to the most targeted and vulnerable in our communities, to the generations who come after us and to the work that’s happening across the world to combat neoliberal fascism and support people’s struggles.”
Seed the Vote’s organizers brought with them decades of experience in weaving together electoral work and community organizing. They had helped build the San Francisco Rising Action Fund and Bay Rising Action to amplify the voices of low-income communities and communities of color in local and regional elections. By July 2019, the depth and ferocity of the Trumpist attack made national work imperative. “The crisis and the movement are colliding,” said Emily Lee, a co-founder of Seed the Vote. After many informal conversations, Lee and others who would form the core of Seed the Vote got together to discuss how they could organize around the presidential election in a way that would both fight the right and build the left.
Before they began making work plans, the core spent a few months developing the political assessment that would guide them. They shared their thinking in December 2019:
“We identified defeating Trump and the GOP in the 2020 elections as an absolutely key step in beating the racist, authoritarian right wing. In addition, we must do a set of other things to build the left: strengthen unity and ties among different social justice organizations, build the influence of left ideas and a progressive program, and increase our numbers. Positioning the social justice forces within the massive opposition to Trump, including the electoral opposition, gives us the best chance to do those things.”
Seed the Vote’s analysis puts those hardest hit by Trumpism at the core of the effort to defeat it and build the left. Overlaid on the map of battleground states, it guided the project’s engagement strategy. Under the auspices of the Everyday People PAC, Seed the Vote and its sibling organization, Generation Rising, began to make plans.
At first, Seed the Vote planned to send delegations from the Bay Area to spend two weeks in Arizona in October 2020. Volunteers would work with LUCHA, an organization galvanized in the resistance to Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant legislation, the 2010 “Show Me Your Papers” bill, SB 1070. The coordinating committee was set to go to Arizona to do more in-depth visioning and planning in mid-March. But their flight got cancelled when shelter-in-place started, and Seed the Vote had to get creative. It went virtual and expanded its reach, opening to volunteers from all over the country and adding new organizing partners.
Looking to the swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, Seed the Vote reached out to The New Florida Majority and Pennsylvania Stands Up. Not only did they share politics, but they had relationships in each group through activists who had previously worked in the Bay Area.
“Between March and June, our partner organizations were swamped with working on their primary elections, dealing with COVID, and mobilizing in response to this incredible movement moment and racial reckoning we were in as a country,” Coordinating Committee member Jill Shenker said. Seed the Vote re-tooled and held three political education sessions to pull together a first cohort of volunteers. June phone banks began with wellness checks, helping connect people with resources and with the partner organizations.
Seed the Vote brings together progressive anti-fascist, anti-Trump forces in several ways. Individuals can sign up for phone banks with partner groups. Organizations can form “branches” so people can call together and stay connected to their political home. Seed the Vote provides the scheduling, training, and infrastructure. Activists can also form “Seed Pods,” groups of family and friends who call together, with similar support.
“I started a seed pod for myself and friends mostly because I thought it would be fun to work with people I knew,” said volunteer Shunya Anding. “They were hesitant about getting into conversations and persuasion, so I’ve talked to them about it. Most of them probably wouldn’t be calling otherwise.” The pod gives a sense of camaraderie and support: members get on Zoom and call at the same time, with breaks in the middle of their stint and a debrief at the end.
Larisa Casillas is co-leading a pod with two other longtime social justice activists. “Our worlds overlap, but not so much, so we get to meet new people. It seems like a great opportunity to build community,” she said. “I’m drawn to the idea of the election as an opportunity to bring our people in, to organize folks. And by working with Seed the Vote, we’re not only calling around the elections, but also supporting the movement building that’s happening in Florida on the ground. That’s why I was attracted to it, because it felt movement-oriented.”
In August, the number of Seed the Vote volunteers and phone bank shifts more than doubled, and new cooperative and coalition efforts sprouted. Seed the Vote joined the United Against Trump coalition in a virtual rally during the Democratic Convention, and is offering opportunities to volunteer with other coalition groups. It’s coordinating with movement networks like the Center For Popular Democracy Action Fund and People’s Action on phone banks to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It co-hosted a town hall with People’s Action to lift up the “deep canvassing” that network is using successfully to reach out to conflicted voters.
