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. Will we be overwhelmed by “Trump’s Army” of white nationalists? Will the Police and the Military side with Trump? No and No. (See my section on “Trump’s Army, below. Then see my section on “Talking to a Cop About a Coup.”)
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 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. Or purple, or green. 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. If you attend a demonstration and things are well-in-hand, then relax. But if not, then prepare yourself to be a volunteer marshal.
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.
What are we to think of “Trump’s Army.” Is this army something like Hitler’s Brownshirts? Or is it a motley crew of Proud Boys who like to play dress up and carry guns? Or is it a figment of Trump’s imagination?
If you are a worried Democrat, and you would like to scare yourself silly, you should read Trump’s email appeal from this summer. It reads:
“This email is FOR PATRIOTS ONLY.
You’ve been identified as one of President Trump’s fiercest and most loyal defenders, and according to your donor file, you’d make an excellent addition to the Trump Army.”
“The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have to something to identify yourselves with, and to let everyone know that you are the President’s first line of defense when to come to fighting off the Liberal MOB.”
And, for a mere gift of $35, you get “our never-before-seen, Limited Edition Camo Keep America Great Hat.”
Camo! Perfect to wear with your camo pants and your camo jacket, and your utility belt, and your black assault rifle!
So let’s look at the Brownshirts. This was a paramilitary organization directly associated with the Nazi Party. It started in 1920 as a group of ex-military from WWI and some brawlers who were loosely organized to “protect” Nazi rallies. Its formal name was Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment) or the SA. The members wore brown uniforms. The SA grew along with the Nazi party, so that by 1932 it numbered 400,000 men. It was highly organized along military lines, and indeed by 1933 it was twenty times the size of the German Army. (Wikipedia, naturally)
Trump’s Army is not the Brownshirts.
In fact, there is no army at all. It’s a fundraising gimmick, as well as a hair-raising tactic that is being used in the weeks leading up to the election. In recent days “the Army of Trump” has turned into a catchphrase for volunteers who Republicans are recruiting to watch the polls. “Our goal is to cover every polling place in our state with smart and trusted volunteers like you!” Connecticut Republican Party chairman J.R. Romano wrote in an email to party members. “JOIN the EDO [Election Day Operation] Army For Trump NOW to get started and one of our team members will contact you with more information.” (Hartford Courant, Oct 10, 2020)
Well, golly. If this is Trump’s Army, then I guess I am a soldier in “Biden’s Army.” After all, I am a committeeperson in Bucks County, PA, and I will be present at the polls on November 3rd, along with other committeepeople and some volunteers who I have recruited to answer questions and make campaign literature available. And we will all be wearing masks! I hadn’t thought about that.
In most states, poll watchers and representatives of candidates stand around and interact with voters. At my sites, we always say “thank you for turning out” to everyone who comes out after voting — even the ones who grimaced at us when they went in. The Republicans watchers behave the same way. Sometimes they even offer us donuts!
Please don’t be confused by Trump’s language. His volunteers will most likely be the same volunteers who were there in 2016 and 2018. They didn’t wear camo. They didn’t carry guns. They were respectful and so were we. That will happen again this year — at most polling locations.
Is it possible that some militia-types will show up with their uniforms and their guns? Undoubtedly that will happen somewhere, maybe several somewheres.
What will happen? In most cases, nothing. In general, there won’t be any problems if we Democrats don’t try to provoke them. Just let them stand there, but do notify election officials if they arrive. In “open-carry” states, they may be allowed to stand around and look menacing. If they are near a school or a government office, the police will tell them to leave. They might be arrested for Election Interference or Voter Intimidation.
No, Election Day should not see many nasty confrontations, much less violent confrontations.
But that leaves open the question of what happens after Election Day. Right now, it looks like a blowout for Biden, with no real basis for standing in the way. And we will all be able to look forward to a Biden Inauguration Day.
But what if the election is close? And what if Trump declares he was cheated out of office and gives the open whistle to his secret “Army” of Proud Boys and white nationalists?
When we are the most paranoid, we imagine that the police, the National Guard, the military, are all secretly part of Trump’s underground Army. And that these forces will help install The Donald for four more years and beyond. That’s not going to happen. The military brass truly detest Trump. The police don’t want trouble. The National Guard are our neighbors. NONE OF THEM ARE BROWNSHIRTS, even if a few sympathize with white nationalists.
