Exhale! We did it! Choose Democracy’s parting thoughts, closing shop…
From: Choose Democracy via ActionNetwork.org <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2021 12:01 PM
Subject: Choose Democracy’s Parting Thoughts
Yesterday we saw the transition of power in the form of a ritual known as Inauguration Day. It was a moving day for a moving moment. For many of us, it was a moment to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Before emails bombard you asking you to prepare for the next fight ahead, we want to send you an email encouraging you to take another exhale. It’s okay to exhale. It’s okay to not stay reactive, to not be always on edge, and to not lose sleep over the latest political maneuvers. To be human in this moment is to recalibrate and detoxify.
Yes, there’s much work to be done to address the roots of last week’s attack, to advance democracy, and to combat the underbelly of misinformation and violence. But that work isn’t best done when we’re stuck in a reactionary, hypervigilant, reptilian brain. So do all of us a favor and allow yourself the space to detoxify.
We’ve promised we would close shop on January 21st and so this is our last email. We wanted to take a moment to explain that decision and leave with a few parting thoughts.
We’re well aware that Democracy has not been unequivocally Chosen — so we can’t exactly say “mission accomplished.” But Choose Democracy was born to alert people about the very real possibility of a coup (check), to prepare thousands how to stop an active coup (check), to use levers available to us to help deter a coup (partial check), and to prepare a national response to stop a coup if warranted (check).
We’ve trained over 10,000 people, reached millions of people with our articles, and built ready-to-run plans for coordinated strikes if an active coup situation unfolded. We can’t predict the future — and while we will officially close down we’re leaving a shell of an organization in case it needs to arise again.
We transitioned our website to include the story of the past year and curated resources in the event we need to stop a coup in the future (in the U.S. or elsewhere).
History has shown us that organizations who hang on after completing their mission too often turn into vampire organizations — they linger without a clear purpose. The field of nonprofits is littered with organizations who did something good once, but are now adrift. They stick around to keep fundraising, sucking attention, rewriting strategy plans, and following the times rather than leading on the times.
Letting organizations die is a gift for the future — just like a crowded forest needs the space for old trees to clear out so the new can arise.
PEOPLE MAKE A DEMOCRACY FUNCTION
Our democracy rests on much more than the act of voting. We saw this over and over again the last several months. There were so many key moments by citizens that kept history from turning even more sour:
- Election officials carried out a clean election and then defended their work at holding a largely free and fair election;
- Grassroots groups shot down haywire attempts to undermine electoral process (like in Michigan), expanded voter access, and fought for people’s rights to get to polls without intimidation;
- Governors and state elected officials enforced and approved the democratic processes even in the midst of a raging pandemic;
- Organizers and regular folks pressured elected officials to honor election results and forced Republican leaders in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to send electorates who represented those results; and
- Judges shot down unhinged theories of scary-sounding but fact-deficient claims and held strong against overt political pressure.
You can probably keep adding to this list.
If any of those pillars had completely buckled, we would be in a very different situation. We might still be engaged in prolonged consumer and labor strikes to try to wrestle control back from a successful coup. (Don’t believe us? Read Stephen Zunes’ analysis in Yes Magazine.)
Instead, the coup attempt flopped within hours.
As we look to the future, let’s look to the past and honor all the work, the contributions, the sacrifice, the risks, and the courage.
MANAGING OUR FEAR OF VIOLENCE
January 6th left many terrified, terrorized, and traumatized. This engenders a normal and healthy internal response. Our hearts beat faster and the fight-flight response pumps adrenaline into our system.
If we’d managed to live a life protected from this country’s violence, this was a wake-up call. For others, it was just a reminder of the strong thread of violence woven in this country’s history. Many of the symbols at the Capitol insurrection harken directly to those violent lineages of racism and anti-Semitism: Confederate flags, nooses, “Camp Auschwitz” shirts.
Whether this was a wake-up call or a stark reminder, it’s a chance to work on our fears. How we handle fear determines a lot whether we’re useful to the movement for liberation or whether we contribute to the cycles of hate.
This seems unlikely to be the last act of violence. And so it makes sense for us to learn from this moment about our own reactions — and practice being more present and able to react wisely.
Meditative practices, like breathing, help us more quickly ground our heartbeats and move from our reptilian brain. Accepting — rather than pushing away — reality is part of that. So is getting a good sense of U.S. history. And having a community to lean on — so you don’t feel alone in these moments. We strongly recommend the practices over at FindingSteadyGround.com.
