President Trump may be out of office, but his drive to eliminate (capitalist) democracy is not. It has just taken a new route: Vastly increased voter suppression. So far, over 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 43 different states.
According to the Brennan Center, Arizona leads the nation with 19 pending such bills. They would do such things as require “mail-in” ballots to be hand delivered, thereby eliminating the purpose of getting a mail-in ballot in the first placre. Another bill would permit the legislature to simply disregard the will of Arizona voters and appoint their own electors in a presidential election.
Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 such bills. “In Pennsylvania, those measures include a bill that would completely undo the state’s expansion of mail-in voting that played such a prominent and controversial role in the November election, as well as eliminating drop boxes and eliminating the option that allows voters to permanently request mail-in ballots, among others,” reports ncnnews.
Third in the number of such bills, but first past the finish line is Georgia, which had a monster voter suppression bill signed into law last week (March 25). That is no accident as Georgia was in the limelight in last year’s election, first by going for Biden and then, even more surprisingly, flipping the Senate to the Democrats by electing two Democrats in a runoff election in December. It is worth looking at the Georgia bill’s provisions – including what was left out and why – in some detail. The new law:
- Permits the state legislature to suspend local election officials and take over counting of the ballots in any county (e.g. mainly black and overwhelmingly Democratic Fulton County)
- Demotes the (mainly technical) secretary of state (Brad Raffensperger, who refused to “find” 11,780 voters for Trump) and makes the state election board purely political
- Eliminates most local drop boxes for early voting
- Requires a state i.d. for mail-in voting
- Prohibits giving out even water or chairs to those standing on line to vote
Excluded were the two most onerous measures which were in the original bill:
- One would have eliminated no-excuse mail in voting entirely.
- Another would have mainly eliminated early voting on Sundays. (Sunday voting was significant because many black church goers went to vote en masse after attending Sunday services – the so-called “souls to the polls”.)
Polling Places Closed
These measures must be understood in light of the closing of polling places in mainly black voting precincts, meaning that black voters are increasingly forced to rely on early voting or mail-in voting if they are unable to stand on long, long lines on election day itself:
According to one study “Voters in communities with greater minority populations and lower incomes were more likely to wait longer to cast their ballots in the 2018 midterm elections, with Fulton County, Ga., topping the list…” Another report states that in 2018 “10 counties with large black populations in Georgia closed polling spots after a white elections consultant recommended they do so to save money. When the consultant suggested a similar move in Randolph County, pushback was enough to keep its nine polling places open.” This trend continued right before Georgia’s senate runoff race last December.
This is not simply a partisan power grab; it is a drive to overturn (capitalist) democracy altogether, starting – but only starting – with a return to Jim Crow voting. And although democratic rights under capitalism have not stopped all the crimes of the US capitalist class, the alternative is infinitely worse.
Georgia Democrats’ Strategy: Rely on Georgia big Business
In a minority in the state government, and with a Republican governor, Georgia Democrats – including Black Voters Matter, New Georgia Project Action Fund and the state NAACP – sought to rely on several Georgia-based companies to stop this bill. The main ones were Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Aflac and UPS. “We’ve got the power of organized people. They’ve got the power of organized money. And between us and them, we could put pressure on these legislators or, worst case scenario, the governor to kill these bills,” commented Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter in explaining their strategy.
The results of this pressure were not exactly a stunning success. While the legislation was pending, the corporations put out such mealy-mouthed statements as the following:
- The Georgia Chamber of Commerce “expressed concern” and said it “continues to engage in a bipartisan manner with leaders of the General Assembly.”
- Aflac said: “The right to vote in national, state and local elections is the cornerstone of democracy….”
- Coca-Cola said “Voting is a foundational right in America, and we will continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country….”
- Delta Airlines commented: “Ensuring an election system that promotes broad voter participation, equal access to the polls, and fair, secure elections processes are critical to voter confidence and creates an environment that ensures everyone’s vote is counted….”
- The Greater Atlanta Black Chamber of Commerce was slightly less equivocal, but not much. “Legislators should not rely on the ‘Urgency’ to get these bills signed, take a step back, be open to views that are different and do what is ‘RIGHT’,” they commented. Bowing to the pressure of the black community, they did oppose the bill, but without clearly stating what was going on: A return to Jim Crow voting. Perhaps like their class partners, they too were aware of what had happened to Delta Airlihes after it eliminated discounts for NRA members: The legislators retaliated by ending a special tax break for Delta (and other major airlines)..
Non-Profits and the Democratic Party Turn to Corporate Georgia
The Democratic NGO’s did do some minor public protests, but aimed at these corporations. For example, Stacey Abrams’s New Georgia Voter Project staged a small “die-in” in front of Coca-Cola’s corporate headquarters. They could not organize massive protests along the scale of the spontaneous protests after George Floyd was murdered if they were hoping to convince Corporate Georgia to stand up for them, after all!
A statement issued by Delta CEO Ed Bastien gives a hint at what was going on behind the scenes in the run up to Kemp’s signing the bill. After the fact, Bastien sent a memo to Delta employees. He wrote : “….Over the past several weeks, Delta engaged extensively with state elected officials in both parties to express our strong view that Georgia must have a fair and secure election process, with broad voter participation and equal access to the polls. The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason. For the first time, drop boxes have also been authorized for all counties statewide and poll workers will be allowed to work across county lines. Nonetheless, we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation, and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort…..” In other words, they claimed credit for the most onerous measures having been dropped and defended the measure overall. According to Bloomberg news Coca-Cola made a similar statement. Bloomberg reported: “Atlanta-based Coke issued a statement saying that while the bill was being debated, the company was ‘active with the Metro Atlanta Chamber in expressing our concerns and advocating for positive change in voting legislation….’”
