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Protest vote over Biden's handling of Gaza lands in Wisconsin

Supporters of the "Vote Uninstructed" movement join a pro-Palestinian march in Milwaukee last Saturday.
Chuck Quirmbach
Supporters of the "Vote Uninstructed" movement join a pro-Palestinian march in Milwaukee last Saturday.

Wisconsin voters who oppose President Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war are urging Democrats to choose the "uninstructed delegation" option on their ballots in the state's presidential primary on Tuesday.

"Using our vote is our voice, (it's) one of the many ways we are putting sustained pressure on this administration," Listen to Wisconsin spokesperson Heba Mohammad said at a demonstration last week.

The group's activism is the latest in astring of similar movements in other states where voters have tied their support of Biden on Democratic presidential primary ballots to the war in Gaza.

A push to be heard produces a national movement

Organizers want to send a message to Biden to pressure him to change course before November's general election. After votes in several states, they now refer to their effort as the "Uncommitted National Movement."

Last month, in Minnesota about 19% of the Democratic presidential primary vote was for the "uncommitted" option on the state's ballots, according to results from The Associated Press. That followed a tally of 13% of the vote in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary, which was held in February. There have also been campaigns that resulted in "uncommitted" votes in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Hawaii, and Washington, along with other states that have similar choices on their ballots.


While Biden is expected to carry the Wisconsin Democratic primary and is already considered his party's presumptive nominee, organizers want to get 20,000 people in Wisconsin to vote "uninstructed."

That's about equal to Biden's margin of victory over former President Donald Trump in Wisconsin four years ago. Polls indicate another close race between the two men this year.

Mohammad says her group wants Biden to end military aid to Israel and bring a lasting cease-fire in Israel and Gaza, saying everyone deserves to live "in safety, freedom and with dignity." She wants Biden to take immediate action to satisfy these concerns.

"And if he doesn't, he needs to understand that his chances of winning in November are very bleak," she said.

During early voting last week, a Palestinian-American from Milwaukee, Amein Zeidat, said he marked his ballot for uninstructed.

"None of the candidates that are affecting us right now are good for us. And, I'm tired of it," Zeidat said.

Biden campaign works to keep coalitions intact

But Alexa Safer, a Jewish voter who cast an early ballot for President Biden, doesn't think the campaign will have much of an impact.

"I think the idea of voting uninstructed is very cute. But it's not going to accomplish anything," Safer said. "I think leftists do this a lot. They run their wheels, but in the end, Biden is going to be the candidate."

Another Jewish voter from the Milwaukee area, Judy Coran, says she's also backing the President, partly because of his handling of the war in the Middle East.

"You know, this situation is extremely complex," Coran said. "He has pressures from so many sides. But he has demonstrated that he has Israel's back from the very beginning of this."

Yet to win Wisconsin in November the President may need to keep the coalitions that helped him in 2020.

And right now there is some fraying.

Kyle Johnson of the Milwaukee organization Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) speaks during a kick-off rally for the Vote Uninstructed campaign on March 19.
Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Kyle Johnson of the Milwaukee organization Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) speaks during a kick-off rally for the Vote Uninstructed campaign on March 19.

Kyle Johnson of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) says if there is no permanent cease-fire in Gaza, he won't vote for Biden this fall.

"I can't look myself in the mirror as a human being and know my tax dollars, which I already have limited control over, are going to fund this genocide. But what I can control is my vote," Johnson said.

Earlier this year, Israel rejected claims of genocide brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice.

Israel says it recognizes the suffering of civilians in Gaza but insists Israel had no genocidal intent. The high civilian death toll, Israeli officials argued, was the consequence of Hamas waging war among noncombatants.

Following the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel, which Israel says killed around 1,200 people, Israel launched a counter-offensive that has killed more than 32,000 people, according to Gaza health officials.

Global hunger experts say famine in Gaza is imminent as families struggle to find food.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza for the rest of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and a return of the more than 130 hostages held by Hamas. The U.S. abstained — allowing the measure to pass.

Halah Ahmad of Listen to Wisconsin said she feels that U.S. action is not enough.

"This kind of move is like drawing somebody in for a hug, only to stab them," Ahmad said. "It's truly superficial."

In a statement to NPR, the Biden-Harris campaign says "the President believes that making your voice heard is fundamental to who we are as Americans" and that "Biden shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Chuck Quirmbach is a reporter with NPR member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

Copyright 2024 WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR. To see more, visit WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR.

Chuck Quirmbach
Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August, 2018, as Innovation Reporter, covering developments in science, health and business.