WATCH FOR THE CRASH
After a big spurt of adrenaline in our system, there’s a natural next step: the crash. It’s an up-and-down cycle: violence, the body rapidly mobilizes, and then the body crashes…
We’ve been braced as we had been counting down to Inauguration Day.
Movement therapists remind us of the importance of getting that adrenaline out of our bodies: walk, run, exercise, have sex, do whatever makes you sweat and helps get those toxins out of your body. Spend time laughing and crying, recounting what scared you with people who can listen. And if you do crash, be gentle with yourself and seek community support.
If 2020 was a sprint to survive, we think 2021 is about finding our pace for a marathon ahead.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST COUP
Many of us watched the insurrection and felt the terror and pain of an attempted coup in the United States. Most haven’t seen a dramatic insurrection or coup quite like this.
But many people have experienced coups. One person who has lived through 6 coups (several backed by the United States) wrote to us, “I send my love to all of the Choose Democracy family and your country. Watching the images was shocking. And as I pray for your country, I also pray that it changes how your country moves in the world. With less arrogance and more humility.”
We hope this may be a teaching moment for us to grow in empathy towards countries whose people experienced coups — especially the many countries whose coups were backed by the United States, such as Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Bolivia (1971), and Chile (1973).
If you were angry at Trump for his coup maneuvers, imagine the coup plotters being a foreign country on the other side of the planet.
ADDRESS UNDERLYING CONDITIONS, LIKE ECONOMIC POLARIZATION
The whole possibility of a coup-attempt came from the brokenness called political polarization. Political scientists have discovered that one of the biggest drivers of political polarization is economic inequality. The more inequality, the more polarization.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s we had enormous political polarization, with old school Nazis filling Madison Square Garden for a rally and frequent bombings and KKK lynchings. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was trying to do some progressive things and several figures in the elite began to plan a coup. The plan was dropped because they saw it couldn’t work — democracy-loving progressives were too well-organized.
We can expect more political polarization because the economic inequality has been accelerating; some economists say it is the most extreme in U.S. history. This takes us back to the work of building mass movement organizations that can achieve positive goals with accountable, anti-racist, and pro-democratic policies.
There is a severe breakdown of our country afoot. It’s not going to get better without effort. We certainly can’t fix it by staying in reaction mode to each act of violence — which may grow dramatically. We have to handle our fear and our internal state so we can keep working on the big issues — the positive visions.
We didn’t avoid a successful coup by focusing on the negative — we did it by shoring up systems of democracy: registering to vote, voting, organizing, pressuring officials to act right, counting votes, debunking myths, preparing if things got worse, and being strategic about when we act.
That’s our parting hope: to lead with eyes open, feet on the ground, and hearts wide. To be led by love and strategy.
We love and thank you all for journeying with us.
The Choose Democracy Team
PS: If you want to keep journeying with our co-director Daniel Hunter, who has been the primary writer of our emails, he writes occasionally and you can sign up to his list here.
January 6 Attempted CoupFrom ChooseDemocracy.us / Is this a Coup?
Jan 19, 2021
In less than 24 hours, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. This will happen under some of the most pervasive security protocols the U.S. capital has ever seen and in the shadow of an attempted coup. While the circumstances are troubling, it is important to note the transition of power, even if it was not peacefully achieved.
Some of the evidence of the damage done is clear: 78% of Republicans do not trust that the 2020 election was fair and even more do not recognize Trump’s responsibility for inciting the mob attack on Congress (source). Additionally, a majority of Republican members of the current Congress continue to lie to the public and the press about the election results, undermining the Constitution they are sworn to support and defend.
Some evidence is still emerging: in particular, details on how the January 6th attack was planned and executed and how many past and present members of law enforcement and the military participated. The way the three branches of the US government deal with the aftermath of this coup attempt and how seriously Republicans and Democrats deal with those involved will be part of what determines whether or not another coup attempt happens in the coming years. Just as important, though, will be the actions of the US public and whether we join in the project of rebuilding our democracy.
Jan 11, 2021
We are monitoring the actions of many officials, agencies, and public figures in the aftermath of last week’s organized mob attack on the certification of the electoral vote count at the Capitol building. We remain concerned about the continued denial of basic facts by a significant number of Republican elected officials that could provide justification for further coup attempts in the coming weeks. The participation by off-duty law enforcement officers in the January 6th attack and the evidence of planning for future violence are cause for continued vigilance. Any continued denial of the election results by public officials or media figures should be viewed as incitement to violence and a serious threat to our democracy.
Jan 7, 2021
The immediate threat of a coup has passed and the ceremonial process of counting electoral votes that our Constitution requires was successfully completed this morning. However, the fact that the President of the United States incited a coup attempt and continues to spread the same lies that he used to encourage the mob that descended on the Capitol building yesterday means that the danger of an attempted coup has not passed.
