From the Immigration Movement, for the Left: Election 2020 lessons
San Antonio, Texas
These slightly edited remarks were given on a Workers World Party Nov. 12 webinar, “What Now?”
The huge voter turnout from the Latinx and the im/migrant rights movement for the 2020 presidential election must be put into the context of developments on immigration since 2006.
Under a Democratic administration, a horrific war against immigrants began, one that was intensified by Trump. I am talking about the Latinx and im/migrant movement, but want to make it clear that I do not want to imply that all im/migrants are Latinx.
In fact, they are Central and South Asian, African, Haitian, etc. But the bulk of migrants are Latinx because they come from south of the U.S. border, so I’m putting it within that context.
Also, the Latinx vote is not a monolithic vote. There’s a Latinx vote, but not a Latinx voter. It is very, very complex. Many Cuban Americans are beholden to anti-communism, and they will vote in a certain way. Puerto Ricans tend to be more progressive and revolutionary and will vote or not vote a certain way and so forth. So it’s not one vote.
But I want to specifically talk about the im/migrant rights movement and what happened with the vote.
The reports I’ve heard are that some millions of im/migrant rights advocates and Latinx voted in this election. There was massive organizing, there was a mobilization of three million workers. There were 800,000 calls made by VotoLatino. My phone, my email were really burning up before the election. Every im/migrant rights organization that I’ve ever worked with in New York or Wisconsin or Arizona – everybody was reaching out.
Defeat of Trump – ‘buoyed, not duped’
We’ve got to understand that the defeat of Trump for the im/migrant rights movement is a step forward. That movement is buoyed by this defeat of Trumpism. They’re buoyed, but they’re not duped. I want to make that clear. This is a sophisticated, experienced movement. As many activists have said, they mobilized not to pick a savior, but to pick a target.
We talk of a class war, do we not? And in a war, you’ve got to assess the strength of your soldiers, of your class. We’re in a class war – and in a war, you need a reprieve, you need a respite, you need a break, you need to breathe.
The im/migrant rights movement, in particular — because of Trump and because a Democrat like Obama deported more than any other U.S. president ever in history – they needed a reprieve. They needed to get the boot of Trump off their neck, and they were able to do this.
This is a very complex and wonderful development that we can be hopeful about, because even though it is within the context of a bourgeois election, this sector of the working class was not passive, but active. And because they’re not duped by the Democratic Party, we can be hopeful.
Fight for concessions now
This is a moment to fight for concessions. This is a moment when the oppressed and the working class can make gains and win concessions. For example, here in San Antonio there is a housing project with a long history of struggle and a symbol for the community.
At the end of December, it stands to face many evictions when the moratorium ends. Many of the supporters are connected to organizations that mobilized for Biden. They should count on his administration to give some concessions because it will be an embarrassment for Biden to be inaugurated with all the evictions, with all the deaths from COVID.
So we’ve got to push hard to get some concessions from this government.
I’m very excited by the struggle that’s going on within the Democratic Party because for once it’s out in the open. And we have to credit women of color for bringing that struggle out into the open. AOC –- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez –- said that she may not run again because the Democrats are blaming the “Defund the Police” slogan as a reason why some of them did not win. The women of color are calling [the Democrats] out on this publicly.
I’ve been getting on some calls with the National Nurses United, the nurses’ union, a fighting organization. A Black Lives Matter activist from Missouri, Cori Bush, was on one of these calls – she had been on the ground during the Mike Brown struggle and rebellion. She’s a nurse – and this sister just got elected to Congress! And she is now part of the “Squad.”
But we are not naive about the role of the Democratic Party. We know that they will try to put a brake on the struggle. We know that with the next police murder, they’re going to say “Chill.” We know that they can go to war at any time. We know that they’re going to go against the Venezuelan revolutionary government. We know they’re not going to find housing for the victims of the hurricanes, and so forth and so on.
We have an opportunity to push like hell right now and win some concessions from the ruling class, because capitalism is at a dead end. And it can go either fascist, or it could go to where they have to give us some more concessions. We’ve got to organize that!
As for freeing the thousands of people who are still in ICE detention, I think that’s why this im/migrant rights movement was so active in this period. They felt like Trump, who wants to be a fascist and openly represents a fascist movement, was like a dog whistle to the right wing, an armed right wing.
Now I think that the im/migrant rights movement is very much going to challenge the Biden administration and the Democratic Party about ICE detention. They’re going to mobilize, they’re going to expect some victories.
Already Biden has supposedly agreed publicly that he will stop building “the wall.” I don’t think that’s a major victory myself – Trump wasn’t even able to build the wall that he talked about. But Biden has said that the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) youth will get full relief. He has said that he will look for a path for citizenship and amnesty for the undocumented. We’ll see where that goes.
The main point I want to make about the im/migrant rights movement is how we have to really deepen our organizing, as Marcello was saying earlier, among the working class.
This is what has saved the im/migrant rights movement. This is what has resulted in fewer deaths and deportations. We have so much to learn, not just from the Black Lives Matter movement, but from the im/migrant rights movement as well.
The day-to-day work of organizing means building a base, winning the trust and understanding of the masses, and for the movement of immigrants rights it has meant moving as a bloc.
This is the kind of deep organizing that we have to do if we’re going to influence any of those 70 million that voted for Trump. And if we’re going to win back people from the Democratic Party, we’ve got to get on the ground. And we’ve got to sustain.
The elections determine who governs, not who rules. It’s still the Wall Streeters and the Bill Gates types, they’re the ones who are really ruling, right?
So how are we going to get to rule? How are we going to defund the police or abolish ICE? How are we going to get there? We’re only going to get there if we do the deep organizing that especially the young comrades are talking about. I really feel like that’s the task of revolutionaries.
The lessons from the im/migrant rights movement are to deepen ourselves among the working class, to elevate consciousness, to win the victories of defunding the police, but also get to the point where we abolish ICE and abolish the police altogether. We have to do that.
And that means abolishing capitalism, because as long as capitalism exists, the threat of fascism is real. That’s why the victory of defeating Trump was so important. Because it was a pushing back of white supremacy, and an element in this country that would very much welcome fascism. To push it back at this moment, that’s no small thing.
This is the moment for the workers and the oppressed to win things. And do deep organizing. This is the lesson of the im/migrant rights movement for us right now.