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Mandate! Now, For What?

by Miriam Axel-Lute on November 8, 2012


It’s the demographics, stupid. Also the economy. And climate change. And women’s rights.

Tuesday was a rout. It was more of a rout than the numbers and the results show, because let’s remember that the progressive wins were achieved despite a wave of campaign cash from anonymous billionaires and corporations and despite a ramping up of voter suppression and intimidation efforts—shutdowns of early voting sites, the Secretary of State of Ohio handing out absentee ballots instead of actual ballots at early voting sites so they would be counted later, horrifically long lines to vote, new voter ID laws, voter registration fraud by GOP operatives, Sandy aftermath polling place struggles, flyers that showed the wrong election date in the Spanish language version, and on and on.

These are the tactics of the desperate, of those who care more about winning than about the integrity of the democratic system. But the future is coming. By 2016, voters born after 1980 will make up one-third of the electorate, as Biko Baker of the League of Young Voters wrote in the magazine I edit, Shelterforce, and they are significantly more progressive than other age cohorts. Also, young black voters have participates in elections at higher rates than their white counterparts. The demographic future of our country is less white, and more urban. In their world women outnumber men on college campuses, gay families are no big deal, and climate change has always been real.

They have shown they can win elections even with massive procedural handicaps.

So of course after the massive sigh of relief, the question is, what next? Now that the president has a clear mandate, what will he do, and what will we demand he do?

First, address climate change. As I write this, a Nor’easter is heading toward the New York metro area, where there were already relief kitchens running out of food, people still stuck with no water, heat, or and power, and severely limited transit operations. The scenes of devastation from the Jersey Shore, Far Rockaway and Red Hook are hard to wrap our brains around.

There seems to be hope that his reelection success and this sobering example will prompt President Obama to break his climate silence. It’s no secret that green power sources, weatherization, and conservation create more jobs, which you might think would help the case a little.

But will it be enough to get him to take forceful international leadership on the kinds of measures that would actually make a difference—a carbon tax, ending fossil fuel subsidies, fossil fuel divestment? And will it help him get them past an obstructionist House of Representatives? To quote Damien Carrington, environmental writer for the Guardian, odds may be low, but “low odds are better than no odds, which is what a President Romney would have meant.”

But I’ll add what I said after the 2008 election: We need to make him do it.

And to do that, and to hold him to other things his constituents want but his Wall Street backers don’t, we need to stop accepting that it’s OK to play with a handicap. People fought too hard for the right to vote to accept these kinds of anti-democratic shenanigans as just what happens. We need to rally around things like the Voter Empowerment Act, which would bring us in line with other countries in reforming our antiquated voter registration system, so we can move from 68 percent eligible voters registered to more like 93 to 97 percent, as is the case in Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand. It would also prohibit deceptive polling place practices (like, say, asking for ID when none is required, or putting out the wrong date for Election Day).

Similarly, we need to also support the right to protest, which is an essential part of a healthy democracy, raising our voices about the poisonous aspects of the National Defense Authorization Act that allow indefinite detention with no trial and that severely punish protests near an elected official. These are the sorts of thing we would cite as a reason for toppling an oppressive regime in another country.

Meanwhile, Occupy Sandy is outperforming FEMA and the Red Cross, at least in the hardest-hit areas of Brooklyn. This is not only a triumph of horizontal organizing and people power, but a clear reminder that the feeling of empowerment that the Occupy movement rekindled—“Hell, we can do this! Together!”—has not gone away.

Despite the disappointments of the president’s first term, there are many things to be hopeful about this week. Thanks for all you do to generate that hope.