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Democrats’ Failure to Embrace the Progressive Grassroots Could Spell Their Doom

As the right wing works to dismantle democracy in the U.S., grassroots organizing offers the only plausible resistance.

Demonstrators march during a “We Can't Wait" rally, put on by CASA near the U.S. Capitol on June 24, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The crowd gathered to call upon the Biden administration and Congress to act on citizenship for all, climate justice, care and good jobs.

The Trump/MAGA 2022 blitzkrieg cited by President Joe Biden and so many others is for sure a multipronged attack with a clear goal — to obliterate democracy itself.

It’s now been two years since Steve Bannon vowed to “take over elections” and overthrow the “Deep State” — a government run by elected officials and civil servants dedicated to serving the public.

The oft-indicted Bannon instead has summoned a fascistic base that’s “hit the ground running,” demanding an iron fisted bureaucracy run by party loyalists bowing to Donald Trump’s every command. This reality is apparent in Bannon’s “precinct strategy,” in which he is pushing right-wing activists into positions of power at election boards and poll worker outposts throughout the U.S., where they can directly impact who can vote and how those votes are counted.

The dictatorial game plan embraces a wider range of attacks on our core institutions and democratic assumptions than even the president might imagine.

And there’s only one way to beat it: grassroots organizing from the progressive left.

Let’s count the ways the right wing is attacking democracy:

  • On January 6, 2021, the Trump/Bannon minions made clear that their “Stop the Steal” mob loves violence and sees outright murder as a legitimate way to trash an electoral outcome they can’t handle. “Just understand this: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Bannon said on his “War Room” podcast the night before. “It’s going to be moving. It’s going to be quick.” Also: “We’re converging on a point of attack,” he said in a different January 5 rant. “It’s coming to a head tomorrow.”
  • Gerrymandered MAGA state legislatures are now trashing the most directly democratic feature of American governance, the popular referendum, making it clear the public will means nothing to their “Christian” view of how we all must live.
  • The people of Florida twice voted to let people formerly convicted of felonies to vote. But following 20 arrests made in August by his new “Office of Election Crimes and Security,” Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it clear he will prevent eligible citizens (virtually all of them Black) from casting ballots, even after the state assured them they could vote, as per the mandate of the public referenda.
  • Ohio Republicans have shredded two state-wide referenda mandating un-gerrymandered districts while defying the state supreme court, which ordered the legislature to produce fair maps that conformed to the demands of the voters to be used in the upcoming 2022 midterms. With blatant contempt for the law and the will of the people, they’ve instead imposed maps on this fall’s election that are likely to unfairly sway a number of congressional seats while preserving a fascist supermajority in the state legislature. Similar things are happening in North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere.
  • Multiple red states are also defying referenda on abortion, voting rights, and other core democracy issues, clearly signaling that the people’s mandates mean nothing to them.
  • GOP gerrymandering was enshrined in the 2010 elections, which were bought by the Koch Brothers and ignored by Obama Democrats, who failed to fight back. Thus far-right legislatures have metastasized throughout states that used to belong to the Confederacy, the “heartland,” Arizona, and elsewhere. These red legislatures are now spreading anti-democracy statutes aimed at enshrining dictatorial state-based regimes.
  • According to the Brennan Center, dozens of those legislatures have enacted scores of restrictions denying the right to vote and to have those votes counted, especially if cast by young citizens of color.
  • Those dictates include Georgia’s ban on giving food and water to people waiting in line to vote, as well as widespread attacks on the ability of people of youth and color to get ballots, to vote at all, to have access to drop boxes, to vote by mail, and many other simple mechanisms that make democracy work.
  • As Election Day approaches, legions of election-denying acolytes of Bannon and Trump are filling local election board posts that will let them intimidate eligible citizens and deny ballots to those they may not like. According to the Brennan Center, election workers have been facing death threats, “doxing” (publicization of their home addresses aimed to fuel harassment), outright violence and forced removals from their positions as part of an overall right-wing campaign to fulfill Bannon’s call to “take over elections.”
  • By severely restricting poll access, eliminating early voting, erasing voting stations and overall making it far harder for working people to vote, the MAGA autocrats impose de facto poll taxes on those who cannot afford to spend whole days waiting to cast a ballot… often only to face a Bannonite bully waiting to pitch it in a waste basket.
  • MAGA bullies have weaponized the death threat — in person, by phone, in writing — to terrorize election officials, school board members, teachers, FBI agents, district attorneys (and their families), destroying vital nodes of election protection.
  • By guaranteeing endless voting station foul-ups and needless delays, Bannonite poll workers now have the dangerous ability to impose impossibly long waits on citizens vulnerable to discrimination and disenfranchisement, especially as armed militias threaten them as they wait in long lines… where they will also be denied food and water.
  • In the now-pending Moore v. Harper case, the rightist U.S. Supreme Court could well seek to use the bogus “Independent Legislature Theory” to let gerrymandered MAGA/Trump democracy-hating state legislatures seize control of the Electoral College and usurp the public’s right to choose the next president.
  • Moore would enshrine for 2024 the Trump strategy of flooding Congress with fake state electors chosen by gerrymandered legislators to make Trump, DeSantis, or someone like them dictator for life, no matter who the voting public actually chooses.
  • The 2022 and 2024 elections will also be swarmed with fake “recounts” like those in Arizona in the 2020 election, challenging any pro-democracy outcomes MAGA forces dislike.

