February 28, 2024

Michigan, the “Uncommitted” Movement for Ceasefire, and What We Do About Israel/Gaza

Over 100,000 Michiganders vote “uncommitted” (instead of Joe Biden) in the Democratic primary. Here’s MVP’s strategic analysis of how this grassroots effort can (counter-intuitively) help Biden and Democrats win in November.
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New York Times screenshot, February 28, 2024

On Tuesday, more than 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” instead of for Joe Biden, in protest against Biden’s approach to the war in Gaza and a call for a ceasefire. In densely Arab-American communities of Dearborn and Hamtramck over 50% voted uncommitted, along with 15-20% in college towns like Ann Arbor and East Lansing.

This is a flashing warning sign for Biden and Democrats in terms of foreign policy and also in relation to our base of young voters, Arab and Muslim voters, progressive voters, and voters of color. The war in Israel and Palestine has divided the Democratic base. MVP’s goal is to hold our family together to stop fascism and build a brighter future together. 

MVP is working closely with our partners to advance a strategy that engages and affirms the most disaffected Democratic-leaning voters — AND helps Biden and Democrats win in November. The sentiment we have heard consistently from uncommitted organizers is expressed well by Asma Mohammed from Minnesota: “We are against a Trump presidency, and we also want Biden to be better.” 

We support local progressive organizations, including those who organize protest votes in Democratic primaries. Primaries are a crucial opportunity for us to engage new and passionate voters and organizers (as Bernie and Warren did in 2020), and to transform anger and disillusionment into agency and action. And crucially, to express anger constructively, through Democratic primaries, not through third-party candidates like RFK Junior, or sitting it out in the general election.

This is a very nuanced needle to thread – and a critically necessary one. If we do this well, we can meet deeply frustrated voters where they’re at, and give a critical but constructive voice to their concerns. Then, if the Biden team is savvy enough to listen to and welcome those organizers and voters (as they did in 2020), it will actually help us win in the general election. 

There are a lot of things that are outside of Biden’s or our control, including the calculations of Netanyahu who arguably has a vested interest in continuing the war and seeing Biden lose. As people who desperately want to not live under fascist dictatorship, we are between a rock and a hard place. 

What to do? We need a two-step plan. Step one is advocacy. Step two is GOTV. Most Democratic pundits are missing the first step – which is where we are right now. We have to support the ceasefire movement to give Biden the political cover to say publicly and boldly what he believes privately: We need a ceasefire to stop the killing, free the hostages, bring humanitarian aid, and create the conditions for Palestinians and Israelis to live with safety and dignity. 

Remember: The idea of movements pushing presidents and giving them political cover is not new. In 1964, civil rights groups pushed President Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act. In 2011, immigrant rights groups organizers publicly railed against President Obama, labeling him “Deporter-In-Chief.” In June 2012, Obama announced DACA. In November 2012, the youth vote turned out.

Fast-forward to 2024, and some Democratic operatives and pundits are already dismissing the importance of what happened in Michigan. Or worse yet, talking about writing off the youth vote and Arab and Muslim voters. Some Democratic analysts believe the new path to victory lies in doubling down on persuading more working-class and suburban (read: centrist white) Nikki Haley voters.

If we want to win this November, we need to go above and beyond what we have ever done before. We need to include the most marginalized communities of voters. We cannot take any voter for granted. Instead of giving up, we are doubling down on investing in young voters, Arab and Muslim voters, voters of color, and disaffected progressive voters. 

Deeper engagement, not abandonment of core Democratic constituencies, is our path to victory in the fall. We cannot and will not abandon these communities whose lives and communities matter and who are the base of a long-term progressive future in this country.

This is the core approach that we believe will be vital to winning in 2024. How do we do it? By investing in hundreds of local organizations that will train tens of thousands of canvassers – with five strategic lenses:

  1. Training on “Deep Canvassing,” empathetic listening, and meeting people where they are – making the real human connections that create an opening for angry or disaffected voters to re-engage rather than sit it out or support Trump or third parties.
  2. Training on Story of Self for canvassers to be trusted messengers, sharing their own powerfully authentic stories of why they are canvassing for Democrats, even with mixed emotions. This is the opposite of the usual, superficial b.s. partisan messaging pabulum. It works because it’s real.
  3. Making the election about Trump and MAGA fascism, by making side-by-side comparisons of Biden and Democrats vs. Trump and MAGA – on issues like abortion, climate, and the very real danger of fascism.
  4. Highlighting Biden’s accomplishments, and reminding people of the thousands of good things Biden has done – from the biggest climate investments in history to canceling $138 Billion in student debt – and how MAGA has blocked him from doing even more. 
  5. Imagining a brighter 2025 with Democrats in power. We can secure voting rights, end gerrymandering, protect abortion rights, invest in climate solutions, support working families, appoint judges, and so much more. We can have nice things. But we have to fight for them.

Not every organization we fund is going to use all five of these strategies. Like good organizers, we are meeting both our donors and our local partners where they’re at, and having honest, generative, strategic conversations. MVP is deep in conversation with our many local and national partners about a strategy to BOTH make their voices heard in the primaries AND also to engage, persuade, and turn out angry and disillusioned voters in the general election.

This is going to require an unprecedented Apollo Project-level investment.

We need to invest in a hybrid of micro-targeting, tailored messaging, deep canvassing, and relational organizing, at a level of scale and sophistication that has never happened before. This is cutting-edge stuff. It is going to require that we invest deeper, earlier, and with more c4 and PAC “political” money than ever before. Please join us to hear more about this new strategy next week (RSVP). 

If you haven’t already, it is imperative for each of us to get involved in the biggest way we can imagine this election cycle, and to consider making the biggest investments we have ever made. Nothing less is required to secure progress toward our dreams and avoid our worst nightmares.

We should listen to Michigan – whether as a wake-up call, an inspiration, or a warning. It is a clarion call to join with each other in community – people of all ages, races, and backgrounds – to prevent fascism, work for peace and prosperity for all people, and join together in re-building beloved community.

With hope (and a multi-layered approach to strategy),

Billy Wimsatt, MVP Executive Director
(On behalf of the MVP team)

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