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A Call To Arenas! Defend the Right To Vote! Defeat Trump!

Imagine NBA Stars -- outside giant sports arenas used as public polling and voting locations -- acting as poll watchers insuring that urban voters, Black and brown folks, file in unsuppressed by armed Para fascists.

Milwaukee Bucks sports arena
Milwaukee Bucks sports arena, Wikipedia

In the aftermath of the August 23rd police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team shut down their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in protest. This triggered shutdowns of other NBA games and negotiations with the owners on practical steps that could be taken to deal with systemic racism. Superstar LeBron James has long been leading a campaign to promote voting. The NBA players got the owners to agree to use their arenas as giant polling places. THIS IS BRILLIANT! In the center of mostly urban areas there will be giant public polling places that can be sanctuaries for unimpeded and unintimidated voting, in buildings designed to handle large crowds quickly and efficiently. Imagine NBA Stars outside as poll watchers insuring that urban voters, Black and brown folks, file in unsuppressed by armed Para fascists. 

This is crucial to winning the swing states where enthusiasm for Trump is still riding high, and that he carried in the 2016 election. The margins in each of those states would have been overcome if Black people had voted. Here are the margins for Trump and the numbers of blacks who did not vote:

Trump won Wisconsin by
23,000 votes
… but in Milwaukee,
93,000 blacks didn’t vote

Trump won Florida by
113,000 votes
… but in Miami,
379,000 blacks didn’t vote

Trump won Michigan by
11,000 votes
… but in Detroit,
277,000 blacks didn’t vote

Trump won Pennsylvania by
44,000 votes
… but in Philadelphia,
238,000 blacks didn’t vote

Trump won North Carolina by
173,000 votes
… but in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Durham,
233,000 blacks didn’t vote

Trump won Georgia by
211,000 votes
… but in Atlanta 530,000 blacks didn’t vote
(By The New York Times | Source: analysis of black citizen population estimates (2016 American Community Survey) and black citizen non-voting rates by state (2016 Voting and Registration Supplement to the Census Current Population Survey) by Karthik Balasubramanian, Howard University)

Now imagine if football players and their union follow suit and liberate their giant stadiums as poling places monitored by hulking offensive linemen. Seems far-fetched in a league that did not back Colin Kaepernick in his protest for Black Lives Matter in 2016. But the times they are a changing and swiftly. Check out Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll’s moving interview calling out systemic racism.

And what could be the role of the rest of the US labor movement? The pro athletes have 100% membership in their associations (unions). The rest of organized labor – public and private sector combined, is at 10%. There is talk about national strikes and those should not be ruled out, but a  more plausible course of action in every major American urban center would be to join with NBA stars and provide a cordon sanitaire of safety for voting at arenas. This plays to labor’s continuing urban presence in many of these urban centers and to the fact that a large part of its public sector urban membership is people of color. How can labor play a role in fighting voter suppression? Labor can mobilize its ranks to provide massive security squadrons for urban arenas and maybe even some football stadia on November 3!

Call to Arenas and Dump Trump!

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California.