December 2020

Reject the Coup

Our reading of American history demands nothing less than a total repudiation of the ongoing Republican coup as a grave threat to interracial democracy.

by Josh Fattal and the Editors of The Activist History Review

The Democratic Party of Lane County, with its seat in Eugene, Oregon, has passed an ironclad resolution with “enthusiastic unanimous support” to not recognize Trump’s authority after 12pm on January 20th. The local party has pledged to refuse political cooperation with any representative of the Trump regime after that date, to use the political authority of local government to defend the popular will and to defend against vigilante violence, to cease commercial activity that in any way, directly or indirectly, legitimates the Trump administration, and, finally, to encourage the establishment of citizen committees and coordinating bodies to do the same. This kind of resolution is currently in the works in many organizations around the country. The Vermont AFL-CIO has produced another strongly worded resolution.

If the Supreme Court legitimates Trump’s attempted coup, then municipal, county, and state politics will be the key terrain in the struggle for democracy in the United States. Local resolutions like those passed in Eugene are important tools of local democracy, preparing our collective consciousness for action at the crucial moment and providing orientations and organization to the activist’s call to “flood the streets” at the moment of crisis. Or perhaps Trump will cling to power as a shadow executive—a white supremacist tactic that ultimately overturned Reconstruction and destroyed interracial democracy. In that case, resolutions might represent a sort of preemptive strike against this fascist movement, showing the streets of every county in every state to be ungovernable in the event of a coup.

Local organizing made authoritarian governance impossible and helped inspire the Declaration of Independence. “The Bostonians paying the exciseman, or tarring and feathering,” 1774, Library of Congress.

There is an important, if subtle, point to be made about political authority in a moment of constitutional crisis: political and legal authority becomes fluid and undetermined. Power remains what it always is—the means for collaboration or for coercion—but authority becomes unmoored from the normal legal channels. During a crisis, who can claim legitimacy? In the parlance of 1774, the revolutionists referred to what they considered British Parliament’s unconstitutional acts as returning the political order to a “state of nature.” From a state of nature, the revolutionists no longer had to respect the Parliament or even the Crown, but were forced to establish their own authority—a “dual power” which they already had in municipal bodies, which, with the principle of federation gave legitimacy to the Continental Congress.

If Trump steals the presidency, then the local body politic must be a source for such “dual power” as long as it becomes engaged with the popular politics of the street. The organic connection between the authority of municipal and county governments and the street is implied in section four of the Democratic Party of Lane County’s resolution in which local authorities would be explicitly authorizing new popular committees to spring up to coordinate mass strikes and boycotts ad hoc. Citizens committees, popular assemblies, and workers councils all influencing and winning the backing of traditional local authorities—from city council to state governments—would, in all likelihood be how a coup could be countered.

Black organizing forced the Lincoln administration to adopt emancipation as consequence of the Rebellion, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the Thirteenth Amendment. “Reading the Emancipation Proclamation,” 1864, Library of Congress.

In all likelihood, Donald Trump will leave office at noon on January 20th. But we need to take stock of what we have learned so far and act accordingly: Donald Trump has no respect for democracy or the transition of power. He had made statements to this effect in 2016, statements that now appear to be coming to fruition in 2020. Republican Party operatives tried to rig the election well before November by purging voter rolls, by changing voter requirements, by disenfranchising felons, intimidating immigrants, sabotaging the United States Postal Service, and gerrymandering to suppress the impact of opponents’ votes. On election night, Trump continued to subvert the election process by claiming victory. In the weeks since he lost the election, his efforts go unabated, making increasingly shrill and outlandish claims of fraud, intervening in efforts to certify votes on the county and state level, tampering with electors, and now taking the case all the way to his hand-picked Supreme Court. How do we act on the knowledge that Trump will continue to stoke this alternate reality in every manner possible?

The answer is to prepare for anything. As the quasi-legal means of subverting the election are running out, the possibility of extra-legal violent action grows. Again, in all likelihood, even if Trump tries to initiate a coup by force, he may end up doing it from a landscaping company instead of a government office given the widespread incompetence and plain idiocy surrounding the administration and campaign. But if this election has taught us the importance of flexing our democratic muscle, it behooves us to keep exercising it. We cannot be caught off guard. Instead, we can build dual power at the local level by preemptively resolving to take action and thinking through the targets of that action. This kind of dual power organizing can, in turn, build local solidarity and promote egalitarian change even if no coup manifests and we have to contend with a forty-sixth President.

Although the pundit class continues to shrug away the many and ongoing coup attempts of the Republican Party, our reading of the history of white supremacy in the U.S. and particularly the fascist organizing that cemented Jim Crow lead us to recommend taking preventative actions.

  1. Whereas governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” 
  2. Whereas voting is a primary means by which the citizenry of the United States expresses its political will, 
  3. Whereas Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won the Presidential election in a free and fair election and the incumbent is expected to orchestrate a peaceful transfer of power, 
  4. Whereas it has been the people who have established and expanded democratic processes, and it is the people who will defend and expand our system of popular sovereignty, therefore, we have resolved, and do resolve:
    1. to refuse to recognize any authority as legitimate if its powers are attached to false claims that undermine free and fair elections and that subvert the expressed popular will of the vote.
    2. to refuse to cooperate with such illegitimate authority and to use our political authority and our police powers to defend the popular will of the American people.
    3. to withhold all commercial intercourse, labor, and consumption of those aspects of economic life which  directly or indirectly affirm, support, or acknowledge the legitimacy of the usurper, Donald J. Trump. 
    4. And, finally, we hereby encourage the establishment of committees and coordinating bodies to find the best ways and means to establish, promote, and extend our popular sovereignty.

2 comments on “Reject the Coup

  1. David Phelps

    Fair is fair, right is right, justice needs to take place in order to preserve our democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t believe letting a coo dictator should be tolerated.

    Liked by 1 person

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