FOCUS – U.S. mid-term elections

Women and millennial turn out in November could transform U.S. politics. 

Throughout 2018 the mid-term elections in the USA have been a focus as to whether the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental protections could be challenged with a congressional shift away from the Republican stranglehold in Washington so destructive to the lives of the poorest as well as the environment. The threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (which could not go into effect until after the 2020 presidential elections anyway) hasn’t halted the attempted overturning of the previous Obama administration’s climate protections and support for renewable energies. The courts, fortunately, have halted many obstructive measures, but what environmentalists seek is a mid-term change in the power distribution in Congress: the main goal was to take control of the House and control of the agenda, bringing to an end the veto-proof Republican majority. As I write this ahead of the November 6 elections, there is also a threat to the Republican’s hold on the Senate. Now it depends on a big turnout of women and millennials this November to radically alter business-as-usual in Washington, and elevate climate change as the most serious issue we face.

What makes a truly radical shift possible today is the sustained strength of two movements emerging throughout 2018. First came the growth in women’s involvement in running for political office, spurred on by the “Me-Too” movement, which saw the weakening of white male dominance, not only in politics, but all across the landscape including the business and entertainment fields. The second challenge began last February in Florida after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting (also termed the Parkland shooting) where seventeen students and staff members were killed and another seventeen injured. Thus began the March for our Lives, which included survivors of the Parkland shooting, who embarked on a 60-day, 20-state, 75-stop summer bus tour to register young people to vote and push gun control laws. In 2018, more than four million Americans will turn 18, making them eligible to vote. However, an August survey found that just 55% of millennials say they either probably or definitely will vote in November. A quarter says they aren’t sure if they’ll go to the polls or not, with 19% saying they probably or definitely won’t vote, despite having a 27% approval of the job Trump is doing. 58% of eligible voters actually voted in 2016, so those 25% ‘unsure’ could make a huge difference. While both these movements were born from sexual assault and gun control issues, both groups strongly advocate for climate actions also, and wresting control from the powerful corporate lobbies that influence the debate.

2018 events that offer hope this mid-term. The first major shock in July saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old self-described democratic socialist win her primary election for Congress, defeating Joseph Crowley, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House. Ocasio-Cortez has been specific and blunt in talking about the global warming crisis. She also seeks to transition the United States to a 100% renewable energy system by 2035.  Another headline – Democratic women kept on winning in Tuesday’s primaries, playing a key role in fueling a progressive insurgency and securing nominations in key districts that will be vital for a potential “blue wave” this fall. Women saw gains across all five states that went to the polls, including scoring a series of major victories in New York.

Deb Haaland, in a safe Democratic seat in New Mexico, is seeking to make history as the first Native American woman elected to Congress. Haaland is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe and one of a record number of Native American women running for office this year. None have served in Congress, and the possibility of a landmark election is galvanizing voters in New Mexico. If she wins, Haaland says her top priorities in Washington would be protecting the environment and growing a clean energy economy. She would also fight for more funding and resources to combat violence against women, a scourge that disproportionately affects Native women.

In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar is poised to become the first Somali-American elected to US Congress. Born and raised in Somalia, Ilhan Omar and her family fled the country at the start of the civil war in 1991, spending several years in a Kenyan refugee camp. Ilhan Omar and her family emigrated to the US when she was 12 years old- it is reported she learnt English in just three months when she arrived in the US. She says, “we need to get up every day and fight for a democracy that guarantees a more just and equitable society.”

Linda Kauffman in a Guardian article recently wrote: The Republican Party is about to face the wrath of women. The Republican Party has no idea what’s about to hit it this November. What they don’t seem to realize is that huge numbers of women aren’t just mad – they’re organized and mobilized politically in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The key story of the midterms is the large number of progressive women – and to a lesser extent, progressive men – who have been taking on the crucial, unglamorous work that swings elections: registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, preparing to get people to the polls. The disdain for women that the Republicans have shown by continuing to rally behind Kavanaugh is only energizing them further. (read)

 What can young voters fight for in the upcoming election? Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the plaintiffs in the Juliana lawsuit, and youth director of Earth Guardians, writes: “In this upcoming election I am pressing young voters to make their voices heard on all issues affecting our county and the world we live in. We must demand strong action on climate change. We must hold corporations, our US president, and all political leaders accountable for the continued degradation of our planet and its people. We also need to play a greater role in how laws are written (and enforced) and how our resources are being consumed. But not only in our country. We must help empower and share our information and resources with those around the world that want to make a difference in the world.” (read)

US mid-terms: Will young people bother to vote?

Six impressive teenagers leading a massive gun-control movement after the Parkland massacre.

(November 2018) History was made in America on Tuesday with women winning more seats in Congress than ever before – BBC review