What happened in the U.S.?
Many US Americans watched with terror and pain the recent attempted coup. For many of us, we had never witnessed anything like this in our country. May this be a lesson as we grow in empathy towards countries whose people experienced coups backed by the United States, such as Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Bolivia (1971), and Chile (1973).
The year was 2020 – and we were in the middle of a pandemic, heightened police violence, massive wildfires, and a federal election. Months before the election, President Donald Trump warned us he might reject unfavorable election results. We used that time to prepare and created Choose Democracy in August.
Choose Democracy trained people on what to do if there was an election-related power grab. We shared evidence-based lessons about stopping a coup from movements from around the world. Our virtual trainings were attended by over 10,000 people from all over the country and across the political spectrum.
Choose Democracy was one organization amongst a large effort to protect Democracy.
The movement ecosystem built election monitoring operations, pressured thousands of politicians and election officials to vow to count every vote, and stopped policies that gave Trump’s coup efforts legitimacy.
History may neglect to mention many of these moments by ordinary citizens as critical bulwarks. But it mattered that PA Republicans legislators were convinced to abandon a misguided, subpoena-wielding Election Integrity Commission. It mattered that The conviction of election officials to the truth was notable as they reported the truth that there was no major election fraud, even in the face of threats. And citizens shaped history by protesting on Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers’ zoom rooms and outside to assure they certified the election results.
We played our small part by offering people tactics to shape history, amplifying what worked over these stories, swapping tactics, and using social media, and preparing if things rapidly escalated to an active coup scenario to raise the issue and offer people tactics to shape history.
When Trump lost the election, he immediately claimed it was stolen. He refused to concede despite Joe Biden handily winning the election. His baseless claims of voter fraud were persuasive to his base – egged on by right-wing media and conspiracies. Republican political actors gave tacit political support.
But the other pillars of society held. The media rejected Trump’s claims citing no evidence. Judges across the political spectrum slapped down dozens upon dozens of lawsuits. The military repeatedly refused to intercede. Joe Biden was the clear President-elect.
The boiling point came on January 6. Trump supporters, believing an election had been stolen from them, came to Washington D.C. When Trump addressed the crowd and told them to march to the Capitol, the crowd’s anger boiled over into an outright insurrection. The mob seized the Capitol for several hours and delayed a congressional vote to certify the results of the election. By the end of the day, five people were dead.
After the building was cleared and secured, members of Congress returned to the vote and certified the election results. The mob lost credibility and legitimacy almost immediately – even some Trump loyalists backed away from the mob and Trump himself. Several senior-level White House staff resigned. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter restricted Trump’s accounts to prevent further violence.
Donald Trump’s coup attempt failed. But our democracy had been battered. The distrust and distortions had taken root in much of the country’s psyche. Much work lies ahead as we deal with fall out from the coup attempt, prepare for future waves of violent uprising, and build a stronger Democracy.
Choose Democracy had a narrow mission: to stop or prevent a coup. On that point we were successful. Rather than becoming another established organization we closed down on January 21, 2021 — freeing up resources and leaving behind extensive educational resources about halting coups.
We offer these resources to anyone to support pro-Democracy, anti-coup efforts anywhere around the world.