Casting a ballot by Election Day is just the first thing Americans have to worry about. What if President Donald Trump and his allies stop the counting of ballots, or delay vote certification until Republican state legislatures can play hanky-panky with the electors? What if civil war breaks out? “We’ll take to the streets,” Joe Biden supporters tell one another. Isn’t that what people do?
Protesting is certainly what a lot of people will think of doing, and will do. It’s what Protect the Results, a coalition of more than 100 grassroots groups, is recommending, at least for now. Of the more than a dozen election-protection organizations that have popped up over the past two months, Protect the Results is probably the best-known. As of this writing, you can find more than 450 events around the country on its website, many scheduled for the day after the election. I signed up for one in New York City and got an email telling me to be ready to report to an address on Fifth Avenue on November 4 in the “highly likely” event that national protests will be necessary.
But I’m not sure that amassing on Fifth Avenue the day after the election will be the right call—at least if votes are still being counted and Trump hasn’t falsely claimed victory. Protests alone won’t be enough to stop what might be coming, and to be effective, they should be timed just right. Early in October, I came across a webinar called “How to Beat an Election-Related Power Grab” being offered by a then-obscure group named Choose Democracy. The course was advertised as a workshop that would “share the most important things to know and practice in order to be ready in the event of a coup.” Coup sounded tendentious, but I figured I could log off if the tutorial was nutty. It wasn’t. Instead, the instructor, George Lakey, a white-haired longtime activist with a genial, professorial manner, forced me to rethink my knee-jerk assumptions about mass marches. If you want to prevent a power grab, he explained, you don’t just take to the streets. That’s one tactic among many, and not always the best one.