By Priscilla Bort
Monday evening brought the terrible question of sending people to the polls or telling them to stay home. For many people, it wasn’t a question at all. Those who were more at risk — the elderly, the sick, Black and brown folks and low-income families — were shut out completely.
For others, the question was one they had to grapple with personally. Did they feel safe enough to crowd into one of the few polling locations left open? What if they put other voters at risk, or brought the virus back home with them?
These were the questions I heard over and over in the days leading up to the election. As an organizer with the Wisconsin Working Families Party, a political group that recruits, runs and trains progressive candidates across the state, I spent hours reaching out to voters on Tuesday, only to hear heartbreaking story after story of people who were forced between their health and their vote. No one wanted to miss the election, but no one could safely go outside.
This was an unprecedented ethical dilemma, forced on us all by the Republican-controlled state legislature who were so committed to using this pandemic to massively disenfranchise Black, brown and low-income voters, they turned voting into a death threat.
But while Tuesday night exposed the gruesome length a corrupt group of lawmakers were willing to go to to protect themselves, it also showed the outpouring of solidarity and compassion our communities have for each other. Across the state, grassroots networks of organizers, activists and regular working people came together in an attempt to protect our democracy while protecting each other. Here in Milwaukee, grassroots groups like the WI WFP saw an upsurge in volunteers.
Despite dealing with immense uncertainty and heartbreak of their own, people were willing to do whatever it takes to support and protect one another. I heard person after person say that they appreciated campaigns and organizations, like ours, that were not only calling about voting but calling about resources and to check in. There were people who had voted Democrat for the first time in 30 years, determined to not let this repeat in November and beyond.
There is far more work to be done in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin. But our collective commitment to keeping each other safe was a bright spot in what will undoubtedly be one of the darkest days in our state’s history.
Today and every day, I am grateful for all the organizers, activists, volunteers and everyday people who are committed to protecting our democracy.