All this collaboration builds the movement’s connective tissue—through relationships among people who call together, and among likeminded groups regionally and nationally. “We can move at the speed of trust,” Ly said. “That practice builds trust over time so we can grow more nimble and powerful.”
By late September, Seed the Vote had 3,500 volunteers – 700 calling Florida on one day. The group has started discussing election defense, and is collaborating with Protect the Results and The Frontline, but most of its effort is concentrated on winning the biggest victory possible Nov. 3. For the final pre-election push, the group is returning to its original vision of sending delegations out of state. It’s gathering volunteers to support canvassing in Arizona with LUCHA and UNITE-HERE Local 11, in Florida with The New Florida Majority, and in Pennsylvania with the Working Families Party. Organizers in those three states have already been door-knocking, working under COVID-safety protocols developed and reviewed by public health professionals – and nothing can replace in-person connections.
Those conversations are especially crucial for reaching people whose names don’t show up on lists because they’ve never voted. Florida has four million young people and people of color who are eligible to vote and not registered, or registered but not voting. Pennsylvania will have 17 early voting centers, where people can register and vote on the same day up to the Oct. 19 registration deadline.
Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania can each be pivotal in the presidential election, and in each one Seed the Vote partners are working on down-ballot races by candidates they believe will be reliable allies in building power. “If you can take a week off and go to one of these places, do it,” Ly urged.
Seed the Vote’s Political Education Committee has developed a series of info sessions to give volunteers a sense of the political contexts in the places they will be calling or visiting. At the September 23 session, The New Florida Majority Organizing Director Serena Perez gave a quick sketch of that state’s complex demographics and politics.
The New Florida Majority and its allies have registered tens of thousands of low-income voters and voters of color in the last several years. In 2018 they helped win passage of Amendment 4, which would have restored voting rights to 1.4 million people formerly incarcerated for felonies. The Republican legislature undermined that with a requirement that all fines and fees be paid before restoration. The U.S. Supreme Court has let this modern-day poll tax stand. Florida’s Trump-like governor, Ron DeSantis, proposes to charge many protestors with felonies; waive liability for motorists who drive into crowds in “self-defense”; and block state aid to cities that vote to defund police.
In breakout groups and then together, attendees digested this reality and discussed how the phone-banking they were doing could help to change it. Experience and ideas bubbled up. They are boosting voter turnout. Reaching people who don’t often get listened to, sharing hopes for families and communities that could be realized with people’s governance. Building solidarity across state lines. “This work that Seed the Vote is doing with our partner groups plants the seed for the kind of democracy we want to be building together,” Political Education Committee co-coordinator Jazmín Delgado said.
THE PLAN: Hundreds of Bay Area activists will travel to Arizona from October 10 – October 25, 2020. Working closely with local grassroots groups that organize in their communities year-round, we’ll knock on thousands of doors to help defeat Trump. Then we’ll bring skills and commitment back to our local movements to continue fighting for our communities. This crucial early voting time is when the majority of votes will be cast, and it can make or break the election. We will help coordinate travel, lodging and fundraising for the trip.
WHY 2 WEEKS: To make a real impact in 2020, it’s time to think big. We know from past elections that two weeks is the threshold for volunteers to get integrated into a local team, take on leadership and have meaningful conversations with many voters. We also know that 2016 was really close, 2020 is likely to be close again, and bringing 100 volunteers to knock on 130,000 doors together over 2 weeks will make a real difference. Signing up means committing to clearing your calendar and taking off work. It is a serious commitment because this is seriously urgent work. Our two weeks together can have ripple effects: we’ll help defeat Trump, deal a major blow to Trumpism, and shift the conditions for our local organizing back home.
WHY WORK WITH GRASSROOTS GROUPS: We want to both defeat Trump and build our movements for the long-haul. We will knock on doors with local groups who organize with working class communities of color year-round because they know the best strategies to win in their communities, and they will still be there continuing to build local political power after the election is over.
WHY NOW: It will take time to prepare for this trip – from fundraising to travel logistics to coordinating with partner groups on the ground in battleground states. Sign up now and talk to your friends about joining you!
