During the long legal battle in Florida that ultimately determined the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, specifically discouraged Jesse Jackson, the veteran civil-rights leader, from organizing public protests to demand a full counting of the disputed ballots.
Gore wanted to fight solely in the courts, though that meant ceding the streets to Republicans, who held raucous rallies accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election from the GOP nominee, George W. Bush, including one showdown in the Miami-Dade elections-board offices that became immortalized as the “Brooks Brothers riot.”
No one can say what exactly will happen if Donald Trump contests an apparent loss on November 3 by insisting that the results are riddled with fraud. But one prediction is safe: Democrats won’t cede the streets to the GOP again in the weeks after the election.
A wide array of progressive groups is already coordinating efforts to ensure substantial public protest after the election to defend the vote counting. Their assumption is that Trump will try to intimidate state officials tabulating mail-in ballots by mobilizing the same sort of armed supporters who poured into midwestern capitals to protest the coronavirus lockdowns in the spring and confronted Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer. The intent on the left, if it comes to that, is to meet Trump’s demonstrators with overwhelming numbers; the goal is to establish a presence more reminiscent of the street uprisings in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the more recent prodemocracy protests in Ukraine and Hong Kong, than of anything in modern American experience.