Stop Trump from Stealing the Election: An Activist’s Checklist for Winning the Election

Beating Trump in 2020 is going to take a massive organizing effort. This is not an ordinary election. According to reporter Greg Palast, Republicans are trying to steal the election. They are implementing a slew of voter suppression strategies. That is, they are trying to prevent people likely to vote for Biden, people of color and young people, from voting. In addition, they are working to make sure Democratic votes are undercounted. For example, in a recent court ruling, a federal judge stated Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was engaging in “an intentional effort on the part of the current Administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state, and federal elections.” In the swing states, the Republicans only need to suppress a small percentage of votes to win the election. 

Below are the steps progressive activists need to take to beat Trump and the Republicans. 

1. We vote. We win! 

The good news is if America’s multiracial working class turns out, Democrats can win a “blue wave” victory overwhelming Republican voter suppression. Unmarried women, Millennials (ages 18-34), African Americans, Latinos, and all other people of color make up 60% of eligible voters. According to a study done by the Poor People’s Campaign, in the 2016 presidential election, if low-income people voted at an equal rate as high-income people, they could have changed the electoral outcome in 15 states. If we organize, we win!

2. Voting is Power. Overcome Pessimism.

Some disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters are reluctant to support Biden because he is a Corporate Democrat. But, this election is not about Biden. The primary goal is to end the Trump presidency. Progressives are fighting to set the political agenda for the next four years. Do we want to fight a defensive battle against an authoritarian White supremacist or push Biden for an antiracist justice system, a Green New Deal, and Medicare for All? We can at least expect a Biden presidency to respect science and better manage the pandemic and its economic consequences. This will save hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of lives and jobs, not just in the U.S. but globally.

3. Everyone Must Verify That They Are Registered to Vote. 

Between 2016 and 2018, 17 million people were purged from the voter rolls. The excuse Republicans give for the voter purges is that they are eliminating people who have moved out of voting districts in order to prevent people from voting twice. However, the allegation of double voting is a fraud. Double voting is extremely rare. In addition, the purges have been wildly inaccurate.  Not surprisingly, people of color and young people have been removed at disproportionately greater rates. Civic organizations, churches, and families must organize voters to check their voter registrations. Organizers can check voter registrations through websites such as People’s Power Grab

4. Educate People About “New Jim Crow” Voting Rules

Every state has its own rules about how to vote. Slate Magazine has created a guide summarizing the voting rules in every state.  A detailed description of each state’s election rules can be found on the websites of Election Protection 866-Our-VoteVote411, and Vote.org. Republican-dominated states have passed “New Jim Crow” laws which limit the voting power of people of color and young people. In the Old Jim Crow, racist politicians prevented Black people from voting with poll taxes, bogus literacy tests, and violent intimidation. In the New Jim Crow, the Republicans use new strategies to limit voting. For example, voter ID laws create a discriminatory hurdle for voting. Low-income and young voters are less likely to have a driver’s license. Election officials have limited polling places and voting times making it more difficult for likely Democratic voters to vote. In the Wisconsin April 2020 primary, only 5 out of 180 polling places in Milwaukee were open.  

Activist groups need to educate voters about the rules. It is easy to get frustrated by the rigged system. But to win, progressive voters need to know the rules, play the game, and insist on voting. We must persevere to win. 

5. Make Sure Vote-By-Mail Ballots Are Counted

Due to COVID-19, many people are going to vote by mail in the 2020 election. The Republicans are going to have an army of volunteers ready to challenge the mail-in ballots. Voting by mail is a multistep process. If a voter makes one mistake, their vote can be tossed out or “spoiled.” Common mistakes include: not using a black or blue pen or lead pencil to complete form, putting a checkmark instead of filling in a bubble, not signing your name the same way it is listed on the voter registration, not including a witness signature, not putting the ballot in an inter envelope (the secrecy envelope) before putting it in the outer envelope,  not putting a stamp on the envelope, and not mailing the ballot in time for it to be counted. This is a link to a video on “How to Properly Fill Out an Absentee Ballot in Louisiana.” I counted 18 steps in the directions.  First-time mail-in voters are more likely to make mistakes. To make things even more difficult, the process for requesting and completing a mail-in ballot is different in each state. In addition, there is already evidence that Black voters’ mail-in ballots are rejected more often than White voters’. Moreover, given the Republican effort to sabotage the post office, voters should consider dropping their mail-in ballots off at designated ballot drop boxes. Civic groups, churches, families must educate each other on how to complete the mail-in ballots correctly. Voting cannot be a private affair. We all need to educate each other. 