WHAT YOU ARE COMMITTING TO: By signing up you are committing to clearing your schedule to join us for 2 weeks in October 2020. You are also committing to helping fundraise for your trip (we will help you!), and to attending at least 1 prep meeting in Summer 2020 before we leave.
Introduction to Seed the Vote
The Trump era has been all about the naked aggression of the far right, but cracks are appearing. Trump is battling impeachment, a result not only of his criminality but of the changes that the blue wave brought to Congress. Last month we saw further losses for the right in Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania – the result of sustained organizing by hundreds if not thousands. That work didn’t start this year; it’s the culmination of many years of work. None of this was spontaneous. When we organize, we can win. When we step up to fight, we can win.
Those are the lessons of last year, and this week – lessons that we have to apply to 2020. Seed the Vote is a project in the Bay Area attempting to create a vehicle to do just that. We want to leverage the experience, capacity, and expertise of organizers and activists in California in support of long-term organizing in our neighboring states. Our goal is not just to push Trump out of office, but to help shift the balance of power in the states where we are working in favor of communities of color, social justice organizations, and labor. We want to be tactically and politically smart, and move our politics and organizations forward.
The following political assessment was made to guide our work, but our hope is that it can spur conversation and debate for other groups that are considering similar work.
Seed the Vote: A Project to Fight the Right and Build the Left in 2020 and Beyond
Political Assessment and Strategy as of December 1, 2019
The possibility of Trump’s re-election in 2020 is a real one. And it’s one we are determined to stop. When we – a group of left activists rooted in community and labor organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area – gathered this spring, it was with the urgency that came from seeing our communities under relentless assault from a white nationalist, authoritarian administration. But we also knew that 2020 – with the size, energy, and leftward shift among the opposition to Trumpism – would give us an opportunity: if we plan carefully and think big, we can make a difference at the ballot box in 2020, the kind of difference the Left failed to make in 2016. And we thought we could do this while building a stronger and more cohesive Left.
So we launched Seed the Vote. Our practical focus is centered on bolstering 2020 electoral efforts to defeat Trump and the GOP in two key states, Nevada and Arizona. We are already building infrastructure and recruiting to (1) deploy several hundred Bay area activists to work with partnering unions and community-based organizations in Nevada and Arizona for two-week periods in October 2020; and (2) connect volunteers with remote call-in and text efforts from the Bay Area to register voters, protect voting rights and increase turnout in key constituencies in November 2020. We are also considering partnerships in more states and expanding our field work depending on capacity—this may include connecting some Bay Area folks back to their home states and/or work with college students. We launched Seed the Vote as a project of a federal PAC.
This effort is not only designed to impact the 2020 election outcome. We are including a training component to provide our volunteers with the skills and experience to lead electoral engagement work, ranging from advanced canvassers to team leaders who can train and supervise others, to campaign managers. And our program is crafted to increase the capacity and reach of partner organizations in Nevada and Arizona, as well as participating organizations in the Bay. Seed the Vote is an active investment in the long-haul work of building the independent electoral strength of social justice organizations rooted in communities of color and the working class.
Our decision to take up this practical effort is based on an assessment of the current political landscape in the country and key tasks facing left organizers and progressive groups. To develop that assessment, the Seed the Vote core organizers held a series of in-depth political discussions. The analysis below reflects our conversations. It does not reflect full consensus of the group, but rather lifts up the ideas and questions we have been in and think are important for Left organizers to wrestle with as we seek to engage in the electoral process in ways that position us for increasing strength. We intend to use this as the basis for producing powerpoints, videos, talking points and other materials to foster political and strategic discussion and development alongside training in practical skills. We will revisit and revise these ideas at various points going forward, and welcome your feedback toward that end.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Background to Trumpism’s Ascent to Power:
The outlook and narrative that Trump has used to galvanize and consolidate a racist and authoritarian bloc has deep roots in U.S. history. Its constituent elements are not brand new. But they are combined in a particular way at a historic turning point and thus constitute an extreme and unprecedented danger. Trump’s ascent builds on 45 years of backlash against the gains globally and in the US of 1960s freedom movements. But two developments in the last decade are especially important to understand how and why Trumpism rose to power: (1) the crisis of the neoliberal economic model, thrust to the fore in the 2008 financial crisis, which has meant intensifying hardship for workers, the most vulnerable and oppressed, and even large layers of the ‘middle classes’; and (2) demographic change in the US, with people of color an ever larger proportion of the population, thrust to the forefront of the country’s consciousness by the election of the first Black President. The far right seized on this combination to fan the racial anxieties, fears and prejudices of large numbers of white people and to scapegoat people of color and immigrants for all the country’s problems. It’s no wonder that Trump has aimed his especially venomous remarks at the most progressive women of color in Congress.
