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Without a convention, how do Dems plan to rally voters?

The Democratic National Convention, which was to be held in Wisconsin this month, has been cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic party in Wisconsin joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the party’s plans for rallying constituents ahead of the elections in November.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the planned national conventions of both political parties forcing the cancellation of the large in-person gatherings that we've become accustomed to seeing.

    The first of those, the Democratic National Convention, was to be held in Wisconsin this month. We visited there last year, with the hope of returning for the convention. Instead, we recently spoke with Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic party of Wisconsin, to see what the plans are for rallying constituents in the lead up to the election.

    Ben, we caught up with you about a year ago, plans were to have a big ol DNC convention in Wisconsin. Get everybody excited about the convention being there and perhaps help flip the state blue. Now, virtual convention. Good, bad, indifferent for all that enthusiasm you wanted to get going?

  • Ben Wikler:

    You know, the number one priority for Democrats when it comes the convention is to make sure that people are safe.

    And frankly, the Democratic message in this election and in general is that we actually care about people and what happens to them. It's why we fight so hard to make sure that people have health care. That's why we want to fight and organize and build to stop the coronavirus pandemic so we can safely send kids back to school and reopen the economy and not watch the death toll climb day after day.

    So all of that is of a piece with having a virtual convention that doesn't put people's lives at risk.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what happens to the old fashioned doorknocking? Do people not do that anymore, is it all phone calls?

  • Ben Wikler:

    We don't want to create a situation where you literally can't alert people to your presence without getting within six feet of where they'll be when they open the door.

    So we've switched to a totally virtual organizing style. We in the spring Supreme Court election in Wisconsin, you probably saw the photos of people lining up in their masks.

    We were organizing 100 percent virtually with phone calls, text messages, social media, asking people to contact people that they have personal relationships with, we reached out to people millions of times and helped more than a million people across the state cast absentee ballots.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What happens in November? Are there going to be the same number of polling locations open?

    Because I know in lots of states the volunteers who are often senior citizens have said, you know, I don't want to take the risk right now. So are you concerned about longer lines come the fall than what we already saw?

  • Ben Wikler:

    This spring in Wisconsin huge numbers of polling places disappeared because of the lack of polling places, volunteers and poll workers and because of that, there were long lines in several parts of the state: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Green Bay.

    As we go into this fall, cities, municipal clerks, county clerks have been working overtime to figure out ways to make in-person voting safe and to encourage people to cast absentee ballots.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah, other thing I would ask is the Black Lives Matter movement. How does that impact enthusiasm or drive in the process?

  • Ben Wikler:

    The mobilization in defense of black lives in Wisconsin, as across the country has been tremendous, has been inspiring and has been so widespread that it's blown to smithereens stereotypes about who actually cares about the fight against racism in our country.

    There were Black Lives Matter protests in at least forty six different communities in Wisconsin, in large cities like Milwaukee and Madison, and in small towns, sometimes with just a few thousand people. There are so many people, when we talk to them right now who say that they see their vote this November as an extension of their activism, the same activism that brought them to the streets this spring.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Look I mean, this is still a state that has deep red pockets. And this is a state that very sort of infamously had high school students throwing swastikas signs. There are still pockets of the state that will not congeal around a Black Lives Matter movement or an alternative vision.

  • Ben Wikler:

    Wisconsin is scarred by some of the deepest racial disparities in the country. In the 2010 census, Wisconsin had the highest rate of incarceration of black men of any state in the United States and weaponizing racism has been a go-to tactic both for Republicans in Wisconsin and for the Trump administration.

    So we know that they'll try to use the playbook they used in 2016 and it didn't work then and it's not going to work this year either because people in our state across race or whatever beliefs they hold about people of other races, they are experiencing the pain caused by a presidency that doesn't care about them at all, day to day in their lives.

    People are losing loved ones and friends to coronavirus. They're losing their jobs. They're seeing promise after promise that this administration makes, break in the instant, that they, that they make the promise. Dairy farms are going out of business at a rate of two or three a day across our state. And those farms are very hard to get back once they're gone. This is a state that's just experiencing the pain of the Trump administration.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You're in a state where the Republicans are, what, three or so seats away for a veto-proof majority? Can they get there?

  • Ben Wikler:

    Republicans are trying everything in their power to get to supermajorities in our state legislature. If they get the supermajority, they'll gerrymander the state again for another 10 years.

    And we're doing everything in our power to stop them. I think we're going to win that fight. But it's a fight we cannot ignore. We can't take for granted that Republicans won't grab those extra seats, especially because so much attention nationally is focused on the presidential election.

    We really urge people to also look at their state legislative races, which will have a huge impact on the lives of every Wisconsinite going forward, and frankly, will also affect the life of the nation.

    If Republicans hadn't gerrymandered Wisconsin in 2010, they wouldn't have been able to pass these harsh restrictions on voting that helped tilt Wisconsin for Trump in 2016 and deliver the presidency to Trump.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Ben Wikler, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Ben Wikler:

    Thank you, really appreciate it.

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