Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Residues of campaigns past


In this nasty electoral season, I'm pondering the observations of two smart, decent men who've lived through similar electoral travesties.

First, here's Charles Blow, recollecting the contest between Democrat Edwin Edwards (the corrupt old "crook") and David Duke (former Grand Wizard of the KKK) for Louisiana Governor in 1991.

... In the end, Edwards won with a coalition of blacks and affluent, “business-oriented conservatives” in a record turnout for a state gubernatorial general election, but Duke did win the majority of the white vote.

Though he didn’t win, Duke’s imprint on the state was real. As The Times reported in 2014: “Two decades later, much of his campaign has merged with the political mainstream here, and rather than a bad memory from the past, Mr. Duke remains a window into some of the murkier currents in the state’s politics, where Republicans have sought and eventually won Mr. Duke’s voters, while turning their back on him.”

Whether or not Trump loses in November to “crooked Hillary,” as he has dubbed her, he may well be an important part of the future of his party. He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone.

As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo.

Then I came across this blog post from Scot Nakagawa, an experienced justice advocate from Oregon. In 1992, a "Christian" right wing group proposed an "Abnormal Behaviors Initiative" to embed anti-gay discrimination in the state constitution. Against initial polling and conventional wisdom, this measure was defeated by a path-breaking campaign whose elements Nakagawa summarizes: 1) opponents convinced voters the measure was extreme, "went too far;" 2) LGBT people like him threw themselves heart and soul into the campaign; and 3) allies came out in support, forging new relations in the struggle. He celebrates that victory, but strives to bring the lessons of this experience to bear on the horrid morass of racist, misogynist bigotry that is the Trump eruption.

We need to defeat the bigoted, fear-mongering positions that Trump has built his campaign on because, win or lose, those arguments will live on after the election. By becoming the presumptive GOP nominee, he’s made those arguments legitimate in the context of national politics, at least for now. ...

... On election day in 1992 I broke down into tears at the news that Ballot Measure 9 was rejected by Oregon voters. I felt like my community had said, we got your back. ... [But] the measure still won 43.53 percent of the vote. ... That number, 43.53 percent, more than four in ten in support of naked, vicious bigotry, reminded us that the fight is never over. ...

Platforms for progressive activism exist now that might never have been created if not for the thousands of people who came forward in 1992, people from every walk of life including farm workers, unionists, Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, Arab American, and diverse faith community leaders, and the many other ordinary people who came to our defense even as the mainstream LGBTQ community failed at times to provide the warmest welcome.

Allies play a key role in every struggle, and Oregon has truly struggled through years of being targeted by vigilante white supremacists and right wing evangelical groups. In 1992 we saw the many targets of these groups begin to come together.

The battles that have been fought on so many issues since then have taught many in Oregon’s progressive community that solidarity is not a me for you thing, but a we for us thing. It begins with understanding that democracy is the best defense against those who would prey on us, and there is no democracy unless it includes all of us.

The fight is never over. You gotta love the fight, but in order to do that, you gotta love the people. This year, the targets of right wing bigotry need some love. Maybe enough of that love will help us find our way from me for you to we for us.

It's going to be a long electoral season. But hard won fights too can leave their residues. And those can be very good indeed.

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