Mijente Stayed Out of the 2016 Election. Here’s Why…

The 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is not turn­ing out how pro­gres­sives imag­ined now that their favorite can­di­dates, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) and Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Ma.), have left the race. Left with for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden as the de-fac­to Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee, pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions like Mijente, a nation­al grass­roots hub for Lat­inx and Chi­canx orga­niz­ing, are piv­ot­ing their strat­e­gy for November’s gen­er­al election.

“While I don’t think [Biden] has earned my support, I think we need to get Trump out. Sitting on the sidelines means that we’re letting this happen.” —Mayra Lopez

Mijente is an orga­ni­za­tion that gives young Lat­inx and Chi­canx peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op orga­niz­ing skills, increase their polit­i­cal aware­ness and build rela­tion­ships with oth­ers who are invest­ed in jus­tice that is pro-Black, pro-Indige­nous, pro-work­er, pro-woman, pro-LGBTQ+ and pro-migrant. Mijente decid­ed not to endorse Biden, but it’s not stay­ing on the side­lines — there’s too much at stake. Though the orga­ni­za­tion endorsed Sanders in Feb­ru­ary, its mem­bers resolved to put their weight behind whichev­er can­di­date went up against Trump in Novem­ber. For them, get­ting vot­ers to the polls in Novem­ber isn’t about putting Biden into office; it’s about get­ting Trump out. That’s the basis for Mijente’s Fuera Trump” cam­paign.

The idea behind a neg­a­tive cam­paign strat­e­gy like Fuera Trump is to get vot­ers to vote against some­thing or some­one, rather than for it. Lead­ing up to the 2016 gen­er­al elec­tion, this strat­e­gy worked for Repub­li­cans: 53% of Trump vot­ers cast their bal­lots for him as a way to demon­strate oppo­si­tion to Hillary Clin­ton. Neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing was less effec­tive in mobi­liz­ing Democ­rats, how­ev­er, giv­en that only46% of Clinton’s vot­ers were cast as an anti-Trump state­ment. By com­par­i­son, in 2008 a major­i­ty of both Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can can­di­dates were pos­i­tive­ly moti­vat­ed to turn out for their candidate.

The deci­sion to enter the 2020 elec­tion with an elec­toral­ly-focused neg­a­tive cam­paign strat­e­gy is new for Mijente, which, since its found­ing in 2015, has focused on mobi­liz­ing around issues rather than can­di­dates. The organization’s issue-based work includes, for instance, protest­ing the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s coop­er­a­tion with local and state police and demand­ing an end to the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of migra­tion, an end to pri­vate deten­tion cen­ters and abol­ish­ing Immi­gra­tions and Cus­toms Enforce­ment; its protests and pub­lic advo­ca­cy have helped demon­strate to law­mak­ers that xeno­pho­bic poli­cies will not eas­i­ly glide by with­out a fight from Mijente’s mem­bers. Its move­ment work involves the dif­fi­cult busi­ness of build­ing a dif­fuse appa­ra­tus on the ground that’s strong enough to force offi­cials to hear and heed polit­i­cal demands.

Grass­roots orga­niz­ing and elec­toral orga­niz­ing diverge in a num­ber of ways, says Mayra Lopez, a Chica­go-based Mijente mem­ber, orga­niz­er and polit­i­cal strate­gist. Grass­roots work is about mobi­liz­ing peo­ple by build­ing rela­tion­ships around shared val­ues, for starters. Com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing is cen­tered around lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and the issue,” Lopez says. We’re not there to elect some­body just because we want to play pol­i­tics. There always has to be a larg­er agen­da: Elect­ing this per­son is part of a big­ger plan as to how we’re gonna achieve our goal.”

Mijente’s larg­er goal is to real­ize poli­cies like the Green New Deal, uni­ver­sal health­care and end­ing fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion and oth­er means of ter­ror­iz­ing immi­grants. How­ev­er, while Mijente has tra­di­tion­al­ly pri­or­i­tized issue-based grass­roots orga­niz­ing, it now rec­og­nizes how deep a threat the Trump pres­i­den­cy pos­es — and the elec­toral orga­niz­ing need­ed to oppose that threat. Mijente polit­i­cal direc­tor Tania Unzue­ta real­ized when Trump was elect­ed in 2016 that the orga­ni­za­tion had missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty” to fight against him and what his can­di­da­cy rep­re­sent­ed. The Trump pres­i­den­cy has made peo­ple of col­or, Lat­inx peo­ple and immi­grants more vul­ner­a­ble than ever before. 

Mijente had decid­ed to stay out of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race for two rea­sons: the organization’s assess­ment that then-can­di­date Trump was not a cred­i­ble threat, and that Hillary Clin­ton was not inter­est­ed in their vision of jus­tice because her plat­form promised a con­tin­u­a­tion of Oba­ma-era anti-immi­grant poli­cies. After eight years of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion that deport­ed more peo­ple than any pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion and expand­ed the use of deten­tion cen­ters, it didn’t seem to Mijente like things could get any worse with either Clin­ton or Trump in office.

