Posted April 9, 2020
The spectacle of Wisconsin holding its 2020 presidential primary and judicial elections in the midst of a world-wide pandemic of an extremely contagious disease is a stunning example of the recklessness and deeply anti-social nature of the state Republicans who control the extremely gerrymandered state Assembly and the equally reactionary Republican-controlled state Supreme Court, which granted their demand to overturn the Democratic governor’s order postponing the elections.
These are the same forces which are demanding that public religious services for Easter and Passover be authorized, at a time when all public health authorities and officials have called for strict social distancing measures and the US surgeon general compared this week to Pearl Harbor. They are the cothinkers of the reactionary Republicans in other parts of the country who have resisted closing nonessential businesses, openly acknowledging that this would mean sacrificing the lives of older people, who they believed would gladly sacrifice themselves for the good of the “economy.”
Democratic governor Tony Evers spent days pleading with the Republican legislative leadership to formally authorize the postponement of the elections, given the obvious dangers of in-person voting and the problems associated with absentee voting, repeatedly claiming that he lacked the authority to do so on his own. It was only on the eve of the election that he issued a decree postponing the elections, causing confusion because absentee ballots were being sent and conflicting information on deadlines and possible extensions was issued.
With state assembly speaker Robin Vos leading the charge, the Republicans issued an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court and brazenly announced that election workers should stand ready to open polls on Tuesday. As we know, they got their way, as both the Wisconsin and US supreme courts ruled in their favor.
The Republicans cynically claimed that they were defending our rights to vote, but the opposite of course was true. The goal, as Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in a dissenting opinion, was to chill voting in heavily working-class, Black, Latinx and Democratic Milwaukee. The Republicans were apparently primarily motivated by a desire to maintain their 5-4 majority on the same Supreme Court that allowed the elections to proceed.
As a result, thousands were faced with the prospect of either losing their right to vote or risking their and everyone’s health. The closing of polls for lack of poll workers assured overcrowding in polling stations. Andrea Palm, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “In-person voting would without question increase case totals, and an increase in the number of cases in Wisconsin would result in more deaths.”
All this was happening as African Americans were dying of COVID-19 at rates double their proportion of the city population. African American activist Jules Cain witnessed “elders of the community standing in packed lines with homemade face masks, quite literally putting their lives on the line to try to vote in hyper-congested voting lines.”
The Republican maneuver was as cynical as it was dangerous. Vos, who assured the public that the polling stations were safe, was photographed in hard-to-get protective gear, while Milwaukeeans without such protection stood outside of polling stations trying to maintain social distancing.
Working people in Wisconsin face a health and economic crisis of historic proportions, while being ruled by the most cynically reactionary wing of the Republican Party and a pusillanimous Democratic governor.
Governments everywhere stake their legitimacy on assuring basic public services, and public health is the most basic of these. Yet, capitalist governments have increasingly shown a combination of inability and unwillingness to do that. In recent years, local and state governments, driven by neoliberal politics, have endangered the public health of the most exploited and oppressed layers of the population all over the country.
The Flint water crisis irreparably harmed thousands of people, particularly poor Black children. Cutoffs of water to poverty-stricken residents in the majority Black city of Detroit put them — and everyone — in danger at a time when access to hot water and soap is a public health necessity of the first order. In Milwaukee, the replacing of lead pipes in working-class communities and communities of color has been a low priority for city and state officials of both parties.
The Wisconsin elections debacle is at once an attack on our democratic rights and our most basic right, that of our health. It is a perfect example of how the capitalist system and its two parties put profits and power first, and public health and welfare last.
Working people, communities of color, and the planet needs socialism now more than ever. To get there we need our own party, one that answers to us and our needs, not those of profit and reactionary ideology.