A young Black activist in the US looks ahead to the results of this year’s polarising presidential election and explains why the fight for a better society must continue no matter who wins.
Olivia Pace is a 24-year-old political organiser from Portland, Oregon, USA. Here she looks ahead to one of the most tense US presidential elections in history and explains what can and must happen no matter the outcome…
I became an organiser in the first explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement, the same summer that I started college. I grew up in Beaverton, a suburb west of Portland, which is known as the whitest major city in the United States. I’m half Black, and as the Black Lives Matter movement grew, I began to contextualise the experiences of racism I had had in my suburban, white upbringing within the scope of systematic racism for the first time, and I wanted to fight back.
Upon starting at Portland State University when I was 18, I was quickly swept up in student organising, and for five years was one of the lead organisers of a campaign that aimed to disarm our campus police.
Currently in the US we are staring down the barrel of what is shaping up to be, at best, an extremely chaotic presidential election between the incumbent Donald Trump, and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden.
This election season has been plagued by rampant voter suppression, a hyper militarised response to anti-racist protests, and the navigation of a global pandemic and economic crisis. On top of this, Trump has stated multiple times that he will not commit to a “peaceful transfer of power” if Biden is declared the winner of the election. Members of the political left and right are predicting the possible outbreak of a civil war.
I became an organiser because I realised that complacency, and reliance on our political “leaders” had not, and would never be enough to transform our society into a just one. I hope that Biden wins the presidential election, but Biden winning will not make me feel like I can breathe. His winning will not mean there is room to take a break from fighting against racist, capitalist violence. We must be prepared to fight as fervently for the rights of oppressed people under Biden as we would under Trump.
Fear of four more years of Trump guided my vote for Joe Biden, not any true belief that he will make significant gains for marginalised people in the US or across the world. As my mother has been saying for the last few weeks, ‘We just need to stop the bleeding.’
It is valuable for oppressed peoples to feel a marginally higher level of safety. For many, a Biden presidency would grant this. It is much harder to push a boot off your neck if you’re also starving, bleeding, and facing any other number of different kinds of violence. However, the boot on our necks is still the central problem, and no conditions where the boot continues to press down should be tolerated as acceptable, just, or a ‘win’ for movements against racism, sexism and capitalism.
Life under President Biden
Under Joe Biden, violence against women and all oppressed people will continue. This is a given, because this violence is baked into the fabric of the United States. It did not arise under Trump.
In the newest iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the police murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, activists across the country have called for the defunding of the police as a means to put an end to this racist violence. Biden has time and time again rejected this idea. In fact, he asserts that police should get more funding. Under Biden, women like Breonna Taylor will continue to suffer because of over inflated police budgets, empowering police forces through increasingly militarised tactics that will be used to monitor and control our communities. This is what killed Breonna Taylor, not a lack of financial support for the police.
Biden was one of the architects of the Iraq war. Biden was Vice President under Barack Obama, who ran a prolific drone program that killed around 700 civilians overseas. In Biden’s platform, he commits to maintaining America’s military as the strongest in the world. This can only mean subjecting more women and children around the world to militaristic violence, taking lives, and destabilising communities of brown people abroad.
As I voted for Biden, a thought I could not get out of my head was that both him and Trump have a number of serious allegations of sexual assault against them. As a survivor of sexual violence, I felt floored trying to grapple with the knowledge that the two most viable options for president are accused of being sexual predators. The risk for women is that they are voting against their own interests here, period.
And if Trump wins…
As daunting as this all is, I still find myself more overwhelmed trying to understand what another four years of Trump looks like. Maintaining hope in the face of this possibility seems lofty and unrealistic, but I know it is the only choice we have. In the words of Ibram X Kendi, author of How To Be An Anti-Racist: “Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose. But if we ignore the odds and fight… then we give humanity a chance to one day survive”.
It is imperative that we maintain a sense of hope in the face of increasing violence, because the arbiters of white supremacist and capitalist oppression will work to maintain their monopoly on power and violence either way.
We will need to be stronger than ever in the face of another four years of Trump presidency, not because Trump himself is an anomaly, but because he breaks open the system, shows us the most rotten parts of its core and emboldens those who wish to do violence against us. We maintain hope through building grassroots movements against these evils. We’re not guaranteed to win, but maintaining hope that we can is the only chance we have.
Images: Activist Olivia Pace