United States: Racism alive and well in Virginia election

November 8, 2021
India Walton, Buffalo mayoral candidate. Photo: indiawalton.com

One of the most closely watched elections in the United States on November 2 was the gubernatorial race in Virginia.

President Joe Biden defeated former president Donald Trump by a margin of 10 percentage points in Virginia last year. There was a large turnout for Biden among African Americans and youth.

In this year’s election, Republican and wealthy private equity executive, Glenn Youngkin — who had never run for political office before — defeated incumbent Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe by 2 percentage points, a shift of 12 points from last year.

McAuliffe also comes from a business background, but is not as wealthy as Youngkin — electoral politics in the US is bourgeois politics, as there is no mass workers party of any type.

Youngkin won by emphasising the Republican Party’s open racism, in a campaign for “parents’ rights” against the teaching in schools of the country’s long history of systematic, institutional, racist oppression of Blacks. The “parents’ rights” banner also includes right-wing opposition to COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, and transgender rights in schools.

“There will be no teaching of critical race theory in Virginia!” Youngkin thundered.

Critical race theory (CRT) is the study of the social roots of racial oppression and is largely taught in colleges and universities. But to white racists who make up the Republican base, it is code for any opposition, in theory, politics or action, to the systematic oppression of Black people. This was brought to the surface by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations in 2020.

Reports are that the Republican base was motivated and enthusiastic for Youngkin, while support for McAuliffe among Blacks and progressive youth waned compared to Biden’s support in 2020, with less votes from among those groups.

The reasons why are obvious: McAuliffe never took on Youngkin’s attack on CRT or advocacy of “parents’ rights”.

Nationally, the Democrats have failed to pass the voting rights bill in Congress — named after civil rights leader John Lewis — meant to counter laws in many Republican states that sharply restrict the rights of Black people to vote.

Biden and the establishment Democrats have barely mentioned the John Lewis bill, let alone launched a campaign to win public support for it.

There is also paralysis within the Democratic Party concerning the passing of budget provisions in Congress to help Blacks, Latinos and all workers suffering from the COVID-19 recession — even if inadequate and being progressively watered down.

After the election, in addition to the ban on CRT, Youngkin announced that budgets for police would be increased.

He also announced he will defend “qualified immunity” for police, which prohibits Blacks and others taking legal action against police for violence, killings and racial harassment.

The BLM actions in 2020 demanded the defunding of the police and the removal of all laws and practices — not just qualified immunity — that block serious police accountability for crimes that no ordinary citizen could get away with.

But the Democratic Party establishment has increasingly opposed the demands of the 2020 demonstrations, instead joining the cry that “crime is on the rise” and “we need more cops”.

A case in point was a ballot measure in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the city where George Floyd was murdered by cops — that would create a new Department of Public Safety. This new department would include the police, but make some reforms, such as not having the police deal with people with mental illness. It would be run by the City Council, providing civilian oversight of police.

It was no surprise that the city and state Democratic establishment, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz, and senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, opposed the measure.

There were only two Democratic officials who supported it — both Black — US Representative Ilhan Omar and state Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The measure was defeated.

There were some elections on November 2 where Democrats won mayoral races. However, these were generally establishment Democrats.

One exception was progressive Democrat, Chinese-American Michelle Wu, who was the first woman and first person of colour to become Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts.

In Buffalo, New York, the official Democratic candidate was India Walton, a Black woman and self-described democratic socialist. Walton won the primary, defeating incumbent mayor Byron Brown — the city’s first African American mayor.

Having lost the primary, Brown was still determined to run, and launched a campaign against Walton within the Democrats. As a result, the state Democratic Party and Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul refused to endorse Walton, leaving her campaign with little funding.

Brown received more than $1.5 million for his campaign, which he used to flood the media, attacking Walton.

He won the election

It is beyond this article to explain why socialists supporting the Democratic Party or running on its tickets is a dead end. It has been tried many times in the past eight decades, “weighed in the balance and found wanting” (to quote the Bible).

However, it is clear that the current Democratic Party is not the answer to the racist and authoritarian Trump-controlled Republicans.

Only actions, including in the streets, against the manifestations of exploitation and oppression of capitalism can be the start of building toward a mass party of working people, African Americans, women and other oppressed people, which can defeat both parties of capitalism and imperialism.

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