But of course, things did get worse. “[We] mis­as­sessed the threat of Trump becom­ing pres­i­dent,” says Unzue­ta. In 2020, We can’t make that same mis­take,” she says. That means get­ting vot­ers to turn out for Biden, by under­scor­ing the harms of a con­tin­ued Trump pres­i­den­cy. Even as Mijente is mobi­liz­ing mem­bers to vote as a way to cre­ate change, Mijente’s elec­toral strat­e­gy is still informed by its move­ment orga­niz­ing back­ground. Can­di­dates aren’t heroes; they’re tar­gets for orga­niz­ers to push on their larg­er agen­da. And vot­ing isn’t just about show­ing up on Novem­ber 3, but about tak­ing action every day after — Mijente is work­ing the long game. We know that work­ing with­in the insti­tu­tions that oppress us is not going to save us,” Unzue­ta says. We also know that ignor­ing these sys­tems isn’t going to save us.”

Though Fuera Trump won’t break down Amer­i­can gov­ern­ing sys­tems, Mijente is hop­ing the Novem­ber elec­tion could ush­er in a can­di­date who has demon­strat­ed his will­ing­ness to lis­ten and move left on the issues at the top of Mijente’s pri­or­i­ty list. In oth­er words, Unzue­ta says, Fuera Trump is about push­ing for change with­in the state, out­side the state and with­out the state.”

Though a pres­i­den­tial elec­toral strat­e­gy is new for Mijente, the orga­ni­za­tion has suc­cess­ful­ly used its issue-based orga­niz­ing to mobi­lize vot­ers against a coun­ty-lev­el can­di­date in the past. In 2016, Mijente launched and won their first effort to boot some­one out of office: For­mer Mari­co­pa Coun­ty Sher­iff Joe Arpaio, a racist Repub­li­can who direct­ed his depart­ment to racial­ly pro­file and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly detain Lat­inx peo­ple. Arpaio out­spent his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent by over $11 mil­lion and hadn’t lost a race in 24 years, but Mijente’s coali­tion-build­ing and grass­roots effort to engage vot­ers by door-knock­ing and protest­ing in front of the sheriff’s office worked. The 2016 effort dubbed Baz­ta Arpaio” suc­ceed­ed even as Mijente was fight­ing Repub­li­cans in a red state,” Unzue­ta says. Build­ing a cam­paign strat­e­gy around demon­strat­ing the harm of an elect­ed offi­cial worked four years ago, and it could work in November. 

In order to repli­cate its 2016 suc­cess­es, Mijente will need to use sim­i­lar orga­niz­ing skills to ral­ly its base. It’s about math,” Lopez says. Luck­i­ly for them, the math is on their side. His­pan­ic vot­ers will com­prise 13% of the elec­torate this year — the sin­gle largest non­white demo­graph­ic group of eli­gi­ble vot­ers, accord­ing to Pew Research.

This year, Mijente is orga­niz­ing and reg­is­ter­ing Lat­inx and Chi­canx vot­ers in states where the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Estab­lish­ment pre­vi­ous­ly hasn’t done much out­reach, such as Geor­gia, North Car­oli­na and Ken­tucky. Mijente has seen first­hand the pow­er of such grass­roots orga­niz­ing: In 2018, Mijente turned out young vot­ers for Georgia’s guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Stacey Abrams, claim­ing to increase the Lat­inx vote by 300% more than the pre­vi­ous guber­na­to­r­i­al race. Unzue­ta says that Lat­inx vot­ers in the state hadn’t pre­vi­ous­ly been reached out to by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and cred­its Mijente with the turnout, reveal­ing what they have always known: that the Lat­inx and Chi­canx vote matters.

A vote against Trump is not just a demon­stra­tion of val­ues, but a pro­tec­tive mea­sure for Mijente mem­bers who can’t vote. Vot­ing is not a tool that’s avail­able to every orga­niz­er or activist, includ­ing Lopez her­self. Lopez is a Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals, or DACA, recip­i­ent. Her immi­gra­tion sta­tus means she’s not able to cast a bal­lot in Novem­ber, and yet, her safe­ty is depen­dent on get­ting Trump out of office.

While Mijente believes that vot­ing often fails to cre­ate the major sys­temic change peo­ple need and instead results in incre­men­tal changes, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has proved to be a big enough obsta­cle to issue-based orga­niz­ing that vot­ing against him (by cast­ing a bal­lot for Biden) shifts pow­er away from explic­it­ly white suprema­cist lead­ers and to a leg­is­la­tor Mijente believes can be per­suad­ed to enact pol­i­cy changes aligned with their long-term issue-based organizing.

While I don’t think [Biden] has earned my sup­port, I think we need to get Trump out,” Lopez says. At this moment we need to be present. Sit­ting on the side­lines means that we’re let­ting this happen.”

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