On the night of the election, Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, who serves as the policy coordinator and the Green New Deal lead for the Climate Justice Alliance and its members, sat down with TRNN’s Marc Steiner. They discussed the Democrat’s electoral shortcomings in the South and how said shortcomings are tied to the failures in left-wing organizing writ large.
“[The left] became too technocratic and academized instead of mobilizing and building a bench of future organizers,” said Rogers-Wright, bemoaning the lack of structure and organization in leftist circles.
“The left has conflated organizing with acts of acute catharsis like standing on street corners with posters,” he said. “I’m not denigrating that, but I’m saying that is not organizing. Organizing is building, maintaining power and increasing the base.”
Rogers-Wright also sees this failure in the labor movement, which, he asserts, has divorced itself from its radical roots. Labor used to shut down society with strikes when their workers were not being treated fairly, but now unions are much less likely to take militant action. “When labor became an arm of the Democratic Party it became less about the workers and more about the contracts, and that’s a huge problem,” he said.
The Democrats lost Senate races in Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and are trailing in North Carolina. This comes as Trump wins nearly every Southern state except Virginia, with North Carolina and Georgia too close to call. Rogers-Wright doesn’t think this is too surprising when you consider that the Democrats haven’t had a 50-state strategy since 2008, when then-DNC Chair Howard Dean devised one that led to Barack Obama’s victory and Democrats securing both houses of Congress.
Rogers-Wright attributes these losses to an underinvestment in movements in the South. He highlights the work of Steve Phillips, author of “Brown Is the New White,” who argues that the Democrats need to stop being a party of coastal elites and, instead, need to invest in organizing and canvassing in the tradition of Southern organizers like Ella Baker or Stokely Carmichael. Rogers-Wright points to the work of Stacey Abrams, who, while not sharing the radical philosophy of many leftists, has worked to directly organize voters in Georgia. However, Abrams has not received the support she needs from many Democrats, who do not think it is advantageous or worthwhile to concentrate their energies in the South.
“The Democrats have unfortunately for too long written off the South, and we’re starting a little bit from scratch,” said Rogers-Wright. “We should be performing much better, but unfortunately [the Democrats are] a neoliberal party with technocrats who are … not investing in this very important region with your most important voting block, which are, of course, Black people.”
Additional reporting by Molly Shah