Kayla Santosuosso

nonprofit leader | organizer | brooklynite | twenty-something


April 2016

…Trump vs. Hillary? But who would I vote for?

With Bernie’s delegate count slowing, Hillary pulling ahead, and Trump solidifying his lead last night, a lot of Bernie supporters have been asking me: if this race ends up being Trump vs. Hillary, who do I vote for? Do I even vote?

It’s clear, of course, that many of us Bernie supporters don’t prioritize party allegiance. Automatic support for a democratic party that Bernie is barely a part of in the first place is not something that motivates us. In fact, there are many of us who support Bernie specifically because he challenges that very party’s power. So for us, casting a vote for Hillary is in no way related to casting a vote for Bernie. We’re simply being asked to make too big a jump.

But at that point,  cold, hard logic steps in – or our friend who is a Hillary supporter – and says: but casting a vote for Hillary is the only way to stop Trump! Isn’t this a function of privilege that we’re even questioning this?! Sure, Hillary is no Bernie, but we’ve got a demagogue who will take office! Isn’t this by all means the lesser of two evils?!

…And this can feel like a very compelling argument. It may fall deaf on some ears, but not on mine. We should be seriously considering how a Trump presidency would change our lives, especially if we are immigrants and people of color, or we care about those who are. (This is setting aside the real possibility that Hillary would lose a race against Trump, or that Trump would be unable to enact half of his batshit insane proposals, anyway – which is not the focus of the post.) I think, realistically, we’re going to have to make that call as we get closer to a general election, and as we watch the dynamics play out.

But if in the meantime, a concern for ourselves and for others is what is motivating us to potentially cast a vote for Hillary next year – or, as some have mentioned to me, throwing our support behind a third party candidate, neither of which  I’m advocating against -then I think the problem is that we’re asking the entirely wrong question. 

What we should be asking ourselves, is: how will I continue the fight for the issues that Bernie speaks for? What is my plan to see more candidates like him in positions of power, and better equipped next time? If we are not asking these questions, we are back to square one, and all we will have to show for Bernie’s campaign is a ton of tired organizers and some hilarious memes.

Regardless of who is in office, the issues that Bernie activates us around – free college education, single payer healthcare, money out of politics – are not going to come from voting anytime in the near future. The amount of voter suppression in this election, and the extent to which our electoral and two-party system is likely to block out a candidate who defied the rules so intelligently, prove that. The progress that we want to see,  the kind of people we want to see in office, aren’t going to come from business as usual. Without a ton of sustained grassroots power, we won’t see a candidate like Bernie for decades. And this tells me that my vote next November, without a larger plan to accompany it, means very little.

Your vote should be an honest one. Which is to say, that if half of you doesn’t support the person you’re voting for, you should find a way to acknowledge that in your actions beyond the ballot. If you vote Hillary because of damage control, you’re going to need a plan to help build a stronger progressive party and movement over the next 4-8 years. You’re going to need a plan to help curb her hawkishness if she’s in office. You’re going to need to help build a grassroots movement to get money out of politics, or join an existing one. And real talk for a moment: these fights might actually be more difficult if Hillary is office, and if the establishment Democrats are re-energized by this election. I don’t think this is a reason to not cast a vote for her, it’s just a reason to organize better.

If you don’t vote – which, I must insert, given this nation’s historically low voter turnout, is a norm, not a political statement – and Trump takes office, then yes, the honest fact is that you might have been one of his enablers. But you can outweigh that by throwing your energy behind racial justice movements, or around building up working class energy toward a progressive platform. We desperately need people in that fight, more than either candidate needs these votes.

I still have a ton of possibly naive hope that Bernie will continue toward the convention, and that a third party or independent alternative will contest this two-party election. But in the meantime, I am building up my exit strategy, or perhaps more accurately, my entry strategy, into a new era of grassroots power in American politics. To me, that is the safest bet.


Trump came to NYC, I got arrested.

13002440_10101511562149536_7827932149409026137_oI organize with an incredible, nationally-coordinated group called Showing Up for Racial Justice. We are white folks organizing against racism. And what better target to organize against than Trump, and the people who invited him to speak at a GOP Gala in midtown in April. The Gala, which was full of party elites and all three GOP candidates, was held at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown. My SURJ-NYC crew and I blocked the limo entrance to the Hyatt, seemingly preventing dozens of people from entering the Gala.

Here’s why, as I white person, I decided this was worth getting arrested for:

1) You ever heard the phrase: “come get your boy?” As a white person, I see Trump – and his supporters – as my responsibility. For too long, in both hometowns like mine and in our own personal circles, we have gone without having hard discussions about racism and economic justice. We have let bad systems and false ideas perpetuate, as a default. And our silence has, consequently, emboldened people like Trump and his kind. We have, in some ways, paved the way for them. We need to sit with that, and then we need to go take care of it.

2) I protest people, causes, ideas, policies which are dangerous and which are enjoying widespread support. I don’t protest fringe issues that aren’t worth my time, or in which I don’t have a stake. This is not a fringe issue. Two of my local reps in NY are planning to support Trump if he is the party nominee, and they both represent districts who Trump and Cruz (who is not off the hook by any means) have openly said he would spy on, “crack down on,” and in some cases, deport. Lest I forget the ways they would limit me and my choices. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

3) I don’t know how often I can tell myself and others this: changemaking is never comfortable or expedient. I get shit slung at me every time I protest, by folks who like to say: “protesting is not the way to change minds.” Guess what? I’ve got a whole toolbox of ways to change minds. Some of it is having tough conversations. Some of it is voting. Some of it is writing. And some of it is recognizing that sometimes you just have to shut shit down.

