April 17, 2024

Why MVP is proud to support the Uncommitted movement

The Uncommitted movement is a new force to be reckoned with in American politics, shifting the conversation around Gaza by leveraging primary votes in key battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin. They have a four-phase plan that includes fighting fascism and securing democracy at the ballot box in November. MVP believes their work is key to addressing the biggest challenge of 2024: The “Biden Enthusiasm Gap.” MVP Executive Director, Billy Wimsatt, shares why MVP has been supporting this strategy.
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Halah Ahmad, spokesperson for Listen to Wisconsin (screenshot of NBC News, April 3, 2024)

Note: There have recently been escalatory developments in the Middle East beyond the scope of this piece. While our purpose here is to illuminate MVP’s domestic political strategy, we are praying for lasting peace, safety, and self-determination for every precious life: Palestinian, Israeli, and all people.

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Dear Friends of MVP,

I share this as the Executive Director of Movement Voter PAC; as a political strategist; and most of all, as an American who desperately, above all else, wants to ensure that we do not have a fascist MAGA regime take over our country this fall and destroy everything we have spent our entire lives working for. 

As we shared in the wake of the Michigan primary, Movement Voter PAC is proud to have supported the Uncommitted movement from the very beginning. We have continued supporting the movement in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states.

MVP’s Program Team, especially our Wisconsin State Advisor, Reema Ahmad, and I have been working closely together to support the organizing in multiple states, both because we believe it is the right thing to do to save lives, and because we believe it is politically strategic. I want to share more about why we have so strongly and vocally supported Uncommitted and why we believe their brilliantly win-win-win strategy is one of the greatest hopes we have of winning in November. 

– Billy Wimsatt
Executive Director, Movement Voter PAC

 


The Short Version: Why Uncommitted, Why Now

1) MVP’s strategy to win 2024 is to close the “Biden Enthusiasm Gap.”

  • We are facing major enthusiasm problems with every demographic group — especially among young voters and voters of color.
  • MVP is addressing this by supporting local groups in battleground states, trusted messengers that can most effectively meet these voters where they are and motivate them to turn out. That’s MVP’s model and theory of change.

2) Supporting the Uncommitted movement is central to this strategy. 

  • The voters, volunteers, and organizers who are angry and demoralized by Biden’s approach in Gaza are our margin of victory in Michigan and other crucial states.
  • The Uncommitted movement is doing a heroic job of constructively leveraging the Democratic primary to turn these voters’ disillusionment and disengagement into agency, participation, and hope.

3) Uncommitted has shown Democrats that a permanent ceasefire is a blueprint for beating Trump. 

  • None of the Uncommitted organizers want a Trump presidency or a MAGA Congress. 
  • By pushing Biden now, the Uncommitted movement is maximizing his opportunity to earn back voters’ trust in time for November.

4) Uncommitted has a four-phase plan that systematically builds towards fighting fascism in November.

  • Uncommitted has a sophisticated four-phase strategy: 1) Build grassroots power in the Democratic primaries advocating for a permanent ceasefire; 2) Constructively inform the DNC platform through the lens of an anti-war, pro-peace narrative; 3) Mobilize voters to fight fascism in the fall; and 4) Organize long-term for a foreign policy that creates peace, freedom, and dignity for all.
  • In their own words, Uncommitted’s plan for the fall includes “keeping our anti-war voters engaged through November to save lives, fight fascism and strengthen our democracy.” 

5) “Magical thinking” by Establishment Dems is not a winning strategy.

  • 2024 will likely be decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states. We cannot afford to lose a single community or voting bloc.
  • We know what will not win back the most disillusioned voters: The Establishment approach of tone-deaf TV ads saying “Biden good, Trump bad.”

6) The Uncommitted strategy is not only pivotal to winning 2024, but to winning durable Democratic majorities for cycles to come.

  • Uncommitted’s showing in the Democratic primary has proven that there is a large and organized base of voters of every age, faith, and background who are committed to leveraging U.S. foreign policy to bring about safety, dignity, and freedom for all Palestinians and Israelis.
  • Uncommitted has built trust amongst a key bloc of anti-war, pro-peace voters whom we need to pay attention to, if we want to salvage and strengthen our big-tent Democratic coalition to win in 2024 and beyond.

 


The Larger Context: Biden’s Enthusiasm Gap

To zoom out for a moment, MVP’s strategy around supporting Uncommitted is part of our much larger strategy to address the terrifying Biden Enthusiasm Gap. 

