Unlearning Racism Newsletter – Week 22: Hold the Line in an Election Worst Case Scenario


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Hi friends,

Thank you to everyone who came to talk with us last night about cultural appropriation. If you missed it, be sure to check out our instagram, where we’ll share some anonymous quotes from participants we thought were particularly powerful.

On Saturday, Emily’s friend/former boss, we’ll call her “R” here, shared a really powerful message about voting to her instagram story before she realized that immigration might not be so keen on this voting message so she had to take it down. R is a South African national who has been travelling between nations (primarily the United States and South Africa but she has hopped all over Europe and Africa) since she was 16. Her first election memory is when she was 6 years old in 1994, the first election in which people of all races were allowed to vote in South Africa. Her father, along with countless others, had been subject to much violence in the years before apartheid ended as they fought for that fundamental right to vote. R went to Brown for university and decided she would stay in the United States after. South Africa does not have a solid system for absentee voting so she is unable to vote in her home country. She is not a United States citizen so she is unable to vote in our elections. R has been here for over 12 years, she has since married an American man, she pays taxes here, she volunteers here, her whole life is here. And she is deeply affected by US policy, as an immigrant from a country 45 once labeled as a “shithole.” She doesn’t get to voice her opinion through voting because she lives in a nation that does not want her voice. She didn’t even get to keep the instagram story up because, well, it could compromise her ability to stay.

Voting is a privilege but it’s also a luxury not afforded to so many of the people the biggest, most hard-hitting policies affect. This has been true since the Framers—all white, all male, all able-bodied, all land-owning (and therefore, all enslaved person-owning)—decided that these rights would only apply to them. It has taken the bloodshed and exhaustion and loss of countless individuals to expand our rights to include us (as women), our neighbors (as Black folks or other people of color), our friends (who are disabled), our family members (who are gay or trans), and we are still not there in terms of where we deserve, as human beings, to be.

There are so many people who will be so personally, deeply affected by this election, who are not granted the right to vote in this nation. From immigrants like Emily’s friend R, who pay taxes and contribute here and are under the constant microscope of the Department of Homeland Security, to formerly incarcerated folks who have “done their time” for their alleged crimes, to young people, under the age of 18, who will have to live with the fallout of our leaders’ choices for generations to come. Vote for them.

Today, though, we’re giving you some steps beyond voting and descending into the “hopefully this won’t happen but all signs are pointing to a variation of this happening” territory. We’re talking about what to do in the case of a coup

Okay but… how realistic is this coup thing? This doesn’t happen in the United States. We’re a powerhouse! We have checks and balances!

Ah yes, American exceptionalism. We would love to think that we’re immune to the need for foreign intervention or civilian collaboration to protect the integrity of our nation and its institutions. But the truth is, despite what you might have heard in school, the US falls behind in a lot of international arenas (and in ways that we deserve better). 

In the words of James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

More than that we’re vulnerable in the same ways other nations are vulnerable, we have seen democracy fly out the window this year on multiple occasions. We watched as 45 ordered members of the military to repress nonviolent demonstrators in DC on June 1. We watched as NYC suspended habeas corpus for anyone during certain nights of the protests. We watched as members of the National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection teamed up, covered their badge numbers, and kidnapped protestors right out of the street this summer. We watched videos like this over and over and over, of officers just “doing their job” at the expense of our collective safety, our belief in the systems of traditional “law and order”, and ability to trust that our government is working in our best interest. 

While many of us woke up to the realities of state violence for the first time this summer, these suppression efforts are not new. From the constant “broken windows” policing that torments low-income Black neighborhoods, to the incessant threat of violence or deportation inflicted on our undocumented (and profiled to be undocumented because of their Latinx or Black appearance) at the hands of ICE, state-sanctioned violence toward civilians is not new. But it has become more “normal.”

Trump himself has said that he will not leave office peacefully. He has denied any interest in a “peaceful transfer of power.” So whether that means in November 2020 or November 2024, at some point, this man does not intend to go out without a fight. 