6. Vote Early

Whether by mail or in person, the progressive working class needs to vote early. Request your mail-in ballot now. It is likely, in areas with a high number of Democratic voters, Republicans will try a variety of voter suppression tactics including limiting voting locations, voter intimidation, and stricter enforcement of voter exclusion laws such as voter ID laws. Voting early will allow Democrats to make sure their votes count. If there is an attempt to suppress votes, voting early gives activists time to organize to stop the suppression and defend every vote. 

If you vote in person, it is good practice to print a sample ballot from your state’s website, complete it, and bring it with you when you go vote. 

7. Be Prepared to Fight for the Right to Vote: Bring Valid ID to Vote.

Some voters may get to the polling place and have difficulty voting. They may have been purged from the voter list. A Republican operative may “challenge” their right to vote. 

Voters must be ready to fight for their right to vote. Voters voting in person must bring valid ID and proof of residency to the polling place in some states to vote. Know what counts as a valid ID in your state. Insist on voting. If your vote is challenged, demand that a poll judge review your case immediately. Only accept a provisional ballot if you have no other alternative. Provisional ballots are sometimes not counted. But, completing a provisional ballot is better than not voting! If you are given a provisional ballot, follow up to make sure your vote is counted. If you have any problem voting, contact Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Reporter Greg Palast and Robert Kennedy Jr. have written a free comic book entitled “Steal Back Your Vote” detailing how people can protect their right to vote.  

Like all citizens, homeless people and people in transition have a right to vote. However, they face additional barriers to voting. The National Coalition for the Homeless has organized the “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” campaign “to promote voting access for low income and homeless persons.” They have published a “Homeless and Low Income Voter Rights Manual” which organizers can download on their website. 

8. Become a Poll Worker or a Nonpartisan Election Protection Volunteer

Traditionally, people who run voting sites tend to be older. However, with COVID-19 many of the older polling place workers are choosing not to volunteer this year. A lack of poll workers could suppress the vote of people of color. Basketball star LeBron James and a collective of other professional athletes and entertainers have formed “More Than a Vote” to fight voter suppression. They are calling on people to sign up to be poll workers. People can sign up to be a poll worker through the More Than a Vote website.    

Citizens also need to volunteer to monitor polling places, monitor social media disinformation, and observe the vote count. People can volunteer to be nonpartisan election protection volunteers at https://protectthevote.net/.

9. Get Involved in Registering People to Vote and Campaigning

There are many ways to get involved. Some nonpartisan groups are focused on voter registration and getting out the vote. These include the Poor People’s Campaign and Black Voters Matter. All voter registration done by nonprofit groups must be nonpartisan. That is, the nonprofit group cannot advocate for a particular party or candidate. 

Progressives in swing states can get involved in local progressive groups and local political campaigns. Turning out the vote for local campaigns will influence the presidential race. For example, Reclaim Philadelphia is campaigning for local city candidates.  You can also get involved in congressional campaigns for candidates such as Rashida Talib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. National organizations are phone and text banking into swing states. Some organizations you can volunteer for include People’s ActionOur RevolutionWorking Families PartyRoots Action, and United Against Trump

10. Protest Voter Suppression, Defend Democracy

Progressives need to protest voter suppression in the run-up to the election. We need to alert people to this threat to democracy. Mass protests communicate that we are going to defend our democracy together and motivates people to vote.  

Also, the progressive majority needs to be ready to revolt in the aftermath of the election. We must stop Trump from stealing the election. We cannot allow another judicial coup like 2000 in which the Supreme Court prevented a full count of the votes in Florida and ordained Bush the President. Famed activist scholars Francis Fox Piven and Deepak Bhargava argue we need to be prepared to engage in sustained nonviolent protests making the country ungovernable. We must defend our democracy.  

