Democracy Alliance President
The Presidential polls have tightened alarmingly. Complacency is always a dangerous stance, no matter what the odds, but is absolutely unacceptable and unwarranted now and for the next 42 days.
There is one sure path to a progressive victory in the 2016 election, and that is to excite, mobilize, and turn out at the polls the communities of what have been called the “new American majority” – African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Islanders and other communities of color, young people and women, as well as progressive white voters. This case has been most powerfully made by author and analyst Steve Phillips in this year’s key political book, Brown is the New White.
Donald Trump is getting trounced in these communities, and his numbers are unlikely to improve, since racism, xenophobia and misogyny are not incidental to his candidacy, but its essential fuel. Whoever wins this election, we will be living with the mainstreaming of bigotry, and its consequences for our politics and the safety of many communities, for some time to come.
Some polls find Trump’s support at no more than 17% of Latinos and 20% of millennials, a yawning gender gap, and a standing in the African-American community barely higher than cancer. So why is he in striking distance of the Presidency? Surely there aren’t enough angry white men to propel him to the Oval Office?
There aren’t – but with a big if: The progressive base needs to show up at the polls. When we do that – as in the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 – we win, sometimes comfortably. When we don’t – as in most midterm elections, when voters aren’t paying as much attention, and God forbid this November – we lose.
“There are places ready for investment that are moving funds to leaders and organizations in the very communities most essential to victory in November, all of them focused like a laser beam on the most critical states.”
In recent days, there have been some distressing signs, both with respect to voter sentiment and donor behavior. Enthusiasm about the election is reportedly down among African-American voters – causing the President at last weekend’s Congressional Black Caucus dinner to give a powerful exhortation to turn out to protect his legacy – and millennials, significant numbers of whom are flirting with votes for third party fringe candidates. The response of Presidential candidates to the latest wave of killings in Tulsa and Charlotte will play an important role here. Latino civic engagement groups – including the Democracy Alliance’s own Latino Engagement Fund – are running behind previous years’ fundraising levels, when we are facing a candidate who wants to deport 11 million people and wall off Mexico. Something has to change, and soon.
Fortunately, there are places ready for investment that are moving funds to leaders and organizations in the very communities most essential to victory in November, all of them focused like a laser beam on the most critical states:
- The Black Civic Engagement Fund and Black Civic Engagement Action Fund are working in seven states – Florida, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, California, Ohio and Virginia – where the Black vote has the power to shape elections up and down the ballot. But more importantly, the frontline groups they support are thinking beyond November 8 – building long-term political infrastructure that will win progressive policy reforms for the Black community and the broader country. Our most immediate opportunities include Florida, to fund a massive canvass program, where New Florida Majority has developed a strategic messaging plan to increase turnout and deepen capacity. In North Carolina, grantee Blueprint NC has a plan for a sorely needed voter education program focused on the state’s new Voter ID rules, targeting African-American radio stations at key points in the remaining weeks before election day. Plans in both states will require additional funding to execute.
- The Youth Engagement Fund and Youth Engagement Action Fund are using fresh data-driven insights to target late money to the top 10 states and 50 congressional districts where young people, the most progressive voting bloc in the country, are poised to have a disproportionately high electoral impact this November. Grantees like New Era Colorado are combining robust field campaigns with innovative digital content like this extraordinary video targeting young people. Every dollar raised between now and the election could make the decisive difference in relatively lower population states like Nevada, Pennsylvania or New Hampshire with high concentrations of students.
- The Latino vote is critical to progressive victories at the state and federal level. The Latino Engagement Fund and Latino Engagement Action Fund invest resources to build and leverage a strong and interconnected Latino civic engagement infrastructure in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Arizona. The funds also provide grantees and allies with groundbreaking research and tools needed to authentically mobilize Latinos in caucuses, elections, and issue advocacy campaigns. The funds expand outreach to the multi-million dollar efforts on the independent expenditure side to align progressive strategy and spending in Latino communities in exponentially powerful efforts.
- The State Engagement Initiative is powering a multi-year effort aimed at taking back power in the states and positioning progressives well for critical redistricting soon after the 2020 elections. In pivotal Florida, for instance, SEI’splan focuses on taking advantage of the successful court battle over Fair Districts. Central to the work is winning a majority in the state senate, for the first time since 1992. By doing so, Florida is positioned to elect the first African-American Senate President in state history. Four of the six state senate targets are majority NAM districts.
Going forward, the DA’s New American Majority Fund will also build out strategies for growing the independent political power of women and other key NAM constituencies, like Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and LGBTQ voters. But in the near-term, there are excellent organizations on the DA’s larger Progressive Infrastructure Map that are doing important work to build the power of these constituencies, including the LGBTQ Task Force, Freedom for All Americans, AAPI Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and The Voter Participation Center.
“It’s not just about Washington, though we need to turn out every stop to retake the Senate, and close the gap in the House. It’s about pushing for deeper gains.”
We have just a matter of weeks to get this right.
It’s not just about winning the Presidency, as fundamental as that is for the Supreme Court, abortion rights, the Affordable Care Act, climate change and every other single thing we care about. It is also about what kind of country we are. In a few short months, we have moved from concern about racially coded “dog whistles” to the resurgence of open white supremacy.
It’s not just about Washington, though we need to turn out every stop to retake the Senate, and close the gap in the House. It’s about pushing for deeper gains in the states where the right has been steadily active and gained alarming ground in recent years. It’s about making sure that elected prosecutors are held accountable, and foster reductions, not increases, in law enforcement abuses and mass incarceration.
It’s not just about the current, crucial election cycle, but whether progressives will stick with data-driven strategies and put the necessary investments behind them. This is common sense. As Stacey Abrams, the minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, says, “We spend a lot of money, and a lot of time, trying to persuade atheists to become Catholics. What we have to do is get Baptists to go to church.”
Not only do we too often run around trying to “convert atheists,” but too often older white male progressives have taken communities of color, women and young people for granted, swooping in as elections near, when what is needed is year-on-year, cycle on cycle investments in leadership and infrastructure in these bulwarks of the progressive base. As Van Jones told the spring DA conference, patience in the Black community – and the same could be said for other New American Majority communities – is wearing thin.
There are hopeful signs that investment trends are beginning to turn around, in the nature of the work that the NAM funds are supporting (year-round infrastructure building in Black, Millennial, and Latino communities, not simply voter registration/get out the vote drives); in responses that some of the DA funds have received from donors in the last few weeks; and in the efforts of some DA Partners to push for more “reflective democracy,”calling on party and campaign committees to commit to greater diversity in staffing, consultants, candidates, and assuring accountability though report cards on key Senate campaigns and electoral committees.
This could be the year that a bigot is decisively defeated, and his repudiation dealt by the very communities he consistently attacked. But only if we step up and make our own critical investments in the New American Majority.