October 29, 2020; Reuters
“Coup” is not a word used lightly, and yet Trump’s preemptive call of victory plus previous refusals to accept unfavorable electoral results have led many to wonder if the country has reached that point. Sadly, the current constitutional crisis does not come as a surprise, particularly from an administration that has consistently broken all American democratic customs and traditions around exploiting the White House—for family business purposes, to dismantle federal agencies, to run political campaigns, to propagate misinformation, to undermine scientists and US allies overseas, and to align with white extremist groups as well as authoritarians. In an article titled “How Trump Could Attempt a Coup,” the Atlantic anticipated this very scenario, and little that we’ve experienced over the past four years would have suggested a more optimistic outlook.
To prepare for this scenario, Biden has assembled an “army” of voting rights and election law attorneys to prepare for the legal fight. At the same time, bipartisan groups of advocates and NGOs have been planning protests to demand that every vote is counted and to defend democracy. One such coalition is the Protect the Results campaign, made up of over 130 national and local organizations that already have decentralized 400 protests lined up in multiple states.
“We’re sounding the alarm that the threat Trump poses to our democracy is very real,” Stand Up America President Sean Eldridge told Newsweek.
A second coalition, ShutDownDC, arose from youth climate strikers’ protests in 2019. Their call to defend democracy includes a series of actions between November 3rd and 6th that’s a mix of cultural events and protests in the DC area. Preparing for possible police repression, ShutDownDC organized several peaceful direct actions, deescalation, and know-your-rights trainings.
One of the spokespeople for ShutDownDC, Kaela Bamberger, told Reuters in late October that lessons from other countries have shown that “time is of the essence” and that “the longer the person claims to be in power and tries to force their position of power to be extended, the more likely it is there’s nothing to be done about it.” Last night’s protests on Black Lives Matter Plaza were largely peaceful and had a “carnival-like” atmosphere, according to the Washington Post, as people sought comfort together.
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Meanwhile, a coalition of young advocates from March for Our Lives, United We Dream, the Sunrise Movement, and others have been mobilizing on a threefold action plan: organize, vote, strike. Getting out the vote has been just one strategy, as the #CountOnUs coalition prepared to lead and support a general mass strike to make sure every vote is counted. Such a strategy has been also discussed and voted on by major local union groups, whose success would greatly depend on other movements joining the effort.
In a statement on their website, #CountOnUs advocates stress how this election marks only the beginning of an ongoing fight to change the political landscape:
Millennials and Gen Z were born into crisis. For our entire lives, politicians have been ignoring our needs in favor of their friends and corporate lobbyists, while doing nothing to stop endless wars, the climate crisis, mass incarceration and deportation, or the state-sanctioned murders of Black and brown people. We won’t let them get away with it any longer. If we fight for it, we can kick out greedy, racist politicians and change the country forever.
Behind the scenes, Biden’s lawyers have been preparing for the worst, including “worst case” scenarios where Trump calls active-duty forces to stop ballot counts in swing states or intercepts the mail to disqualify any absentee ballots that arrive after November 3rd. Only 28 states require ballots to arrive election day, while 22 allow for a couple day delays or for ballots to be postmarked on election day. The third scenario is outright calling the election fraudulent and using federal authorities, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and marshal services to seize ballots and stop the vote count. In all, Biden’s group has prepared “49 predrafted emergency motions in state or federal court” according to The Atlantic.
“This threat imperils all of us, and each and every one of us must act to protect our democracy and one another at this perilous time. Please join us. Multiple efforts are underway both nationally and locally to respond to this threat,” reads a statement from the Washington State Coalition to Protect the Results, calling people to oppose election interference with nonviolent resistance. “We encourage you to explore action appropriate for you and your organization.”—Sofia Jarrin