The Right-Wing/Trumpist Goal: A Racialized Authoritarian State:
While much of the media is focused on Trump’s Twitter outrages, an extremely dangerous agenda is being steadily implemented largely via executive branch actions – the rollback of environmental protection regulations, increased repression of immigrants, the appointment of know-nothing ideological federal judges – with a Supreme Court conservative majority ready to affirm its essential elements.
This agenda aims to establish a racialized authoritarian state. Given the unpopularity of their actual economic program and climate change denialism, and the fact that demographic changes are not working in their favor, the right sees a racist authoritarian state as necessary to implement their full program of fossil fuel-driven, no-limits capitalism and permanent U.S. global hegemony. This is not classical fascism. But it is an arrangement more like the U.S. during the height of Jim Crow or today’s Israel than the bourgeois democracy the U.S. has had since legalized discrimination was abolished in the 1960s.
Bottom line, Trumpism in power is not just a ‘more conservative’ version of business-as-usual. It is a concerted drive to drastically narrow hard-won democratic space and shift away from the gains won through mass struggle – the end of Jim Crow and racist immigration quotas; major gains for voting rights, women’s and LGBTQ rights – toward a new kind of repressive regime.
The Trump Coalition and its Glue:
Trump has captured the GOP and transformed it from a conservative party into a party driven primarily by white nationalism and authoritarianism. The new dispensation – Trumpism – has been financed and anchored by right-wing billionaires, sectors of capital rooted in the fossil fuel industry, low-end retail, and the military-industrial complex. It is also rooted in the most racist layers of white middle-class and working-class people, and those gathered in white Evangelical Churches. Openly violent white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations, previously shunned by the mainstream right-wing, have been welcomed into the fold under Trump. Trumpism deploys a massive media operation with FOX News and talk-radio at its core. Contrary to some pundits, Trumpism is not mainly a working-class bloc. The glue keeping the less-well-off sectors within the coalition is the narrative of “hard-working white America as victim of globalist elites, dark-skinned barbarians and uppity women,” resulting in the need to “take our country back” by whatever means are necessary.
Support for Trump has ranged between 38 and 42 percent. A number close to the lower end of that scale – roughly a third of U.S. adults – likely represents the hard-core pro-Trump camp. Buoyed by a strong economy, his support has not dipped far below 40 percent since mid-January 2019. The Trumpist bloc encompasses only a minority of the population. (We will discuss the larger but more heterogenous opposition to Trumpism in the next section.) But the Trumpified GOP now holds a disproportionate share of political power, having control of the presidency, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and both the legislatures and governorships in 21 states.
- White supremacy and authoritarianism are at the core of Trumpism.
- Trumpism has captured the GOP and aims for drastic narrowing of existing democratic space and long-term rule by a minority of the population in the form of a racialized authoritarian state.
Background to the Rise of the Anti-Trump Opposition:
As of fall 2019, majority sentiment in the country is opposed to Trump and a large proportion of this majority “strongly disapprove” of the President. The most energetic and committed components of that majority lie in communities of color and among young people, but opposition stretches all the way from corporate power brokers in the Democratic Party through the millions who turned out for Bernie Sanders, a re-energized women’s upsurge, environmental organizations, most of the trade union movement, and many Marxist revolutionaries. So it includes players with contradictory interests: some who oppose Trump because they view him as an unreliable guardian of U.S. global power, others who see his administration as a barrier to the big changes in US society that they believe are needed.
