Virginia Rodino and Eric Fretz look at preparations against a Trump “coup,” arguing that mass mobilizations to defend democracy—particularly strike action—would be key.
Fueled by the power of the youth-led movements for Black lives and climate justice as well as the general antipathy to Trump, growing numbers are not just depending on voting in the days leading to the presidential election on November 3. Instead there is huge momentum for building protests in the streets to preserve the democratic tools we currently have. These important efforts also provide opportunities to build toward true change beyond politicians and political parties.
With all polls suggesting he is behind in the race, Trump has been making unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting is fraudulent, repeatedly refusing to state that he would abide by the results of the election if he lost, and even called for the violent far-right Proud Boys group to “stand by.” Indeed, the Proud Boys have entered many pro-Trump rallies across the country, and many right-wing militia groups have pledged to “guard” voting locations, or otherwise intimidate voters.
A Trump “coup”?
This has resulted in a torrent of articles worrying about a Trump “coup” should he lose the election, across the left and in mainstream publications. It has also started a range of groups making plans for resisting such a coup. These range from liberal Biden supporters planning massive marches around the country should Trump claim a victory before all votes are counted, to anti-fascist and left groups, and increasingly, regional union groupings looking to the power of strikes in defending democratic rights.
Trump cannot stage a typical military coup, as much as the increasingly unhinged racist megalomaniac might want to. Trump is not entirely trusted by the heads of the military. More importantly, the bulk of the ruling class is not in such a crisis as to want to hand over the state to fascists—they could do just fine under Biden, thank you. If the idea of a coup gives you visions of tanks rolling through the street and taking over Congress and radio stations, it is a misleading one here. But there are other ways the Trump administration could undermine the popular vote and encourage violence around the election.
In many states, Republican Governors and legislators are already suppressing voting, especially in minority areas (the Democrats are not entirely innocent either, in the way they have changed rules and pressured courts to block candidates from the Green Party. But these efforts pale in comparison). While unlikely, ambiguous procedural complications with the electoral college could lead to a constitutional crisis if pushed. Trump’s supporters in the extra-parliamentary right are far from able to take on the state, but could create deadly violence both in intimidating voters on election day, and in attacking mass mobilizations over a contested election. And in four years Trump has packed all levels of courts with ideological supporters, culminating in the Kavanaugh and Barrett appointments to the Supreme Court, making it much more likely that any legal challenges around the election (as happened in Bush/Gore) will go his way. Unlike with Bush/Gore, a large and growing section of people who want to see Trump gone are not just relying on the state and the courts, but are looking to the power of popular mobilization.
On October 8 the 70,000 member Rochester AFL-CIO Labor Council became the first regional AFL-CIO body in the United States to call for a general strike if Trump does not respect the outcome of this year’s election:
Therefore, now be it resolved that the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO, stands firmly in opposition to any effort to subvert, distort, misrepresent or disregard the final outcome of the 2020 Presidential elections.”
Rochester AFL-CIO President Dan Maloney, who in the fall of 2019 helped lead the Rochester UAW in the 6-week-long GM strike, said the Council hoped the resolution would spark a national conversation.
A few nights later the representative assembly of the Seattle Educators Association (SEA) passed a resolution stating that its board will call an emergency meeting within seven days of the election and, if it determines there has been election interference, call a meeting of the representative and general assemblies as soon as possible to vote on a work action.
Days later, the 100,000-member MLK Labor Council, an AFL-CIO regional body of labor groups representing more than 150 unions in the Seattle, Washington, area, passed a resolution that calls for a general strike if Trump does not respect the outcome of the November 3 election:
MLK Labor will call on to City and County governments to pledge to protect the protesters defending democracy and commit to not using police action or curfews to curtail these activities and to use all available resources to stand up against any effort by the Trump administration to steal the election. MLK Labor, in collaboration with other labor and progressive forces, will take whatever nonviolent actions are necessary up to and including a general strike to protect our democracy, the Constitution, the law and our nation’s democratic traditions.”
In Detroit, Michigan, union activists with the American Postal Workers Union created a flyer with a pledge to take to the streets and shut the country down if necessary to prevent a coup. Members printed more than 1,000 copies of a shortened version of the pledge on the union’s letterhead to distribute at post offices and the area’s main sorting plant.
On Monday, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation also approved a resolution calling for a general strike and pledging to take nonviolent action to defend the democratic process “if Donald Trump and his GOP enablers attempt to obstruct, subvert, sabotage, overturn or reject a fair and complete count of presidential ballots.”