Corporate Georgia, Republicans and Democrats
We can guess what was going on here. Corporate Georgia, just like Corporate America, has several interests and concerns. On the one hand, they generally prefer the Republicans’ legislative priorities that help boost corporate power and profits. That’s what Sara Gorman, spokeswoman for Home Depot, referred to when she commented in reference to this law that the company “supports candidates on both sides of the aisle who champion pro-business, pro-retail positions that create jobs and economic growth.”
However, their general preference for the Republicans is balanced by their concern for political stability in the United States. This stability has been maintained through “democracy”, of which at least a semblance of democratic voting rights has been essential. The effective elimination of Sunday voting and of mail-in voting were steps too far. The outrage could have been too great. So it was that the Georgia white-supremacist Republicans had to drop those clauses at the behest of their masters: The Georgia capitalist class.
The Democrats and their NGO’s were hemmed in: Reliant as they are on keeping the support of the capitalists, they could not build a real mass movement that threatened to destabilize the entire state and, in fact, the entire country. That would have ruled out any support whatsoever from their class, the capitalist class.
Phase 2: Economic Boycott
Now, they are going to Phase 2 of the plan: Organize an economic boycott. Again according to Bloomberg, at least one group is calling for the PGA to move its iconic Masters (golf) Tournament out of Georgia, and the Major League Baseball Players “are ready to discuss” moving baseball’s 2021 All Star game out of Georgia. But this is after the fact, and even in the unlikely event that these happen, where will they move? Forty-three other states are already in line to pass similar legislation. That leaves only seven possible states, and in any case these steps would only represent a temporary loss of profits to mainly local companies.
Nor was the labor movement any better. After the fact, the AFL-CIO issued a statement condemning the law and saying “America’s labor movement will not stand by quietly, and we will continue fighting for a future in which every voter has free and fair access to the ballot. Working Georgians overcame enormous obstacles to win change in November and again in January. Organizing together, we can overcome this challenge as well.”
In other words, they will do nothing.
In 2020, Corporate America by and large helped elect Joe Biden and helped ensure that Trump would not overturn the election results. They did so because Trump was largely out of control and overturning the election results would have transformed, and thereby endangered, the capitalists’ 150+ year method of rule. Such a step would have been too great of a shock. But they are perfectly willing to accept a step-by-step return to Jim Crow voting as part of a suppression of the votes of people of color in general.
Surely there will be court challenges to this and similar laws. The Republican-controlled Supreme Court will not save them under present circumstances. After all, it gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013. Then, in 2019, it ruled that federal courts have no power to intervene in gerrymandering of voting districts. In other words, the Republican Supreme Court (in)Justices decided that the federal courts cannot intervene in state elections. Since that 2019 ruling, the composition of the Supreme Court has gotten even worse.
Oaklandsocialist previously reported (and bears recounting because of its significance) how last year, the major NGO’s and the tops of the union leadership got together to discuss how to stop Trump from stealing the election. They agreed not to organize public protests as that would alienate the capitalist media, meaning it would alienate the capitalist class. Instead, they mobilized their representatives to pressure Republican officials such as Brad Raffensperger, Georgia secretary of state, and Michigan Republican legislators Lee Chatfield and Mike Shirkey. All this was recounted in a stunning story in the New York Times. Raffensperger has supported voter suppression in the past, and Shirkey and Chatfield are embedded in a state party whose state leader recently called for the “assassination” of leading state Democrats.
Despite who these Republicans really are, this strategy worked then. The reason it worked last year is that that the Republicans would had to have stolen the election in at least three states to reverse the outcome. Coordinating this would have been too difficult so none of the Republican officials was willing to go out on a limb by himself and then face the wrath of a newly-elected Democratic president. Now, however, it is exactly a state-by-state approach by the Republicans that can succeed (for them). The strategy of the NGO’s and the union leadership, which is the strategy of the Democratic Party, may mitigate some of the worst measures, as it did in Georgia, but even that is probably only temporary once this campaign gets into full swing. That is especially true once the coming “festival” of gerrymandering takes place.
How to Reverse This
The only way to roll this all back is through a movement similar to that which arose spontaneously after George Floyd was murdered. Such a movement would have to go beyond those protests and build democratically run structures at the local level, with such structures to meet and coordinate nationally. Through this, a more clear overall political program and strategy could be developed. This would include points on the economy, on white and male supremacy and bigotry in general, on the environment, etc. It would also have to include transforming the labor movement from below. Such a development would be a major step towards building a mass working class political party. Through this, also, the issue of socialism would inevitably also arise, as would the issue of internationalism. After all, the struggle for democratic rights is now starting to reemerge throughout the world, especially in Asia.
It may be that Biden succeeds in temporarily getting the economy going and in warding off the worst effects of the pandemic. If so, he could gain in popularity (as of this writing his approval ratings are presently at 54% vs. 40% disapproval) and possibly even prevent the Republicans from retaking the Senate and House of Representatives. That is far from certain, though, especially after redistricting/gerrymandering and all the new voter suppression laws are passed. Also, Biden’s entire game plan could be knocked off kilter by some new crisis.
In any case, despite the fact that Biden has gone further than almost anybody expected, he still is a capitalist representative, working to shore up the capitalist system. All the crises – those of the economy, of the environment, of repression, etc. – are based on the very laws of motion of capitalism itself. Neither Biden nor his class can resolve these crises. A new working class movement, leading towards political independence, one which unites the great majority of working class people around the world, one which opens the door to a mass socialist movement, is what is needed.