50,000 "Uninstructed" Wisconsin Voters Send Biden Clear Message to End Genocide

Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin, New York and Connecticut showed there is such strong disapproval of Biden’s support for the Israeli assault on Gaza that it could cost him the general election.

Christina Lieffring

A Wisconsin resident voting in the April 2 primary in Green Bay. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A mix of rain and snow pelted Wisconsin on Tuesday, covering streets with sludge as voters braved their way to the polls. But despite the weather and what appeared to be low turnout in the primary, Listen to Wisconsin’s Uninstructed campaign defied expectations and netted nearly 50,000 votes.

President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by only about 20,000 votes in Wisconsin in 2020, and the strong showing for the Uninstructed campaign is a harsh rebuke of Biden’s policies around Gaza and the larger Democratic agenda as the incumbent is now faced with yet another critical Midwest swing state that may be lost come November. 

“I wasn’t sure how to voice that dissatisfaction and disgust other than making phone calls and emails, like I already had,” she said. “But this was a way to voice that on the ballot at this point in time.”

With 99% reporting, the Associated Press showed that at least 47,846 Democratic voters chose Uninstructed in Wisconsin on Tuesday, more than doubling the goal of 20,000 votes campaign organizers had for the effort and surpassing almost all expectations for how well it could do.

I have been feeling frustrated with the weak stance that [Biden] and Biden’s administration has had on [Gaza],” says Madison resident Katie Rozas, who voted Uninstructed at the Eastside Lutheran Church and learned about the campaign because of an online post by writer and activist adrienne maree brown.

I wasn’t sure how to voice that dissatisfaction and disgust other than making phone calls and emails, like I already had,” she said. But this was a way to voice that on the ballot at this point in time.”

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It has been incredible to see this type of grassroots momentum around this campaign, and in a way it’s almost cathartic,” says Reema Ahmad, a Palestinian organizer who has been leading the Uninstructed campaign in Wisconsin. We have been organizing for almost six months now — we being a multiracial, multi-faith, intergenerational group of people, who see humanity in one another and see what’s happening in Gaza as a moral imperative for us to connect across communities and do everything in our power to stop the unfolding genocide.”

Ahmad was on her way to Iftar, the evening meal to break fast during Ramadan and which was also going to double as the Uninstructed campaign’s watch party. Ramadan is, of course, drastically different for Ahmad and so many other Muslims this year.

A polling location for the Wisconsin primary on April 2, 2024. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

We’ve been witnessing and complicit in a genocide for almost six months, and now during a time when we are voluntarily withholding food and drink and seeing our siblings in Gaza being forced into a manmade famine … It’s surreal,” Ahmad says. And yet I think it really drives home what’s at stake. What’s at stake in this election, what’s at stake for us as humanity right now.”

“We can’t get too lost in the joy of what we did tonight,” Johnson says. “Because it's not over until the genocidal war is over.”

The original goal of 20,000 Uninstructed votes was chosen to reflect the same number of votes that clinched Wisconsin for Biden in 2020. By 10 p.m. the reported tally was more than 42,000. Kyle Johnson, political director of the Milwaukee-based organization Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), who has also been organizing with Listen to Wisconsin and the Uninstructed campaign, said there were some hugs, some tears” at the watch party, but many remain grounded in the fact that people in Gaza, in the West Bank, are still dying, still starving.”

We can’t get too lost in the joy of what we did tonight,” Johnson says. Because it’s not over until the genocidal war is over.”

In addition to Wisconsin, there were other primaries on Tuesday that saw similar efforts, including in Connecticut, which saw 11.5% of voters choose Uncommitted” and New York, where some 40,000 Democratic voters left their ballots blank.

County-by-county results in Wisconsin show that every county had some Uninstructed votes, but some 30,000 came from Waukesha, Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state’s most populous counties with a fairly young, diverse and Democratic base.

A "Leave it Blank" flyer in Queens, New York. Photo by Adam Gray/Getty Images

Layla Elabed, campaign manager for Listen to Mighigan and head of the Uncommitted national group, says that after Tuesday’s vote in Wisconsin she is now shifting her focus to the delegates and strategizing for the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago. 

Our focus will be coming together, meeting together to figure out what is the best way to amplify Palestinian voices at the DNC,” Elabed says. We have a responsibility to uncommitted voters to ensure that we are going to the DNC with an uncommitted delegation that are anti-war and pro-peace.”

Even for creative mathematicians, it’s difficult to calculate how Biden can beat Trump without winning swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and others — and the Uninstructed campaign and the Uncommitted national movement should be cause for alarm for the Democratic establishment that the incumbent could only have a realistic shot if he changes course on Gaza and the genocide.

They’ve been hearing from state after state, again, a majority of Americans who have been calling for a cease-fire support a cease-fire,” Ahmad says. And so I’m eager to see what the administration does now that after they’ll hear from Wisconsin.”

This is, hands down, the most important thing, the most important campaign I’ve ever been a part of,” Ahmad says. And perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life is trying to use everything in our power, using every tool in the toolbox, to end this genocide once and for all.”

To choose life, to choose the life of our fellow human beings.”

Disclosure: As a 501©3 nonprofit, In These Times does not support or oppose any candidate for public office.

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Christina Lieffring is the news and politics editor at Tone Madison and a freelance journalist in Madison, Wisconsin.

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