This past Feburary, I was having dinner with my brother and some of his friends in Boston. As we were waiting for our food and making conversation, the topic soon turned to the ongoing presidential elections. The New Hampshire primary had just concluded and Donald Trump had resoundingly defeated his opponents. Amongst those voting against him in the Republican primaries were my brother’s friends — despite being Democrats, they chose to cast their ballot in the Republican primary to “keep Trump out”. This might seem like an odd thing to admit, yet alone do, until you consider the fact that everybody at the table was Muslim.
Months later, Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee and people of colour are anxiously wondering what the next few months hold in store for them. Across the aisle, in the Democratic Party, a heated battle is being waged between supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. As both sides trade barbs online, the POC identity is being utilized as a defense. Clinton supporters feverishly argue that Sanders is losing the votes of people of colour, while Sanders backers respond that Bernie is the better candidate for people of colour. After all, he never called black youth “super predators” and has taken a strong stance against pursuing a militaristic foreign policy.
From the outset, this looks promising; both sides are talking about the issues that affect different racialized groups. However, one movement, known as the #BernieorBust movement, has given me pause. This group of Bernie supporters, who are mainly (but not always) white, argue that in essence Trump is exactly like Clinton – so therefore voting for Clinton would make no difference. This premise is quite dangerous and frankly, blatantly false.
Proponents of this movement argue that while Trump has used racist rhetoric, he has never pursued an imperialist foreign policy. Clinton would be dropping bombs on racialized people abroad, so therefore, she would be the more harmful pick. This type of argument ignores the power which hate speech carries. Already, we have seen people of colour abused at Trump rallies and Trump supporters vitrolically attacking people online. If Trump has called for a ban on Muslim immigration, if he has called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and says he will deport immigrants – there’s no reason to think he won’t act on it. He lacks experience purely because he hasn’t held office, but what he lacks in experience, he makes up for with an army of hate-filled supporters. To ignore this is dangerous.
Movements like #BernieorBust are focused on propelling an individual into power through the ballot box. But sympathetic politicians rarely instigate change. It helps to have a friendly ear, of course, but real change is driven by people power. It takes years of organizing and pressure to get politicians to listen. Even Bernie’s own campaign is a reflection of this, lacking coverage on the issues pertaining people of colour – Black Lives Matter activists and others pushed the campaign to provide answers. Since then, his campaign has prominently featured topics like racial justice, Islamophobia and immigration as a priority.
So if change is driven through people power, voting for the lesser evil makes sense. This way, organizers and activists can concentrate on existing problems instead of having to tackle any problems a Trump presidency may introduce. Proponents of the #BernieorBust movement brush away concerns about a Trump presidency, arguing that Clinton is the weaker candidate anyway and that once again, Trump and Clinton are essentially the same thing. These supporters seem so focused on their goal of getting a president elected, that they ignore what the actual organizing dynamics and conditions for people of colour would be under a Trump presidency. Organizing for change here takes a backseat to organizing for a candidate.
If people of colour who are worried about Trump are having their concerns dismissed during the election, there is no reason to believe that these #BernieorBust supporters will stand with them should Trump get elected. They are willing to let him get there in the first place.
This is not to say that Bernie Sanders is sanctioning this, or that all of his supporters espouse this attitude. Bernie is the better candidate; he has pushed the DNC to the left, and he should fight to the last minute. Clinton, on the other hand, has a history of supporting an aggressive military-based foreign policy and backing domestic policies that have wreaked havoc on Black and Latino communities. But she is not Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is not just another David Cameron or a Marco Rubio. He is a fascist who openly welcomes the support of white supremacists. People are free to vote how they want and certainly do not have an obligation to vote to keep Trump out. However, employing arguments that a Trump presidency wouldn’t be any more harmful for POC while doing so is dishonest. A Trump presidency would be disastrous for us; some of us are able to vote on principle, some of us have to vote for survival, while some of us cannot vote at all. Voter suppression laws and other tools of disenfranchisement disproportionately affect people of color, specifically African-Americans.
The ballot box is not the end of the road. There is a lot of work to do after the campaign banners come down and stump speeches end. But this November, voters will be faced with a decision that may dramatically alter how people of colour are treated in the United States. Either we stick with the status quo and work to break that down, or we move backwards. Only time will tell what choice that is.
As a brown Muslim who has family in the United States – I hope and pray it’s the former.
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Abdullah Shihipar is a writer and organizer based in the Greater Toronto area. He frequently writes about issues pertaining to race, equity and social justice. You can find out more at his website, abshippy.com, or follow him on Twitter @AShihipar.
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