“This Is a Movement of Hope”: Wisconsin’s Uninstructed Campaign Has Momentum

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The Uncommitted national movement has reached Wisconsin, perhaps the most critical swing state in the country, for the April 2 primary. To learn more, In These Times interviewed Wisconsin organizers Reema Ahmad and Kyle Johnson, as well as elected officials Francesca Hong and Ryan Clancy.

RILEY ROLIFF, IN THESE TIMES,

There were large protests in Milwaukee when President Joe Biden came to visit on March 13, 2024 because of his support for the genocide in Gaza. PHOTO BY BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Organizers with Listen to Wisconsin, the group driving the state’s ​Uninstructed” campaign, say next week’s primary will send President Joe Biden the ​final, unequivocal message from the Midwest” that if he wants to beat Trump, he must act immediately to end the genocide in Gaza.

Wisconsin may be the most pivotal swing state in the country, and Biden only beat Trump by the narrowest of margins there in 2020 — a little more than 20,000 votes, or just over 0.6%. And according to some recent polls, the incumbent is currently trailing (by anywhere from 2% to 6%) as he is losing support from voters — including younger voters — who care about the mass killings.

“We demand an end to this genocide, an immediate cease-fire and an end to military funding [of Israel],” says Reema Ahmad, a Palestinian organizer leading the Uninstructed campaign in Wisconsin. “We’re using our votes to voice this protest.”

We demand an end to this genocide, an immediate cease-fire and an end to military funding [of Israel],” says Reema Ahmad, a Palestinian organizer leading the Uninstructed campaign in Wisconsin. ​We’re using our votes to voice this protest.”

Wisconsin has been one of the most anticipated stops of the Uncommitted national movement, an effort that has galvanized a surprising number of voters in a slew of states since it was launched in Michigan in late February when some 100,000voters filled in ​Uncommitted” on their primary ballots.

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Organizers in Wisconsin are rallying voters fill in the ​Uninstructed delegation” option on the Democratic presidential primary section of the ballot on April 2.

“The pathway to the presidency is going to run through Wisconsin,” Ahmad says. “We are very likely to be the tipping point state again.”

The pathway to the presidency is going to run through Wisconsin,” Ahmad says. ​We are very likely to be the tipping point state again.”

The campaign released a letter on Sunday signed by 20 elected officials of various positions throughout Wisconsin endorsing the Uninstructed campaign, and in a press release called on others to add their names and ​support voters’ demands for an immediate, unconditional and lasting cease-fire and serious steps toward lasting peace in Gaza.” At least four more officials have signed.

The letter was written by State Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Wisc.) and states that elected officials ​have an undeniable responsibility to stand with the Palestinian people in loving solidarity and demand an end to military aid to Israel and ensure the taxpayers are no longer complicit in a genocide that is funded by our government.”

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Turnout is going to be key for Biden in 2024 and his campaign will need grassroots organizers like Ahmad to help get voters to the polls. Her message to his campaign is simple: ​The ball is in Biden’s court.”

Meet the demands of the majority of Americans today,” she says, ​If you care about democracy.”

To better understand the motivations behind the letter and the campaign, Riley Roliff of In These Times interviewed Hong and another elected official who signed the letter, Milwaukee County Supervisor and State Rep. Ryan Clancy, as well as organizer Kyle Johnson, political director of the Milwaukee-based organization Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) who has also been organizing with Listen to Wisconsin and the Uninstructed campaign.

One of the most poignant parts of the interview was when Johnson, in a sentiment echoed by others, framed the Uninstructed campaign as ​a movement of hope.”

This is a movement of hope. This is a movement of motivation. This is a movement of pulling people into the process who otherwise would stay home,” Johnson told Roliff.

This is us telling Biden, sending a message to the Democratic Party, sending a message to the White House, that one, we’re trying to save the conscience of this nation, we’re trying to save the conscience of a party. But two, you’re not going to win if you continue to take these actions.”

“This is a movement of hope. This is a movement of motivation. This is a movement of pulling people into the process who otherwise would stay home,” says organizer Kyle Johnson.

Wisconsin’s April 2 primary also coincides with primaries in Rhode Island and Connecticut, where the Connecticut Palestine Solidarity Coalition (including the state chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace Action and the Democratic Socialists of America) are urging voters to choose ​Uncommitted.”

Following the primaries on April 2, there are other options for voters to join the Uncommitted national movement — in Alaska on April 6, Wyoming on April 13, Maryland on May 14, Kentucky on May 21, Idaho on May 23, Montana (called ​No Preference”) and New Jersey and New Mexico on June 4, and the Virgin Islands on June 8.

