Advice from the EVST DUS

June 10, 2020

Dear EVST’ers

“Don’t waste time mourning.  Organize.”

They are words of advice from the labor activist Joe Hill to a fellow organizer, written shortly before Hill was wrongfully killed by Utah police.  Hill did not say we shouldn’t mourn the innocent.  He left detailed instructions about his own memorial arrangements.  Rather, Hill recognized that the struggle for justice is never without loss and it’s what we do after processing the loss that determines the outcome.

Here’s my advice.

Say their names, organize, vote, repeat.

I am writing this note to persuade you that the first two won’t matter if you don’t do the third.  And none of them matter if you don’t make them habits.  

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the right to vote, “Civil Right No. 1.”  He knew from history and personal experience that disenfranchising blacks was the first play in the white supremacist playbook—true in his time and true today.  Devin Moore, BA ’20 in EVST and AFAM, demonstrates in his senior essay that environmental injustice in Michigan advances by a law that abrogates local voting rights and that state authorities apply almost exclusively to majority-black communities.  In 2018, Stacey Abrams, LAW ’99, came within 55,000 votes of election as the first black female governor of Georgia in an election where between 300,000 and 900,000 qualified black citizens did not vote because of voter suppression tactics initiated or endorsed by her white opponent, who was then serving as Georgia’s top elections officer.  The glaring shortcomings of yesterday’s Georgia primary—missing voting machines, absence of technical support, reduced polling locations, long lines at the remaining open locations—offer evidence of an enduring intent to disenfranchise black voters.

Your opponents do not want you to vote.  If you don’t vote, they win.  If you don’t vote, they get what they want.

The 2016 presidential election turned on the outcome in three states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  Donald Trump carried all three by a total of 77,744 votes out of a total two-party vote of 13,233,376, a margin equal to fifty-eight one-hundredths of a percent.  My analysis of the outcome demonstrates that at least 146,000 (other studies estimate that perhaps as many as a half-million) Democratic voters in these states who cast presidential ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 when he carried these states either did not cast a vote for president or did not vote at all in 2016.  In plain terms: by not voting, a small sliver of the Democratic electorate assured Donald Trump’s election.

The police unions that protect brutal cops from accountability do not want you to vote.  Meaningful police reform only happens when mayors, city councilors, local prosecutors, judges, and legislators can win and retain elected office over the organized opposition of police unions.  Without continuing, effective voter support, the elected officials who actually supervise local law enforcement will never adopt the fundamental reforms needed to put an end to racialized policing.  FULL STOP.

“NO VOTE” pessimists, who perhaps point to the failure of gun control legislation after Parkland as evidence that voting doesn’t matter, don’t understand how real politics works.  It’s not the first election after an event that determines policy.  It’s the second, third, and fourth elections, when one side proves that it can elect its own people and return them to office.  When you do that, you get the laws you want.

National elections, when tens-of-millions vote, can turn on a few thousand votes; local elections, when thousands vote, can turn on a handful.

Say their names, organize, vote, repeat.

Michael A. Fotos, III, BA, MPA, PhD

Yale College, Class of 1978

Director of Undergraduate Studies for Environmental Studies

Lecturer in Political Science