The President, on his own, cannot attempt a coup. He requires collaborators. The President has declined, at every opportunity, to stand on the side of democracy. His collaborators in Congress have the same responsibility, and yesterday a majority of Republican members of Congress chose to side with him and further inflame the mob that attacked the very institution they are members of. (Source) Every member of Congress must condemn, without caveat, both the violence and the lies that were used to incite that violence.
Further, those who participated in this attempted coup must face consequences. This includes the members of the organized mob that breached the Capitol building and disrupted the transition of power in process. Allowing the President and his collaborators to remain in power invites further coup attempts and rewards autocratic behavior.
January 6 Attempted Coup – Where Now?Email from ChooseDemocracy.us, January 7, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT
What we saw yesterday is the final coda of Trump’s term. In the past 24 hours we’ve watched the Senate swing to Democrats and the storming of the Capitol Building, with 1 person killed by police and 3 others from “medical emergencies.”
The critical step for a transfer of power happened: Congress certified Biden’s victory. This was over the objections of eight senators and 139 representatives — less than expected but still highly significant.
The attempted coup has not succeeded in changing the outcome. Trump’s weak tea offer that “there will be an orderly transition on January 20th” cements that point, even as his continued claims of a stolen election tell us it wasn’t a breakthrough moment for him.
The events make viable Trump’s impeachment and we encourage people to call for it.
Our reflections this morning:
THIS IS TRUMP’S ATTEMPTED COUP
Trump called for yesterday’s rally (“Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”). Then he spoke at the rally:
- “We’re going to have to fight much harder. We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, congressmen and women, and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
The crowd listened. Egged on by Trump constantly telling them the country’s election had been stolen, they acted accordingly and attempted (in their minds) to seize the Capitol back for the people.
As you discuss this on social media and with friends, please make this point clear: yesterday’s actions were direct outcomes of Trump. The radical actors were not only the protestors scaling the walls, it was led by Trump. This is Trump’s failed coup.
And it was not exclusively Trump. There is severe hypocrisy by Trump Republicans who backed this all along the way — Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and the list goes on.
We are glad they decried the violence yesterday. But they planted the seeds. When they talk about a stolen election or non-existent fraud, they are still watering them. We will not forget that.
THE POLICE RESPONSE
Like many, we’ve been struck by how poorly the police prepared for this. Naturally this kicks up extreme rumors they were in bed with the planners. NY Times reports a variety of jaw-dropping acts of ineptitude, at best (from police cowering as protestors stormed the building to possibly opening barricades for protestors).
The side-by-side images of the treatment received by previous black protestors versus the overwhelmingly white crowd of Trump supporters is breath-taking. It is an example of how racism plays into policing. The Capitol Police wasted hours before calling for federal backup — apparently they didn’t think yesterday’s crowd was menacing but did think BLM protestors were. This is consistent with research showing white people perceive black people as greater threats.
According to CNN’s hasty analysis of the chaotic police response, it wasn’t until after the building had been overrun that Capitol Police called for backup.
We do understand that the DC Mayor had invited federal law enforcement, but then discouraged federal law enforcement from deploying — apparently trying to avoid a replay of the unchained behavior of the national guard against BLM protestors. That may have played a role. But that still doesn’t explain how people could walk out of the Capitol Building waving items stolen from representatives’ offices.
In a situation so fast-moving, we want police to use minimal force and, with at least one protestor killed by police, it’s hard to know exactly how to characterize what happened. But we saw lots of behavior by Capitol Police that raises severe questions. A full accounting needs to happen.
THE NEED TO IMPEACH
There have been initially uncoordinated calls for the 25th Amendment to remove Trump or calls for impeachment. We didn’t see a mechanism to join last night.
Strategically, we think both are appropriate responses. Ending Trump’s reign with either of these actions discourages future coup attempts.
We are skeptical that the 25th Amendment is a viable route — because it includes Trump loyalists like Mike Pence, a man who has been unswervingly loyal to Trump. But the political calculations have changed. Right-wing news is reporting Trump split heavily from Pence (for example, Pence’s Chief of Staff says he was locked out of the White House). And Trump’s own staffers inside Trump’s offices are allegedly talking about the 25th.
