Electoral Strategy Beyond 2018
I wonder how many white people have never voted with the majority of black voters in any contested election. I don’t mean voting for a black candidate — there are black Republicans candidates who don’t get the majority of black votes. I mean voting with the African American voting bloc.
15% of white voters in Alabama voted with their black fellow Alabamians to vote for Barack Obama in 2016. Obama lost the state by 28%. Doug Jones, on the other hand, received the votes of 30% of white voters in 2018; along with increased turnout by African American voters that margin allowed him a very close win.
Political parties are racially polarized. People know that the parties have racial identities. People know that the GOP is a white people’s party. They know that the Democrats are a multi-racial coalition. When we hear that some Alabama voters hesitated “to vote for a Democrat,” we suspect that crossing the color line was the unspoken subtext.
How you vote expresses how you understand your social place and interest. And whose interests you share. White voters who never vote with the majority of African Americans do not see that they share any significant interests with people of color. Some white voters, on the other hand, do.
The key to political progress has to be to increase the number of the latter and to decrease the number of the former. Others things have to happen, too, but persuading a larger number of white voters to see their common interests with people of color is essential.
Some argue that all the Democrats need to so is advance race-neutral reforms that help all people: Medicare for All, or Free Public Colleges. In other words, return to the New Deal/Great Society type reform proposals. Great idea, but we know that the racial attitudes of many white voters make such proposals unattractive to them. They see them as giveaways to the undeserving.
Some argue that we need a new, more progressive party. But such parties are, in the current moment, attracting small numbers of mostly white voters. The point is not that they weaken the Democratic Party, but they divide the multi-racial electoral coalition.
How do we move poor and white working class people who do not think that they share any politically actionable common interests with people of color. That attitude is not false consciousness. White people of all classes do have concrete and material advantages in a white supremacist system. White privilege is real. But, at the same time, poor and working class whites also share real common interests with people of color. But for many, they perceive their interests in white supremacy as the more useful, and under threat. If poor and working class white voters perceive that their interests are best served by the maintenance of their white privilege, then that needs to be confronted directly.
In order to get the power to implement progressive reforms, there is no way around adding more white people to the multi-racial progressive electoral coalition. That takes a re-calculation of their interests.
Anti-racist education and organizing is necessary and hard, because so much is at stake.
Liberal whites in their liberal organizations are now in the midst of struggling with white supremacy in their organizations. (I am looking at you, my Unitarian Universalist friends). The struggle agitates people; it’s tough stuff. Many people are torn and conflicted. They lurch from favoring change to wanting things to stay the same, to anger about being challenged, to self-reflection, to denial, all in a week, or depending on who they are talking to. It’s the experience of contradictions — pulled and pushed in opposing directions, intellectually and emotionally. But some people are learning, and acting on their new knowledge.
It is daunting to think that what is going in the white liberal churches and organization needs to happen in all kinds of white spaces, even with the people for whom their white privilege is all that seems to stand between them and personal disaster.
But still, our immediate goal is not the transformation of all white people into anti-racist activists. Our immediate, pragmatic goal is to persuade a relatively small number of whites that their interests are best served by voting with the majority of people of color. Moving even a modest number of white voters into the multi-racial coalition can have large effects.