This election, the system didn’t work—our people did

This story was originally published by Prism Reports.

Political genius resides within communities of color. As the results of a narrowly won presidential election come into focus, and with them a fundamentally changed electoral map, it’s an inescapable fact that if the United States ever finds its way to a post-Trump, post-white supremacy era, it will be because Black, brown, and Indigenous people delivered ourselves there through organizing, discipline, and strategic brilliance. 

The results speak for themselves. In familiar swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, organizers focused the power of overwhelmingly Black voters in Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the suburbs. Their unambiguous rejection of all Trump represents turned the tide for Democrats. And even as the votes were slowly being tallied up, our people didn’t stand down, powerfully and joyfully counterprotesting the shameful “Stop the Count” demonstrators so that the critical work of democracy could continue. Around the country, Asian American organizers have been working to galvanize their communities. Meanwhile, in Arizona, the work of Latino and Native American organizers from groups like One Arizona, Four Directions, and Mijente put the state in play. And then there’s Georgia, where the incredible work of the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Fair Fight expanded the electorate by hundreds of thousands of voters—many of them people of color—driving up civic engagement to ensure the state’s politics better represent its people. Georgia-based Fair Fight played a pivotal role nationwide as well. 

There were widespread victories beyond the presidency too: A wave of LGBTQ people were elected to state and local offices around the country; many communities voted out sheriffs who’ve been collaborating with ICE, endangering and harassing immigrants; a record number of Native Americans will join Congress in January; and in California, a ballot measure initiated by incarcerated organizers passed, restoring the vote to people on parole after serving time for felonies.

All of this, and it was achieved while confronting ever more innovative methods of voter suppression, disinformation, and efforts to leverage the pandemic to disenfranchise millions. Overcoming all that in a nation with a history and present day as white supremacist and and anti-democratic as this one is nothing less than an indication of political genius. It’s not the “genius” of oft-touted political savants like Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose willingness to abandon any principle and break any norm in pursuit of power masquerades as intellect. Rather, it’s a kind of brilliance fundamentally rooted in a vision for justice. It’s the ability to strategize and interpret data to find unexplored or seemingly impossible avenues for achieving that vision. And it’s an understanding of human nature that provides the tools to motivate others—fellow organizers, activists, voters—to work together toward that vision. That’s the story of this election.

But even with our many gifts, communities of color are still operating within a fundamentally broken system. This year and this election have made clearer than ever both the nation’s worst impulses and its most deeply entrenched inequities. The conclusion of the presidential election has been no exception. To be sure, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ narrow victory against Donald Trump and Mike Pence offers reason to hope: At a bare minimum, the White House will no longer be home to a brazen white supremacist. Instead, we will begin to better reflect the country’s diversity and honor Black women’s leadership. The country may even move toward a pandemic response that will guide us out of this seemingly interminable and needlessly tragic moment. 

But the very narrowness of Biden’s victory highlights the sheer brokenness of this purported democracy. The only reason the outcome was ever in doubt was because of anti-democratic mechanisms like the Electoral College, originally designed to protect slaveholders’ interests, and because of anti-BIPOC voter suppression and disinformation tactics enacted by those slaveholders’ ideological and literal descendants.

Underlying all of this is the reality that a significant portion of America’s population will vote for white supremacy, and vote against any candidate if that candidate offers plans that will even marginally benefit BIPOC, even if that candidate is a centrist old white cis man.

First Lady Michelle Obama memorably said that “being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” While she was talking about the impact of the presidency on an individual, the same can be said for the nation as a whole—the choice this country made for president, and the process by which we arrived at that choice, didn’t change the fundamental character of our democracy. Rather, the election revealed anew how far justice-minded voters, organizers, activists, and elected officials have successfully pushed the country along the road toward equity and meaningful democracy, and how insistently other citizens and powerful institutions continue to resist.  

This is a moment to reckon with what this nation is and what is not, and what some citizens of this country are willing to countenance: an anti-democratic system built from white supremacist roots, propped up today by a sizable minority who themselves embrace white supremacy at the highest levels of government. 

And to be clear, white supremacy, patriarchy, and their associated policy ills have not been vanquished today. Biden and Harris have much to answer for in their records on criminal justice, immigration, gender justice, and more. The same communities of color who carried them to victory now stand ready to hold them accountable, because while we may now be a bit safer, we’re not yet safe.  

Looking ahead, more elections loom, both at the local and Senate level, and the pandemic grinds onward. And outside of any election season, there’s the endless work of organizing, protesting, resisting, strategizing, and envisioning a more just and equitable nation. Still, this moment is one for pride, celebration, and most of all a period of respite before the next stage of this long fight. 

Our persistence, our resilience, and our brilliance brought us this far. With them, we’ll carry our communities and this country even further still. 

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by national media.

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