As everyone is well aware, we are facing major enthusiasm problems with every demographic group, especially among young voters and voters of color.

Winning back disaffected voters is a necessity, not a luxury.

Consider these sobering data points from two of this year’s likely “tipping point” states:

  • In Wisconsin, Biden flipped the state in 2020 by just 20,682 votes, winning 92% of Black voters, 60% of Latine voters, and 59% of 18-29 year-olds. Now state polling shows Wisconsin voters approve less of Biden than other state Democrats, and are 31% less enthusiastic to vote, with Trump winning “very enthusiastic” voters by 18%. Meanwhile, over 48,000 Wisconsinites voted “uninstructed” (equivalent to “uncommitted”) in the 2024 primary, more than doubling Biden’s 2020 victory margin.
  • In Michigan, Biden won back the state in 2020 by 154,188 votes, thanks to Black voters (voting for Biden at 92%), young voters (61%), and Arab American and Muslim American voters. In the state’s most heavily Arab American counties, voters supported Biden at nearly 70%. Michigan has more than 200,000 registered Muslim voters and 300,000 people claiming Middle Eastern and North African ancestry.

    This year, young votersBlack voters, and Muslim and Arab American voters range from less enthusiastic to outright furious with Biden. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” in the 2024 primary. 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.

MVP’s 2024 strategy is laser-focused on addressing this by supporting hundreds of community-based, local voter engagement organizations in battleground states whose tens of thousands of organizers, canvassers, volunteers, and local influencers have already begun reaching out to tens of millions of voters, to:

  • Listen and meet voters where they’re at; 
  • Share their personal stories; 
  • Remind voters what is at stake in 2024;
  • Highlight the difference between Trump/MAGA/Fascism and Biden/Democrats/Democracy; 
  • Share a positive vision for 2025; and 
  • Starkly contrast what the future will look like if we win or lose this November: Fascism vs. democracy.

For MVP, supporting Uncommitted is a key part of this larger strategy. In many ways, we see Uncommitted as the beating heart of the strategy. 

If a large, critical mass of our organizers, volunteers, and canvassers are feeling angry and demoralized about Gaza — and they are trying to have conversations with voters who are feeling angry and demoralized about Gaza — then our job this fall will be difficult if not impossible. 

A Pressure Strategy with a Precedent

We think the Uncommitted movement is doing a heroic job of leveraging the Democratic primary season to turn disillusionment and disengagement – with Democrats and the democratic process – into agency, participation, and hope. 

“We are well-aware that Trump is not our friend. There is a long time between now and November for Biden to change his policies and earn support from Democratic voters.”

— The Listen to Michigan coalition

The often-forgotten fact is: Democratic primary campaigns are a constructive way to push elected officials on policy positions, and subsequently bring back in disaffected voters who might have otherwise tuned out.

  • We saw this in 2012 when immigrant rights organizers labeled Obama “deporter-in-chief” and successfully provided him the political cover to become a champion of the Dreamers by passing DACA.
  • We saw this in 2020 when Warren and Bernie pressured Biden to come out in favor of canceling student debt – which helped him energize young voters and win in the fall. 

Just so everyone is clear: None of the Uncommitted organizers want a Trump presidency or a MAGA Congress. Let me say that again: No one wants Trump. No one wants MAGA. They are very clear on the political realities, and have been from the beginning – on their website, in interviews, and in candid conversations.

The Leadership Vacuum on Gaza

Context is important: The Uncommitted movement has been filling a huge leadership vacuum around the unaddressed pain, grief, and disillusionment that many Arab, Muslim, and younger Democratic voters have experienced over the past several months.

Uncommitted organizers see exactly what Biden needs to do to win, and they are pushing hard to get him to do it.

Before Uncommitted came along, the Abandon Biden campaign was the only legible electoral political voice that was speaking to the pain and anger of these voters. Uncommitted has managed to thread a needle to both pressure Biden and be clear that they don’t want Trump. According to their website, Uncommitted’s plan for the fall includes “a commitment to keeping our anti-war voters engaged through November to save lives, fight fascism and strengthen our democracy.” (emphasis added) 

To state the (hopefully) obvious from MVP’s perspective: We would never support this strategy if we thought it would hurt Biden’s chances this fall. We believe that it is strategic for Democratic-leaning donors to support them right now to win major policy changes in the coming weeks and months – both to save lives in Gaza and to make all of our jobs easier as we work to, again, in the Uncommitted movement’s own words: keep anti-war voters engaged to fight fascism and strengthen our democracy in November. 

