This is addressed to people who think that Trump may steal the election.
This is how I think the 2020 election will go: Biden will win by a landslide, a landslide that is obvious to pro-Trump and anti-Trump voters alike on election night, and that will be the end of it. Trump may bluster, Trump may posture, but he will actually be focused on drafting his “I am pardoning myself” speech. And packing his bags to leave the country.
Very few people agree with me. Whether on the Left or on the Right, activists are working themselves into a lather as we head to the polls. Both sides are expecting turmoil, violence, and deception. If the uncertainty of the winner depends on counting mail-in ballots, and if this takes days — and with court challenges, weeks — there are very real fears that each day after November 3rd will build toward an explosion in the streets.
Like I said, I don’t think this is going to happen. But we need to be prepared.
And here is the most important thing: whatever happens, we need to be non-violent.
Those of us who want to Trump to leave office peacefully must adopt a Gandhian approach to what we do. A Martin Luther King approach. No violence. Period.
This means that we must not regard Portland-style violent activists as our allies. Any person or group that throws Molotov cocktails, firecrackers, bricks, is not with us. Any person or group that burns cars, smashes windows, loots stores, tears down fences, is not with us.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King realized that the most important ground to stand on is the moral high ground. Acts of violence, even violent speech, undermine the justness of our cause.
This does not mean that we need to stand idly by. Active, non-violent resistance is very powerful. Think of those people crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, think of those people who marched to Selma, the young people who “sat in” at segregated lunch counters. Think of those people who “occupied” the Pentagon. Non-violent direct action is strong stuff. It doesn’t require gasoline and guns, it just requires guts.
Take this in. If there is massive turmoil during and after the election, we need to be strong in our message and strong in our non-violent stance. If we pour into the streets, if we occupy the legislative halls of State Republican legislatures that try to upend the electoral vote, if we overwhelmingly occupy Washington — all of this needs to be non-violent. Period. Let the authorities carry us out of the buildings we occupy. Let them put us in jail. The next day, more will come.
We will be confronted by the right, including the violent right. Yet our greatest challenge may be within our own ranks. There are people who are so angry, so adamant, that they will want to use “any means necessary” to keep Trump from stealing the election — including violence. And there will be provocateurs — false friends — who will deliberately use violence to discredit our movement.
Most Americans will not leave home. They will not go into the streets. They will watch television and use the Internet to see what is going on. These people — the vast bulk of Americans — will need to see that we are pure in our motives and pure in our methods. The use of violence will taint our message — enough to delegitimize our movement.
It will not be enough to assert that “they are not with us.” We will need to actively resist the violent radicals and the provocateurs who will try to hijack our protest. Issuing statements will not be enough. We will need to non-violently block these people from violent actions. We need to stand in their way.
That’s where the blue armbands come in. Get some cloth and make some armbands. Not one, but many. Give them to people who are prepared to act as peacekeeping “marshals” at any mass gathering. Put one on your own arm. The armband means that you are enforcing a non-violent discipline. The armband allows you to ask people to restrain themselves. It allows you to try to create order when there may be chaos.
Right now there are thousands of people who are preparing for massive protest. They are being trained in non-violent discipline. But there will not be enough of us to swing into action by November 3, 2020. So prepare yourself.
I was at Selma. I marched to Montgomery. I was on the same road where Viola Liuzzo was killed right after the March. I was part of the “Occupy the Pentagon” action against the Vietnam War. I know outrage, I know fear, and I know the temptation to use violence. I was 20 years old. My emotions were strong.
Ever since I saw “Night and Fog,” a searing film about the Holocaust, I have asked myself: what would I do if my own country engaged in genocide, engaged in war crimes? I”ll be honest: even though I am a Quaker and a pacifist, if you put me in a room with Adolf Hitler in 1933 and I had a gun, I would shoot him. But that scenario is a fantasy. We have to deal with reality. Violence solves nothing in the real world. It just leads to more violence.
We are all programmed to regard brave soldiers as heroes. And they are. But what about people who stand up, without a gun, for what they believe? Are they any less a hero? If they are killed, are they any less a martyr for the cause? You know the answer. Their bravery is the same, even if our society gives medals and honors to those who carried a gun. You — the person reading this — need to be this brave.
Our Democracy is at stake. Our very soul as a people is at stake.
Those of us who oppose Trump, and all he stands for, know that his re-election will bring tremendous harm to our society and our nation. But if he wins “fair and square” we will need to accept this. Not doing so will lead to an even worse outcome.
Right now, it looks like he doesn’t have a chance of winning. The polls tell us that Biden will win by a landslide. That would be good.
But Trump may not lose. He might again eke out a victory in the Electoral College even if the popular vote goes to Biden. I shudder to think of it. But — if it happens — we will need to accept it. Just as we did in 2016. The alternative is something close to civil war. Believe me, civil war would be hell. There would be no winners.
On the other hand, Trump and his cadre may use nefarious methods to steal the election. That would be outrageous. We will need to stand in resistance to this. We will need to pour into the streets. We will need to confront the Republican operatives who try to engineer such a victory — in our state, and in our nation.
Mass action. It topples dictators. It can topple Trump. Be ready. Use non-violence. Trust your fellow Americans. And I would say: Trust the Courts. They have stood by our most sacred and important values even as Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and William Barr have assaulted them. The Center will hold.
But if Trump makes his dictatorial move, and his fellow Republicans back him up, then we will need to move to mass resistance.
Almost no mainstream political organization is preparing for mass resistance. However there is an initiative called ChooseDemocracy that is trying to prepare citizens for non-violent action. They have crafted a worst-case scenario pledge:
- We will vote.
- We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
- We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
- If we need to, we will shut down this country to protect the integrity of the democratic process.
ChooseDemocracy has also developed a detailed guide to mass resistance called Hold The Line. And they are offering online training workshops for non-violent resistance. Each workshop has become full almost as soon as it is announced, so now they are training more trainers. The most prominent person behind ChooseDemocracy is the Quaker activist George Lakey. George trained me — in 1974! He is the closest thing to Gandhi and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (MLK) when it comes to grand strategy and, principled positions and street-level tactics. He is not a lone ranger, and instead is deeply connected to non-violent activists around the world. For our purposes, I suggest that you read Mass Direct Action Might Be the Only Way to Stop Trump from Stealing the Election and then follow his writings and others’ at Waging Nonviolence.
It is too late to develop a nationwide, staffed, multi-location organization to defend our democracy against a coup. What we must do is develop a neighborhood-level grassroots movement that is ready to take action in a mere few weeks. I’ll see you at the Sit-In. Or, one hopes, at the (masked) Victory Dance Party.
Adam Corson-Finnerty is a Quaker, local Democratic Committeeperson, and a writer who wishes he could just focus on humorous pieces like Paint Chips.