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This Year's Election Matters to Fashion and Humanity More Than Ever

In an op-ed for Fashionista, fashion policy counsel and professor Kenya Wiley outlines the 2020 election issues that will have major repercussions for the industry.
Pyer Moss's "Vote or Die" T-Shirt, from the Spring 2020 collection.

Pyer Moss's "Vote or Die" T-Shirt, from the Spring 2020 collection.

In an op-ed for Fashionista, fashion policy counsel and professor Kenya Wiley outlines the the 2020 election issues that will have major repercussions for the industry.

The late Rep. John Lewis reminded us that the "vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent [we] have in a democratic society," and this year we must use it.

Fashion has heard the call. Designers are contributing their time and talent to get out the vote this November — from the launch of Fashion Our Future 2020 to partnerships with When We All Vote and other voter turnout initiatives. While voting is essential, it is only the first step in saving our democracy. 

The November election will shape public policy that impacts all of us. And with the realities of racial injustice, the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Covid-19 and changes in commerce, it has huge stakes for the future of fashion and humanity. Here are a few key issues at stake for fashion and retail in this year's election.

U.S. Supreme Court

America recently lost a superhero for social justice and a true champion for women's and LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice and equality for all. While the focus has been on Justice Ginsburg's life and legacy, we must not lose sight of the power of the courts. 

The U.S. Constitution grants the president the authority to appoint judges to federal courts, including the Supreme Court; the U.S. Senate — first through the Senate Judiciary Committee — must confirm each judicial appointment. Your vote this election season will not only determine the next president and members of Congress, but also the judges and Supreme Court justices with lifetime appointments that will shape human rights and environmental issues for decades to come. In the fashion industry, federal judges also decide cases on intellectual property rights for designers and other creatives.

U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has received a great deal of attention in recent weeks for its essential — and previously uncontroversial — role in delivering mail-in and absentee ballots. It is critical that election mail remain timely. We also need an effective postal system to keep commerce moving, especially as the pandemic accelerates brands' and retailers' reliance on online sales and competitive delivery costs.

Congress has substantial power to help improve the USPS's financial condition. I know, because I worked on the last postal reform bill to pass either house of Congress. While serving as a counsel for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2011 and 2012, I helped craft bipartisan comprehensive legislation to modernize and put the USPS on solid financial footing. The 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789) passed the Senate by a vote of 62-37 during a presidential election year, but did not receive a vote in the House of Representatives.

Members of Congress have recently introduced legislation to address the USPS's dire financial situation and protect it from partisan political acts. These measures, if passed and signed into law, may get the USPS through the November election, but the senators and representatives we vote for this election season must pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation for the constitutionally-mandated service to survive.

Climate Change

As fashion designers and organizations respond to the climate crisis with an increasing emphasis on sustainability, the Trump administration continues to roll back regulations at the expense of people and the planet. 

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The Trump administration has officially reversed or revoked nearly 70 environmental rules and regulations as of July 15, 2020 and begun the process to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, with no movement on proactive climate change legislation from Capitol Hill in sight. 

fashion vote 2020 politics repercussions

In 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) cosponsored the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution to address climate change that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also believes is a "crucial framework." Unlike legislation, it is nonbinding and has not been called up for a vote. Even if Congress approved the Green New Deal, it would not create a new law. 

There is currently no major climate change legislation in Congress, though the House-passed appropriations bill, now pending in the Senate, includes climate solutions. In 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to investigate and make policy recommendations on climate change.

Sustainability will continue to be a top business priority for the fashion industry, and environmental policy — whether through the presidential administration or the U.S. Congress — has the potential to support or undermine the industry's efforts.

Immigration Reform

The investments and perspectives of immigrant entrepreneurs and BIPOC creatives are building an inclusive future for fashion, yet the current administration's restrictions continue to threaten the ability of young talent to study and work in the United States. 

In 2017, I warned that the Trump administration's immigration policies and pending legislation — including ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the International Entrepreneur Rule, also known as the "startup visa rule" — would have serious consequences for American fashion. Since then, it has moved forward on its plans to end the International Entrepreneur Rule and DACA. In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the administration's attempts to end the Obama-era program allowing immigrants who arrived as children (and who in many cases have known no other country) to remain and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The Trump administration has also attempted to deter immigrants from attending colleges and universities in the United States: The Department of Homeland Security announced in July 2020 that new international students on an F-1 visa will not be permitted to enter the U.S. to take part in a fully online course of study, as many universities have transitioned to virtual learning amid the current pandemic.

Fashion designers and creative tech entrepreneurs represent the future of the global economy, fusing the functional aspects of science and technology with the aesthetics of design. This often starts at the college and university level, where students hone their design, technology and analytical skills. Restricting immigration at the university level will limit opportunities for future innovators to study, stay and scale their businesses here in the United States.

There are serious issues at stake for fashion and humanity this election year, including the fight for democracy, civil rights and — as engraved on the main entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building — "equal justice under law." Voting is the first step to not only saving, but also making positive change on these very important policies.

Kenya Wiley is a fashion policy counsel and adjunct professor at the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School and Georgetown University's Communication, Culture and Technology Graduate Program.

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