Opinion: Election 2024 – A Chess Move, Not A Valentine

Jun 28, 2024 | Labor, Working Mass


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the official position of Working Mass. This article was originally published on Stansbury Forum.

By Rand Wilson

When I heard that Bernie Sanders was going to run for president in 2015, I became a “born again Democrat.” Through my experience of the Bernie campaign, I have completely embraced Tom Gallagher’s “Primary Route” political strategy of working inside the Party to move it to be more oriented to labor and the left.

But being a Democrat doesn’t mean I always support the party — far from it. I’ve been a vocal critic of the conduct of both the national and state parties.

Despite the Democrat’s progressive platform and rhetoric, the party rarely mobilizes its huge base to win on key working class issues. Party leaders spend most of their time raising money from the well-to-do, and as the old adage says: “follow the money.” That’s who they are accountable to.

So despite the party’s generally progressive platform, for far too long it’s been all talk — and no action. Working people are understandably fed-up, and it is that deep frustration that has brought us to the brink of fascism. 

No daylight between the candidates?

It’s understandable that many fellow labor activists want to use the November presidential election to show their frustration with Biden’s foreign policy. The administration is supporting one of the most horrific wars of our time. 

I came face-to-face with this sentiment at the June 2 Massachusetts Democratic state convention where I was an elected delegate from Somerville. When I learned that DSA was going to hold a rally in support of a cease fire outside the convention, I was excited to take a break from the endless speeches and attend the rally. 

Outside the convention was a small but dedicated group of DSA members marching in a circle with signs and banners calling for a cease fire in Gaza. I enthusiastically joined in on chants like, “cease fire now”, “stop the genocide”, and (with much less enthusiasm) “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”  

But soon the chanting shifted to “Don’t vote blue,” clearly aimed at support for Biden. I thought seriously, what are these people thinking? Who could possibly imagine that U.S. imperial foreign policy could get better under Trump? 

Waiting for a pause, I shouted, “I’m voting for Biden!” Suddenly things got quiet. Although there were a few heads nodding, most of the protesters were shocked by a voice in support for Biden.

I went over to a long time union leader and labor activist I recognized and asked him about the chant. He said, “Voting for Biden doesn’t matter in Massachusetts because, it’s a safe state.”  

“Yes, that’s true,” I replied. “But in this election, the popular vote will be especially important. If Biden wins, he’ll need a popular vote majority to help counter the ‘Biden and the deep state stole it’ narrative. And if — God forbid — Trump wins, we’ll need a popular vote majority to further discredit our outdated, undemocratic, and racist electoral college system while making the case that a majority of voters don’t support his election.”

My old friend disagreed, “That doesn’t matter because, in good conscience, how could anyone cast a vote for Biden who is responsible for genocide in Gaza?”

Later I spoke with a much younger DSA rally organizer. He told me, “There isn’t any daylight between the candidates. We gave the Democrats a chance, they blew it.”

Yes, the outrage on the left about Gaza is justified. But the “Never Biden, don’t vote Blue” responses I heard are concerning. Thinking of your vote as an act of personal consciousness misses the point. As I wrote with Peter Olney last March, in “Labor’s Political Dilemma,” “Voting is not a valentine. It’s a chess move.

Pretending there isn’t “any daylight between the candidates” is a serious miscalculation of the moment we are in. Conditions for Palestinians will be made much worse with Trump and the left’s environment to influence foreign policy would be seriously diminished. People of color, immigrants, and other vulnerable folks are likely to suffer serious consequences if Trump is elected. I was tempted to say, “Your white, male privilege is showing!”  

Our “margin of effort” will be key

Despite the horrifying situation in Gaza, the Biden Administration’s domestic achievements  – particularly for labor — are considerable. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act investments in infrastructure and manufacturing has already provided for thousands of jobs.  Beyond the new jobs and massive investments in infrastructure, other positive accomplishments like the Butch Lewis pension protection legislation and NLRB appointments have strengthened the labor movement’s power.

Indeed, as Peter Olney and I have written before, so much of the upswing in labor organizing and successful contract campaigns have been supported by the Biden administration’s pro-labor policies. Biden walked the UAW’s picket lines during the successful standup strikes against the Big Three auto manufacturers. His appointment of Jennifer Abruzzoas NLRB General Counsel who has aggressively fought for decisions upholding the original intent and purpose of the National Labor Relations Act to foster unions and collective bargaining. The Board’s recent CEMEX decisionpromotes a streamlined path for workers to gain union recognition. The Labor Department’s recent directive on what constitutes an independent contractor shines a spotlight on the phony and exploitative employment schemes of the giant gig platforms like Uber and Lyft.

That’s why labor and the broader progressive community need to support Biden despite his support for the Israeli war against Palestinians.

Are the Biden Administration’s policies and investments enough to carry the majority of union members to vote for Biden? We sure hope so! However, despite the efforts of labor leadership, union members make their voting decisions based on competing sources of information and with concerns that transcend their economic life. 

That’s why we can’t count on print, video, or social media to win working people to support Biden. It will take an unprecedented member-to-member, worker-to-worker, and face-to-face campaign. Winning this election will involve a massive effort to get people to recognize what political strategist Michael Podhorzer has often pointed out: While Biden’s poll numbers are dismal, in the end it will be a matter of “margin of effort, not the margin of error.”

In addition to the GOTV work in key battleground states, I believe that the popular vote for Biden will also be critical because we need to show — as we did in 2016 — that Trump is not supported by the majority of voters despite the result in the electoral college. And of course, in addition to the presidency, it’s imperative that Democrats recapture the House by winning just a handful of seats. For instance, seven seats in California are possibly winnable for Democrats. If they are flipped, it would be the margin to retake the House. 

Union members, like all Americans, are impacted by social legislation and attacks on democracy. They can be rallied to work for imperfect Democratic candidates to block authoritarians like Donald Trump. While it’s tempting to cast our votes based on emotion, leaving the door open for a Trump victory is too risky. Instead, let’s get out on the doors in the battleground states and congressional districts to defeat Trump and his ilk in 2024.

Rand Wilson is a member of Boston DSA, and has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than forty years, included recently as Chief of Staff for SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. In 2016 he helped to co-found Labor for Bernie and was elected as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He is an elected member of Somerville’s Ward 6 Democratic Committee.

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes/Cause and Effect