This Time, the People Are Watching

Election '04
Let's start with the conclusion: We encourage people to do their part for democracy leading up to Nov. 2, and then prepare to return to the streets on Nov. 3 (and perhaps beyond), at predetermined, symbolic, convenient locally-chosen sites.

Thousands and thousands of people have signed up all across the country, more than ever before, to volunteer to help get-out-the-vote on election day. And many of them have also recognized the importance of protecting the vote count in the day(s) after Nov. 2. Many have joined, and signed the "No Stolen Elections" pledge.

We all remember what happened in Florida in 2000. A right wing cabal stole an election, partly in the dark of night, partly in broad daylight. As has been traditional in U.S. politics, the key to the theft was the abuse of poorer African American voters.

This is not the first time the Republican Party has stolen an election by warping the vote count in Florida. They also cheated in 1876, and their victory then led to the end of Reconstruction. In 2000 they cheated again, and their "victory" led to an unnecessary, illegal, immoral war; a declining economy for most working people, with a growing gap between rich and poor; an undeclared war on the environment, on labor unions, on the right to choose, and on civil rights; and open talk of Empire.

2004 is different than 2000. The Bush administration's attempt to govern from the hard right has ignited a massive, passionate, mobilized response from citizens across the country. Progressive forces have come together in both new and old ways for regime change at home. This time, they're on fire for change. This time they're on alert for cheating. This time they're watching.

There are two important jobs in these final days of the 2004 election: (1) It is the duty of all citizens to help generate the largest turnout possible, on and before election day. The more people who vote, the more attentive the next elected president will be to the people. So volunteer to get-out-the-vote. Vote early. Vote absentee. Take your friends and family and co-workers to vote. Send personal messages and IMs to all your friends. Don't just mass email them, write them individual emails – even better, write them personal notes. Give a few more dollars. Work on election day.

(2) Citizens who care about democracy must be prepared to defend the vote. There are things that can be done to better the odds that fewer votes will be discarded this time. There is a wonderful election protection operation - Election Protection 2004 that has been put together by an alliance of civil rights groups, to defend people's right to vote at the polls. This time, because so many people have mobilized, the GOP forces will have more trouble intimidating people at the polls, getting ballots tossed out on technicalities, ignoring provisional ballots, and knocking voters off the rolls.

But Florida also taught America that the battle for the right to vote may continue long after the polls close. We need to be ready. We must turn out the vote on Nov. 2, then defend it on Nov. 3 and after, right up until a new president is sworn in.

Florida 2000 taught us that there are many ways to cheat. Some are time-honored and old-fashioned, but deadly effective (intimidation at the polls, knocking minorities off the voting rolls, throwing out valid ballots in heavily African American precincts, extra holes punched in ballots in certain areas). Some are brand new, such as "black box" voting, brought on by the switch to new technologies.

To defend ourselves against all their potential tricks, we need people. We need eyeballs, watching every precinct. We need skilled techies, to look for the clues that will reveal black box cheating. We need organizers and grassroots activists, to provide support for voters at the polls, and to turn out so many new people that the would-be cheaters will be overwhelmed by the vote for change. We need lawyers. We need donors, big and small.

And we need bodies, to provide the "street heat" that may well be necessary to secure a fair vote count in the days and weeks after election day. That's where, comes in, working in conjunction with United for Peace and Justice and many grassroots groups.

In Florida 2000, the right wing was more aggressive in demanding that Gore give up, calling the Democratic ticket "Sore/Loserman," and biasing the media towards the idea that the presidency was "rightfully" Bush's, even though Gore had won more votes. A mobilized progressive effort could have countered their efforts.

In Florida 2000, because no one was alert from the moment the polls closed, it took several days for the Gore campaign to realize that 27,000 overvotes and undervotes had been tossed out in Duval County, largely from a few African American precincts in Jacksonville. By the time this fact was uncovered, it was too late to file for a recount. Had there been a mobilized watchdog effort, Duval County's overvotes might well have changed the results.

In Florida 2000, all the passion seemed to the national media to be on the side of the Republicans. The Democrats showed little passion for Gore, and almost no one stood up for the principle of the individual voter's right to have his or her vote counted. This time, citizens need to fight for principle, with a vocal, mobilized volunteer effort. In Florida 2000, in a major tactical mistake, too many people gave up the streets. The Gore campaign, in an attempt to curry favor with the editorial writers, asked Jesse Jackson and John Sweeney to shut down their "count every vote – every vote counts" demonstrations. Reluctantly, they agreed to do so. In the vacuum that followed, Tom DeLay and his "bourgeois rioters" swooped in, organizing street heat that intimidated county officials while convincing the media that the conservatives felt more cheated than did progressives.

Sadly, because the fight in 2000 was seen as between two candidates, the right wing successfully seized a tactic that has been the foundation of progressive change forever – massive, nonviolent, public protests on the side of justice and fairness.

Not this time. This time, our energized activist base is watching. This time, let's use the same spirit and organizing tactics that worked so well for us on Feb. 2, 2003, when the whole world came together to say no to war. If fraud is apparent, we need to put people in the streets for justice on Nov. 3. We encourage everyone to come together with their local allies, schedule an event for the day after election day, and lay the groundwork for a public gathering.

Some may say this might be a paranoid approach. Let's hope so. Let's hope we just turn out so many voters that change is assured. But this may also be one of those times when that old '60s saying really fits – "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not following you..." After all, we already know what they are capable of; they showed us in Florida in 2000.

So get your friends together, make phone calls, knock on doors, volunteer to work all day on 11/2, watch the returns that night, plan a local rally for 11/3, and stay ready for a viral alert that fraud has been spotted. Hit the doors on 11/2, and hit the streets 11/3. Be there, or beware.

This time, we have to be watching.

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