Looking Back at the Primaries

What is the legacy of the Sanders insurgency? What is the state of left organization? Are we closer to a proto-workers party?

JWL: The Sanders campaign accomplished two historical achievements that progressive activists can build on going forward. First, the campaign united millions of mostly working-class Americans behind a progressive universalist political vision. Second, the campaign organized these working people to implement a concrete political strategy to compete for power with the capitalist ruling class.  By raising several hundred million dollars from small-dollar donations and organizing millions of working people, the campaign created the organizational capacity of working people to possibly elect a government that actually governs in their interest. The two-party political system in which the moneyed elite dominate both parties has a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic which limits the realm of political possibility in the U.S. The Sanders campaign developed an independent working-class organization within this two-party system that appeared to be building a viable strategy to break the capitalist lock on political power.  This surge in working-class organizational capacity frightened both the Democratic Party elites and the corporate media as seen by the hysterical reaction following Sanders’ win in Nevada.

The goal of socialists is to create the institutional capacity of the “99%” to act in unison for a politics based in universal solidarity. That is traditionally done in a political party but the two-party system in the U.S. has successfully prevented a mass working-class party from organizing in the U.S.  Moreover, capitalism institutionalizes many forms of oppression to divide and conquer the majority.  As a result of this dynamic of being locked out of party politics and the multiplicity of capitalist oppressions, the Left in the U.S. is traditionally fragmented, organized into relatively small issue-oriented pressure groups that occasionally work together in coalitions. In five years, the Sanders movement changed the realm of possibility in the U.S. moving towards creating a politics based in universal solidarity.  Universalist policies such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and cradle-to-grave free education are now endorsed by strong majorities in the Democratic Party.

The Sanders campaign fell short of the Democratic Party nomination because many people concluded that Bernie Sanders was not “electable.”  In essence, this group decided that the movement behind Bernie was not powerful enough to break with the corporate wing of the Democratic Party and still beat Donald Trump.  To project that type of power, the movement needs to make the organizing and fundraising that occurred in the Sanders campaign permanent. That is, we need a national proto party which can work inside and outside the Democratic Party on both the street and in party politics in order to build the unified working-class super-majority with the capacity to take power.  Moreover, the movement needs to develop an institutional democratic process and commitment to work through the real differences within our movement. The success of the Sanders campaign and the quick growth of organizations such as Democratic Socialists of America and Our Revolution suggests this strategy is viable.

2. One of the remarkable achievements of the Sanders campaign was the building–at least for the primary campaign purposes–of a truly diverse, rainbow-like, working-class coalition that included the black left, community-based Latinx organizations, several union leaders, etc. Many groups traditionally identified with “identity politics” came on board. For moments, it seemed prefigurative of a diverse, multiracial, working-class party. Of course, there is a long road to be traveled here but what would need to happen to bring these forces together beyond a primary campaign? What kind of dialogue is needed among these groups to develop a minimum program and even a shared narrative?

JWL: Capitalism has organized the entire global political economy around the short-term profits of very few elites. These profits are based upon the exploitation, dispossession, and exclusion of a vast majority of humanity. How does the small minority of ultrarich maintain its power? They have monopolized control of the capacity to organize mass organizations for governance and violence (states) and production (corporations). In addition, through a laundry list of strategies, they divide and conquer the majority. For example, there is a long history of imperialist powers recruiting the poor of one region into armies to go conquer the poor in another region and in the context of war many of the soldiers adopt the perspective of the oppressor.

There is also a long history of ordinary people organizing diverse coalitions to win liberating demands. U.S. history is full of examples of different movements (e.g., labor, civil rights, gay rights, antiwar, etc.) working together and inspiring each other to expand the realm of freedom and democracy. The link between these movements was often socialist or anarchist groups.

