The vile racism I’ve en­dured is ram­pant across Europe

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Cé­cile Kyenge,

With just a few thou­sand votes be­tween the two can­di­dates for gov­er­nor, elec­tion night dur­ing the US midterms in Wis­con­sin could not have been more tense. The slen­der lead kept flip­ping be­tween Repub­li­can and Demo­crat as var­i­ous precincts re­ported their re­sults. Then shortly be­fore mid­night a lo­cal news pre­sen­ter sug­gested, al­most as an aside, that there could be about 40,000 more votes yet to be counted from the Demo­cratic strong­hold of Mil­wau­kee. A week ear­lier, at a Repub­li­can event in nearby ru­ral Kenosha, Mil­wau­kee had been a punch­line – an em­blem of crime-rid­den, mul­tira­cial, ur­ban dys­func­tion. But they weren’t laugh­ing now.

When the num­bers were crunched, the Repub­li­cans were done. Af­ter eight years of aus­ter­ity, oc­cu­pa­tions, demon­stra­tions and a failed at­tempt to re­call con­ser­va­tive gov­er­nor Scott Walker, who was twice re-elected, Democrats took back the gov­er­nor’s man­sion.

In its mar­gins the vic­tory was nar­row; in its char­ac­ter it was im­mense. Out went the union bash­ing, Trumpem­brac­ing Repub­li­cans. In came a Demo­cratic team with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent tra­jec­tory. The gov­er­nor­elect, Tony Evers, is a former teacher and school su­per­in­ten­dent; Man­dela Barnes, a 31-year-old

African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity or­gan­iser, will be his lieu­tenant gov­er­nor; Josh Kaul, a former pros­e­cu­tor and vot­ing rights ac­tivists, was elected at­tor­ney gen­eral; and Sarah Godlewski, a vet­eran cam­paigner for fis­cal ac­count­abil­ity, will be the state trea­surer. “These are not the tra­di­tional Capi­tol aides,” Na­tion mag­a­zine colum­nist and Wis­con­sin na­tive John Ni­chols told me. “Grad­u­ally, they put to­gether a new kind of pol­i­tics.”

There is an in­ti­mate con­nec­tion be­tween those years of protest and the na­ture of this elec­tion vic­tory that has na­tional sig­nif­i­cance in the US. It pro­vides a les­son about the con­nec­tion be­tween move­ments and par­ties, elec­tions and pol­i­tics, that the Democrats would do well to learn be­fore the new Congress sits in Jan­uary.

Some of the big­gest demon­stra­tions in US his­tory have taken place in the past two years: the two largest were women’s marches while the third was a youth-in­spired protest for gun con­trol. Ear­lier this month, young peo­ple turned out to vote at a rate not seen in a quar­ter of a cen­tury. The elec­tion saw a record num­ber of women, mi­nori­ties and minority women sent to Congress.

This was not a co­in­ci­dence. Nor is it a story that ends with the elec­tion of these can­di­dates. What fol­lows is a new chap­ter in which we will see whether those who were elected are will­ing and able to de­liver.

The chal­lenge is not a new one. There are many within the lib­eral estab­lish­ment who strug­gle to un­der­stand pol­i­tics beyond elec­tions. If a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion is not geared, at least in part, to vot­ing a cer­tain way then they see limited, if any, value in it. “Sim­ply be­ing in a pub­lic place and voic­ing your opin­ion in and of it­self doesn’t do any­thing po­lit­i­cally,” said Con­gress­man Bar­ney Frank re­gard­ing the then­bur­geon­ing Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment. That would be news to the suf­fragettes and move­ments for civil rights and trade unions, among oth­ers.

When Pres­i­dent John F Kennedy tried to per­suade civil rights lead­ers to call off the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech, he said it could dam­age im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion he hoped to pass. “We want suc­cess in Congress,” he told them. “Not just a big show at the Capi­tol.” The African-Amer­i­can trade union leader A Philip Ran­dolph warned him: “The Ne­groes are al­ready in the streets. It is very likely im­pos­si­ble to get them off.” The march, and protests across the coun­try, played a far big­ger role in shap­ing the racial pol­i­tics and civil rights leg­is­la­tion of the next few years than Kennedy’s bill ever could.

The con­nec­tion be­tween those in the streets and those at the bal­lot box is not al­ways im­me­di­ate and causal. Of­ten it is a ques­tion of fram­ing, in­spi­ra­tion and ar­tic­u­la­tion – move­ments cre­ate space for con­ver­sa­tions that elected of­fi­cials are of­ten too wary to have. They ad­dress is­sues too ur­gent for a timetable geared not around the needs of peo­ple but the re-elec­tion of can­di­dates. Not only that, but “Democrats re­spond when they’re pushed,” as Jesse Sharkey, now the leader of the

Chicago Teach­ers Union, told me af­ter Barack Obama’s re-elec­tion in 2012. “They’re much more a weather vane than Repub­li­cans. If the wind’s blow­ing hard enough they’ll move.”

There has been a gale afoot for some time now. The elec­tion of the most racially di­verse and most fe­male Congress ever is clearly a prod­uct of a mo­ment in which #MeToo, #Black­LivesMat­ter, Women’s Marches, trade union­ism, im­mi­grant rights, gun con­trol and cli­mate change have emerged or con­tin­ued to surge.

The elec­tion of a misog­y­nist bigot to the White House has doubt­less been a cat­a­lyst too.

The Demo­cratic party is an un­de­serv­ing re­cip­i­ent of the en­ergy and frus­tra­tion gen­er­ated over the past two years. It re­mains to be seen if it has the ca­pac­ity and de­sire to be­come an ad­e­quate ves­sel for it.

The fact re­mains that, elec­torally, it is also the only mean­ing­ful ves­sel avail­able.

Thanks to move­ment pol­i­tics, those in power look dif­fer­ent and come from more rad­i­cal tra­di­tions.

The ques­tion now – in­deed the peren­nial ques­tion when it comes to is­sues of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and di­ver­sity – is will they act differently and hon­our the tra­di­tions that made their elec­tion pos­si­ble?

There are many within the lib­eral estab­lish­ment who strug­gle to un­der­stand pol­i­tics beyond elec­tions

PHO­TO­GRAPH: SARA STATHAS/REUTERS

Barack Obama at a cam­paign rally in Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin, with gov­er­nor-elect Tony Evers, Man­dela Barnes and Sarah Godlewski

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