What events have shaped this anti-Trump majority? The crisis of neoliberalism, especially coming off the 2008 global economic crisis, changed economic and social realities and put particular stress on the working and middle classes. The bailout of the big banks – driven by the GOP but collaborated with by the Democratic leadership under a Black President – opened the door for right-wing racist populism to gain heightened initiative. The rise of a racist and authoritarian right wing in the U.S. was part of a global process, as Trumpist-like forces with ‘strongmen’ leaders gained ground or took power in numerous other countries.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Occupy and Black Lives Matter renewed energy for mass direct action. The concept of the 99% vs the 1% entered the mainstream; racist police abuse and mass incarceration became targets of large-scale protest. The Bernie Sanders insurgency in 2016 fed off this energy and convinced many people that a radical program could make an impact in the electoral arena.
When Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016, the racist right-wing momentum that had been developing under Obama now operated from a position of executive power. Accelerated attacks on Muslims, immigrants and people of color were at the center of Trump’s agenda. The Obama administration had already been upping immigration ‘enforcement’ – this intensified dramatically under Trump. Attacks on voting rights accelerated, climate denialism became official policy, a huge tax cut for the rich was pushed through Congress, the administration battered rights and protections for structurally marginalized groups, including transgender people, women, and people with disabilities. The administration created a crisis on the US/Mexico border, launched trade wars, worked to destabilize Central America and Venezuela, supported the brutal war in Yemen, and gave Israel a green light to further entrench apartheid. All this fueled opposition from Election Day through Trump’s inauguration and into his presidency.
A Broad but Politically Diverse Opposition, and Tensions Within It.
Since 2016, a growing number of people have thrown themselves into efforts to defeat Trumpism by advocating a broadly left politics. What does this opposition look like?
Social justice efforts have been able to activate significant mass actions in opposition to Trump and right-wing policies, from the Women’s March to airport protests to the more recent teacher strikes. Mass mobilization played a particularly important role through 2018, in stalling or rolling back many of Trump’s assaults on communities of color and democratic rights. Alongside the energy in the streets, progressive institutions have gotten renewed energy.
There has been an increase in the number of previously existing community-based organizations working against Trumpism. This has taken place among c3s, but has also led to the formation of new c4 and PAC organizations, particularly focusing on women and people of color. There’s also been an uptick in the number of people volunteering with or joining those organizations.
The Our Revolution organization developed out of Bernie Sanders’ campaign and works nationwide. Bernie’s 2016 campaign also spurred a large number of people (especially young people) to identify as socialists, with DSA going from about 5,000 to more than 50,000 members in three years.
The resistance has also opened up new possibilities in the electoral arena. A major development since 2016 has been the surge of new people running for office on progressive and left platforms at every level. Many have won races at state and local levels and the 2018 electoral victories of several radical women of color – the Squad – has changed the dynamics on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party, and also affected the strategic thinking of many on the left.
The Democrats who recaptured the House Majority after the 2018 midterms are made up of candidates of various political views. There was a noteworthy increase in left candidates, especially women of color; women candidates flipped 2/3 of the districts won by Dems. Another sign of progressive momentum was the increase in voter turnout (almost 47% compared to 37% in 2014) for midterms, some of which was catalyzed by mobilization strategies that engaged left grassroots organizations (e.g. Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida).
But it is not only the left/progressive wing of the opposition that has scored gains. Many victories were in suburban, largely white districts, where “moderate” Democrats replaced Republican conservatives.
Since the mid-terms there has been a complicated relationship between the progressive Democratic electeds and the establishment moderates. There has been tension and public confrontations, as well as periods of expressed ‘truce’ and unity. Differences are out in the open – and sometimes very heated – over the Green New Deal, health care policy, foreign policy (regarding Palestine-Israel in particular) and many other issues.
Overall, the progressive/left forces are growing, but remain weaker, less coherent and much poorer than the Democratic Party establishment and ‘mainstream’ moderate/liberal organizations, think tanks and media. The social justice sector still lacks sufficient durable infrastructure and vehicles to shift power. We have the raw numbers but lack a centrifuge to draw and keep those numbers together and leverage them.