The Sanders campaign demonstrates that working people can come together around a platform based on universalist values that address both generalized (e.g., global warming, nuclear war, labor exploitation) and specific (environmental racism in a specific locality) manifestations of capitalist oppression. The campaign had a clear narrative of us versus the capitalist oligarchs. Over ten million people donated money, organized, and voted for the purpose of electing Sanders. Can the next step be taken to turn a political campaign into a permanent organizing effort? I do not know but that needs to be our goal. A functioning mass proto-party which can organize inside and outside the Democratic Party, grounded in grassroots activist organizations would go a long way towards inspiring worker solidarity and confidence. Organizations such as Our Revolution and Democratic Socialist of America are making efforts to that end, but their membership make up a small percentage of the progressive working class. 

There are real differences on the Left regarding vision, strategy, and tactics. The movement needs an institutional home to create a democratic forum to work through these differences. Moreover, a lot of work needs to be done to create a democratic theory and practice to doing democracy to scale. Movement democracy in which a lot of little groups periodically cooperate does not create the unity necessary to inspire working-class collective confidence to take action to displace the capitalists from power. On the other hand, the Left also has a tradition of organizing large scale bureaucratic institutions that devolve into totalitarianism. The working class needs an institutional home in which it can consciously work to create a mass inclusive democratic process and act in solidarity. The proto-party needs to consciously create an inclusive process in which the most disenfranchised take leading roles in decision-making. The Sanders campaign suggest such an institution is possible.

3. As we consider the trajectory of the campaign, especially the confused conversation about alleged “moderates” and/or “centrists,” what will a future left formation have to do to bring in the upper strata of the working class? I am thinking especially about suburban white women, the more progressive of whom seem to have been decisive, with African American middle class-led organizations, in turning the tide against Sanders and for Biden.

JWL: A functional mass proto-party could potentially change the distribution of power in the U.S. which would change people’s assessment of what is possible. If working people can run many viable electoral campaigns without the support of capitalists, working people will be less fearful of alienating the corporate elite of the Democratic Party. For example, if we elected ten or twenty more outspoken young progressive women of color in the Congress like the Squad, Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal will seem more possible. If a proto-party could back up a strike against a large corporation like Walmart with an effective boycott, it will change working people’s sense of their own power. In addition, a national institutionalized democratic forum in the context of the proto-party could facilitate cross-class multiracial dialogs about issues hopeful developing a consensus not only about demands but strategy and tactics.

4. The easy question: What is the road forward? (I am looking for some granularity here, particularly about organizing and political formations – to surface the premise – the road forward for leftists who wish to build on the achievements of the Sanders campaign and also defeat Trump).

JWL: The immediate task is to defeat Trump. This is an imperative task. As is plainly evident in the Coronavirus pandemic, Trump and the Republican Party are an existential threat to democracy and humanity. In addition, the actions of the Trump administration have greatly increased the likelihood of both run-away global warming and nuclear war.

I think it would be a catastrophic mistake for progressives to sit out the presidential race because we do not like the Corporate Democrat, Biden. The election of Biden would create openings for pressure politics to be successful in the coming years. If the Sanders campaign activist network stays functional working to elect Biden by raising money and organizing independently but in coordination with the Biden campaign, progressives could build power through the campaign. The independent campaign could explicitly endorse Biden as a tactic to open the opportunity for a pressure campaign for the Sanders platform during and after the election. By staying active and organized, progressives also put pressure on the Biden campaign to heed their concerns. In the context of the coronavirus, this strategy is contingent on the Biden campaign endorsing policies that will concretely address the needs of working people. If the Biden campaign proposes an austerity neoliberal budget in a time of economic depression, the Democrats cannot win.   

The exuberance generated by ousting Trump and the pent-up anger from the Trumps’ coronavirus pandemic and economic depression catastrophe could generate a wave of organizing. A functional organizing institution such as the Sanders campaign could potentially serve as a democratic forum to guide that organizing and be a prefiguration for a working-class proto-party. Implemented with integrity, such a strategy would also inspire confidence of the working class. It would demonstrate the capacity to implement a multi-stepped strategy to contest for power. A Biden win powered by progressive organizing will open opportunities for going on the offensive to build working-class power.