WASHINGTON – Activists in the nation’s capital are banding together for election day, pooling resources, holding training sessions for protesters, forming rapid reaction teams and organizing events that are expected to draw large crowds.
A set of groups led by Black Lives Matter and Shutdown DC are planning an eight-hour event at Black Lives Matter Plaza, one block from the White House. It will include a giant screen showing election results, DJs and performances by bands playing Washington’s go-go signature music.
Robin Bell, a local activist who gained international notoriety for project sarcastic messages on the side of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, will have two screenings going to different parts of Washington.
Cities across the country brace for election-related unrest as activists brace for what could be weeks of sustained street action, depending on the vote count and how President Donald Trump acts after his repeated refusals to say whether he will accept the results.
The preparations brought together a diverse constellation of groups, some decades old and others formed last summer following the death of George Floyd. Hope Neyer, an organizer for Shutdown DC, said young activists like her have been able to tap into the experiences of “people who have been organizing longer than I have.”
His group was rehearsing “electoral collapse simulations” that include indefinite occupation of certain public spaces and rushing to intervene in attempts to intimidate voters at polling stations or to seize ballots.
A recent training session for protesters led by BLM focused on personal safety: take part in a protest with a team of trusted friends; always look for a safe way out; find out if you are on public, private or federal land; and know your rights in each case; to drink a lot of water.
One slide informed participants that if a protester is physically attacked, the other protesters should “completely surround the person attacked and reintegrate them into the crowd.”
Maintaining communication is a high priority, with many activists concerned that Facebook and Twitter will shut down and adopt encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram.
Organizers are also preparing rapid reaction forces to respond to a variety of scenarios ranging from a prolonged Supreme Court standoff to Trump declaring victory despite the official results and summoning supporters and militias to the capital.
“Everyone is focused on November 3 and stepping up for it,” said Bethlehem Yirga of the Palm Collective, a racial justice group that formed over the summer. “We prepare as many people as possible.
Downtown businesses are already opening their windows early, and Police Chief Peter Newsham on Thursday promised his entire department would be working on election day. In Washington, dozens of overlapping law enforcement agencies control certain monuments and public spaces.
Police officials have restricted the days officers can take off around the election and have spent tens of thousands of dollars on chemical irritants and other less-than-lethal riot munitions after much of the stockpile depleted. the agency this summer.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said she has not decided whether or not to use National Guard troops for election-related violence, although some troops still remain active amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsham said there were no “credible threats of violence at the moment,” but said a number of groups had applied for permits to stage large protests.
“We ask people if they will come, we invite people to come here to the District of Columbia to exercise their First Amendment rights, but we are not going to tolerate violence or unrest,” he said. declared.
Protesters brace for potential violence, particularly after June, when Trump used federal law enforcement to clean up the plaza outside the White House which was filled with peaceful protesters.
“The police are preparing for combat. We need to be very clear about this, ”said April Goggans, a lead organizer for the local Black Lives Matter branch, in an online training session on October 26.
Organizer Nadine Bloch has run training sessions (mostly on Zoom but a few live at social distance) for everyone from passionate young street protesters to federal employees looking for methods of professional civil disobedience. Bloch, whose experience dates back to the captain of a ship for Greenpeace in the 1990s seeking to disrupt French nuclear tests, defends a particular school of creative resistance, often performative, which has influenced a generation of local activists.
For now, Bloch has said his training priorities are “street intelligence and street safety” as well as maintaining public unity. She said markets are “easily overlooked” while long-term occupations can be a huge drain on resources. She advises groups not to waste time and energy “discussing different tactics”.
Bloch’s organization, Beautiful Trouble, has set up a “resistance hotline” for groups seeking support. She said “two-thirds of the work should take place before” the protest itself. She thinks that local activists are ready to “put an end to ordinary life altogether, if that’s what we have to do.”
Right now, the biggest challenge for some is simply to stay calm amid all the doomsday predictions.
“We’re just trying to stay as balanced as possible,” Bell said. “The dream scenario is that we have all prepared too much, but at least we are ready.”
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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