The big-picture reality is that all these desperate MAGA attempts to kill democracy are a backlash against demographic trends that could spell disaster for Republicans down the road if the mechanisms of U.S. democracy are left intact.

The Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade — which gave a sudden rush of power to gerrymandered legislatures — has mobilized the nation’s voting majority in ways that have already overwhelmed right-wing constituencies in Kansas and numerous once-conservative congressional districts.

More than half the U.S. electorate is female. So is the voting public born after 1981. Our diverse multiracial LGBTQ-friendly Millennial/Zoomer constituency is so deeply attached to democracy that in 2020 it voted more than 3-2 to oust Trump. Based on Pew Research findings, among others, the numbers in 2022 and 2024 are projected to be even more progressive.

The rise of the Millennial/Zoomers is accompanied by a drastic drop in right-wing Evangelism and a “Christian” faith rooted in racial bigotry, sexual puritanism and Orwellian malaise.

Bannon and his MAGA minions are well aware that the rise of a diverse, tolerant and increasingly progressive voting constituency in this country means their hate-based movement is doomed.

Trump’s 2020 losing margin was in fact the third largest for any incumbent in U.S. history (behind only Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter). The January 6 hearings, the flood of crony indictments, even Ukraine’s stunning resistance, all portend a deeply human revulsion against the kinds of dictatorial regimes made all too real by the likes of Trump and Putin.

But the lead-up to 2022 also makes clear that corporate Democratic “business as usual” will not be sufficient to stop an armed, multilayered, anti-democratic coup.

So, what will?

On January 5, 2021 — the day before the Capital coup attempt — progressive democracy scored one of U.S. history’s most improbable electoral victories.

Guided by the Atlanta NAACP’s Ray McClendon and the computerized strategizing of Andrea Miller’s Center for Common Ground, grassroots campaigners in Georgia — mostly operating outside the Democratic Party — elected to the U.S. Senate the Black preacher Raphael Warnock and a young Jewish filmmaker named Jon Ossof.

The earth-shattering dual runoff victories gave the Democrats their vital 50-50 Upper House tie.

But it would not have happened had the corporate party run its usual media-based campaign without the massive grassroots upheaval coordinated by Miller and McClendon. By all accounts, decisive turnouts in Democratic strongholds of youth and color made the difference.

Steve Bannon is well aware of all that. As evidenced by his “War Room” podcasts, he has been consistently demanding door-to-door “relational campaigning,” for establishing party storefronts in key right-wing strongholds, for a “boots-on-the-ground” takeover of the electoral apparatus, starting with poll workers, election board officials, secretaries of state.

The corporate Democrats’ ongoing attacks against young progressive candidates have underscored their aversion to necessary change, even in the face of overt fascism. Millions of donor dollars still sink into endless TV advertising that does less and less to shape electoral outcomes.

Despite a wave of angry activism among Millennial/Zoomers demanding the party move left, there’s little evidence its corporate gerontocracy is ready to embrace the generational wave that must happen if the Bannonites are to be defeated.

The Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade has aroused an army of angry American women and trans people.

But millions of pro-choice voters now marching toward the polls could be stopped in their tracks if the Bannonite take-over of the voting apparatus is not neutralized.

And the victories in those two Georgia Senate races aren’t likely to repeat unless the Democrats embrace the grassroots campaigning that opens the only sure route to saving our democracy.

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