We know that many militia groups fantasize about sparking Civil War in America. Do you want Civil War? Does your Republican neighbor want Civil War? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t deter some of the crazies, including the 13 men who plotted to abduct and possibly murder Michigan Governor Whitmer. Are there other “cells” like this in America? Undoubtedly.
Keep something in mind. The men who formed the Whitmer plot also wanted to assassinate State Police members. Do you think that makes the cops their friends? No way. With all their faults, our police forces are made up of ordinary men and women. Like my father, who was a career Air Force sergeant, and like his friends, there is no right wing agenda. They are just doing their job. There is no “Brownshirt” mentality in our uniformed forces, and they will do their duty — according to law — no matter what our would-be Hitler can say or do.
TALKING TO A COP ABOUT A COUP
If you are a member of the police force, if you are a member of the National Guard, if you work in a sheriff’s office or a military base — at the end of the day, all you want to do is go home and take your shoes off.
And the next day, when you are working, you would like to have an easy day. You don’t want to have to break up a domestic dispute, you don’t want to worry about someone you’re approaching having a gun, you don’t want to have an angry protestor screaming in your face.
And you don’t go to bed at night thinking that you will hurt someone tomorrow, or throw teargas at them, or shoot rubber bullets — or real bullets. It’s just a job, and the less aggravation the better
My former father-in-law was a policeman who rose to the rank of Captain in a town near Hoboken, New Jersey. A good day for him was shooting the breeze with his fellow cops, or with store owners, or — literally — making sure that people could cross the streets safely at busy intersections. A regular guy.
My father spent his career in the military. Neither he, nor any member of his crew were militaristic. He repaired airplane engines at bases all over the United States. I know because we followed him from Florida to Alaska to New Hampshire to New Jersey…. And along the way I met a lot of GIs. They were regular people, not saints and not monsters. I used to joke that my dad stayed in the military because he liked living in a socialist state: job security, a regular paycheck, free medical and dental care for the whole family, and a guaranteed pension when he retired.
Activists: Keep this in mind when you take to the streets. People who are being asked to keep order are not your enemies. Unless your demonstration is specifically about the police in your town, you shouldn’t have a beef with them, and they don’t want to get into a tussle with you.
I say this because of Portland. I say this because of Seattle. I say this because of Philadelphia. In each of these cases, the police were too often treated as though they had committed whatever heinous act had been perpetrated by some rogue cop in some other city. Or as though they had shaped a policy to which you were objecting.
Why am I writing this? Because very soon we may have mass demonstrations all across the country. I’m talking about Election Day and the days after the Election.
Activists on the left and on the right are anticipating trouble, especially if the result is not clear on election night. Every day that the contest drags on will be fraught with tension. There will be demonstrations. There will be conflict.
As a Democrat and Biden supporter, I have been surprised to read that many Republicans believe that the Democrats are trying to — and capable of — stealing the election. I know that Trump says this, but this notion is abroad — just as we Democrats fear that Trump and his allies will try to steal the election. Perhaps even declare Martial Law!
Both sides are pretty worked up. Violence could ensue.
I can’t counsel the Right. They won’t listen to me. But I can try to counsel the millions of people who want to remove Trump from office and who are counting on the vote to make this happen. And I especially want to counsel the hundreds of thousands who make take to the streets, because I will be there too.
And my counsel is: No Violence on Our Side. If you encounter the police in the street, remember that none of those cops is Donald Trump. None of those cops is William Barr. None of those cops is Kellyanne Conway. Not a single one of those cops is a Republican Senator. And most likely, none sit in your state legislature. If our goal is “to speak truth to power,” then our focus must be on those who have actual power.
Ultimately the power to stop a coup or correct a gross injustice lies with the American people. Our appeal should be to them, Republican Americans, Democratic Americans, Non-Partisan Americans.
Screaming in the face of an individual policeman or policewoman will get us nowhere. Who knows? That cop might personally agree with you. Try talking.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King had it right: practicing non-violence gives us the moral high ground. It allows our message to be heard. It keeps us from being painted together with violent radicals and deliberate provocateurs. Our message must be clear: If you practice violence — You Are Not With Us.
If you throw Molotov cocktails — You Are Not With Us.
