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The Democratic Party owes its Presidential election victory to BIPOC organizers

In key swing states, BIPOC organizers, volunteers, and protestors fought to mobilize communities.

This is it, folks. After a nerve-wracking and close race, Joe Biden has won the presidency, with Kamala Harris as the Vice President-elect. Biden also received the most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate, in a race that saw a historically high voter turnout. As we look back upon a polarizing election season and the bitter years that preceded it, it is important to acknowledge the hard work of grassroots organizers, youth leaders, and volunteers who ultimately flipped the vote in critical swing states. In particular, Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) played a key role in mobilizing communities and countering disinformation and voter suppression to make every vote count.

Grassroots BIPOC Organizers made a huge difference 

Key electoral gains in states like Arizona – which hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1996 – Michigan, and Pennsylvania can be largely attributed to meticulous grassroots organizing at the county-level, challenging the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to delegitimize votes, declare premature victory, and cast doubt even as ballots were being counted.

Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) played a key role in mobilizing communities and countering disinformation and voter suppression to make every vote count.

Across southern states, organizers and community leaders worked hard for years to build power in marginalized communities. Biden’s win in Georgia is significant – the state hasn’t supported a Democrat since 1992 – many credited his lead to Democratic Party’s Stacey Abrams and her lifelong work to address voter suppression. In 2018, Abrams became the first Black woman chosen as a major political party’s nominee for a state gubernatorial election in the country. Abrams lost the election to Republican opponent but her campaign then founded Fair Fight Action to empower marginalized voters in the state. Abrams worked alongside a host of other groups like the New Georgia Project who registered thousands of BIPOC voters and empowered them to exercise their political rights in and beyond the electoral cycle. 

Stereotypes about Republican-leaning southern states undermine how Black organizers – especially women – have fought for and engaged historically overlooked communities. The political and cultural shifts due to the hard work of these organizers may or may not translate into statewide electoral wins for the Democrats, but a blue wave in the elections cannot be the only indicators of progressivism in a state – community-level changes are just as important as national elections.

Reflecting on the importance of community organizing in southern states, Yasmine, 23, a volunteer with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) said,  “Historically, the South is ignored and written off because of stereotypes. But it’s important to realize that the racist white people don’t define what the South is. It’s the BIPOC communities that have created environments for themselves where they care for one another, dismantle barriers to civic engagement, and advocate for everyone’s liberation.”

It’s the BIPOC communities that have created environments for themselves where they care for one another, dismantle barriers to civic engagement, and advocate for everyone’s liberation.

Progressive BIPOC-led organizing invested long-term in community coalitions and young voters, foregrounding critical issues like criminal justice reforms, mass incarceration, ICE detentions, climate change, and COVID-19 relief. Dream Defenders, a BIPOC youth-led power-building organization that was formed in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, are one of the many groups in Florida that worked to increase voter turnout, championing causes like defunding the police and minimum wage reform. In counties across Arizona, BIPOC groups helped Biden gain a lead in the state, despite being historically marginalized by the Democratic Party and the GOP. This was made possible by the advocacy of member-led grassroots organizations like Living United for Change in Arizona which have consistently mobilized working-class families and fought for social, economic, and racial justice. Mi Familia Vota engaged Latinx and immigrant communities in different states and advocated for stronger infrastructures for civic participation. 


In Arizona, Indigenous women community leaders fought to challenge years of voter suppression. Leaders like Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, ran to be the county recorder and co-founded Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots organizing group which made the voting process more accessible. 

lhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were re-elected to Congress in Minnesota and Michigan respectively, tirelessly rallied voters at the local level and ensuring Biden’s victory in their states. Community activist and nurse Cori Bush – who became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Missouri – was endorsed by the Sunrise Movement progressive political action committee Justice Democrats who previously endorsed Congress members Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others. Run for Something, a political organization recruiting young progressives running for down-ballot offices, endorsed young progressive candidates like Mauree Turner who became the first Black Muslim nonbinary state legislator from Oklahoma. 

The summer’s Black Lives Matter protests should be credited for sparking conversations about structural injustices, and the importance of showing up to vote.

Black Lives Matter protests politicized the electorate

The summer’s Black Lives Matter protests should be credited for sparking conversations about structural injustices, and the importance of showing up to vote. Some studies even suggested that the protests were responsible for an increase in voter registrations. The protests also politicized many, particularly young BIPOC first-time voters, empowering them to understand the interconnected nature of oppressions that maintain the status quo in an unjust society. 

In Philadelphia during election week, protesters took to denounce Trump’s premature declaration of victory in the state. The protests converged with simultaneous BLM protests in response to the murder of a Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., by the Philadelphia police. Other protest organizers also called for the release of Philly for REAL Justice activist Anthony Smith. In this context, the demand to count all votes was framed as one of the means to the greater ends of protecting civil rights, challenging police brutality, and authoritarianism, and holding a racist criminal justice system accountable.


Volunteers and poll workers saved the day

In between social distancing laws and divisive political struggles, thousands of volunteers for the Democrats utilized digital resources and low-risk physical outreach methods to connect with voters. For Laura, an organizer working with the Chicago chapter of NAPAWF, information access for diverse communities was critical: “We put a lot of emphasis on making information accessible in multiple languages and canvassing. In Georgia specifically, we were able to get older South Asian women to help us phone-bank within their community. This was effective since most of them don’t speak English.” In many swing states, almost 200 NAPAWF volunteers for the Get Out the Vote campaign reached out to AAPI women voters in more than 15 languages, made over 40,000 calls and sent out over 12,000 texts. 

Elsewhere, during and after election day, poll workers risked their lives to count every vote. In Maricopa County, Arizona, poll workers were harassed by Pro-Trump supporters spurred by conspiracy theories of voter fraud and stolen votes, driven by merit-less claims peddled by Trump. Nonetheless, the workers persisted, and the county voted blue. 

It is undeniable that the bulk of progressive organizing was led by BIPOC leaders, but this labor, which is typically not compensated proportionally, should not be romanticized.

Organizers put in the work, what about the Democratic Party?

One of the most significant victories of this election cycle belongs to Kamala Harris, who became the first woman and Black and South Asian-American person to be elected Vice President. However, as many have noted, representation does not guarantee transformational justice. She has been critiqued at length for her controversial track record as district attorney. It is also ironic, that she was elected alongside Biden who, as a Senator, actively caused harm to poor Black communities through legislation.


All of this is to say that despite the impending end of the Trump presidency, the Democratic Party must address its own conservatism and how it continues to uphold oppressive structures through governance. If the Party wants to honor those who won them the election, it must take the voices of BIPOC communities seriously and commit to radically progressive agendas in policy-making. It is undeniable that the bulk of progressive organizing was led by BIPOC leaders, but this labor, which is typically not compensated proportionally, should not be romanticized.

Martha, 23, a volunteer with Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Sunrise Movement, stressed that political leaders and white voters should dismantle white supremacy: “Young organizers turned out the huge number of young Democrat voters in this election. But we also saw that more young white voters voted for Trump than any other young demographic. White people must reflect and actively work against our own roles that uphold white supremacy… Organizing without challenging this will only reproduce the racist systems of the past.”

A Biden Presidency is just the start of a long and difficult road towards such liberation. Perhaps the movement will pause and take a break to celebrate, perhaps it will shift and manifest in new and more powerful forms. Perhaps a better future is indeed closer than it seems. In the meantime, organizers will continue to hold space for the most vulnerable, reminding us that the fight goes beyond one election cycle.

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