They might gather in the hundreds or in the thousands — or more, if there’s a repeat of the 2000 vote-counting controversy in Florida or other states.
But regardless of whether John Kerry or George Bush wins the election this coming Tuesday, there will be protests in cities across America on November 3.
Most of the planned activities appear to be emerging from the left side of the political spectrum, fueled in large part by what is described as an “article of faith” that that Florida election officials and the Supreme Court stole the presidency from Al Gore in 2000.
Turnout is difficult to predict, however, due to the diverse concerns of individual protestors and their communities.
“It all depends on what happens on Election Day,” said Saul Kanowitz, a spokesman for International A.N.S.W.E.R., the activist group that helped mobilize huge anti-war protests in San Francisco and New York City in 2003.
He said that neither candidate has plans to withdraw from Iraq, and that alone will bring out “a number of anti-war organizations” in street protests after the election.
“[T]he continued allocation of money’s going to go to militarism and occupation,” he said, “not jobs, education and health care.”
Unsurprisingly, the Internet is proving to be an essential medium for organizers to connect, build coalitions and try to gather momentum.
Web sites like www.Nov3.us and www.BeyondVoting.org provide links to e-mail networks and almost a dozen partner organizations.
Nov.3.us features a full page of endorsements from members of the AFL-CIO, Chicago NAACP, Feminist Majority, Sierra Club and several dozen other activist groups. Other signatories include a member of the Boston City Council and the mayor of New Paltz, NY.
The United for Peace and Justice Web site lists 40 separate November 3 protest events across the country, some in big metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York City.
But a majority are planned for small to mid-sized towns and cities, including Denver; Tallahassee and Gainesville, Fla.; Amherst, Mass.; St. Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; Kennebunkport, Maine; and Charlotte, N.C.
Some list only one contact, and a call to gather in case of “miscounted votes or other suspected fraud,” as the entry for Port Angeles, Wash., reads.
Others are sponsored by grassroots groups such as the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition or Colorado Progressives.
All reflect the same general theme of anger over “stolen elections,” invoking not only the Florida recount controversy of 2000, but also early reports of electoral conflicts emerging around the country.
In Ohio, for example, Republicans say concerns about fraud are at the root of their efforts to contest tens of thousands of voter registrations in heavily Democratic counties.
Democrats, in turn, say Republicans are trying to suppress black, minority and Democratic voters.
Similar activities in Missouri have prompted local Democrats and the NAACP to accuse the GOP of trying to “disqualify and intimidate” black voters, according to an October 28 report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Republicans there say they’re only trying to prevent fraud from bogus voter registrations.
“Frustrations with democracy”
Missing absentee ballots in Florida, reports of shredded Democratic voter registrations in Nevada and Oregon, and problems with overseas voters getting ballots have also stoked a sense of confrontation among activists, and fears that such tactics have already locked up the results before all the ballots have been cast.
“Most of the messaging and outreach is centered around the frustrations with democracy,” said Shahid Buttar, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer working with BeyondVoting.org. “The fact is that it has been stolen in this country, [and] it has already been stolen in the upcoming elections.”
Gary McCullough, director of the Christian Communication Network, a press agency for conservative activists, agreed that protests could happen on November 3, but doubted that Republicans would be participating.
“They’ll just go home and figure out what to do next time, that’s just my guess,” he said. Conservatives protest if they lose a legislative battle, or in response to an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, “but I can’t even remember a post-election protest.”
That all may change, however, depending on how the vote proceeds next Tuesday.
“It’s a whole new ballgame after what happened in Florida,” he said. “Who knows what state it could be in … if it ends up being a court battle, a recount situation … those will draw protests.”
Doubts remain about the effectiveness of protesting.
Hundreds of thousands of people clogged the streets of both New York and San Francisco before and after Iraq was invaded, but those actions failed to derail the military campaign.
Turnout in question
Bush opponents say a repeat of the Florida 2000 controversy would energize protesters.
“[V]isible resistance can have an immense role,” said Buttar of BeyondVoting.org, “to reiterate to people around the country that no, you’re not alone.”
In the event of any “outright corruption” tipping the election, he expressed hope that protests might “escalate into something large … the sort of large that toppled communism. If there are mass strikes, that could ground this system.”
In an e-mail correspondence with Newsdesk.org, Michael Kozart, a physician at San Francisco General Hospital and a member of Code Blue, an activist group of health-care workers, said that “a flagrant example of election fraud” would bring a “massive turnout.”
A significant win by Kerry could have the opposite effect, he noted, but “we do expect people to be out in the streets regardless of the election results” to protest major issues such as health care, Iraq, and the political power of corporate lobbyists and media.
“We want people to awaken to the fact that our electoral system is not functioning,” he wrote. “[W]e want to remind people that it is a basic civic duty to consider other channels for political expression besides voting. Nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action is part of our nation’s legacy. Without it, we would never have had the Boston Tea Party, and the civil rights movement would never have got off the ground. Direct action is our right.”
In some major cities, police representatives appeared to be unaware of protest plans.
“If something does happen we will be prepared,” said Detective Nelda Fonticella of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Officer Matthew Jackson of the Chicago Police Department said that he hadn’t heard of any protest plans “at this point,” but that if one occurred, “we would handle it like we handle all other protests in the city. We have adequate staff and will be able to handle whatever happens.”