That’s pretty clear.

For anyone who hasn’t been following closely, the organizers behind Uncommitted are thoughtful, politically strategic bridge-builders who understand that they have to fight on two fronts at once: They are strategically leveraging the Democratic primary in an unprecedented way to pressure Biden to change course both because they are horrified by what the Israeli government is doing to Gaza and because they know that the more successful they are in pressuring Biden to do the right thing, the better their chances of organizing their various communities (e.g Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, young, progressive, outraged, disillusioned) to come out and defeat Trump again this fall. 

“We cannot afford to have this base permanently disillusioned or alienated in November.”

— The Uncommitted National Movement

The Uncommitted movement recognizes that these two gigantic goals are deeply intertwined. They see exactly what Biden needs to do to win, and they are pushing hard to get him to do it. 

Conversations with MVP Donors

I have had dozens of conversations with MVP donors and volunteers in which I have shared the context and nuances of the Uncommitted strategy and MVP’s decision to support it.

In every single conversation, many donors start out very concerned. But after we’ve had a chance to really discuss it, every single person has come away with a very different perspective. Many have come away expressing a sense of cautious optimism and hope. “Ok I get it now. This makes a lot of sense,” is a common refrain. These conversations have been transformational and hope-inspiring. 

To be clear, MVP’s support for Uncommitted is a very small fraction of our overall funding and has been and will continue to be funded wholly by MVP donors supportive of the Uncommitted movement. And donors who want to support Uncommitted can now donate to them directly

“Magical Thinking” by Establishment Dems is not a Winning Strategy.

Uncommitted has a very smart four-phase strategy. (See below.) Frankly, it’s a lot smarter than what the Democratic political class has been doing for the past few months, which has basically been to stick their heads in the sand and keep saying that Biden is great, Trump is bad, no one votes based on foreign policy, and most disillusioned voters will come back this fall. That is not a strategy. It’s an empty hope with no substance behind it.

There has been a huge generational and racial gap in perceptions of Biden’s actions here, as well as an ideological gap. The Democratic establishment hasn’t seemed to get it. We are cautiously optimistic that might be starting to change.

To win this election, we are going to need tens of thousands of highly motivated people to talk to tens of millions of deeply unmotivated people in their own local, identity-based, cultural, and ideological communities of trust and convince them to volunteer, donate, organize, and vote. That’s how this works. 

The 2024 election, like 2016 and 2020, is most likely going to be decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states. We cannot afford to lose any significant group of voters from our Democratic coalition in swing states. And that means we also can’t lose a huge proportion of our precious volunteers and organizers who we will need to be enthusiastic trusted messengers to those millions of unenthusiastic voters to have meaningful, empathetic conversations that will bring millions of understandably disillusioned people back. It’s not going to happen by magical thinking and TV ads. 

For those of us who are not Arab American, Muslim, or young and algorithmically profiled to receive Gaza content on social media, it may be hard to imagine how viscerally upsetting the past several months have been, seeing constant videos of crying children who don’t have food; of wailing parents who have lost their children. The situation in Gaza right now is an absolute nightmare. Mainstream Democrats’ unquestioning military support (until recently) for the Gaza campaign has alienated many voters who cannot square Biden’s position with the horrors they are witnessing. Democratic Party leaders should be sending the Uncommitted movement flowers and thank-you cards. Or more accurately, they should be joining and supporting the Uncommitted movement and pushing Biden if they want to have a prayer of rebuilding trust with a critical segment of their base, and salvaging their ability to win this fall.

Increasingly, in the past few weeks there have been indications that, with the help of the Uncommitted movement, more of them are starting to get it. See this eloquent illustration from Wisconsin State Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler, starting at minute 3:49 of this video, and more examples below – there is hope!

“What they’re calling for is what most Americans want, which is an enduring, just peace. Both for Israel and Palestine. Voters are calling for that change, and they’re doing it in the most civic way possible: By casting ballots. If you vote in the primary election, you’re much more likely to vote in November.

“This is a call for change, it’s a protest vote in the great American tradition of speaking your mind at the ballot box, and it’s civic engagement. It’s not tuning out from the system, it’s getting involved. We have a chance to earn all these votes for the Biden-Harris team.”

