A little more than four years ago I posted my first diary on DailyKos. It made the rec list and I was hooked. It was entitled "The Elephant in the Room: What If They Steal the Election (Again)" Some things have changed since I wrote it, not least of which is Obama's commanding lead in the polls which will make stealing this election much more difficult than the last two. But I think it still bears re-reading. We are seeing the groundwork being laid for a massive voter supression effort on the part of the Republicans and just as people are admonished not to get complacent about victory before its in the bag, I think we must not be complacent about the danger of another attempt to steal the election. It will probably require some sort of massive (late) October surprise to pull something like this off, but again, lets not misunderestimate these bastards.
So without further ado ... The Elephant in the Room
The Elephant in the Room:
What to Do if the Republicans Steal the Election (Again)
People have rightly attacked the hand-wringing of some who are asking "what if Bush wins?" when we are still in the midst of the work of making sure that he doesn't. But there is another question that we need to be talking about NOW because if we don't all of the work we are doing may still be for nothing. That question is "what will we do if Bush loses and tries to steal the election again?" This is not a question we can put off until November 3 for the simple reason that if we are not mentally and organizationally prepared for this eventuality, we will lose.
- The threat of a stolen election is real.
The 2000 presidential election was stolen through a combination of mob tactics and the collaboration of a right-wing Supreme Court. There are many imaginable scenarios in which Bush and Cheney might attempt to steal the election in 2004. These include massive election day disenfranchisement, rigged electronic balloting, electoral college shenanigans and undoubtedly some things we haven't thought of yet. The reality of this threat is attested to by the fact that both campaigns have lawyered up across the country in anticipation of major disputes.
- Lawyers are not enough. (Lessons from 2000)
This is a real struggle for power involving life and death issues. While certain fights will be waged in the courtrooms between contending teams of lawyers the overall outcome of this fight will be shaped by actions in other arenas. The Republican mobilization of violent mobs of paid operatives to shut down recounts in Florida in 2000 played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the election. These actions demonstrated that the Republicans would not be bound by legality and would resort to strong-arm tactics in their pursuit of power. In the face of this threat, the Democratic Party leadership capitulated. It was that capitulation that set the stage for Supreme Court's ratification of what could be called a low-intensity coup. A more muscular response by the Democrats in the streets would have presented the Supreme Court with a different balance of forces that would in all likelihood have influenced their deliberations.
- Our power is in the streets.
Several hundred Republican office staffers and interns willing to get into the streets played a pivotal role in the outcome of the 2000 elections. Street mobilizations are not the Republicans traditional source of political strength (money is). On the contrary, the traditional constituencies of the Democrats - labor, Black and Latino communities, anti-war organizations, the LGBT communities, the environmental movement, the womens movement, students and youth - all have a much richer tradition and organizational capacity for mass mobilizations employing a wide range of tactics from candle light vigils to marches to strikes to massive acts of civil disobedience. This is our strength. If we are not willing to use it we can not win.
- Massive resistance will be necessary to win.
In the event of a disputed election, the Bush Cheney regime will have major institutional advantages: the sympathy of much of the corporate media, its control of the Justice Department, a judiciary stacked to the top with Republican appointees, control over both houses of Congress, and even, should it come to that, its command of the armed forces. In the face of these advantages we must be prepared to exercise our most powerful weapon - our numbers and our history of mass struggles for social justice. At key moments in their histories, the labor movement, the civil rights movement and others have used the methods of massive resistance to declare their refusal to accept the continuation of an unacceptable state of affairs. By shutting down workplaces, boycotting school, blocking streets, and even going to jail they changed the course of American history and strengthened the forces of democracy when existing institutions were not up to the task. A disputed election this year will be such a key moment and it will demand resort to the methods of massive resistance. We must be prepared to get into the streets, to stop business as usual and to declare by our actions our refusal to be governed any longer by a regime we did not elect.
- The danger of weak leadership.
