Earlier this year, Quaker peace activist George Lakey started talking with friends and colleagues about the possibility that Donald Trump might reject the results of next week’s presidential election if he loses the electoral college count. “There’s this possible constitutional crisis coming down the pike…and we’re just concerned that nobody’s really providing essential services for getting ready,” he told us. So they set up Choose Democracy, a platform to educate concerned citizens about nonviolent prevention and resistance strategies in the event of a power-grab or coup.
In our conversation, Lakey explains how Choose Democracy identifies the “pillars” of society that maintain state power, and how the movement intends to reach out to those institutions—including politicians, the police, and the military—and encourage them to support a peaceful transition.
Doing that groundwork now, he advises, is essential in order to keep the movement nonviolent. “People’s reaction to an attack, even an attack from the Oval Office, will be, very often, violent unless they know something better,” he explains. “Happily, Quakers and others know something better! So preparing is more likely to get people remembering in a moment of crisis, ‘Oh, that’s right. There is something better: let’s do that.'”
Learn how you can take part at the Choose Democracy website.
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George Lakey: I’m reminded of early Friends who loved to go to market squares on busy marketing days and stand on a box or stand on something, and preach the gospel as they understood it. And they attracted many people to become Quakers through doing that, including people who initially thought they were talking rubbish. So it’s that going out, it’s that not expecting people to come to us but instead taking that offensive– it’s a mark of the growth of early Quakerism and will be a mark of the growth of today’s Quakerism if we’re willing to go out.
Why Should We Choose Democracy?
Well, in Choose Democracy that is exactly the training that we’re offering. We’re giving them handles for being able to go out and find the people who will be influential in the case of a contested election so they will put their weight on the side of a free and democratic result. Oh, it’s just a small team of people, mostly Friends over the years, who said, uh oh. There’s this possible constitutional crisis coming down the pike. It might be as big as the Civil War, and we’re just concerned that nobody’s really providing essential services for getting ready, so we thought, what’s missing that will be needed in such an effort when other people join us in understanding the problem?
And so we realized training will be needed, so we started offering training workshops. We realized solid, evidence-based information will be needed because I mean if we’re talking about a possible coup, that’s not America’s experience. So we can’t do, “Oh, I remember! We dealt with that 20 years ago!” No, nobody here remembers that. So we need evidence-based information on how to defeat a coup, so we’ll have a website– we’ll have that. And we’ll develop a pledge of resistance. That was very effective in pushing Ronald Reagan away from his threat to invade Nicaragua in the 1980s; he was about to set up a second Vietnam in that situation and we were able to dissuade him from that. One reason was we had a pledge of resistance which said if you do that then we will go all out to dislocate the country to make it impossible. And so we established a pledge which is something on our website that thousands and thousands of people are signing as we speak.
Putting Pressure on Those in Power
Well, for one thing we’re teaching that there are these what we call “pillars” that hold up any structure– any governmental structure, and if our president actually wants to set up an illegal structure that he’s leading then it will depend, for success, on pillars holding it up. Pillars like politicians will need to agree to go along with that, and the police will need to and the military will need to, and the economic structure will need to. There are these various pillars that can be distinguished that he can be dependent on, so going to any of those pillars and saying, “By the way, if this happens we’re going to push you very hard not to support the outcome.” So, I’m pretty excited about targeting these pillars, and that’s one of the things we teach people to do in our trainings.
Preparing in Advance
We’re far more likely to be successful if we’re prepared, and it’s very likely if we just waited to see that the actions that would be taken would be very frequently marred by violence because this is a violence-prone culture: television is full of it, movies are full of it. Violence is how we’re programmed to be from when we’re quite small and so people’s reaction to an attack, even an attack from the Oval Office, will be, very often, violent unless they know something better. Happily, Quakers and others know something better! So preparing is more likely to get people remembering in a moment of crisis, “Oh, that’s right. There is something better: let’s do that.”
- 1) What are you doing in your community to ensure a fair, democratic democracy? What might you plan to do?
- 2) How will you educate yourself and others on what to do if there is a coup in the United States? What resources will you use or recommend?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.