We’re encouraging people to get behind the NAACP’s call for impeachment. Impeachment has two advantages: it forces Congress to be on the record and it can bar Trump from holding federal office again. Further, it creates a public platform to further decry this behavior.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE MOMENT
Of course you’re feeling some way about all of this. One of the aspects of violence is it elicits psychological responses: fear, heightened sense of anxiety, revenge, desire to hide under covers or strike out…
A movement that doesn’t pay attention to its own emotional state will stay reactionary. We’ve tried to chart a path dictated by what will be strategically useful. Today, that’s spending energy to correctly frame this as Trump’s coup attempt, to identify its co-conspirators, and to impeach the leading coup plotter.
We also encourage you to tend to your own emotions. Note the parts of yourself that are feeling reactive, even seeking more awful news to remain in a pattern of reactivity. Anger and outrage are natural responses and we encourage you to give space for them.
Many of us in the Choose Democracy team have turned to Finding Steady Ground as a resource. They have a practical 7 behaviors for people in tumultuous times.
Our analysis remains this: the coup attempt was not successful and remains extremely unlikely to succeed. The pillars of democracy are holding against an attempted coup and there’s no legitimacy for a full seizure of our duly elected government. As people return home on their buses from DC, we may see more local actions at state capitols. But the center is strongly rejecting these efforts. Let’s remember that millions of poll workers, election officials, and citizens did their jobs to allow 160 million US Americans to have their votes fairly counted.
Choose Democracy came together to prepare a strategy and tactics to stop a full-blown active coup. Now we need a different set of tactics: rebuilding Democracy, punishing coup plotters and those who assisted them, and using levers of grassroots and political power to enshrine voter access and build accountable institutions of government.
We’re glad to hear some of the networks built around Choose Democracy are turning into those efforts (and many others have been doing this work for a long time). We’d love to hear what you plan to do afterwards — and would love to echo efforts that you think are worthy to continue when Choose Democracy folds after January 20.
The days up until Inauguration Day will likely be very rocky, so naturally we’ll keep monitoring this.
The Choose Democracy Team
2nd ALERT ON JANUARY 6, 2021!!
January 6, 2021 (Earlier…)
The Coup-o-meter has moved up to reflect the precariousness of the current situation. The danger of a coup has increased in the past few hours as violent protestors breached the Capitol building and disrupted the normal processes of a transition of power.
We continue to monitor the situation. Specifically, we are looking for whether protestors are successful in continuing their disruption and what actions members of the GOP take in response to these protests. Momentum has not shifted, but violence can create opportunities, and the question at this point is how will officials and other actors respond to this threat.
A “Coup-o-Meter” is maintained by IsThisACoup.com. You may visit the site for details on recent events that have contributed to the current state of the Coup-o-Meter. Below is are the most recent updates….
Recent events that have contributed to the current state of the Coup-o-Meter
Jan 4, 2021
The Coup-a-meter measures a specific kind of danger: how close we are to an active coup. Just as a speedometer cannot tell you the temperature, right now the Coup-o-meter is not the best way to gauge the current threat to our democracy.
It is true that the President is actively working to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump’s actions on his call with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger were an illegal attempt to defraud the citizens of Georgia and deprive them of their votes. Trump has stated his intention to overturn election results that were not in his favor since before the election and he continues to look for collaborators who will help him do so. For Republicans, the challenge over the past two months has been finding ways to appear as if they are moving toward overturning the election without ever actually reaching that point. To do so, they have relied on lawsuits, recounts, and audits that they knew would fail but which would put off the inevitable: having to tell Trump that he lost the November election.
Wednesday, Republicans will interrupt the ceremonial electoral vote count. Doing so will have as much effect on the transition to a Biden administration as interrupting his inauguration on January 20th would have: none. But the point of this exercise is not to stop the transition, it is to put off the day when Trump turns on the members of his own party.
But if Trump is attempting to overturn the election, why not call this a coup? This is not a semantic argument: Tactics that are appropriate for one situation are often counterproductive in another. A coup is a rapid seizure of power that builds momentum and requires an immediate and broad response to overturn it. A general strike and mass demonstrations have proven to be effective tactics when fighting a coup, which is why our friends at Choose Democracy spent weeks training thousands of people around the country in these methods. But because this is not a coup, employing these tactics could backfire. If Trump has signaled anything in the past few months, it is that he is itching for a fight. Large street battles between those supporting and opposing Trump might well be the one thing that would justify domestic use of the military. Unlike the theatrics being employed by Republicans in Congress, military action could interrupt the peaceful transition of power.
There are good reasons not to be distracted by the current circus. The true goals of the Republican leadership are the same as they were last year and the year before that: depriving citizens of their right to vote. The current maelstrom of misinformation created by Trump will be put to use by Republicans in the coming months to limit early and mail-in voting, purge voter rolls, and enact voter ID laws. These are the threats to democracy that we face, and we should not let the interruption of ceremonies distract us from them.