Vulnerabilities and Challenges
The anti-Trump opposition faces numerous obstacles in terms of reaching sufficient scale and power to change the direction of the country.
While the Democrats won necessary seats in 2018 midterms to take a majority of the House, they are still far behind the power they held during the Obama administration. Majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the presidency (as well as grassroots pressure) is needed to pass meaningful legislation. Even then, conservative control of the Supreme Court presents a danger to many pieces of legislation regarded as key by the anti-Trump opposition.
The opposition also confronts a government willing to incite violence and resort to suppression in order to maintain its grip on power.
The 2020 election cycle may be the most violent in living memory for an entire generation of young organizers. We will likely see increasing violence by both state and non-state actors primarily aimed at targets of white nationalism but also anyone opposed to Trump.
Trump’s moves to establish a racial authoritarian state affects both our electoral efforts and our organizing campaigns more generally. The criminalization of opposition is an obvious danger given both Trump’s tweet threats and his policies: alleged “Black Identity Extremists” (a kind of labeling started under Obama), Trump’s call to label Antifa as terrorist group. And voter suppression is a HUGE threat: Black voters will be especially important to turn out in 2020. Some estimates suggest Black voters will account for fully one-quarter of all votes cast in the presidential primaries. Latinx and API voters have been among the groups showing the biggest jumps in turnout for the 2018 midterms. At the same time, voter suppression is at levels as high as it’s ever been with people of color and Indigenous people being the most directly targeted by formal measures such as voter ID laws, voter roll purges, poll taxes, and gerrymandering and extra-statist activities including intimidation, violence and misinformation campaigns. Attacks on Latinx communities (violence, raids, etc.) have created conditions in which we’re hearing more and more stories about Latinx people being fearful to stray too far from home.
Then there are specific challenges facing the social justice wing of the opposition:
The Democratic establishment makes consistent efforts to squelch progressive electoral insurgencies, for example proposing bans on consultants who work with radicals challenging incumbents in the primaries. And the ‘moderate’ forces use their command of the media to undermine or even smear left candidates and grassroots non-electoral organizations. This poses a challenge for navigating ‘unity and struggle’ within the anti-Trump movement: If the Left cannot abandon electoral politics as a terrain of struggle, then how is the Left developing enough independent initiative so we are not merely asking people to select the lesser of evils? This is especially important for those of us who believe power depends upon mass action, and grassroots pressure, not just electoral activity. After 2018, we’ve seen a decline in the frequency and size of mass mobilizations. This is due to a number of reasons, but it also has proven difficult to sustain large-scale mass actions as energy goes more and more into electoral battles.
- The majority of the country is opposed to Trumpism, but this opposition is much more heterogeneous sociologically and politically than the Trumpist bloc. This reality poses big challenges to a Left that is challenged to both build and maintain the broad unity necessary to defeat the Trumpist-GOP in the 2020 election AND build the independent strength of the social justice forces.
- The influence of progressive ideas and the reach of organizations espousing a social justice agenda have grown substantially since 2016, but a realistic assessment of the balance of forces tells us that the progressives remain fragmented in many ways and, even if we were more united, remain weaker and far less resourced than the long-established centrist and corporate forces in the opposition to Trump and, specifically, within the Democratic Party.
BEYOND NOVEMBER 2020
The Trumpist right will not disappear even if Trump and the GOP are beaten in a landslide in November 2020. A hard core base of tens of millions of people have been won to a Fox News version of reality that sees white Christian America (“civilization itself”) as being threatened with extinction by those opposed to Donald Trump and mandates the defense of the “American way of life” by any means necessary. Therefore the fight against Trumpism will continue and could even become more intense.
But the forms that fight takes; the relationship between it and the battle between progressives, centrists and corporate forces in the anti-Trump coalition in general and the Democratic Party in particular; the relationship between electoral and non-electoral engagement, and much else depends on (1) the outcome of the 2020 balloting, not just for the presidency, but for the Senate, the House, Governorships, State Legislatures and numerous local offices; and (2) how much progress has been made in building the left. Therefore we anticipate the need for a re-assessment and new planning effort immediately after the balloting. We look forward to joining with others in that process as well as in the practical organizing efforts that will follow the November 2020 election.