2020 elections

Trump’s not-so-secret war: Voter suppression and how to fight it

The strategy of the Trump reelection campaign is starting to come into more clear focus. That strategy is to combine widespread repression with voter suppression in order to return Trump into office one way or another. The strategy of the Democrats and their representatives inside the working class – the union leadership – are far from guaranteed to be adequate to stop them. In this volatile situation, the socialist left – tiny as it is – could actually affect the outcome on condition that it abandons its opportunism and sectarianism (towards the working class).

Sign posted by the National Ballot Security Task Force in black and Latino election precincts.

Voter suppression and “National Ballot Security Task Force”
Let’s start at a beginning, back on November 3, 1981. In that election, according to Rolling Stone magazine the Republican National Committee (RNC) collaborated with the New Jersey Republican Party to recruit off-duty cops and sheriff deputies into what it called the “National Ballot Security Task Force”. Armed and with two-radios and arm bands with that identification, they harassed and intimidated voters in predominantly black and Latino voting districts in New Jersey, claiming such things as that they had to have a voter registration card with them in order to vote.

A Democratic lawsuit claimed that their intent was “to harass and intimidate duly qualified black and Hispanic voters for the purpose and with the effect of discouraging these voters from casting their ballots.” This lawsuit resulted in a consent decree in 1982 which ordered the Republicans to “stop harassing and intimidating voters of color, including by deputizing off-duty law-enforcement officers and equipping those officers with guns or badges” according to Rolling Stone. That consent decree was continually renewed until 2018, at which time the order was lifted. This will be the first election in which that decree is no longer in existence. According to Rolling Stone, “[Justin] Clark, the Trump campaign lawyer, told the group of Republicans at [a] private meeting last November that the end of the consent decree was “a huge, huge, huge, huge deal,” freeing the RNC to directly coordinate with campaigns and political committees on so-called Election Day operations.”

Voter Suppression Lawsuits
A major thrust of the Republican campaign will be lawsuits to suppress the vote. Towards that end, they are putting up $20 million for lawsuits to suppress write-in ballots. Such suits have been filed in the battleground states of Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. They have even filed such a suit in California, which the Republicans cannot win, but this suit helps keep the Democrats off balance.

Rolling Stone reports: “The funders of the RNC’s 2020 legal war chest are a who’s who of plutocrats and industry titans… These funders include L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean, private-equity magnate Stephen Schwarzman, Johnson & Johnson heir Ambassador Woody Johnson, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), the Ricketts family that founded TD Ameritrade, coal barons Joe Craft and Robert Murray, billionaire financiers John Paulson and John W. Childs, financial executive Charles Schwab, Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan, and Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter.”

Right wing war criminal and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher. It is types like that that the far right intends to use to suppress the vote of black and Latino people.

“True the Vote”
They are also planning on using extra-legal outright voter intimidation as they did in 1981 in New Jersey. One group involved in that is “True the Vote”, an offshoot of the 2008 Tea Party movement in Texas. Run by a small time capitalist, Catherine Engelbrecht, in the past this group harassed black and Latino voters in the 2010 election, “hovering over voters, blocking lines and engaging in con
frontations with election workers,” according to an article in The Intercept. Similar to the 1981 effort, True the Vote is planning on recruiting ex-military, including ex Navy Seals, in this effort. Contributing to this effort is one of the truly degenerate capitalists of all time, Richard Sackler, whose company Purdue Pharma helped hook millions onto Oxycontin.

Trump’s policies regarding Covid 19, which amount to actually helping it spread, also complement this strategy. That’s because it will be increasingly hard to vote in person, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods, where polling places have been shut down.

Unidentified federal forces (probably either Homeland Security or ICE) kidnapping a protester in Portland OR.

Federal forces in Portland
It is in this context that Trump’s increasingly open appeals to racism and repression and his having sent secret federal forces – apparently Homeland Security and border patrol forces – to Portland should be understood. On the one hand, the use of those federal forces are a test for how far Trump can go to use federal forces to suppress the vote as well as to put down any resulting protests. On the other hand, his appeals are meant to harden up his base, to lead them ever further down the road of hysteria, racism and general repression. While Trump’s lizard brain may only be capable of simply responding instinctively, some of his advisors such as Stephen Miller are likely thinking in advance. The urgency of this situation is underscored by his announcement on Monday, July 20, that he will repeat his use of uncontrolled federal forces in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland.