We hope that checks and balances somehow keep us safe. However, the forces that Trump commands are highly obedientto their commander and Trump would technically still be commander until inauguration. Beyond that, there are ample civilian forces that would be happy to “stand back and stand by” in the event of a Trump loss, to ensure that there is no 46th president to take Trump’s place.

It’s not really our place to opine about legal protections not being hardline truths (Emily’s happy to rant about this to you, personally, but is still figuring out the whole J-O-B thing so she should probably not be so brazen online about how she thinks the law isn’t as sturdy as it claims to be), and we don’t want to scare anyone. However, when you signed up for antiracism as a core value of your life (or at least to be reminded of it each week), you signed up for action steps to prevent racism manifesting all around us. One (huge) way to be a part of dismantling racism is to prepare to support your community, particularly the most vulnerable members of your community, after this election.

First of all, here’s A Citizen’s Guide to Defending Democracy

The following is excerpted from the Hold the Line Guide and Hold the Line Trainings. You can still sign up for a training tomorrow, October 27, at 7:30 PM EST, through this link (Emily will be there too so you can chat after if you need to process! Reply to this email and she’ll give you her cell).  

“This guide is designed to help people from all walks of life—political newcomers as well as experienced activists—take action to ensure that we have a successful election in November 2020. A successful election is one that is:

  • Free​, in which all eligible voters are able to vote without hindrance, interference, or intimidation
  • Fair​, in which all votes are counted transparently, non-partisan rules and laws are followed, and any disputes are resolved without bias towards any particular candidate.
  • Respected​, by which the loser of the election accepts the results, concedes, and engages in a good faith transition process to the election’s winner.
  • Safe​, in which risks of COVID-19 transmission and political violence are minimized.”

The guide breaks up election protection work into four main categories. We will summarize them for you in this email, but we highly recommend reading the manual yourself. We’ll be re-reading part II on election night (let’s be honest, probably with a strong pour of whiskey in our hands) to remind us of our next steps. 


  1. Register to vote (if you’re eligible) and commit to casting your ballot.
  2. Help others register to vote and make a plan for them to cast their ballot.
  3. Sign up to be a poll worker with our friends at Poll Hero!

Ellie made some great graphics over on Instagram with more ways to gear up for election support this year. Go check them out and share them!

Check out this guide on accessibility and recommendations for this election made by the Voter Protection Corps


Three potential scenarios:

→ SCENARIO 1: Election day results are unclear, and Trump declares victory anyway.

In this scenario, Trump may declare victory even if the election day results are ambiguous, or he and his allies may attempt to prevent every vote from being counted. In your state or community, this could look like mail-in or other ballots being discarded or not being counted at all.

The Line we must hold: all votes must be counted, without interference or intimidation. This is a position we can organize around proactively before, during, and after election day.

→ SCENARIO 2: Election results show significant irregularities and/or signs of tampering, and Trump declares victory.

In this scenario, Trump may attempt to prevent every vote from being counted as described in Scenario 1. He may also declare victory despite significant irregularities and/or signs of tampering. In your state or community, this could look like voting machine malfunctions, voter intimidation, highly abnormal vote margins, or decreased access to mail services.

The Line we must hold: incidents of fraud, voter suppression, or other election irregularities must be investigated impartially ​and remedied as appropriate. This can be effectively done especially at a local level.

→  SCENARIO 3: Trump loses the election but refuses to leave office.

In this scenario, Trump may refuse to concede or leave office. On a state or local level it could look like representatives or election administrators making claims of voter fraud despite Trump clearly losing.

The Line we must hold: The true election results must be respected, regardless of who wins. Preserving democracy is more important than any individual candidate.

How could President Trump lose the election and stay in power? What other problems could arise around the election and the presidential transition? And what lines do we need to protect?

In June 2020, a group called the Transition Integrity Project gathered a bipartisan group of more than 100 experts to explore different election scenarios that could play out between Election day (Nov. 3, 2020) and Inauguration day (Jan. 20, 2021). A summary statement from ​their report​ was:

“We assess with a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape. We also assess that… President Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means in an attempt to hold onto power.”

