How the Left Can Become a True Political Force to Be Reckoned With | Alternet

We need to assert a new culture of organizing capable of meeting the demands it will place on us, and now is the time to begin.

This piece was originally published on Alternet on November 14, 2012.

The 2012 elections may prove to have been a watershed in several different respects.  Despite the efforts by the political Right to suppress the Democratic electorate, something very strange happened:  voters, angered by the attacks on their rights, turned out in even greater force in favor of Democratic candidates.  The deeper phenomenon is that the changing demographics of the USA also became more evident—45% of Obama voters were people of color, and young voters turned out in large numbers in key counties.

Unfortunately for the political Left, these events unfolded with the Left having limited visibility and a limited impact—except indirectly through certain mass organizations—on the outcome.

The setting

On one level it is easy to understand why many Republicans found it difficult to believe that Mitt Romney did not win the election.  First, the US remains in the grip of an economic crisis with an official unemployment rate of 7.9%.  In some communities, the unemployment is closer to 20%.  While the Obama administration had taken certain steps to address the economic crisis, the steps have been insufficient in light of the global nature of the crisis.  The steps were also limited by the political orientation of the Obama administration, i.e., corporate liberal, and the general support by many in the administration for neo-liberal economics.

The second factor that made the election a ‘nail biter’ was the amount of money poured into this contest.  Approximately $6 billion was spent in the entire election.  In the Presidential race it was more than $2 billion raised and spent, but this does not include independent expenditures.  In either case, this was the first post-Citizen United Presidential campaign, meaning that money was flowing into this election like a flood after a dam bursts.  Republican so-called Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) went all out to defeat President Obama.

Third, the Republicans engaged in a process of what came to be known as “voter suppression” activity.  Particularly in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans created a false crisis of alleged voter fraud as a justification for various draconian steps aimed at allegedly cleansing the election process of illegitimate voters.  Despite the fact that the Republicans could not substantiate their claims that voter fraud was a problem on any scale, let alone a significant problem, they were able to build up a clamor for restrictive changes in the process, thereby permitting the introduction of various laws to make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.  This included photographic voter identification, more difficult processes for voter registration, and the shortening of early voting.  Though many of these steps were overturned through the intervention of courts, they were aimed at causing a chilling impact on the voters, specifically, the Democratic electorate.[1]

So, what happened?

Prior to the election, we argued that what was at stake in the 2012 elections was actually the changing demographics of the USA (along with a referendum on the role of government in the economy).  What transpired in the elections was very much about demographics.

The percentage of white voters dropped from 74% to 72% between 2008 and 2012.  Romney received 59% of the white vote. 

Yet something else happened and it took many people by surprise.  Despite the intimidation caused by the voter suppression statutes—and the threatened actions by right-wing groups—African Americans, Latinos and Asians turned out in significant numbers, voting overwhelmingly for the Democrats.[2]  93% of African Americans went with Obama, as did 71% of Latinos (which represented an increase over 2008) and, despite the fact that Asians are only 2-3% of the electorate, they went 73% in favor of Obama (which was a jump from 62% in 2008).  The youth vote, by the way, increased to 19% of the electorate, over 18% in 2008, and went overwhelmingly for Obama.  Labor union members went for Obama at a rate of 65%, and unions themselves played a major role in many key states in terms of voter mobilization.  By the strategic mobilization of these voters in a well-organized ‘ground game,’ Obama won 332 Electoral College votes compared with Romney’s 206.  Obama’s popular vote total was also 2.6% head of Romney.

The Romney/Ryan camp was entirely unprepared for this.  While it is the case that the popular vote total was not overwhelming for Obama, there was nothing particularly unusual in US history for such a result.  The bottom line is that Obama clearly won both the Electoral College vote and the popular vote and, as such, can claim a mandate for his next steps.

It is important that one understands that the African American/Latino/Asian turnout, along with the long-lines waiting to vote (including in the days of early voting) represented an audacious defiance of the forces that sought to suppress the vote.  This audaciousness also represented a response to the increasingly racist attacks on Obama, attacks that were taken very personally by people of color generally and African Americans in particular.[3]

What was equally interesting about the November 6th elections were those in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Contrary to many expectations, the Democrats not only held onto the Senate, but slightly increased their margin of control.  Within that expansion was the election of Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts to the seat once occupied by the late Teddy Kennedy.  Warren, who gained a strong reputation in the fight to control Wall Street, promised actions on behalf of working people.  Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist in Vermont, also decisively won reelection.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats increased their totals, but Republicans still dominate.  This is mainly the result of the gerrymandering carried out by Republican state legislators during redistricting.  The legacy of this gerrymandering may last at least a decade, part of the fallout which resulted from lower voter turnout combined with the Republican mobilization in the 2010 midterm elections.

Of particular note in the elections was the increased presence of women, especially progressive women, being elected to office, including the first openly gay Senator (from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin).  The state of New Hampshire now has women in all of the top governing positions.

Additionally several progressive ballot initiatives passed in various states, including on same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana.  An interesting initiative in the state of Michigan to alter the state constitution in order to protect the right of workers to collective bargaining was defeated after a major and concerted attack by pro-employer groups.

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Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international writer and activist.  He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, an editorial board member of, the co-author of Solidarity Divided, and the author of the forthcoming “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty other myths about unions.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Carl Davidson is a political organizer, writer and public speaker. He is currently co-chair of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a board member of the US Solidarity Economy Network, and a member of Steelworker Associates in Western Pennsylvania. His most recent book is ‘New Paths to Socialism: Essays on the Mondragon Cooperatives, Workplace Democracy and the Politics of Transition.’ He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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