In his July 17 Fox News interview, Trump also warned that he might not even respect the outcome of the election. This sounds like fantastical, extremist fantasizing, but then, four years ago it sounded like that to imagine that Trump would get elected and would carry on as he has. And it is certainly far from certain, but then, at this point, almost nothing should be ruled out, most especially the most extreme repressive measures of Trump and Co. That is the lesson of the last four years.

At the very least, there could be a major split in the capitalist class and their representatives in the federal government, with some wings, including the military, inclined to remove Trump if he refuses to respect the outcome of a vote and others – including Homeland Security and ICE – defending him. In that case, to the most determined will likely go the spoils. In other words, the major wings of the capitalist class can by no means be counted on to stand up for capitalist democracy.

Jane McAlevey giving a lecture. Today she is lionized by many on the left. But she was missing in action in 2000.

The Democrats proved this when they allowed the Republicans to steal the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election. In that case, the major vote fraud was in Florida. During the fraudulent recount, the Republicans mobilized to pressure the vote counters. There was a drive to build a movement in the streets, but the main force capable of doing that – the AFL-CIO leadership – refused to do so. Jane McAlevey, an AFL-CIO functionary participated in suppressing that drive, even though she knew it was a huge mistake. As she explained in her book, Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell), the union leadership explained that “the Gore campaign has made the decision that this is not the image they want. They don’t want to protest. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system.” Despite the fact that she knew it was a huge mistake, she faithfully carried out her orders. Union staffers continue to do the same to this very day.

The Democrats repeated this failure in the 2018 elections in Georgia, which they allowed the Republicans to steal (as Oaklandsocialist explained here). To this day, every wing of the Democratic Party, including its “left” wing, refuses to build a workers movement in the streets.

So do their representatives in the working class, the union leadership. Even when they do occasionally mobilize some of the members, such as the ILWU Juneteenth port shutdowns on the US West Coast, although it showed the potential power of the working class, it was entirely a one-and-done event with no intention to use it as a springboard towards building an independent working class movement. That is what Oaklandsocialist explained in our video of that event.

The Juneteenth port shutdown in Oakland. It was a missed opportunity for the left.

That event was a great opportunity for the socialist left. Unfortunately, it did not take advantage of it. Even one long-time socialist ILWU activist and former union leader who spoke from the platform, failed to call for the building of a rank and file committee to push the unions to mobilize its members to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead, he confined himself to all sorts of revolutionary rhetoric. Such rhetoric at that moment is like jacking a car up off the ground and revving up the motor to full speed. The speedometer might show the wheels spinning at 120 mph, but the car isn’t moving an inch.

There is also the entire movement against police brutality and racism. Up until now, that movement has not directed itself directly to the rank and file of the unions. If it did, however, it might have a huge impact.

It is not too late to make the necessary change. It is not too late to call together cross-union committees of rank and file activists to build an opposition within the unions, an opposition that first of all explains the extreme danger we all face. It’s not only the working class and the most oppressed; it’s the environmental dangers including the Covid-19 pandemic that is caused by factory farming and habitat destruction.

Trump’s announcement that he plans to send federal forces into Oakland makes the building of a rank and file committee all the more urgent. Such a committee can and should take on the task of shutting down the Port of Oakland the minute Trump’s forces even threaten to arrive here.

Such a campaign could work to involve a whole new layer of union members. It could link up the issues around racism with the economic disaster that increasing layers of workers are likely to be facing in the coming economic train wreck. It could work to build a mass force to counter the Republicans’ anti-democratic plans, including the possibility of calling for a national general strike in the event of major electoral fraud or cancellation of the elections or the results of the elections.

Until now the mood inside the unions has been so low and the alienation on the part of the membership so great that trying to build such an opposition was extremely hard going. And there is no guarantee that such a call now would really make a breakthrough. But in this volatile time, there is also a real possibility that it might. Or put it another way: What alternative do we have? Note: Contact us if you want to work with us in building such a movement. Write: oaklandsocialist@gmail.com

Sign posted by the National Ballot Security Task Force in black and Latino election precincts.

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