Vote! But here's how to advance progressive causes even if Dems lose the midterms
A victory for Republicans is no excuse for sinking into two years of despair.
By Noah Berlatsky
If Tuesday’s outcome is consistent with the polls, an anti-democratic, fascistic party is poised to seize control of Congress, hobbling President Joe Biden’s agenda, blocking any efforts to fight for abortion rights or voting rights, and setting the US on a course for greater authoritarianism and repressive bigotry. It’s frightening.
But we shouldn’t let the fear be paralyzing. There’s still hope for both the House and Senate, and for many local races. A normal polling error could give Democrats as many as 55 seats in the Senate and a victory in the House, according to analyst G. Elliott Morris. And even if Democrats are defeated — as the president’s party often is in the midterms — all isn’t lost. There are a lot of things Democrats and progressives can do to move the country in a better direction even after a major election loss.
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Elections are very important, but it’s essential to remember that electoral politics are not the only politics. Whatever happens, we need to continue to fight.
This is not meant to downplay how much misery the country will face if Republicans take back Congress. The GOP has promised a range of policies designed to immiserate and terrorize the public.
The negative consequences of a possible GOP win, briefly explained
Just for starters, the GOP House members have promised to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless Biden agrees to major cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This will effectively prevent the government from paying debts it has already accrued; it’s like eating dinner in a restaurant and then passing a law saying you’re not allowed to pay.
Freezing the debt ceiling would mean the US would stop paying Social Security benefits. Government employees wouldn’t be paid; veteran benefits would end. Money for food assistance would grind to a halt. Faith in US debt would also collapse, along with the economy. Republicans are essentially threatening a massive depression unless Biden agrees to impoverish the elderly.
Republicans in the House have also said they want to impeach Biden for something (though they aren’t sure for what). If Republicans win the Senate, they will likely simply block every Biden nomination for judges or administration officials. The government could grind to a halt.
Meanwhile, the partisan, christofascist Supreme Court could trundle on its tyrannical way, further gutting voting rights, and potentially allowing states to legislate against marriage equality and contraception. The government will be hamstrung, unable to confront attacks on LGBT people or to protect elections. A Republican victory puts the US on a path for crisis, gridlock, hate, and fascism.
Which means you should vote!
But sometimes, in a democracy, voting isn’t enough. There are many Republican voters in the US, and they have powerful structural advantages. In electoral politics, you sometimes lose. That’s a big problem when one party has abandoned its commitment to democracy, and intends to use its time in power to destroy democracy and establish authoritarian one-party rule.
Electoral politics in the US has major problems and real limits. That doesn’t have to be a reason to despair though. It can also be a spur to get involved in other kinds of political action.
Whether or not Democrats win on Tuesday, there are a range of things progressives can do to try to build power and help others.
Progressive causes can be advanced outside the voting booth
Contributing resources to people and organizations working towards progressive goals is always vital, but it becomes even more so as reactionaries are ascendant. Since Dobbs, helping abortion providers and abortion funds (like the Chicago Abortion Fund) in states that still protect abortion rights is especially important.
As I reported in Public Notice earlier this year, vastly increased donations have helped abortion funds ramp up care as states have shut down abortion access — in the case of the Chicago Abortion Fund, their budget went from $16,000 a week to $40,000 a week. The need for expanded resources is only going to accelerate; giving can directly help those who need abortion care to defy the assault on their bodily autonomy and health.
That’s just one cause worth fighting for. Organizations working against racist policing, for trans rights, for housing justice, and for many other causes need help with their mission always, but especially as they come under assault from the right.
Another quiet cause for hope, and another area to engage in outside of electoral politics, is union organizing. Between January and June of 2022, labor unions won 641 elections with a 77 percent win rate — both numbers higher than any in 20 years. Starbucks alone had more than 230 stores unionize. But there’s also been a surge in unionization in retail, service, health care, and transportation. Public approval of unions is higher than at any point since 1965.
Not everyone is in a position to join a union or participate in a union drive. If you are, though, it’s a vital way to advance equality and progressive goals. Unions improve wages and working conditions for everyone, and labor power can be used to fight for other political and electoral goals. The growth of union membership in the US is one of the few really positive signs for future progressive politics.
Finally, protest can be a vital tactic for progressives. Protest can be electoral — a way to try to pressure public or local officials. But it can also be a way to contest the growing tide of right wing intimidation and violence.
The right is increasingly uninterested in elections; it focuses instead on violence, intimidation, and harassment to seize control of public space and force leftists and marginalized people out of public life. Mainstream media has struggled to cover this activity; government response has been sporadic at best.
But that doesn’t mean that progressives are helpless. Clara Sorrenti, aka keffals, led a successful campaign to take down the notorious far right anti trans hate site Kiwi Farms earlier this year. Activists in Portland, Oregon, have waged a years-long, painful, sometimes violent, but ultimately victorious struggle against Proud Boys and far right fascist vigilante organizations.
Again, not everyone is in a position to participate in direct action against far right violence. Those who can contest fascist power, though, are making themselves targets in order to preserve democracy, equality, and freedom. They deserve recognition and support.
People are, understandably and for good reason, very focused on the midterms right now. It might seem like a distraction to talk about any other kind of politics, or to start to plan for a possible Democratic loss before the votes are in. But building progressive institutions outside electoral politics is vital, whatever the outcome on Tuesday.
If we win, we need to remember that there’s still a lot to be done. And if we lose, we need to know that there are numerous other battles that need to be fought, not in two years, but immediately. The stakes are too high right now to give in to despair. Before the vote totals come in, think about what you can do tomorrow, or next week, or next year, no matter who controls Congress.
Aaron’s Clip Room
Trump hits a new low
One of the big reasons for despair about the midterms, of course, is the sorry state of the Republican Party. In a sane country, these people would be nowhere near power. And Trump’s rally Sunday in Florida illustrated why.
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