Ballot Measures in the US: A Few Victories Amid Capitalist Counterattacks

Chris Aquino

Summary: A success in Florida but surprising defeats in “progressive” California – Editors.

The 2020 election has brought many interesting results to light. Democrats performed far below expectations in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Barring an unlikely sweep of victories for Democrats in the Georgia Senate runoffs, a Republican Senate is set to block major Democratic legislation. However, despite the cries into the wind from the White House, Donald Trump has been defeated by his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden.

Even with the presidential results not being officially certified yet, which will occur in December, many ballot measures have already been called. These examples of direct democracy allow US citizens in 27 states and the federal district, Washington D.C., to directly approve or disapprove of legislation without the direct input of the two-party system. However, big money still involves itself in many of these referendums.

This sometime opportunity for proworker legislation led to unexpected passages of progressive ballot measures in areas that went solidly for Trump. Florida, where Trump won by over 300,000 votes and 3 points, is one sterling example. They voted in a minimum wage increase to the national union backed standard of 15 dollars an hour by over 2 million votes and 20 points. This redistributive measure happened despite Donald Trump making huge gains among Latinos on an anti-socialist message there. Arizona, a typically Republican state that Biden won by less than 1%, agreed by over 20 points to legalize and tax marijuana, despite Biden and Trump both opposing legalization. Furthermore, Arizona even agreed to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund schools when neighboring California did not!

This demonstrates that despite the cultural resonance many rightwing issues possess, especially with abortion and gun rights, that the economic situation is bad even by traditionally capitalist standards. A small yet decisive percentage of Trump voters in these states agreed that wealth needed more redistribution to the people. This occurred even with an avowedly antisocialist message from Trump that went so far as to accuse Biden and Harris of being socialist puppets (although a comrade can dream)!

However, we see a contrast in the bizarre manner that supposedly progressive California voters behaved toward progressive propositions, none of which even hinted of anticapitalist intentions. Proposition 15 planned to raise property taxes on businesses with properties worth more than 3 million dollars, in order to fund schools and cities. It was endorsed by moderates and the left of the Democratic party. It explicitly avoided residential property taxes in a state notorious for anti-property tax sentiment. This was not enough to overcome bourgeois-mindedness and fill school coffers. It failed even though COVID is depleting education and the fact that city budgets will now surely face howls for austerity at the worst possible time for workers and youth. Alicia Huffman, the head of the California NAACP, a stalwart civil rights organization, worked to defeat Proposition 15 because it would tax the occasional Black capitalist into actually funding Black schools and cities beyond mere words. Naturally, the NAACP’s name was used in outreach to stop Proposition 15. Although Huffman has now been forced to resign due to much pressure against this consummate hackery, the damage to California has been done.

The great captains of wage slavery, Uber and Lyft, backed Proposition 22 to deny their drivers fulltime worker benefits. A political push by organized labor to grant legal protections and guarantees of full-time benefits for these workers had been gaining steam. Yet, the massive corporations ran monstrous amounts of ads worth 200 million dollars, unprecedented for a proposition campaign, featuring token workers claiming they supported not having fulltime benefits. The tone of these ads went as follows: If workers were paid more, Uber and Lyft would be forced by repressive statism to hire fewer workers and increase the unemployment rolls in the middle of COVID. The cherished non-profit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving provided a money shot for this ridiculous farce when they were paid off to run absurd tv ads claiming that paying Uber and Lyft’s wage slaves *more* would somehow result in *fewer* drivers to pick up the careless drunk. Thus, the blood of children and elders was on YOUR HANDS if you wanted healthcare for the workers enduring a 3am Saturday timeslot.

Furthermore, we saw a plan to adopt affirmative action in the form of Proposition 16 go down in flames. In a state that too many liberals claim is strongly opposed to racial oppression, swathes of Latinx and Asian voters stood against affirmative action and identified themselves with classist and white supremacist forces wary of losing their privileges.

This testifies to the helpless nature of most US politics against the onslaught of campaign financing laws capitalists wrote and a hack Supreme Court that defends capitalist laws at every turn. Yet, not every corporation has 200 million dollars to spend defeating the interests of the workers. This is promising news since there are many states with referendum rules in the US. Furthermore, a campaign like Proposition 15 did not have the passionate pull and tug of a Black Lives Matter movement guiding it. Instead, its proponents were led by nonprofit organizations and other community groups. This made its need for passage feel more abstract than a life and death struggle on the streets. However, with enough hard work, one can spread out enough redistributive and proworker measures across the country and improve the overall chances of success accordingly. It is however up to the left to deftly navigate the minefields of racism and bigotry that the rightwing will use to stymy progress as they always have.

For instance, in Los Angeles where the criminal gang infested Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is among the most brutal and corrupt in the entire United States, a community movement led by Black Lives Matter defeated a relentlessly pro police brutality district attorney, Jackie Lacey. Despite being a Black woman who was once seen by her party as a trailblazing politician, the movements to defend Black and Brown lives against police repression organized a campaign to remove her from office. They worked many years to defeat her and as a testament to the work of the people finally succeeded. Lacey lost after she refused to prosecute hundreds and hundreds of accusations levelled against the Los Angeles police. She also obstinately committed to a blatantly pro-police agenda even after other law and order politicians such as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris changed somewhat their public positions.

Thus, we can see some lessons for the future here. The monied interests can and will dominate the airwaves of a state, especially in a place like California that has some of the highest costs for television advertising in the nation. However, as Michael Bloomberg’s failure to turn Florida blue with a 100 million dollar ad campaign has shown (Trump even gained 2 points this year compared to his 2016 performance), passion and persistent organizing can defeat advertising. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has shown us this. If the Left can take up their example and deftly balance street work with electoral work, we can build the capacity to change the world among us despite tremendous opposition.


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