If you throw bricks — You Are Not With Us.
If you set fire to cars or stores or government buildings — You Are Not With Us.
If you loot stores — You Are Not With Us.
If you provoke the police, hoping that they will respond with violence — You Are Not With Us.
If the National Guard is called out, whether to provoke us or to restrain looters, treat them as you would the police.
They are regular guys. With the possible exception of a few bad eggs, or a few covert militia members, they do not want to hurt you — and you should not want to hurt them. Keep your focus on the decision-makers.
If violence erupts on our side, 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 will need to stand in their way. Do you get what I am saying: we will need to protect the police from them. We will need to intercede when there is looting. We will need to stop anyone who is preparing a Molotov cocktail or carrying a brick. How do you do this? You stand in front of them and you try to talk with them calmly. You remind them that the demonstration has adopted a non-violent discipline. You enlist others. If necessary, you report them. Don’t look the other way because their goals are supposedly our goals. If they intend to commit acts of violence, They Are Not With Us.
Believe me, you can be radical in the defense of Democracy and not be violent. Consider an initiative called ChooseDemocracy that is trying to prepare citizens for non-violent action. They have crafted a worst-case scenario pledge:
1. We will vote.
2. We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
3. We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
4. If we need to, we will shut down this country to protect the integrity of the democratic process.
How do you “shut down” the country? You peacefully sit down in the office of the nearest Republican Trump supporter. Or you blockade the office. If parts of the state and federal bureaucracy are aiding a coup, you go there. You may be arrested. Others will replace you. Yes, you may be committing a “crime” in the cause of stopping the machinery of repression, but you will not be committing a violent crime. It is called Civil Disobedience. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, that was civil disobedience. When students “sat in” at segregated lunch counters, that was civil disobedience. When anti-war protestors tried to block a munitions train, that was civil disobedience. Non-violent civil disobedience is what the Gandhian movement used to force Britain to “quit India.”
ChooseDemocracy has 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.
PROTECT THE RESULTS
Things are moving fast. A National Coalition that is being formed to protect the election results. This coalition is called Protect the Results. They have actions planned for November 4 in over 180 locations around the country. Sponsors include MoveOn, Sierra Club, Common Cause, Indivisible, and and many grassroots peace organizations. See: https://protecttheresults.com/
Here is their take on demonstrations and non-violence:
If Trump declares victory before all the votes are counted, makes unfounded claims that the election was “stolen,” tries to stop votes from being counted, or otherwise threatens the integrity of the election or the peaceful transition of power, Protect the Results will activate nationwide mobilizations. We think the likelihood of activation is high and ask that groups plan their events for 5pm local time on Wednesday, November 4.
Here’s what we think it will take to win:
Commitment to a strategy of nonviolent action: We commit to a nonviolent strategy for several reasons. First, we want to prioritize keeping people safe, especially those most at risk from rising threats of right-wing violence. Second, we want to win. Rigorous study of social movements has shown that nonviolent civil resistance is more effective than violence at resisting oppression and making change. We expect all participants to act lawfully at all times and to seek to de-escalate any potential confrontation with those who disagree with our values.
Our commitment to a strategy of nonviolent action is a strategic choice connected to what we believe is most effective in defending and preserving democracy and implies no moral judgment about people who feel they have a right to be violent in certain circumstances.
We expect all participants to act lawfully at all times and to seek to de-escalate any potential confrontation with those who disagree with our values. We expect all participants to respect one another and seek to heal and look out for one another. We seek to reduce the potential for people to get hurt, be unwell, and during a global pandemic, to fall ill.
So their non-violence is both strategic and tactical. On this we agree. However, I do not agree that we cannot make a moral judgement “about people who feel they have a right to be violent in certain circumstances.” Thus far, the violence that we have seen is not moral, no matter how outraged and self-righteous these activists may be. At best, we can say “we understand how you feel, but if you act violently — You Are Not With Us.”
Let’s hope that on Nov. 4 we will be celebrating, not protesting. But none of us can take a peaceful transition for granted. So be prepared, and remember that if we take to the streets we must stand firmly on the moral high ground.
Peace, Love, and all that goes with that,
Adam Corson-Finnerty is a Quaker, a local Democratic Committeeperson, a Grandfather whose activist career began in 1964 with the Civil Rights Movement, and an occasional writer.