On the one hand, it is difficult to believe that Romney did not win. After all, when you think about it, we are in the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He certainly kept repeating the fact that there are 23 million people out of work. Yet at the end of the day Obama not only won, but did better than initially thought. He not only decisively defeated Romney in electoral votes but also secured the popular vote. So, it was not a tie and it did not raise any legitimacy questions.
The election displayed sources of hope and concern. The election witnessed a revolt by the African American, Latino and Asian electorate against a concerted effort to disenfranchise them by the Republicans. So-called voter suppression as well as electoral irregularities were being used to discourage voters of color from even showing up. Instead, in an act of audacity and defiance, the reverse unfolded. Irrespective of whatever criticisms they might have had of the Obama administration, African American, Latino and Asian voters went overwhelmingly for Obama. Additionally, the gender gap fell in favor of Obama. Let’s add to this that organized labor turned out in a big way for Obama.
In an election that should have pitted the haves against the have nots, the dividing line turned out to be more racial or, as someone recently said, more “rainbow.” I think that it is fair to say that we witnessed a rainbow coalition of sorts uniting in favor of Obama. Yet this coalition is not the dreamy-eyed alignment that we witnessed in 2008 with the first election of President Obama. This is an alignment that is angry with efforts to suppress democracy, but is also deeply angry with austerity and economic injustice. In other words, this should be the base for the political Left and progressives in thinking about advancing a movement that not only pushes the Obama administration, but also comes to represent politics that supersede the corporate liberal agenda of the Obama administration.
But what about on the other side of the aisle? Within the camp of Romney voters there are a lot of angry white workers who feel that their world is coming apart. In the union movement there are white workers who simply should not be voting for Romney but embraced his message either out of frustration with the pace of economic recovery or out of a perverse identification with the candidate. Here is where it gets sad and ugly. There are too many white workers who want to believe that they have more in common with a Romney than they do with the African American or Latino worker they may sit next to each day. They see themselves as wearing the same racial ‘uniform’ as Romney. They are also convinced that they have been betrayed by all those who promised them that, at least for whites, the standard of living would improve.
It is this section of the working class, white workers, where particular attention must be placed. Whether employed or unemployed, they simply cannot be written off. We cannot talk in demographic terms alone, waiting for the moment when the USA becomes majority people of color. This segment of white workers that is particularly angry and increasingly dispossessed can end up being part of the base for more coherent right-wing populist movements of the future if something is not done now.
Thus, there are three tasks facing the political Left and progressives coming out of this election. The first task is to immediately mobilize against any pro-austerity moves by the administration and the Congress in the face of the so-called fiscal cliff. Second, we need to build within the ‘rainbow’ base, as we work to construct a long-term progressive electoral movement, one that is focused on capturing power, and ultimately is focused on social transformation. But there is the third task: we have to reach the white worker who is feeling increasingly marginalized. Metaphorically, we need to get them to get rid of their racial ‘uniform’ and join the larger working class.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international writer and activist. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of three books, the most recent being “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is www.billfletcherjr.com.