After months of traveling from swing state to swing state, I have been astounded by the number of people who are furious with the “war president” George Bush, and have dedicated enormous energy to registering, educating, cajoling, and exhorting people to vote. Californians have invaded Nevada, New Yorkers have flooded into Pennsylvania, folks from Massachusetts have adopted New Hampshire, and here in Florida, there is a deluge of activists from all over the country. These anti-Bush organizers, many of whom have no formal connection with the Democratic Party, will be out in full force on November 2, knocking on doors, chauffeuring voters to the polls and guarding polling places. It is likely that a massive turnout among young people, single women, African Americans, and newly registered and infrequent voters will make Kerry the winner.
The real question is: Will the election be free and fair or will we see a replay of 2000, with voting in key swing states like Florida and Ohio marred by significant fraud? Unfortunately, too many signs are pointing towards a replay of 2000. But this time, there’s a big difference: We’ll be ready!
In November 2000, disenfranchised voters, victims of butterfly ballots and hanging chads, and others angry at the state’s refusal to count every vote spontaneously started to protest. Black ministers were preparing parishioners to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to affirm their voting rights. Unwitting “Jews for Buchanan” were marching on the streets of West Palm Beach demanding a recount. Union reps, civil rights leaders and even Green Party members like myself converged on Florida to join the movement that proclaimed: “Every Vote Counts, Count Every Vote.”
But the leadership of the Democratic Party put the kabosh on our organizing efforts. “This matter will not be determined by rabblerousers in the streets,” they said, “but by professional lawyers in the courts.” We saw the outcome of that strategy: four disastrous years of an unelected president.
Our right to vote is too precious—and precarious--to be left in the hands of lawyers, judges and Democratic Party chiefs. This time around, it’s up to us, the people, to defend our democracy.
A new coalition, made up of peace, women, labor, civil rights, religious and environmental groups, has set up an Urgent Response Network to be activated in event of a stolen election. On the group’s website, www.nov3.us, tens of thousands of people have already signed a pledge saying that they remember the fraud-ridden presidential election of 2000 and that if the election is stolen again, they will join nationwide protests starting on November 3rd--either in their local communities, in the states where the fraud occurred, or in Washington DC. The pledge signers include personalities such as Michael Moore, Jesse Jackson, and Dolores Huerta, as well as representatives from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, United for Peace and Justice, Global Exchange, CodePink, and the Feminist Majority.
On election night, after getting feedback from electoral experts throughout the country, the coalition will decide whether to activate the network. If so, protests, including non-violent civil disobedience, will be organized at local election offices, polling places, government buildings, or political party headquarters. And the protests will not last for one day or two days, but until every vote is counted. If it takes camping out at government offices for several weeks, so be it. It’s a small price to pay compared to those who fought and died to bequeath us the right to vote.
So while we hope, pray and work for a clean election with a clear winner, let’s not let down our guard. In 2000 we were tricked into thinking that our government institutions would uphold electoral justice. This time, let’s be clear that the only ones who can effectively demand that our votes be counted are we, the people.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group CodePink (www.codepinkalert.org) and the human rights group Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org). She can be reached at email@example.com.