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Riley Roliff: Why have you endorsed the Uninstructed campaign in Wisconsin? Why is the campaign so important? 

Francesca Hong: I’ve been hearing a lot in the last four years that democracy is a verb. And for me, the Uninstructed campaign is the strongest way to show that our democracy is an action (a verb) and that democracy can actually be by the people and for the people.

It starts with folks feeling empowered that their vote and the urgency of their vote can lead to action. And not only do we hold elected officials accountable with this vote, but we’re coming together around a campaign that has broad support from folks of all different backgrounds, all different beliefs. I think that is the best way we show that our democracy is healthy and strong — when we actually come together for a cause and that no matter what your zip code is, it matters to you.

Ryan Clancy: I’m likely going to vote Uninstructed. I am normally a huge fan of early voting, but in this case, I am waiting until the very last minute because I fervently hope that Biden will make a significant policy change and not just call for a cease-fire, but make a cease-fire happen. President Biden could end this with a phone call, any American president in recent memory could, by simply saying that we will stop the aid and stop the political cover.

I don’t want another four years of Donald Trump, that would be an incredibly terrible prospect. I don’t even need to go into the many ways that would be bad for many people. And I know that in speaking to so many folks both on the Left and under 30, that many people that I’m close to are throwing up their hands and saying that they’re not going to vote in November and that they’re out, they’re not engaging in this political process. The Uninstructed movement really is a way to re-engage folks and, I think, represents Biden’s best chance at a victory and making sure that we don’t have another four years of Trump.

“The Uninstructed movement really is a way to re-engage folks and, I think, represents Biden’s best chance at a victory and making sure that we don’t have another four years of Trump.”—Ryan Clancy

Kyle Johnson: There’s two layers for me. One is just from a relational perspective. I know quite a few Palestinian-Americans. And just as a friend, to hear what they’re going through, to hear that they’re worried about family over there, to hear that they’ve lost family, it hits you on a human level that nothing else can. So even outside of this being the morally right thing to do, and being in this work and putting your line in the sand, having that human connection with folks who are going through so much pain and suffering and pain and loss, that’s the first and foremost reason why I’m a part of this movement.

But secondly, as someone who does this work politically, civically, and someone who has gotten Joe Biden elected, and as an American taxpayer, there’s those levels, too. There’s a lot of tie-ins as far as drawing direct lines from the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement to what we’re going through right now. And we can’t miss out on the fact that there was such a wide range of Palestinian American support for that movement, Muslim support, Arab American support for us. So we have to show up for them in these times, too. That’s what solidarity is about. That’s what this country is about.

“So BLOC is part of this call, because at the end of the day, we have to stop the destruction of human life. We believe in the sanctity of human life, we believe that war is wrong. And that’s the intersection of all these issues, that our money as taxpayers are being used to end human life. And we can’t stand for that.”—Kyle Johnson

But what it really comes down to is that Americans, myself included, are tired of the military industrial complex and the war machine constantly churning and constantly driving. Almost $4 billion a year goes to Israel to provide weapons of war. And our calls are simple. We know that money can be used to foster and develop human life and not end it, whether that’s in America, or in Gaza, or in the West Bank.

So BLOC is part of this call, because at the end of the day, we have to stop the destruction of human life. We believe in the sanctity of human life, we believe that war is wrong. And that’s the intersection of all these issues, that our money as taxpayers are being used to end human life. And we can’t stand for that.

Roliff: Wisconsin is obviously such a critical battleground state. How do you respond to the critics who are saying that the Uninstructed campaign hurts Biden’s chance of winning the presidency and in turn helps Trump?

Johnson: I’ve been having these conversations quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. And it’s all about the framing. And I know a lot of people are worried about democracy and worried about Trump getting back in and those are valid concerns. This is a movement of hope. This is a movement of motivation. This is a movement of pulling people into the process who otherwise would stay home. Sometimes you gotta help people help themselves. This is us telling Biden, sending a message to the Democratic Party, sending a message to the White House, that one, we’re trying to save the conscience of this nation, we’re trying to save the conscience of a party. But two, you’re not going to win if you continue to take these actions.

“We want to come out and vote for you at the ballot box in November. But at the end of the day, we can’t overlook a genocide in order to do so.”—Kyle Johnson

We have a wide coalition of people across class, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, who are saying we put in blood, sweat and tears and voted for you in 2020 because of ideals that you stood for and that you spoke on. That’s not matching right now. We want to come out and vote for you at the ballot box in November. But at the end of the day, we can’t overlook a genocide in order to do so. When it comes to genocide, there’s no lesser of two evils there. And I’m never going to put myself in the position of overlooking genocide in the endeavor of lesser of two evils. We are infusing a lot of strength and a lot of energy into this campaign, but we need Joe Biden to stop the genocide. We need him to make a very simple phone call and to continue to work to get Netanyahu to stop the death. Otherwise, we’re ready to line up on you.

