Graphic by Emma Ruck
Expert professors conveyed the importance of voter turnout and grassroots organizing in a Thursday panel hosted by the Asian American Studies Program.
The panel was part of a two-part series examining the role of BIPOC communities in the 2020 election cycle. The panelists included political science Prof. Julie Lee Merseth and political science Prof. Reuel Rogers, who addressed a group of students on Zoom.
The panel was organized to give students a space to decompress amid the uncertainty of the election, according to Asian American Studies Program Director and anthropology Prof. Shalini Shankar, the moderator of the discussion.
“I didn’t really expect this to be an in-progress conversation,” Shankar said. “But, in a way, it’s probably the time when we most want to have a conversation.”
In recent history, Black voters have been seen as a crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party, Rogers said. Turnout among Black voters has increased since 2016, a remarkable feat considering attempts from Republican-led states to suppress minority voters, he said.
However, Rogers cautioned against seeing electoral solidarity among African Americans as monolithic.
“Racial polarization is so pronounced in our two-party system,” Rogers said. “I think that tends to obscure the level of political diversity among African Americans.”
The Asian American Pacific Islander voting electorate is the fastest-growing voter population group in the country, Merseth said. As a result, she said both parties have placed an unprecedented focus on the AAPI community’s specific needs this year.
Panelists also discussed the effects of President Donald Trump’s racial agenda. Nearly half the country voted for Trump this election despite his platform of white supremacy, homophobia, xenophobia and anti-public health, Shankar said.
“It’s deeply painful for those of us who care about the communities that are the targets of his ideologies,” Merseth said. “No matter what the final election results are, whether he wins or loses, we are going to have to put one foot forward in front of the next to deal with the context that we’re in.”
Merseth encouraged students to support local, grassroots organizations that are mobilizing communities of color to become more politically involved. She said it’s also important to build alliances across communities in order to lay a sustainable foundation for progress.
Rogers said grassroots mobilization efforts need to focus on local and state elections, where electoral decisions like redistricting are decided.
“In moments of democratic crisis, I think one way to prevent that is to make sure communities of color have room at the table when the rules of the game are being addressed,” Rogers said.
Panelists also discussed the need to abolish the Electoral College system, which Merseth said is “a relic” and “overdue” for a change.
The Electoral College consistently favors Republicans and overrepresents rural Republican voters, Rogers said.
“The Electoral College is structured as if states vote,” Rogers said. “States don’t vote, people do. States don’t have votes, individual American voters are the ones who cast their ballots in. The Electoral College does not align with that basic common sense understanding of democracy.”
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— Panelists discuss implications of 2020 presidential election, possibility of civil unrest
— Panelists discuss Asian-American political engagement in Trump era