Democracy is fragile. We don’t see a likely danger of this being a successful insurrection. But there are huge dangers right now. Public trust in our democracy is being degraded by blatant lies and an echo chamber devoid of fact-checking.
At this moment, we do not believe the events of January 6 (today) require a national mass mobilization. We believe such an action could severely backfire by giving Trump an excuse to call in the troops. Other pillars of society are responding with appropriate behaviors, further suggesting this is not a viable coup. However, we are closely monitoring as these fast-moving events unfold.
The deeper work of preserving and expanding our democracy remains ahead: fighting for greater voter access, working to transform the media landscape, and pressuring politicians to reform the electoral system. Contact your House and Senate representatives — especially if you live in a Republican district — to send a message that Trump supporters are not the only ones they have to worry about in the next election.
Together, we choose democracy.
The Coup-o-Meter is maintained by IsThisACoup.com. Visit the site for details on recent events that have contributed to the current state of the Coup-o-Meter.
Jan 6, 2021
The Coup-o-meter has moved up to reflect the precariousness of the current situation. The danger of a coup has increased in the past few hours as violent protestors breached the Capitol building and disrupted the normal processes of a transition of power.
We continue to monitor the situation. Specifically, we are looking for whether protestors are successful in continuing their disruption and what actions members of the GOP take in response to these protests. Momentum has not shifted, but violence can create opportunities, and the question at this point is how will officials and other actors respond to this threat.
Last week’s coup attempt has backfired. Rather than changing the election results, it spurred an impeachment process. We are watching sweeping reforms by social media, with Trump excluded from Twitter and Facebook. Parler, a social network favored by right-wing extremists, was shut down by Google, Apple, and AWS. Institutions are covering their butts and backtracking, like the Republican attorneys general distancing from their own robocalling for the Capitol march. Or businesses withdrawing financial support for treasonous Republicans. Or numerous Republicans repudiating Trumpism, from Colin Powell to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski notably calling on President Trump to resign and threatening to leave the Republican party if Trump is still in it.
These point to the failure of the coup attempt. But not everyone is backtracking.
The FBI has warned of violent actions planned, largely around the 17th (though the fractures in right-wing groups over tactics, dates, and timing is adding to the sense of the chaos). It’s very hard to tell how this is playing out with Trump’s supporters. Unsurprisingly, many remain absolutely by him. A hasty YouGov poll saw a split in Republicans with 45% supporting the storming of the US Capitol and 43% opposed. A more recent poll suggested a switch is indeed happening — “a quarter of Trump voters agree that action should be taken to immediately remove him from office. Further, 41% of Trump voters believe he has ‘betrayed the values and interests of the Republican Party.'”
So while this coup attempt is not changing the outcome of the election, Democracy has been battered. The committed opposition is still committed. They are more isolated, splintered, but with red-hot concentrated rage. We are now in a different situation: dealing with fall-out from the coup attempt, preparing for waves of sporadic and uncoordinated uprisings, and gearing up to proactively reassert democracy.
We’ve included a few notes on our analysis below (like why not march right now), but first we wanted to speak to the question on many folks’ minds — what do we do now?
To be honest, this is not what Choose Democracy was built for and so, like you, we’re adjusting to our new political reality. We were prepared to shut down an active coup situation, and now a different kind of strategy is needed. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but want to share with you our best thinking.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
We just experienced an act of terror. The goal was to terrify. As we act, it’s important we handle our fear. Fear can make us stay small, stuck in binary thinking, reactive, or frozen. So if you got frozen or a little stuck this week, shake that out — remember you are not alone, seek community, connect with your ancestors’ strengths, be in touch with your body (move!), and find other people to act with!
As a movement, we could easily become obsessed with countering each move of the Trump extremists (what about their upcoming rally?!). But that keeps us in the reactive cycle — and the work of building a real democracy is too important for us to get side-tracked in response mode. We again, discourage constantly reading news to see what else there is to be fearful about and instead Finding Steady Ground.
If we are frozen, doing anything to act immediately in this moment might help move out of fear and into meaningful long term action to rebuild democracy. Some options:
IMPEACHING • It does not appear that either the 25th Amendment or Impeachment can remove Trump in the final days (though a House bill to force the 25th is still active). Folks can support the NAACP (and many many others) in getting bipartisan support for impeachment. Along with Frontline, we signed a NY Times ad supporting impeachment. (We’re also intrigued by an idea of a Congressional resolution under the 14th Amendment convicting Trump of supporting insurrection, which would theoretically bar him from federal office in the future.)
EXPELLING • Indivisible and members of Congress like Cori Bush have been targeting legislative members who supported the insurrection. The goal of expelling/isolating folks supported of the coup isn’t just punitive — it’s cleaning house so the work of Congress can move forward unaided by folks who endorse domestic terrorism.
REMOVING COLLUDING POLICE • We’ve only seen minimal traction on the police who appear to have aided the attack on democracy, e.g. off-duty Seattle or Virginia police or a handful of Capitol Police on leave (apparently the one who took a selfie and the other who directed people into the building). Local groups are researching if local police were involved and pressuring their police forces to get them off the force. This needs to move beyond short-term administrative leave — you can’t be paid by the government and try to overthrow it.
EXPOSING RIOTERS • This article shows how one individual is exposing individuals involved in the coup. A variety of workplaces have done what neither Congress nor police have done, which is fire people who are trying to overthrow the government.
GETTING TRAINED FOR DE-ESCALATION • We’ve been encouraging people to attend DC Peace Teams’ trainings on street de-escalation. They’ve done some excellent work in DC preparing people emotionally and tactically for violent actions, but like Biden and his team, we don’t suggest coming to DC for inauguration. To support from a distance, join ShutDownDC in calling on DC area hotels to shut down from January 15-21, rather than host people intent on violence. DC locals can participate in a virtual art build on Wednesday evening.