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

Uncommitted Has Already Achieved So Much

Look at what they have already accomplished. For a brief campaign run on a shoestring, the influence of the Uncommitted movement has been remarkable:

  • After only a three-week campaign in Michigan, over 100,000 Michiganders voted “Uncommitted” in the Democratic primary on February 27th, including 50% of voters in Arab population centers and around college campuses.
  • On February 28th, the Uncommitted vote was the top story in all the national media and the co-chair of Biden’s re-election bid told NPR that “their message has been received.”
  • On March 3rd, Vice President Kamala Harris gave a rousing speech in which, for the first time, she called for a “ceasefire” and immediate humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire.” — Vice President Kamala Harris

  • On March 5th, Super Tuesday, Minnesotans voted “Uncommitted” in even larger proportions than Michigan – 19% of Democratic ballots, compared to less than 1% in 2020. Minnesota will send 11 uncommitted delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer.
  • A whopping 29% of voters in the Hawai’i caucuses voted uncommitted on March 12th, electing seven uncommitted delegates to the DNC.
  • In an unprecedented statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Netanyahu and called for elections in Israel to replace him.
  • Primary voters in Washington state cast 14x the number of uncommitted ballots they did in 2020. In Missouri, the number of uncommitted ballots was 31x more than in 2020.
  • The U.S. proposed a ceasefire resolution in the UN and allowed the UN Security Council to pass a similar resolution calling for an “immediate sustainable ceasefire.” This was the first time ever that the U.S. did not veto a UN resolution critical of Israeli policy. In response, Netanyahu canceled Israel’s delegation to the U.S. 
  • A close Biden ally, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, has called for placing conditions on U.S. aid to Israel.
  • On April 2nd, Wisconsin’s Vote “Uninstructed” campaign won 48,000 votes, more than double Biden’s 2020 margin of victory there.
  • On a call two days later, on April 4th, Biden told Netanyahu that the situation in Gaza was “unacceptable” and demanded “specific, concrete, and measurable steps” to address the humanitarian crisis and protect civilians and aid workers.
  • On April 5th, Nancy Pelosi signed a letter urging Biden to halt and condition weapons transfers to Israel.
  • On April 13th, the New York Times Editorial Board called for an end to unconditional military aid to Israel.

“The question is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself… It does… [But] it is incumbent on the Biden administration to persevere in its efforts to help end the fighting, free the hostages and protect Palestinian civilians.”

The Editorial Board of The New York Times

This is progress that would have been hard to imagine even a few months ago. We obviously still have a long way to go toward systemic solutions that will lead to the lasting safety, security, and well-being of all Palestinians and Israelis alike. But it is now undeniable that the Uncommitted movement is succeeding in shifting the terms of the conversation.

A Win-Win-Win Strategy – In Four Phases

The Uncommitted movement has conceptualized a sophisticated strategy going forward in four phases (which is impressive for a rapid-response campaign just over two months old):

Phase 1: Primary elections

This is the current phase which involves supporting both statewide votes in the Democratic presidential primary, which have already been so effective, and also defending Democratic members of Congress who are being primaried and attacked by the political arm of AIPAC with deceptive multi-million dollar smear campaigns.

Phase 2: The Democratic National Convention

The Uncommitted movement is fielding delegates who will be official representatives from their states at the DNC in Chicago in August. They are still in the process of electing these delegates through each individual state party and developing their strategy. But the basic idea is to have both an inside strategy and a media strategy to continue to push Biden-Harris and the DNC Platform Committee toward adopting its demands.

Phase 3: The Presidential Election

This is the phase that people who want to defeat Trump will be most interested in. Like all of us, the Uncommitted movement opposes Trump, and they will be devising a principled and strategic way to engage their base around the choice that the general election presents. The more successful they are at shifting U.S. foreign policy in Phases 1 and 2, the more effectively they can engage their supporters to energetically and emphatically organize voters to oppose Trump in Phase 3. 

This is at least partly in Biden’s control. Under no circumstances will Uncommitted encourage voters to stay home in November, or to vote for third-party candidates or Trump. But what Biden does — and how soon he does it — will make a huge difference. 

The Uncommitted movement is strategically engaging their communities. But we need Biden to do his part to make sure we have the favorable outcome we so desperately need in November. MVP’s pragmatic political strategy, therefore, is to support Uncommitted to be as successful as possible in Phases 1, 2, and 3. 

Phase 4: Post-election and long-term

Uncommitted is still in the very early stages of devising post-election and long-term strategy. Sadly, once the war calms down, Gaza will still be in ruins with more than 2.2 million people in a long-term state of humanitarian catastrophe, and over time the world’s attention will drift. 

