Early this morning, and without any legitimate basis, President Trump declared electoral victory and decried voter fraud. Political Research Associates, among other observers, had warned of such moves. So far, the president appears to be following the expected playbook for holding onto power in the event of failure at the polls: create the perception, or stage-manage the reality, of a contested election. That coming contest will play out in the courts and capitals, within echo chambers — and potentially on the streets.
Current conditions, in their broad strokes, were not unexpected. We now face a delicate, potentially volatile situation as we await official presidential election results. The questions at this juncture include: how we avert any “soft coup” while we also avoid the worst possibilities of far-right and state violence.
Observations on the Election So Far
Intimidation of voters in Black, Latinx and other racialized communities was most intense in the early voting period leading up to November 3. However, the armed MAGA caravans across the country this past weekend, police using tear gas on voting rights gatherings, harassment, disenfranchisement, a voting location bomb threat, and other forms of intimidation did not prevent record levels of voting in this election. Get out the vote and election defense efforts were robust across the country; and, the president’s militant base, including far-right groups, did not turn out in anything close to full force on Election Day. PRA has mapped verified far-right and paramilitary incidents affecting racial justice protests and elections since late May 2020 and is adding new incidents regularly.
PRA’s monitoring of White nationalist and other far-right networks indicates that they have been focused on potential mobilization after the vote, and particularly in the event of a contested election or a declaration of victory by Trump’s opponent. We are as yet in early phases of this election.
We express our appreciation to the myriad groups that have fought to maintain ballot access, despite relentless, deliberate obstructions ranging from purging of voter rolls to limiting ballot drops, to undercutting the U.S. Postal Service’s mail delivery capacity. Despite a relatively smooth day at the polls yesterday, chronic and escalated voter suppression remains a fundamental problem.
Navigating the Narrows of This Election
As we write, we’re in a lull ahead of a potential storm. With voting now over, we have moved into the second phase of securing the vote. In the event the Trump campaign moves aggressively to contest the election results, or is successful in stopping the ongoing count of votes in Michigan (or elsewhere), we can anticipate that the President might deliberately foment chaos in order to justify extraordinary policing, judicial, and/or legislative action. We could reasonably expect such chaos to include a call to action from the President or the media sphere that amplifies him for right-wing vigilantes to “do something.” Some far-right groups have stationed members near the White House in anticipation of confrontations.
Social justice and democracy organizers have rightly prepared for mass mobilizations in the event of a soft coup attempt or moves toward martial law. Leaders must now carefully consider the conditions under which mass mobilizations would be most or least productive.
As we wait on election returns, it could be prudent and strategic to deny the far right opportunities for clashes that could provide pretext for aggressively anti-democratic government action. Right-wing and state violence would almost certainly be borne disproportionately by people and communities of color. Governors in twenty states have already activated or deployed national guard units. Ten of these are for poll support or cybersecurity, six for law enforcement support in case of “civil unrest”, and four for both functions.
There is a broad consensus among justice and democracy groups that the current priority is for the vote count to proceed. Legal and other tools will be used to that end. In some places mobilizations could advance the vote count. Local conditions vary greatly and there can be no one-size-fits all approach to advancing real, multiracial, feminist democracy. Use your best judgment and consult with other movement leaders. We are in regular dialog with organizing partners, including Black movement leaders who have played a particularly critical role in the historic and transformative racial justice protests of these last months.
As we stand together at this inflection point for democratic possibility, seek and take wise counsel. This is our collective watch and it is our job to navigate a narrow channel.
Expect the far right will use our national maps of planned mobilizations as “evidence” of a left-wing plot and to guide their own actions. PRA recommends common sense measures such as asking people to register for events, disclosing exact locations for actions only shortly before they start, and working through local organizations to promote such actions. While large scale mobilizations of anti-Trump voters in the urban centers are less likely to be overwhelmed by MAGA or paramilitary people, that isn’t necessarily the case in small towns and rural areas. Even in large cities, security-conscious organizing will help to keep everyone safer, particularly the people of color and LQBTQ folks who often suffer the worst of consequences of both police and far-right violence.
Consider also your pacing and sustainability. We are facing a protracted set of challenges. The election has been underway for weeks and will extend for some time into the future. Prepare for a long haul and reserve some capacity for unpredictable moments of urgency.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the election, PRA anticipates escalated threats and violence from the far right and the need for action, including mobilizations, to defend and advance democracy rooted in values of racial, gender, and economic justice. In the event of a Biden-Harris administration, social justice and democracy movements will need to mobilize against tremendous right-wing destabilization while holding a center-right government accountable to movement and public priorities. The problem of violent, racist policing will remain a serious challenge.
For all the shoals in our path, we also have at our back the momentum of the past five months, and the multi-racial and feminist democratic movement leadership that has called into being an inspiring and potentially transformational alternative conception of “the people.”
Over the coming days, PRA will continue to closely monitor threats of vigilante as well as state violence. PRA looks forward to navigating these narrows—avoiding the potential of a soft coup as well as the worst possibilities of right-wing and state violence—to build a democracy worthy of the name.
In solidarity and with determination,
Political Research Associates
November 4, 2020 8:00pm