But because we are most powerful when we set our own agenda, not respond to others’ agendas, we also offer a few suggestions for proactive goals that rebuild our Democracy.
Choose Democracy has always been evidence-based. And evidence supports the conclusion that the increasing political polarization is driven by economic inequality, white supremacy, decline of media density (like loss of local media), and government decisions made without input.
We encourage individuals to find local groups to get behind and run with. Rather than trying to do everything, find an effort you can make a meaningful difference on. (And with apologies for not naming the complete spectrum of options. This is just a beginning list.)
For 2021 and beyond we need to fight for greater voter access, work to transform the media landscape, and pressuring politicians to reform the electoral system. Inequality.org works on exposing the wealth gap, Color of Change and Movement for Black Lives have crusaded for racial justice.
Some campaigns we see needing support:
Some of our trainers offer ongoing resources for those wanting to make their activism more effective: George Lakey’s book How We Win explores the power of campaigns, and Eileen Flanagan’s online courses survey social change.
Again — there’s lots to do and we encourage people to pick one campaign to really get energy behind. Some groups that started around Choose Democracy are already morphing into some of these groups and that’s exciting to see.
We’re having trouble keeping up with the constantly changing facts on the ground. We’ve appreciated lots of analyses out there, especially this one by Timothy Snyder. We wanted to share two aspects:
The coup attempt failed, in part, because it never achieved enough legitimacy.
Led by unparalleled black turnout, Georgia rejected Republican candidates who tied themselves to Trump’s big lie of election fraud. This rejection cut into Trump’s political base — just at a moment when he was orchestrating an insurrection. If they had retained the Senate, how different might some Republicans be acting now?
Think of all the moments in the past months that could have driven this differently. What if Pennsylvania had created a GOP-led “Election Integrity Commission” wildly backing all of Trump’s claims? What if election officials in Georgia had made up massive election fraud? What if Michigan had successfully sent alternate electoral delegates?
We honor the myriad of wins led by organizers and election officials dedicated to principles of Democracy. Thank these people for their part.
Yes, the storming of the Capitol was halted by some heroic stories of individual police. And yes, there was some very poor strategy and lack of organizing on their part. But the coup was largely unsuccessful because of the broad work of grassroots organizers, election officials, judges rejecting dozens of lawsuits, and journalists who faced personal threats of violence to expose the truth.
This should give us some strength: we are not helpless to terrorists on the streets. We are also building on a culture that has resisted (but did not eliminate) their anti-democratic efforts.
Be the mountain: why it was good we didn’t rush into the streets
Some supporters were surprised we didn’t snap into the game plan we had all prepared for a potential coup and “hit the streets!” Here’s why:
We told people to respond if we had an active coup in process. Some of our team members saw they weren’t planning to seize government control, just occupy a building (if they had read our resources, we said this is an ineffective way to start/stop a coup). The efforts were such that when people took over Pelosi’s office they didn’t try to set-up an alternative government — they smashed stuff and took selfies. That’s a mob, so the argument goes, not a serious coup effort.
To be honest, we debated internally whether to call it a coup. We eventually did because it involved violence aimed at seizing governmental power. But we didn’t see evidence that it would be even close to successful. In fact, their political allies were left cowering out of fear for their lives — the Capitol insurrectionists did our job of driving a wedge into their forces. They targeted their allies and weakened their own position.
(You can see more about the semantic debate on Sojourner’s “When Does a Mob Become a Coup?”. But we agree with political scientist Erica Chenoweth: “Call it an attempted coup, an armed insurrection, or sedition — all of these terms apply.”)
So why not march? It’s a tactic people know and we knew some people wanted to demonstrate a show of force. But we saw a greater danger of well-intentioned protests turning to street warfare. Protests in the days following were high targets for counter-protesting, and while that’s always a risk, open violence at such a tender time would have given a still-in-power Trump the pretense he needed to move the military against citizens. And we had no doubt he’d target it at us. If savvy, that could have been the opening he needed.
We knew some people wanted to rally because that’s just what they do. But we think doing an action just because it’s your “go to” is foolish. If one’s response to any action is always the same (“let’s do a big march!”) then it’s a sign we’re not being strategic. Strategy means finding the tactics to move the players around you. As Sun Tzu’s Art of War: “Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”
We saw a Mountain moment, precisely because the Capitol mob was so ill-thought, poorly planned, erratically violent, and lacking institutional support to make it viable. Let their own action crash like waves on the mountain.
This is a longer email than typical, but with so much going on we wanted to share our best thinking at this moment as we continue to process with the rest of you.
Give extra effort to taking care of yourselves and your community.
1 Sign up for updates.
While this coup attempt seems less and less likely to succeed, the situation remains fluid. We’ll keep you posted about our thinking and let you know if we think mass action is needed. Standard messaging rates apply.
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2 Want to take action? Here are ways to get involved.
This coup attempt is unlikely to succeed, and we are not currently calling for mass action in the streets. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do — check out these online actions from our allies:
Sign the NAACP petition to impeach
“Trump’s acts harmed the people of America beyond repair and he should be held accountable for his actions. We must not allow President Trump to continue to place our nation in peril. The NAACP calls for President Trump’s impeachment so that he will never again be able to harm our beloved country, and more importantly, its people.”
Tell your elected officials to impeach & remove Trump immediately
Protect Our Elections will help you send a pre-written email to your elected representatives telling them to impeach Trump and remove him from office right away.
Want to learn more now? Read or watch the 10 things you need to know to stop a coup. Or find articles and case studies in our Resource section.