Unfortunately the leadership of most of the organizations that grew out of these historical struggles is unlikely to act decisively. Decades of bureaucratization, painful experiences of defeat, and the understandable fear of the legal consequences to their own personal positions as well as to their organizations, has produced a layer of very cautious leaders in many progressive organizations - leaders unlikely to exhibit the sort of boldness and courage that will be demanded in the days and weeks after November 2. Undoubtedly there will be exceptions to this generalization and they will play a very important role in any effective campaign of massive resistance to a stolen election. It is important now to identify who will be willing to take the organizational and personal risks to lead various constituencies into action and to give them the encouragement to start thinking about their responsibilities now. It is also important to talk with those people who, for whatever reason, are not able to lead to make sure that they don't allow their habits of caution to get in the way and to demobilize their constituencies with talk that promotes fear when fearlessness is called for.
- Each of us is responsible for taking and preparing for action.
If a campaign of massive resistance to a stolen election is to succeed it will have to be a genuinely grass-roots movement. Every concerned individual, every rank-and-file member of a progressive organization, every newly minted activist must think of themselves as a leader with responsibilities for making the resistance successful. Each of us must make an inventory of the formal and informal groups we belong to: a union local, a church, a neighborhood watch, but also: a weekly poker game, an internet listserv, the parents in a children's playgroup. And then we must begin the conversations with our friends, neighbors, co-workers and so on about what we think will need to be done if Bush tries to steal the election again. Since we can't know exactly how events will unfold any preparations we make must be flexible. The most important preparation we can make is to mentally prepare the people around us to ACT TOGETHER, to refuse to be individual spectators and to become actors in the greatest historical drama of our own live. Two people can paint a slogan on a wall or pass out a flyer. Three can block a doorway. Four can inspire a crowd to block an intersection.
- Courage is key.
As Frederick Douglass said: there is no progress without struggle. Similarly there will be no chance of success without risk. Each of us must ask ourselves what we are willing to risk for democracy. And then we need to steel ourselves to do more. Shy people will need to stand on top of newspaper boxes and address crowds. People with outstanding parking tickets will need to sit down in the middle of the street and risk getting arrested even if that means an extra couple days in the system. People who have never jaywalked will need to refuse the orders of the police to disperse. The most important place we will find that courage is in each other: "I'll do it if you do it with me."
- Our strength is unity in diversity.
We come from many different places. We come from urban housing projects and suburban subdivisions. We come from shuttered steel plants and ivy-covered campuses. We come from bars and AA meetings. We come from NASCAR, BET and NPR. We come from Pakistan and Peoria. This is our strength, but only if we appreciate it. Where we come from will influence what each of us is willing to do, what each of us thinks is needed and what each of us thinks is too much. We need to be prepared for the conflicts that these differences will inevitably produce in our ranks. We will need to be patient with each other. Inevitably people will do things that each of us thinks is foolish either for being too timid or too reckless. We will argue amongst ourselves about the best course of action and each of us will be called on at some point to compromise or to go along with the views of others. We must have sufficient faith in the power and the wisdom of the people of this country in their beautiful diversity that we refuse to let our differences divide us.
- Beyond narrow demands.
At first what will unite us in the streets will be stopping another stolen election. But as we all know there are other issues involved: the war, the power of the corporations, the environment, and so on. It will be tempting to some to try to confine the resistance to the seemingly simple issue of the elections. This is vain folly. The threat of a stolen election is a symptom of deeper malady: the powerlessness of ordinary people in an increasingly corporate dominated society. Once people are in the streets they will begin to feel their power and the full range of accumulated grievances that they have against a system that has denied them their voice in the most important decisions of the day: of whether their children will be sent to kill and die on foreign soil, of whether we will have clear air to breathe and water to drink, of who controls the airwaves and many more - these grievances will burst forth like a broken dam. And like a broken dam it will be a thing of great power. The individual hopes of winning a just resolution of each of these grievances when taken together have the power not just to stop a stolen election, but to force through a range of important changes.
- Never Again.
This is not just about who will occupy the White House for the next four years. It is about the whole direction of this society. It is about whether democracy will be an increasingly hollowed out shell that barely conceals the rule of private corporate power or whether its promise will be made real by an awakening of regular people. Stopping the theft of the election is a beginning, not an end. It will be one important battle in what is likely to be a protracted fight to make a genuinely democratic society.
What Are YOU Willing to Do to Stop the Election from Being Stolen?