Dec 31, 2020
This is theater with an intended audience of one.
President Trump appears to have lined up enough allies to slow – but not derail – the functioning of our democracy on January 6th. On that day, a joint session of Congress is charged by the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 with counting each state’s certified elector votes. Those votes have already been delivered to Vice President Pence. No competing slates of electors have been submitted.
Any objections to a state’s electors must be made in writing by at least one member of the House and the Senate. It appears likely that such objections will be raised on January 6, 2021, just as they have been in the past, most recently in 2005. (Objections by House members without a supporting Senator are not rare: They have occurred in three of the five most recent elections. Source) At that point, each house will meet separately to debate those objections and then vote to confirm the state’s electors. A majority of both the House and the Senate is necessary to disregard a state’s electors. Both the House and the Senate will reject any and all objections and Vice President Pence will count the votes. January 6th may be a long and boisterous day, but it will change nothing. On January 20th, Joe Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States.
Senator Hawley knows that this is what will happen. Senator-elect Tuberville knows that this will happen. Representatives Jordan and Brooks know it, too. Vice President Pence definitely knows it will happen, and he’s planning to get as far away from Trump as he can immediately after he plays his ceremonial role. Source. All objections on that day are bound to fail, but they serve a different purpose than a coup: to gain favor with a President who has already made it clear that he will do anything he can to end the careers of any Republican who fails to put on a good show.
The headline tonight: Trump continues to be unable to find any collaborators to help him attempt a coup. It is important to note: A coup attempt would require collaborators with the power to help the president remain in power after January 20, 2021.
In any other election year, the events of the last few hours would have gone almost completely unnoticed because they are the normal process of a presidential election: Georgia’s Secretary of State certified the state’s vote and the Governor did as well, which he is required to do by law. Then, the leaders of Michigan’s House and Senate announced that the “candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes.” It should be pointed out: doing otherwise would be both unconstitutional and illegal (source, source, source).
At this time we see no sign that any collaborators that could assist the president in attempting a coup will step forward. Trump is making a lot of noise, but he is not gaining any traction (source). In the meantime, he is doing damage to our country and democracy and putting people’s lives at risk every day that he refuses to participate in the normal transition of power.
Nov 18, 2020
The last 48 hours have seen several troubling developments. While we considered moving the Coup-o-meter last night, public officials and voters have quickly headed off all actions that would put our democracy at greater risk. See below for details.
Certifying the vote in Michigan: During the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting on Nov. 17, the two Republican members of the board initially refused to certify the election results for the county, deadlocking a certification vote in a highly unusual move that could have disenfranchised the voters of the predominantly black city of Detroit. At the time of this vote, we began considering whether to move the Coup-o-meter, but events overtook our decision-making process. After the initial vote (but within the same meeting) hundreds of Wayne County residents who attended the meeting via Zoom responded in a public comment session. After hours of public outcry, both of the Republican members of the board reversed themselves, and the board certified the vote for Wayne County (source, source, source). It is important to note that even if the board’s initial vote had stood, the State Board of Canvassers was scheduled to meet today and would likely have certified Wayne County’s vote itself. That meeting has been canceled because all Michigan counties have now certified their votes (source).
This is what vigilance looks like. Anyone asking what they can do to protect our democracy during this time should look to the citizens of Wayne County and follow their lead.
An attempt to throw out ballots in Georgia: On Monday we began hearing that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had suggested to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that all ballots from certain counties be tossed based on the rates of non-matching signatures in those counties. Raffensperger does not have the power to take such action and has pushed back on any and all efforts to disallow votes, but Sen. Graham’s actions speak to a larger effort by Trump allies to delegitimize the electoral process in the middle of two of the most important Senate races in recent history (source, source).
The actions of voters in Wayne County and Brad Raffensburg in Georgia suggest that attacks on our democracy are being quickly shut down and all avenues for a seizure of power by Trump on January 20th remain closed at this time.
We continue to monitor the situation closely.
In this time of uncertainty and discord it is essential that the fundamental basis of our democracy be supported. All Americans — Democrats, Republicans, & Independents— must be prepared to protect and defend the valid results of the Presidential election whether their preferred candidate wins or loses. To that end we TAKE THE CHOOSE DEMOCRACY PLEDGE, and join with other concerned citizens to keep vigilant and demand that…
- Every vote be counted, even if it takes days or weeks to get an accurate count from critical states, especially given the expansion of mail-in and absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The losing candidate concedes, and that Congress, the Electoral College, and state officials honor the accurate, final vote count.