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Hong: A word I’ve been thinking a lot about is energy. People are not robots. People are people. We have this shared humanity because we have emotions. And those emotions are often dictated by energy. And right now, where there is not energy, where there is immense disillusion and a lot of fear, is particularly in our communities of color and our young people. And those are two key voting blocs that this administration is going to need to ensure that we don’t end up in a fascist hellhole. And I think when we have a campaign like Uninstructed, that is driven by hope, that is bringing people together because we know that a collective future, a shared future, is possible when we have a vision of hope and a better world, we have to fuel that. And this campaign does it because it is a display of solidarity, it is centering humanity, it is knowing that democracy is strongest when we value human rights and we honor human rights.

“Right now, where there is not energy, where there is immense disillusion and a lot of fear, is particularly in our communities of color and our young people. And those are two key voting blocs that this administration is going to need to ensure that we don’t end up in a fascist hellhole.”—Francesca Hong

Responding to this moment is about creating a movement and bringing energy to those voters who feel most disillusioned right now. And those are our Muslim and Arab, Jewish communities and our young people. And this administration not only won’t win without them, but I think American politics is going to continue to be in despair without these very key demographics. They deserve to be listened to. They deserve to have their opinions and thoughts validated. And I think as an elected official, I hold a deep responsibility and a duty to listen and care.

Clancy: I’m just one of many people who cannot bring themselves to vote for somebody who is enabling genocide, and who cannot go back to his neighbors or constituents and look them in the eye and say, ​I know that you’ve lost somebody in the West Bank or Gaza,” or, ​I know that this is an issue that’s incredibly important to you, but that’s not good enough anymore.” And I think taking people for granted, taking voters for granted, has to end.

Roliff: Kyle, as political director of BLOC, can you talk about your organizing around the campaign and the 2024 election? Has Palestine and the genocide in Gaza been present in those conversations you’re having?

Johnson: It’s present in all our conversations. It’s not the starting point, but when we knock doors as BLOC, we have a team of 50 folks that go out and they go out and have conversations, and the first thing they ask is, ​What does it look like for your community to thrive?” And the conversation can go anywhere. ​We need a stop sign at the end of the street.” ​We need better approaches to public safety here in our community.” ​There’s a dilapidated house that’s lowering my tax value.” And we go through the processes of, ​Alright, who’s responsible for this? Who can you reach out to? Is it Ryan Clancy or Francesca Hong? Is it an Alderperson? Is it a county board supervisor?” But what the sentiment behind the conversation often comes to is that our money is not being used in the right places and for the right things, whether that’s at the local level, state level, county level or federal level. And that comes back to things like $3.8 billion a year being sent to Israel for military operations, when that money can be used here at home to build schools, to build better roads, to build libraries.

“This is a part of that effort with Uninstructed, it’s about saying, ‘Don’t just stay home because you’re dissatisfied with Joe Biden. Go to the polls, you have an option, vote Uninstructed, and then vote in all these other races because these matter, too.’”—Kyle Johnson

So it always comes back to a conversation of how we’re investing our money and what our money is being used for, and when people hear what the money is being used for, that it’s not going to making their kids’ lives better, or anybody else’s lives better around the world, it’s being used to foster death, that pisses people off. It pisses people off when they go to their library and it has horrible hours, or they go to the DMV, or they go to whatever service that could be better, but our money as taxpayers is being used to kill. So it does come up in our conversations. We’re doing text messages, we’re doing door conversations, phone calls. And we don’t center, exactly, talking about Palestine because we want to center what folks care about, but it’s always a part of the education. We’re always educating people. You can’t organize an uneducated mass of people. So once people have that education, they see where our money is going and they do want to get involved. They do realize that this is ethically and morally wrong, and that our money shouldn’t be used for these operations or these efforts.

Our approach right now is widespread. And we want to make sure people are showing up April 2 to vote for a lot of offices that are important and are going to have a much larger impact on their life than, let’s say, a President, or the Senate. And this is a part of that effort with Uninstructed, it’s about saying, ​Don’t just stay home because you’re dissatisfied with Joe Biden. Go to the polls, you have an option, vote Uninstructed, and then vote in all these other races because these matter, too.”

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RILEY ROLIFF is an editorial intern at In These Times. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Buckeye Flame and more.

 
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