4) Getting arrested is a risk that white people should take as often as possible, as opposed to our people of color counterparts. The fact of the matter is: for us, the risk – of police misconduct, of an escalation to violence, of being falsely charged with misdemeanors, is much lower. During this action, ten SURJ members were arrested and held in jail for approximately 4 hours. With us in the same cell block were activists and protesters of color who were not let out until hours later, or, in some cases, until the following day – some with heavier charges than our own. From the moment we were arrested till the moment we were let out, we were treated with cordiality and leniency. This includes a van ride to jail wherein our accompanying police officers were chatting casually, letting out racial slurs every few minutes.

It is our duty to show up for people of color, and it is our obligation to ensure we do so strategically, and in a way that is often risky, impactful, and at the leadership of people of color. Trump, and the ideas he gives platform to, are not welcome in my city. I think we made that clear.

Why I cannot vote in the NY primary, even though I’m a registered Dem.

Yesterday, I checked my voter registration status in a “just-to-be-safe” moment, gearing myself up for the primary election in two weeks. I did this, knowing that back in the Fall, I had re-registered from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to vote in the Democratic Primary. Feeling confident, I pulled up the New York State Board of Elections website, put in my information, and found this: Not enrolled in a party.

I knew there must be some sort of mistake and called, first, the Fair Elections Legal Network, who told me they had received a flood of similar calls that day. They then directed me to the State Board of Elections, who then directed me to the County Board of Elections, who was finally able to pull up my voter registration card. The conversation went something like this:

BOE: You are registered. But you missed the deadline to re-register your party affiliation.

Me: Huh? But I submitted that almost 6 months ago, in early November.

BOE: Yes, but the deadline to re-register is October 9th. That’s over 6 months ago. You can’t vote in the Primary.

So as it turns out, New York State has the longest change-of-party deadline out of all 11 states with closed primaries. And when I say the longest, I mean there’s no state that comes even remotely close. Florida? 29 days before the primary. New Mexico? 28 days. Maine? 15 days. I mean, in Nebraska, you can change parties the day of the goddamn caucus. A Kansas voter can actually vote in both the Democratic and Republican race if she is unaffiliated on the day of the primary! And here’s the kicker: the longest change of party deadline for any state other than New York is Delaware, and even that is 60 days prior to the primary.

Compare all of this to the fact that New York State is asking us to change our affiliation more than 180 days before the primary. We are the only state in which the deadline doesn’t fall within the same calendar year as the primary date, and we don’t even come close.

Which leaves me with one main question to the New York State Board of Elections, and, to some degree, the DNC:

Doesn’t this necessarily benefit established, hard line party voters? And doesn’t this – by design– prevent political outsiders from gaining a significant portion of New York’s high delegate count?

According to the BOE, this law was enacted because it prevents voters from jumping party lines just to interfere with the opposition’s primary. I can understand this logic. I have to admit that had the Democratic primary not been so interesting, I’d be tempted to cast a vote for Kasich in order to prevent Trump from gaining the nomination in New York. But all of that is made irrelevant by the very institution of a closed primary, anyway! 10 other states in this country apparently share the same fear, and have also instituted closed primaries for the same reason. They just don’t make it nearly as hard to switch parties within that system. New York’s prohibitive party change deadline is like the icing on the establishment cake.

The implications of this stupefying law have perhaps never been as significant as this election year. Based on the outrage reported by the Gothamist, (and – it seems- the number of calls made to the Fair Elections Legal Network yesterday) it’s expected that thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters – read: previously unaffiliated, Working Familes Party, or previously disengaged voters – will find themselves unexpectedly blocked from voting on Primary Day, in accordance with New York State law. And while I’m sure folks will point to the fact that the date that is published on the BOE website, and that the Bernie campaign designed an entire website to notify supporters about this deadline back in the Fall, we have to ask ourselves: what does it mean if New York State wants us to choose our candidate 6 months prior to a primary election? Doesn’t that directly undermine the entire campaign process?

For reference, by October 9th, the first debate hadn’t happened yet. The Working Families Party wouldn’t endorse Bernie for another two months. There was, still , rampant talk of Hillary being indicted for the e-mail scandal. Trump hadn’t announced that he would close down mosques as President. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan hadn’t hit its terrifying apex. This is to say nothing of the fact that primary elections wouldn’t start for another 4 months. Voting according to momentum, deeper knowledge of a candidate’s platform, and the growing viability of an outsider candidate be damned, says New York.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that maze-like election laws like these are the reason that voter turnout is so disastrous in New York state and nationwide. Protecting establishment politics sends the message to unlikely voters that this is a game they’ll never win – even when a candidate is successful at defying so many of the rules. States with high voter turnout and open primaries have been the crux of Bernie’s success so far. If previously disengaged or unaffiliated voters have been kept out of New York’s primary, and those of the remaining high-delegate, closed primary states, I fear this election has already been decided. And maybe that is exactly is point.


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