People Get Ready: The Best Defense is a Good Offense
by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
Trump’s hospitalization with COVID-19 increases the range of eventualities in the upcoming national election, adding death and incapacity to the possible strictly electoral outcomes.
If Trump loses but refuses to concede, or if he ekes out an electoral college victory again while losing the popular vote as he did in 2016, he will be in charge of, and guaranteed to try to use, repressive federal agencies as he did after the murder of George Floyd. If the Biden-Harris ticket wins uncontestably, the reactionary and racist forces Trump has encouraged throughout his presidency are still likely to unleash further violence, if they have not already done so by that point in an attempt to disrupt the election and suppress votes against Trump. Are we prepared to defend ourselves? The GOP, and increasingly the corporate Democrats, have demonstrated that there is no shit they will not eat. How can we build real resistance and exercise people’s power?
As you read this, there is barely a month to election day. What are you doing to prepare for the possible outcomes and their consequences? Given recent realities, including vehicles being driven at racial justice protesters here in L.A., the murder of two protesters in Kenosha, exposures of organized racist violence being planned in Portland, the repeated refusals by Trump to say he will commit to a peaceful transfer of power, it does not require superpowers to foresee white nationalist violence and state repression in almost any eventuality. The need for such planning is underscored by the televised “debate” between Trump and Biden. Trump doubled down on voter intimidation, unleashing his white nationalist followers with his call to the Proud Boys to stand by,” and refused to recognize a loss. Biden seized every opportunity to distance himself from any “progressive” programs or demands.
The bourgeoisie on various levels is preparing for this. The Transition Integrity Project convened a bipartisan group of over 100 current and former senior government and campaign leaders and other experts in a series of 2020 election crisis scenario planning exercises. They expect that November’s elections will be “marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape.” They gamed out four scenarios: an inconclusive and ambiguous result, with several “battleground” states including FL, NC and MI remaining too close to call for a protracted period; a clear Biden win, a narrow but uncontestable Biden win, and a clear Trump win (in the Electoral College only). While explicitly concerned about illegal and authoritarian efforts by Trump to retain power and delegitimize electoral democracy, the hidden undercurrent in their worries is about the capacity of the Democratic ticket and party to contain, and control for partisan purposes, the grassroots resistance of its constituents and other disaffected elements of the population.
Here’s some of what they learned from their tabletop game of these alternatives (excerpted and reorganized for narrative purposes):
“Team Trump was consistently more ruthless than Team Biden – more willing to ignore existing democratic norms, to make use of disinformation, to deploy federal agencies to promote Trump’s personal and electoral interests, and to engage in intimidation campaigns. Team Biden generally felt constrained by a commitment to norms and a desire to tamp down violence and reduce instability.
“During TIP’s exercises, the [Team Biden] moves had limited ability to stop Team Trump’s push to discredit or contest the results. The one exception was in the scenario where Biden won the popular vote by a large margin but still lost the electoral college, and the response was aggressive and coordinated.
“In [that] scenario Team Biden pushed to overturn certified results in states with Democratic Governors and negotiated hard for permanent structural reforms in exchange for recognition of a Trump victory. [emphasis added–MN]
“To take this robust action, Team Biden had to deliver a united Democratic front, which meant coordinating effectively with state party officials as well as with grassroots and activist organizations. While most participants believed that the Trump campaign has the real-life capacity to mobilize and, to a significant extent, steer and control the actions of Trump supporters, several participants expressed serious doubt about the ability of the Biden campaign to mobilize or control left-wing activists. (They also expressed doubt about Team Trump’s future willingness to honor any agreements made during the election period.)
“The scenario exercises revealed that for many Democrats and key Democratic constituencies, this election represents an existential crisis, the last chance to stop a rapid and potentially irreversible US decline into authoritarianism and unbridled nativism. Some participants in the exercises observed that if former Vice President Biden wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College, there will be political pressure from the Democratic Party’s rank and file and from independent grassroots organizations to prevent a second Trump term.
“A show of numbers in the streets- and actions in the streets- may be decisive factors in determining what the public perceives as a just and legitimate outcome. During TIP’s exercises, Team Biden almost always called for and relied on mass protests to demonstrate the public’s commitment to a “legitimate” outcome, with the objective of hardening the resolve of Democratic elected officials to fight and take action, and to dramatize the stakes.
“As a practical matter, however, participants in the exercise noted that racial justice activists and others will likely act independently of the Biden campaign – players repeatedly cautioned that these social movements are independent, not beholden to, or a tool of, the Democratic party. Their support or Biden’s ability to mobilize them cannot be taken for granted.
“(Note: leaders of these grassroots movements were not well represented in the simulation exercises, so the scenario exercises did not test their likely receptivity to a Biden call to take to the streets, or to the Biden campaign’s ability to control these actors once mobilized.) If anything, the scale of recent demonstrations has increased the stakes for the Democratic Party to build strong ties with grassroots organizations and be responsive to the movement’s demands.
“In addition, the exercises suggest that there is a significant possibility of simultaneous street mobilizations by both Trump and Biden supporters, in which case the possibility for violence will increase significantly, and the actions of law enforcement will become critical.
“TIP’s scenario exercise suggest that President Trump and his more fervent supporters have every incentive to try to turn peaceful pro-Biden (or anti-Trump) protests violent in order to generate evidence that a Democratic victory is tantamount to “mob rule.”
