A view of a painted panel in South Memphis in October 2020. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Have you ever heard someone say that elections are irrelevant because regardless of who wins, nothing really changes?

That’s not true, of course, and perhaps has never been more untrue than today, as voters head to the polls for what feels like the most important election of a lifetime.

Elections matter, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society, as our local, state and national elected officials have the power to set policy that affects wages, access to health insurance and reproductive rights.

Those are the people who MLK50: Justice Through Journalism centers in everything we report, write and photograph.

Related: “Angry for having a little bit of hope.” Progressive Memphians’ fears materialize in somber election night

The MLK50 team picked five issues – healthcare, reproductive justice, jobs and wages, immigration and the environment – to see what the dream scenario is and what the nightmare could be based on the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Healthcare and the Affordable Care Act 

Dr. Narayanaswami Rangaswami, the pediatric physcian at the Guthrie Primary Care Clinic in Smokey City, examines Christine Jones, 17 in February 2017. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Trump has been particularly focused on undoing much of President Obama’s legacy, including the 44th president’s premier achievement: The Affordable Care Act.

Since it was signed into law in 2010, the ACA has provided health insurance coverage to more than 20 million people. (Open enrollment began Sunday and continues through Dec. 15.) 

Worst case: A suit headed to the conservative-majority Supreme Court presents a new threat. If Trump is reelected, the administration may continue to cut funding and attempt to repeal the law. Trump has promised to reveal his plan to replace the ACA for years and largely failed to do so. 

Best case: But even without Trump, millions remain without health insurance and medical bills are most frequently cited as the cause of bankruptcy. If he wins, Biden has promised to add a publicly run insurance option to the ACA marketplace, something that was notably left out of the law when it was being legislated. – Shiraz Ahmed

Read more: Three GOP Senators Didn’t Save Obamacare. You did.

If Trump Wins, Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for That ACA Replacement Plan


Reproductive Justice

Protestors listen during a rally at the Mississippi State Capitol organized by Planned Parenthood Southeast against the abortion ban bills are being legislated across the country. A new law was put before a federal judge in Mississippi that criminalized abortion at six weeks. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Here, the divide between Trump and Biden could not be more stark. Trump, who was pro-choice before he ran for president, now opposes abortion, as do evangelical Christians, who make up a key part of his base.

However, Trump’s anti-abortion stance puts him out of line with the majority of Americans. Biden’s pro-choice position aligns with attitudes nationwide; a September poll found that 60% of respondents believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time.

Worst case: The most dire scenario is already here: Trump, with the help of Senate Republicans, rammed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, giving the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority. Pro-choice advocates have long worried that a conservative majority would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.

For evangelical Christians, who make up a solid part of Trump’s base, Trump has been a dream come true: He’s flooded federal courts with conservative judges and made good on a promise to defund Planned Parenthood by forcing the organization to forfeit federal funds.

Best case: Biden, who believes that abortion is a woman’s right to choose, has said he’ll work to codify Roe v. Wade into law, placing it outside of the reach of a conservative SCOTUS. In addition, his healthcare platform states that he’d undo Trump’s defunding of Planned Parenthood by allowing family planning organizations that also provide abortions to again receive Title X funds.

Read more: Yes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pro-choice. And yes, Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis had a troubled racist past. Read the organization’s apology here. – Wendi C. Thomas

Wages/Jobs 

FedEx employees in the Small Package Sort System work on the overnight operations sort at the Memphis World Hub. Photo by Andrea Morales.

The coronavirus pandemic has put tens of millions of Americans out of work, and disproportionately affected people of color and low-income workers, including in Memphis where the poverty rate was 26.1% for Black people in 2019. Even before the virus hit, workers were struggling: The federal minimum wage has been frozen at $7.25 an hour since 2009— well-below poverty level for a family of four — though some states (excluding Tennessee) and local governments have legislated higher minimums.

How to put the country back to work and expand job opportunities are huge concerns, and the two presidential candidates have vastly different visions of how to do that.

Worst case: Trump said during the recent presidential debate that he would consider supporting a $15 minimum wage, though he prefers to leave that to the states. He has pushed job creation through deregulation, and tax cuts that mainly benefited businesses and the wealthy, such as his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The Trump administration sought to lower the poverty threshold so that fewer people would qualify as poor.

Best case: Biden supports a national minimum wage of $15 an hour, which would mean a pay boost for the lowest-paid workers. He also has promised to create millions of new jobs by supporting American companies that make products in the U.S., and through new green jobs that also address the climate crisis. — Peggy McKenzie

Read more: Part-time jobs, pending eviction: ‘This is what minimum wage looks like’
No living wage for public employees, say Republican county commissioners


Immigration

People march down North Main Street during a protest organized by immigrants in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump in January 2017. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

President Trump campaigned in 2016 on a heavily anti-immigration platform; his administration has since deported a record number of undocumented immigrants without criminal records. Trump also sought to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and though that was halted by the courts, the administration isn’t processing new DACA requests. The administration also recently admitted it could not find the parents for 545 children separated from their parents at the border. Trump also dramatically slashed the refugee cap to 18,000 in 2020, though the administration resettled just under 12,000 refugees, in part because of the pandemic.

Worst case: According to NBC News, if Trump is re-elected, his plan will comprise four pillars, including “limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing ‘sanctuary cities,’ expanding the so-called travel ban with tougher screening for visa applicants and slapping new limits on work visas.” He’s also expected to resume work on his unfinished border wall, and Trump said he’ll cap refugee admissions at 15,000 in 2021.

Best case:  Biden’s immigration plan is extensive, encompassing goals like resuming DACA, rescinding the president’s travel bans and ending workplace immigration raids. Though some reform, like creating a pathway to citizenship, can only be accomplished through legislation, Biden largely plans to roll back Trump administration policies including the Migrant Protection Protocols. That program allows border officers to return asylum seekers to Mexico while they await the outcome of their claims, a program that puts asylum seekers “in harm’s way,” according to Human Rights Watch. – Hannah Grabenstein

Read more: Memphis-area activists rally to fill void left by shifting U.S. immigration policies

Environment

Penn A Kem specialty chemical plant is seen past the trees at the edge of Douglass Park in Memphis’ Douglass neighborhood. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

Through wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and floods, the effects of climate change are growing more severe due to global pollution. And the placement of that pollution has forced already vulnerable communities to shoulder the heaviest consequences, including the preexisting conditions that make COVID-19 particularly deadly to poor, Black and brown people.

This presidential election will determine if the U.S. continues to slash environmental protections to preserve profits for corporations or moves closer to a greener economy.

Worst case: The Trump administration has already rolled back 125 environmental regulations while barely enforcing those that remain, according to The  Washington Post. He has withdrawn the U.S. from global efforts to curb emissions, opened federal land to oil pipelines, logging and other destructive business, with no indication of slowing down. 

The federal government’s role in protecting the environment is shrinking and would take years to return to Obama-era standards.

Best case: Biden promises a green new deal that aims to put the U.S. on a path to net zero-emissions by 2050 and create jobs along the way. He promises to restore Obama-era regulations, ban new investment in oil and gas on public land and rejoin the Paris climate accord.

Additionally, Biden promises to strictly prosecute illegal polluters and bolster the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency’s arms for environmental justice. However, Biden says he will not ban fracking, a controversial method to extract natural gas. – Carrington Tatum
Read more: Pipeline through the heart: A Black neighborhood’s uphill battle against oil developers



This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to mlk50@mlk50.com.