Please note, you’ll notice you don’t see a scenario where Trump freely and fairly wins the election. That’s because this election has already been riddled with voter suppression efforts. If Trump truly wins fairly and freely and it is readily apparent that election day was smooth and fair and accessible for all people who can legally vote, we will concede (and continue our efforts to fight racism, but action-by-action at local, state, and federal levels). If a free and fair win by Trump is not the case, we feel it is incumbent upon us to do what we can to hold the line. 


To prevent lines from being crossed, we need a strategy that generates power, discipline, and unity. We need power because Trump will do anything to subvert the election and we need to show up in all areas where decisions are being made (in our jobs, in our families, in the streets, in the courts. There is a place for ALL of us in protecting democracy). We need discipline to remain nonviolent because post-election violence is a real risk (while we support riots as a legitimate means of protest sometimes, here, there’s a real chance of anything construed as violent leading to backfire in a way that further harms the most vulnerable among us). We need unity to challenge the narrative that Trump was the rightful victor if the election proves that he was not. 


Between Election Day and Inauguration Day, we can expect two phases of action:

  1. State Certification of Election Results (November 3, 2020 – December 14, 2020) – popular vote counts conducted at a state level so that members of the electoral college can cast their ballots at the federal level. Once electors cast their ballots, state governors will send a certificate to Congress with the electors’ results. 
  2. Federal Certification of Election Results (December 15, 2020 – January 20, 2021) – Congress will count and certify vote tallies by January 6, 2021. If there are competing results from states or unresolved irregularities in states’ vote counts, Congress may have to adjudicate the results.

It may be worthwhile to seek commitments from public officials that they will uphold the election’s integrity. Beyond that, we recommend reading the rest of the guide, setting up coalitions in your own communities, and staying invested in the election this year. 

And yes, we are self-aware (or maybe self-conscious?) enough to say that yes, it feels bananas to write this email. It feels truly BANANAS that we are even talking about a coup, threats to democracy, strategizing for what to do if an elected official won’t cede power. But we would rather seem like alarmists on the front end than cope with election fraud over the next few months without this kind of awareness or support. 

It isn’t pessimistic to see the warning signs and take them seriously, it’s responding to reality. We deserve a world where we don’t have to worry about the integrity of our votes, the safety of our neighborhoods from state violence, the rise of fascism, but to get that world, we have to fight for it. 

And yes, we, too, are e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d from every single company ever texting us to remind us to vote. We are irked by the frequency of communication, the fact that it seems like there’s nothing to talk about except the election and the pandemic right now. But the fact that we feel more annoyed than worried, more uncomfortable than endangered, is a privilege. 


  • Read about this Texas mom who’s spent years in jail as a result of intense voter suppression efforts in the 2016 election. Sign the petition, too.
  • The Washington Post came out with a “What Day Is It” newsletter this past week (we recommend reading to recalibrate your sense of time) and they featured this helpful guide about how to be a good neighbor during the pandemic. 
  • We’re phone banking this week! You can join us as we phonebank with the Poor People’s Campaign or any of these orgs, too! SwingLeftIndivisibleGrassroots Dems

This week, despite this lengthy email, we’re taking some time each day to NOT think about the election: Emily’s auditing her all the minutes she spends on her phone or computer, Ellie’s hiking where there’s no phone service, and Hayden is trying to minimize her screentime and maximize time with her friends to stay mentally healthy, because we all need community strength right now.  We’re reading about other countries’ experiences with challenges to their democracy (thank you to our shared bestie, Sarah, for giving Emily a copy of Watching the Wind!) and listening to Nina Simone.  We’re doing facemasks and playing dodgeball and rollerblading and eating pizza and carving pumpkins and still enjoying our lives. We hope you are, too.

We love you, we’ll get through this season together, and we’re rooting for everyone who shares this space with us and everyone experiencing oppression.

In Solidarity,
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden 

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