The Midterms and Magical Thinking

The President is claiming that he is a magic man after yesterday’s midterms, but the rest of us shouldn’t get caught up in any magical thinking of our own either. Yes, the midterms produced some historic firsts that are worthy of celebration. But American voters didn’t decisively repudiate the politics of hate and division. We must move away from an over-reliance on both the backlash to Trumpism as well as on the racial demographic shifts that are transforming the country. How we organize now to capitalize on midterm victories, and to plan for the near future will matter not just in 2020 but well beyond.

Here are six takeaways about the midterms with a focus on racial justice and equity:

Identity Matters.

Yesterday’s results show that when candidates embrace, speak about, and embrace their identities, backgrounds and faiths, they resonate with voters.

The 2019 Congress will include the first two Muslim women, Ilhan Omar (MN) and Rashida Tlaib (MI); the first two Native American women Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS); Ayanna Presley, the first Black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress. Colorado elected the first openly gay governor, Jared Polis, while state legislatures will witness a demographic shift, thanks to the victories of candidates like Anna Eskamani (FL), an Iranian American, Nima Kulkarni (KY), and Catalina Cruz (NY), a Dreamer.

Trumpism took a bruising, but it’s still alive and kicking.

Voters roundly rejected some candidates who relied on Trump’s xenophobic messages, but others moved through to victory. Kansas voters in particular showed up to send a message to Kris Kobach (candidate for governor) and Kevin Yoder (candidate for the House). Kobach is behind a range of anti-immigrant measures, from the special registration program after 9/11 (the antecedent to today’s Muslim ban) to voter restrictions. After the murder of Srinivas Kuchibotla, an Indian-American engineer in Kansas, Yoder presented himself as a friend to the South Asian community; yet, he consistently adopted anti-immigrant views. He now loses his role as chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.

At the same time, other candidates who espoused Trump’s values prevailed, including Steve King (Iowa) who won re-election to Congress. Rep. King has consistently engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric and recently claimed that “[Blacks and Latinos] will be fighting each other before overtaking whites in population.” And, voters in Virginia didn’t fall for the racist rhetoric of Corey Stewart, who lost his congressional bid.

The politics of hate will continue.

The midterm results won’t stop the Administration from moving forward on its anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-women, anti-people of color policy agenda. The newly-configured House of Representatives must take steps to ensure that issues facing marginalized communities receive visible attention. House Committees should hold hearings on hate violence, xenophobia and transphobia to document the impact of the current climate on communities under threat, endorse and introduce affirmative legislation, and demonstrate targeted oversight over government agencies responsible for enforcing civil rights laws. At state and local levels, elected officials must enact policies that protect and defend the rights of communities under threat.

FVoter guide for Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh Communities (www.voteandbeheard.tumblr.com)

Voters support rights-based ballot measures.

The biggest win, through the efforts of community-based organizations, happened in Florida, where voters opted to allow 1.5 million formerly incarcerated people the ability to vote. In Oregon, voters rejected a resolution on the ballot that would have removed the state’s sanctuary law, which was passed in 1987 to prohibit local and state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. And, voters in several states backed measures to raise the minimum wage and expand access to health care. All these wins provide models and approaches for similar efforts in other states.

WTH, White Voters?

Several midterm races demonstrate that white voters (particularly white women) are not backing people of color candidates even when doing so would benefit them. For example, in the Cruz/O’Rourke race in Texas, 60% of white women voted for Cruz, while 76% of white women voted for Kemp over Abrams in the Georgia race.

Takeaway #1: White women are still choosing the perceived gains from propping up white supremacy over the actual gains from dismantling patriarchy. Takeaway #2: White people need to organize more effectively in white communities.

GOTV Organizing by People of Color Made a Difference.

National and local organizations, from United We Dream to the DC Justice for Muslims Collective, knocked on doors, registered voters, and conducted outreach at community centers and places of worship all around the country. While data is still evolving, voters seem to have turned out in large numbers yesterday — especially young people, newly-naturalized citizens, and women. As the country’s racial demographics continue, investing in registering new citizens will be critical in elections to come.

And Now What?

As we look ahead to what’s next, those of us in the struggle for justice, equity and liberation can’t give into magical thinking about the advent of a multiracial democracy. Systems and institutions — whether electoral, governmental or legal — that rely on perpetuating oppression and power imbalances will not naturally produce equity or justice. For that, we need to organize, express, envision, and demand.

What role will you be playing as we move towards 2020 and beyond?