We cannot sit out the elections in 2020. There is far too much at stake. We face the threat of imminent war, accelerating climate catastrophe, and immigrants face more raids, deportations and an ever more militarized border. Organized white nationalist groups are increasing their power and leverage in shaping the national agenda and the right wing is shredding what remains of a social safety net.
For all these reasons and more, Catalyst Project has launched a sister organization, Catalyst Action Fund, a 501(c)4 fiscally sponsored under Tides Advocacy.
In 2020, hundreds of thousands of people will be throwing down in elections and policy fights across the country. Many of these people will be newly politicized and will grow into social movement leaders inside and outside of electoral politics. Catalyst Action Fund is creating opportunities to support these developing leaders to become as powerful and strategic as possible about the power of organizing, to understand the necessity of centering racial justice and of being in the struggle for the long haul. We will collaboratively develop trainings to support local grassroots groups across the country who know their communities and will be organizing long past November 2020; these trainings will be tailored for both multiracial and majority white groups. We will be supporting our network of 300 Braden alumni to engage in the election. And check out our endorsement of Bernie Sanders for US President below!
Many of us have worked on electoral projects and campaigns in the past. However, electoral politics have not been largely front and center for Catalyst Project as an organization. Our faith was, and still is, in the power of organized social movements of the left.
Like a lot of people, we held back from fully engaging in 2016, for many reasons. We underestimated the depth and breadth of white nationalist sentiment and how it would show up at the ballot box; we had a deep distrust of the Democratic Party (full disclosure, we still have that distrust); we feared that urging people to vote for a mainstream candidate would only give legitimacy to corporate Dems who also start wars, imprison Black people, and deport immigrants. We want to overturn this system, not put a bandaid on a bullet wound.
The shock of the 2016 elections—the unrestrained white supremacy and misogyny that came to power and the role that white voters played—forced us to re-evaluate the times we are in, what we’re up against, and what our responsibilities are.
In that context, and in discussion with organizers from across the country who challenged us, we grappled with how we should relate to electoral politics in this period. And this is where we arrived:
- We can’t cede the electoral front to the right wing. The right has had a forty year plan to take power, they’ve consolidated that, and we have too much to lose by not fighting back on the policy and electoral terrain.
- Electoral work is an important element of the left ecosystem, one of many tools we have to build grassroots power. Our ideas of electoral work include policy campaigns, voter education and mobilization for specific candidates as well as working against voter suppression and disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, the undemocratic electoral college, etc.
- The white vote in this country is one of the biggest obstacles to progressive electoral and legislative wins. In many places, organizing white people to get behind a racial justice agenda can mean the difference between a left candidate and an outright racist.
- We need a culture shift that breaks the binary of “people who are too left to touch electoral politics”-vs-“sellout to the spineless Democratic Party.” We have to stop trash-talking about each other’s choices about how to relate to elections.
- Electoral wins can give breathing space to our movements – we’ve been hit incredibly hard by the right, and we need to build our movements, broaden our base. We see how progressive elected officials have made a difference and opened up political space for social movements to grow.
- We engage in this work now in the hope that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that any one candidate in office will eliminate that suffering, or bring us anywhere close to the world we really want.
While we have come to recognize the importance of electoral organizing, that does not mean that we are giving up any ground on our commitments to collective liberation, commitments that were largely forged outside of the electoral arena.
Our politics have been shaped by movements for self-determination including the Black liberation movement, the Indigenous sovereignty movement, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the Palestinian liberation movement, the queer liberation movement, women of color feminism, and more.
Electoral wins must not become our political horizon; we cannot afford to shrink our long-term vision of a deeply transformed society. And that requires building powerful left movements led by working class communities of color. Progressive electoral wins in 2020 give us more time, space, and capacity to fight for that long-term vision.
Through rich conversation with many movement leaders, we have come to believe that the year ahead offers us crucial opportunities in the struggle for collective liberation. 2020 offers us the opportunity to roll back some of the gains made by white nationalism in recent years, to shape the terrain we organize on moving forward, and to position our movements to act powerfully to confront climate chaos and structural racism while bringing thousands of new people into movements for liberation. We hope you will join us in seizing this moment.
Here are some ways that you can join us in the work ahead:
- Check out our website and stay involved with Catalyst Action Fund
- Plug in with a grassroots organization in your area that is doing both electoral and long-term movement work
- Volunteer on a campaign for the primaries and after
- Work against voter suppression (text FAIR to 70700 to get involved with Fair Fight).
However you throw down, it will take all of us. We’ll see you out there.