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How Gaza activists in Minnesota are pushing the US wave of ‘uncommitted’ votes

<span>Residents vote at a polling station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 3 November 2020.</span><span>Photograph: Kerem Yücel/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Residents vote at a polling station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 3 November 2020.Photograph: Kerem Yücel/AFP/Getty Images

Dozens of families turned up to a Minneapolis park on Sunday to hear why they should cast an “uncommitted” protest vote in Tuesday’s presidential primary and how that could affect the Israel-Gaza war.

Kids played on the playground or made signs to support Palestine while their caregivers listened as organizers shared an “easy action”: show up at your local polling place on Tuesday, ask for a Democratic ballot and check the box that says “uncommitted”.

Related: Biden wins Michigan primary but sheds support over Gaza

Minnesota organizers, inspired by the strong turnout for an uncommitted vote in Michigan, quickly put together a coalition to get out the word that Minnesota voters should follow Michigan’s example.

In Michigan, Democrats set a goal to get 10,000 uncommitted votes; more than 100,000 people instead voted uncommitted, a message to Joe Biden that Democratic voters demand his action on Palestine. The Israel-Gaza war serves as a key liability for the US president in his re-election bid, and his positions on the issue have turned some Democrats away from him during what is shaping up to be a close race with Donald Trump.

After Michigan’s success, organizers in other progressive states that have uncommitted options on their ballots have started working on local efforts to keep the pressure on Biden for a ceasefire. Minnesota, a Super Tuesday state, has a few factors that give it potential for a good turnout for the uncommitted vote: high voter turnout overall, a progressive history, a large Muslim community. Minnesota’s campaign could further buoy the movement and boost the protest vote in other states, organizers hope.

“We vote in Minnesota. Number one in the country for turnout,” said Jaylani Hussein, a co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Minnesota. “And when it comes to minorities and immigrants, we also have historically high, record turnout.”

At the Minneapolis park, Amanda Purcell of MN Families for Palestine led the audience in a chant: “Gaza kids! Our kids!” The organization has worked for months to reach out to elected officials to support a ceasefire by using small actions that people with kids can easily do.

“We’re really starting to feel the momentum here,” Purcell said. “And we’re hoping that what we do here will just continue to push the wave of uncommitted across the United States.”

Supporters passed out a flyer with a QR code where people could fill out a form to pledge to vote uncommitted, which calls on those pledging their support to also send the form to three other families to share the message.

Over the past week, Minnesota activists have called and texted voters to push out the “uncommitted” message. They’ve gone to mosques around the state to share the idea, targeting Minnesota’s Muslim population. They’ve held rallies. They’ve reached out to college students, families, people who’ve attended protests in the past.

Groups around Minnesota have protested and worked to move their local members of Congress on Palestine. They’ve shown up on Democratic governor Tim Walz’s lawn, calling on him to get the state to divest from Israel. The progressive state with a history of grassroots organizing saw existing groups work together to quickly stand up an uncommitted campaign.

Some Democratic voters in the state had seen what happened in Michigan and already planned to vote uncommitted, said Asma Mohammed, one of the organizers behind Vote Uncommitted MN. To others, supporters explained the idea of “uncommitted” being a protest vote. Some voters had shared that they’d felt there was no reason to show up for the presidential primary because their voices weren’t being heard in a contest dominated by a sitting president; “uncommitted” gives them an option to send a message, Mohammed said.

Mohammed is against a Trump presidency, as are, she says, the rest of the organizers. But there is real disapproval and discontent with Democrats and Biden among the communities who want to see a ceasefire. People are “really angry”, and she hopes the primary vote for uncommitted helps Biden understand that he and the party are losing longtime Democrats, perhaps permanently, because of this.

“I’m hoping that President Biden listens, because I don’t want to have to organize my community out of becoming Republicans or just sitting at home,” Mohammed said. “And it’s not just my community.”

Minnesota’s campaign doesn’t have a number goal like Michigan did. Instead, organizers want to keep Michigan’s first step going in Minnesota, then help people in other states stand up their own efforts. But, most importantly, they want Biden to act. And they believe the only way they can get him to listen now is through their votes.

A win for the uncommitted campaign would be a permanent ceasefire, Mohammed said.

“We don’t want any more empty claims,” she said. “Another win for us is that this will embolden some of our members of Congress and Senate to take action because there are a lot of them who have not been on the right side of this either, who have taken votes that have angered the community and have really been hurting their chances at re-election.”

The Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor party (DFL), the state’s Democratic party, has said it expects Biden to easily win the state. (Another Minnesotan, congressman Dean Phillips, is running for president and on the state’s presidential primary ballots, though his campaign has been virtually non-existent in the state in the lead-up to Super Tuesday.) The party’s chair, Ken Martin, has sought to remind voters of the contrast between Biden and Trump.

After Minnesota’s vote on Tuesday, organizers here plan to share what they learn from the rapid move for an uncommitted campaign with other states. Already, Washington state has an uncommitted campaign underway that received an endorsement from the state’s United Food and Commercial Workers, its largest labor union.

“This is a national movement,” Mohammed said. “It doesn’t stop with Michigan. It doesn’t stop with Minnesota. All of us have to be all in to get the attention of the president.”