A version of this article was originally Posted in VOICES, January 17, 2022
Following the truly amazing but also heartbreaking work that activists across the political spectrum put into trying to pass voting rights legislation to strengthen and preserve our democracy, a few key messages emerged to guide our further work. And yes - this issue and other democracy issues are not lost or dead; there is a lot of important work to pursue for voting rights. We have (re)learned the importance of focusing on voter registration and putting in the time to make sure that every voter votes in upcoming elections for every single race on the ballot and we have learned that our pressure on lawmakers does work. We did not win filibuster reform or elimination, but we did turn almost a dozen Democratic senators who flatly refused to consider changes to the filibuster just 2 years ago to reconsider and to sign on to support some level of reform.
But one message is the most crucial at this moment if we are to be able to act on the other two and secure our country’s future. This is the message that we need to internalize, repeat, and promote every single day: Resist Defeatism or Panic.
We must go into 2022 determined not to (over) react to media narratives about how the party of the president never wins in the midterms, how powerful the Republicans are, and how voter suppression efforts make our efforts futile. The media and Republican commentators will drive this narrative relentlessly, and when they do, it actually becomes another mechanism of voter suppression, as it disheartens people.
The Political Charge Blog recently quoted Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar on authoritarians and threats to democracy: "Part of GOP psyop is to make you lose hope, to become defeated and not even try to save democracy. [To feel] ‘It's all useless.’ [This is] an old trick.”(1)
As argued in the Blog, we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled or to succumb to the dire pronouncements with which we will be bombarded. We should expect that Republicans will push out articles written by anyone who proudly proclaims the Democrats will lose the Congress, because it serves this goal of discouraging democratic voters. Accepting the idea that your vote (or call, or email, or tweet) doesn't matter anyway is exactly what Republicans want us to think. Their goal is to make us discouraged and apathetic.
In the words of Steven Beschloss: Refuse to be exhausted. That is what [the Republicans] want; then they win.
For a good analysis of the motivation behind and the effect of the negativity narrative see Dan Pfieffer’s article on Substack: How the Media’s Addiction to Bad News Hurts Dems.(2)
It is received “wisdom” that the president's party does poorly in the midterms; however, these are most definitely not normal times and electoral truisms are not all they are cracked up to be anyway. Every election cycle has its own story. What we can do is ensure that as many people as possible remain actively engaged in our democracy and commit to turning out the vote.
As just one case in point, Sean Parnell, one of the most prominent Pennsylvania Republicans running for the U.S. Senate and a candidate endorsed by Trump and hailed as a game-changer candidate, withdrew from the race in November after losing a custody battle. We never know what might change the dynamics of any election in a moment. We must not concede any election until it is actually concluded. As Robert Hubbell (Today’s Edition Newsletter) pointed out recently, “We are just under a year from Election Day 2022. Measured in six-hour news cycles, that is roughly the equivalent of all of recorded human history. In other words, a lot of unexpected and surprising things can happen in the next [ten]months—and probably will.” We cannot declare the midterms a done deal yet.
Dire prognostications about voter suppression have just one result: they suppress the vote because voters will pre-determine that there is no point in voting anymore. If you are looking to counter negative messaging about the upcoming midterms, see the recent Salon article, Six reasons to Be Hopeful About the 2022 Midterms.(3)
We all have a role in pushing back, even if it's just a simple comment to say that nothing is set in stone until the last vote is counted. We need to remember that the most powerful responses to negativity are facts and voter turnout efforts. That is why we need to focus again--and always--on large turnout.
Yes, we need voter protection and electoral reform legislation; we need to see this country moving forward. But what we need most of all is for no one to be dissuaded from staying involved or from voting, for no one to internalize the message that our voice or our vote is powerless.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said: "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated last month that the Democrats are "strategically poised" to retain majority control of the House in the 2022 midterms. If we stay focused on the work that we have to do, if we stay focused on amplifying the narrative of truth and accomplishment and what is really at stake, we will win.
We need everyone engaged in telling this story and in resisting the defeatist narrative, whose only purpose is to try to keep us at home, silenced and broken.
Guest Blog by Laurie Evans
Laurie’s career has been focused on higher education and community activism, including work with precinct delegates, ballot initiatives, and voting rights and voter education.
VOICES (Voters Organized in Common EffortS) is a biweekly newsletter delivered to your email that focuses on contextualizing current political news and recommending targeted actions that we can take to make a positive difference in our democracy. To subscribe, email your request by referencing this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1: What’s My 2022 Midterms Prediction? Glad You Asked! By Tokyosand on January 3, 2022, https://politicalcharge.org/2022/01/03/whats-my-2022-midterms-prediction-glad-you-asked/
2: How the Media's Addiction to Bad News Hurts Dems, by Dan Pfeiffer, January 3, 2022, https://messagebox.substack.com/p/how-the-medias-addiction-to-bad-news
3: Democrats need not despair: 6 reasons to be hopeful about the 2022 midterms, by Amanda Marcotte, published January 3, 2022, https://www.salon.com/2022/01/03/democrats-need-not-despair-6-reasons-to-be-hopeful-about-the-2022-midterms/