“In the recent past, President Trump has on numerous occasions called on “Second Amendment people” to defend their rights and has called on his supporters to “liberate” states with restrictive COVID-19-related rules. Trump can rely on surrogates to embed operatives inside protests to encourage violent action, and he can mobilize a range of law enforcement actors (including National Guard troops, whether federalized or under the control of GOP governors) who might, without proper training or if led by politicized actors, escalate matters. In some scenarios examined by TIP, Team Trump succeeded in invoking the Insurrection Act and sending active duty military troops into US cities to “restore order,” “protect” voting places, or confiscate “fraudulent” ballots.”
If Trump loses but refuses to concede, or if he ekes out an electoral college victory again while losing the popular vote as he did in 2016, he will be in charge of, and guaranteed to try to use, repressive federal agencies as he did after the murder of George Floyd.
Whatever the electoral results, all the underlying crises and contradictions of the empire will remain. Unless the Dems display more backbone than they have ever done, there is likely to be a 6-3 reactionary majority on the Supreme Court to cap a federal judiciary which is already overwhelmingly stocked with similar appointees, even if the Dems win. The illness of a few Senators may not be enough to stop that railroad. COVID and its economic consequences will still be raging on Nov. 4 and probably on Jan. 20.
In those circumstances, what level of real resistance, of no-business-as-usual massive disruptive street protests are we prepared to engage in, if Trump is returned to office by the white supremacist, anti-democratic Electoral College or by some sort of palace coup sanctified by the Senate or the courts?
Even more to the point, how will the movements respond to a Biden-Harris win? We cannot afford to demobilize for a moment, either before or after the inauguration. The demands to defund the police, or to guarantee workers’ safety and right to organize, the struggle to leave fossil fuels in the ground, the effort to free prisoners from mass incarceration, which has become a virtual death sentence under COVID, must all be intensified, not relaxed.
War-mongering against Russia and China will not abate under a Democratic administration, nor will the Pentagon’s plans to militarize space and to engage in cyber-warfare. Nothing either of the politicians on the Democratic ticket has said or done makes defunding, let alone abolishing, the police any more likely. Nor do they provide any basis for thinking that indigenous treaty rights and sovereignty will be respected. Despite the GOP claim that Biden’s a socialist, they are clearly and expressly opposed to eco-socialism or any other form of collective social control and ownership of productive resources, or even to such social-democratic measures as Medicare For All.
It is gratifying to see a number of efforts to prepare, but most are too focused on the electoral process and defending the electoral outcome, as for instance: https://www.mobilize.us/thefrontline/event/321224/ Groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), the Mobilization for Black Lives, IfNotNow and other movement groups based in a new generation of young activists have all generated various preparatory trainings and organizing efforts to protect the vote and defend the outcome. Voices for Creative Non-Violence has put together a resource list of local groups training for non-violent “counter-coup” efforts: http://vcnv.org/2020/09/30/counter-coup-unarmed-community-organizing-resource-list. wecountonus.org is one such national effort, organized by the Sunrise Movement, Dream Defenders and other similar orgs. Protect the Results Coalition (https://protecttheresults.com) is another such, a joint project of Indivisible and Stand Up America. Most of these groups are committed to supporting and canvassing for the Biden-Harris ticket (though some previously backed Sanders, or stood aloof from electoral politics).
The narrow focus of such actions reveals the deep defeatism that still grips many popular and progressive forces, so inbred that it is not consciously recognized as such, but is manifest in a failure of imagination, in self-censorship, and in an acceptance of and identification with the US imperial system and limited formal electoral representative democracy as the “arena” within which they operate. The zeitgeist of the times is reactive, anti-fascist and anti-racist; the sense of Black power, peoples’ power, of imminent anti-imperialist revolution and of the weaknesses and contradictions of the empire that was the spirit of the 1960s and ’70s is not evident despite the massive racial justice protests that filled the streets of every city and even most towns and suburbs only weeks ago. People do not have a sense of their own power and capacity to make history, or of the parallel and corollary weakness and vulnerability of the rulers that the crisis in electoral democracy actually represents and grows out of. Trump and the “abnormality” of his regime are a manifestation of those contradictions within, and facing, the ruling class and their ability to rule.
Particularly among young white anti-racist activists and young Jewish progressives, the sectors with which I am most familiar and engaged, there is an ongoing focus on process, on emotional readiness. One aspect of this is a positive lesson from past errors, an attempt to avoid burnout, and to lower the barriers to participation, to recognize the need for a sense of community and cultural support mechanisms that can sustain people. But part of it is an avoidance of economic class, colonialism and empire as material realities and contradictions, not just cultural phenomena. People seek to avoid such errors of “white supremacy culture” as ‘perfectionism’ and ‘urgency’, without paying enough attention to the need for criticism, and especially self-criticism, in developing accountability and in charting a successful revolutionary strategy forward. We need to act on the understanding that this is a life-or-death struggle for literally billions of people. It’s also life-or-death for the billionaires who exploit and oppress them and us, and who hear and fear their own death-knell ringing in the rising voices for freedom, justice and yes, social ownership and control of the means of production. We need to see and exploit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and the irreconcilable contradiction between our enemies and ourselves. We need to recognize our own strengths and essentiality, and use them to overcome the contradictions among the people that divide us, which are rooted in identification with the empire and the oppressors.
So if your preparation for Nov. 3 doesn’t go beyond getting out to vote or getting others to, or protecting the “sanctity” of elections, you are not preparing enough. We need to be thinking and organizing now for mutual aid, for the serious prospect of a general strike, and for making a qualitative leap forward in the capacity of popular movements to shape the political and economic agenda. Otherwise we are setting ourselves up to be quashed and squashed by a repressive and racist steamroller.