So far, there has been no official word from the national AFL-CIO on these calls. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka previously stated “the AFL-CIO categorically rejects all threats to the peaceful transition of power. The labor movement simply will not allow any breach of the U.S. Constitution or other effort to deny the will of the people… America’s workers will continue to be steadfast in defense of our democracy in the face of President Trump’s antics, and we stand ready to do our part to ensure his defeat in this election is followed by his removal from office.” But this could easily have been empty rhetoric, given to those who want to hear it, but not used to mobilize anyone to do anything beyond voting and phone banking to vote for Democrats. The Rochester resolution, and the many that followed, should continue to be replicated, and used to mobilize from the ground up, to provide the pressure to turn Trumka’s words to action.
Protect the results
A coalition that includes Veterans For Peace, The Nation magazine, Courage to Resist and others have launched a petition calling for Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to unequivocally refuse to obey any order from President Trump related to the upcoming election, stating simply: “You have a legal, constitutional, and moral responsibility to refuse to comply with any and all attempts by President Trump to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.” While no one should ever rely on the “moral responsibility” of the US military, the reluctance of the top brass to interfere in domestic elections hinges more on their desire for a status quo stability, and a fear of rank and file troop refusals and revolts should they be set upon large crowds of Black Lives Matter or pro-democracy protesters.
In the event that Trump loses the election and refuses to concede, the Protect the Results coalition is promising to “activate their members and take coordinated action to protect our democracy.” Members include groups like Stand Up America, Indivisible, Communication Workers of America, MoveOn, Black Lives Matter, Jobs with Justice, NARAL, SEIU, Peace Action and the Sierra Club, mostly groups loyal to the Democratic Party.
Leading up to the election, the Protect the Results coalition is building a grass-roots network now that can be mobilized if a “nightmare scenario does materialize, to immediately put a big show of force into the streets to push back.” They are planning for thousands of local protests across the country starting November 4, mobilizing millions if the legitimate results of the election are undermined.
Philadelphia, PA, is just one example of a major city mobilizing to defend the votes and protect the results, with dozens of Philadelphian progressive organizations planning “mass action” and preparing protests for the days after the November 3 election in the event of coordinated voter intimidation, mail-in ballot invalidation, or other electoral discord.
One drawback of these plans is that if Biden wins by a landslide, and Trump concedes, the massive Protect the Results plans for demonstrations will be called off, or turned into celebrations. There has been no call for strikes to push Biden into immediately canceling Trump’s anti-worker orders, or enacting progressive legislation. Nonetheless, socialists should be working closely with others in these wide mobilizations, both to defend what democratic space we have already won, and to push the demands further.
There are other initiatives that already are moving in this direction.
On September 21 the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project and the Working Families Party launched The Frontline, an initiative aiming to ‘forge a Black-led, multiracial coalition that can carry forward the energy of the uprising – “the largest social movement in U.S. history” – in both electoral and non-electoral forms’:
“We are part of The Frontline because our lives and the lives of the people that we love depend on us fighting with everything we’ve got to overthrow the Trumpism, the white supremacy, the white nationalism – all the harm that is being done by this administration to our communities. We are committed, not to fighting for a savior on Pennsylvania Avenue, but to fighting for our next target. And we will come as hard at the new administration that we hope will follow the Trump administration as we are at Trump right now,” stated Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the M4BL Electoral Justice Project.
And in California, there is a statewide day of action for immigrant justice being planned on November 14. Recognizing the power of ordinary people in the streets, organizers are insisting, “We’re not waiting to see whether the president or representatives or mayors (i.e. whoever gets elected) will do anything to forward abolition and assist migrants. We know that neither the Dems nor the Republicans will ever #freethemall #abolishice #closethecamps #abolishthepolice unless we make them!”
No matter who wins the presidential election, Californians are demanding freedom for every last person currently being held in detention.
Neither will the fight against the fascist threat be won or defeated with one election. Trump has to go—his administration has emboldened, been inspired by, cooperated with, and helped recruit to a range of dangerous far-right groupings. But, now that they have stepped forward, there is also a danger of an anti-government consolidation of the far-right under Biden, and their growth under four years of an uninspiring Democratic presidency that does nothing for the working class.
Whatever happens shortly with the US elections, many ordinary Americans remain mobilized in their unions and their neighborhoods to continue fighting for a country that truly embodies freedom and democracy for all. To put that in practice will mean battles, defensive and offensive, against a Trump or a Biden government—and ultimately against the rule of capital.
Virginia Rodino and Eric Fretz