The Uncommitted movement intends to continue building the power of Palestinian American, Arab American, Muslim, and allied communities in the U.S. both to build a stronger and more progressive democracy here at home and to continue advocating for a more balanced U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East that will create the conditions for a just and lasting peace, with freedom and dignity for all. We should all welcome this. 

Uncommitted’s four-phase plan is a brilliant example of a win-win-win strategy: 

  1. They are sending a clarion call to Biden to take immediate action on Gaza to save lives and earn back the trust of a key part of the Democratic base. 
  2. They’re going to help us beat fascism and preserve democracy in the fall (by keeping otherwise disillusioned voters in the game to defeat Trump and MAGA up and down the ballot). 
  3. Over the long term, they’re going to strengthen the power of Arab and Muslim voters (and all voters of color, especially Black voters) within our big-tent Democratic coalition — and help secure Democratic governing majorities in the U.S. and to rebalance U.S. foreign policy in a way that moves us closer to a Middle East with peace, freedom, and self-determination for all.

Win. Win. Win. 

As former Congress member Andy Levin (MI) shared with me via email as a reflection: “Biden and his team needed to be made to see the level of upset and alienation the U.S. strategy on Gaza was causing. Having folks vote ‘Uncommitted’ turned tens of thousands of voters who otherwise would have stayed home and been invisible or voted for a third-party candidate into the most visible thing in the Democratic primaries, the central issue everyone has been talking about, and thus just what was needed to push Biden to change directions.”

So Glad We Listened to Michigan!

The MVP team is so proud to have supported the Uncommitted movement since the very beginning. My colleague Reema Ahmad and I have been working together on this, with her leading in our relationships with partners in multiple states. It has been a powerful experience for both of us.

Reema, who serves both as our Wisconsin State Advisor and leads our Muslim Voter Fund, is Palestinian American and I’m Jewish, and we have built a great strategic partnership. We don’t see everything the same way, and we don’t speak for one another, but we do have a lot of trust and honesty between us – a tiny microcosm of the kind of coalition we need to be building on a much larger scale. We strategized together on how to support the campaign as it moved from state to state, directly funding local MVP partners in Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona, and elsewhere to run their own locally-rooted versions of the campaign. The impact was remarkable – at a state-by-state level and within the political class.

When it became clear that the next big primary would be in Wisconsin, people in Wisconsin asked Reema if she would be willing to manage the Listen to Wisconsin campaign because she is such a respected organizer there. In her personal capacity, she pulled together an incredible campaign, and in the end, Wisconsin Vote Uninstructed won more than 48,000 votes, more than doubling Biden’s 2020 margin of victory. The results in Wisconsin and other states proved that what happened in Michigan was not unique to Michigan – and was not based solely on the size of the Arab population in a state. The national Uncommitted movement represents the growth of a pro-peace, pro-democracy, pro-human rights effort made up of voters of every age, faith, and background. This is a movement for safety, freedom, and justice for all – and their voters are everywhere.

Two days after the Wisconsin vote, Biden had his toughest conversation yet with Netanyahu about the Israeli military’s treatment of civilians in Gaza. A few hours later, Israel committed to open up new routes for humanitarian aid. One cannot singularly attribute causation, of course, since there were several factors. But it’s not a stretch to say that the Uncommitted movement, and the impact it has already had on Biden, and by extension Netanyahu, will bring food to starving families and will tangibly help to save a significant number of real human beings’ lives in Gaza — and thus increase the long-term prospects of safety and security of all Palestinians and Israelis.

“We believe all human life is sacred. A permanent ceasefire is the best and fastest strategy to protect both Palestinian civilians and the Israeli hostages.”

— The Listen to Wisconsin coalition

The strategy is working. The recent results in Wisconsin and so many other states proved that what happened in Michigan was not unique to Michigan – and was not based solely on the size of the Arab population in a state. The national Uncommitted movement represents the growth of a pro-peace, pro-democracy, pro-human rights effort made up of voters of every age, faith, and background. 

We should all be incredibly grateful to the organizers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and nationally, for having the strategic insight and political courage to take risks, stand up for our values, and do the right thing. 

There is so much more that needs to be done to shift U.S. policy and make things better in Israel and Gaza. But right now, Uncommitted has defied (and shifted) the conventional wisdom and done exactly what this country needs to re-engage our disillusioned young and diverse Democratic base, move Biden and the Democratic Party on Gaza, and give us all the wind we so desperately need in our sails to defeat the armies of MAGA this November. This is exactly what the organizers told us months ago needed to be done. I’m so glad we listened to them.

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