November 4, 2020

BERNSTEIN | Election Day Does Not Affect the Need to Fight for Change

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With outstanding early and absentee ballots yet to be counted, it seems like the presidential election will take a long time — maybe days — before conclusive results are announced. Both candidates gave speeches of confidence late in the night, but victory couldn’t be formally declared.

The night was tense and many fear for their futures, the futures of their loved ones and the future of the nation. Knowing this, we must not let the battle for progressive change end, regardless of the election’s outcome. Racial injustice, climate change and COVID-19 have not gone away; they never will without pressure from the people.

While the past year has been filled with hope-crippling horrors and endless dread, it’s also provided inspiration. There may be dissenters, but we’ve seen collective action to combat the pandemic unlike ever before. We’ve seen mass protest movements demanding equal justice and we saw unprecedented voter turnout in yesterday’s election. I look at these as successes and know that change for the better lies ahead.

But that change will never be realized unless the fight continues.

A victory for Joe Biden would be great for progressives: It rebukes Trumpist fascism and puts someone in the White House that can be pushed to the left. His platform would probably make him the most progressive president in American history. But still, his reluctance to adopt policies like the Green New Deal or commit to fundamental change to the justice system show that he needs to be pressured. 

If the houses of Congress pass substantial justice reform, education reform, climate change action or anything of the like with strong support from the public (at least among Democrats), then we will see a truly progressive Biden administration. But our legislators and leaders need us to tell them what we want — and we have to go beyond yesterday’s trip to the ballot box.

But there’s still so much at play. Votes are yet to be counted and we don’t know how long it will take before a victor to be announced. Not to mention, time and time again, Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. In the wake of a coup or false claims of fraud and stolen victory, we must not allow our leaders to sit idly by. Democrats in the senate already allowed Republicans to steal a supreme court seat. They can’t be allowed to take the Presidency too.

And if Trump does fairly win, it is even more obvious that pushing for progressive change is necessary. 

No matter the outcome, action must continue. Protest, call your representatives and demand change. Yesterday did nothing to negate the immediacy of fighting for progress. We cannot respond to victory with complacency and we cannot respond to loss with sullenness. 

It’s important to remember that a lot of change comes locally, too. Individual city police departments won’t be reformed or rebuilt by congress or the president, but by local governments. States themselves can lead progress; they can expand voting rights, reform criminal justice systems and promote social justice

To our federal, state and local leaders, we must keep demanding action. We won’t get by on waiting to vote each election cycle. We have to organize, mobilize and make our politicians fulfill their duty to work for us.

This happens in Ithaca all the time. Every week, Cornellians and Ithacans alike gather in the commons and rally for change. Groups like Ithaca Pantheras and Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society have been part of organizing local rallies that demand systemic changes in Ithaca, like reallocating money from Ithaca Police Department or from Cornell University Police Department to investment in the city and campus themselves.

These events have been met with stark resistance. Just the other day, we saw protestors pepper sprayed and arrested. Not long after, a Back-the-Blue rally took to the commons, including one protestor sporting a “Proud Boys” logo, representing support for the white supremacist group.

White supremacy and racial injustice in America is clearly present and it won’t just go away with one election. Most Cornellians know that Ithaca’s surrounding neighborhoods aren’t the most liberal — a 20 minute drive outside the city will show you a handful of Confederate flags hanging on porches. To root out systemic racism and other problems this country faces, the pressure has to stay on.

CARS and other local progressive groups know that election day doesn’t really change anything. They wouldn’t receive any help federally — Joe Biden wouldn’t call to defund police and Trump wouldn’t dare — so the actions of these groups were always supposed to continue beyond November 3rd, until their ideas reach Ithaca City Hall and take effect.

There is no reason for any other individual to treat their work for change differently. Neither Trump nor Biden would cure climate change, nor would they root out racism nor accomplish much other systemic change — not on their own. 

Those things can only ever be accomplished if the public pushes. No matter what the coming days hand us, we have to fight on.

Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dgb222@cornell.edu. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.