Get Ready for Democratic Emergency

By Ronnie Dugger

We are in an American emergency. It is the emergency of all our American emergencies. Along with the Civil War, this is our second crisis of legitimacy, but more, it is the culminative crisis of our identity. Are we a democracy, or have we irreversibly degenerated into a presidential-corporate-military dictatorship? Are we still a good country, or are we becoming a bad country? Can we understand and act in the emergency well and fast enough, or will we lose the United States as we know it?

But as we approach the national election three months away, we have slowly awakened to realize, too, that this quite general American emergency is focusing down into an historic democratic emergency.

Four years ago James Baker, running the Bush campaign to steal the presidency in Florida, proclaimed there again and again (although few noticed or understood what he was saying) that the "precision machinery" of computers counts and recounts votes better and more accurately than people do. The Bush people achieved what they wanted and asked for, a Supreme Court order that literally stopped the recounting of the votes in Florida. Newt Gingrich followed that up at once, still in December 2000, with a call for a totally computerized votecounting system by 2004.

So what do we have in 2004? One company dominated by Republicans, Election Systems and Software, will count a majority of the 115 million votes that will be cast in its computers. One pro-Republican company, 61 million votes. Another all-Republican company, Diebold, will count 12 million. Almost 100 million votes will be counted in computers that can be rigged, but at least about 62 million of those have paper ballot trails made by the voters. On next Nov. 2 about 30%, 35 million, of all the votes will be cast on touch-screens and then counted invisibly inside direct-recording electronic computerized voting systems with no paper ballots. This gives the programmers working for the four major voting business corporations the ability to rig the outcomes specifically among those 35 million unverified votes in ways that nobody can see, audit, or recount. There can and will be no manual recounts of those 35 million votes because there will be no paper ballots to recount. Only Congressional passage of bills by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., in the House, or Sens. Graham-Clinton or Boxer in the Senate, early in September, could require paper-ballot trails on these systems, and while a handful of Republicans are among the Holt bill's 145 co-sponsors, not one Republican backs either of the Senate bills. The coming national election is set up to be stolen.

In this narrowing crisis the first thing we must do is stay calm, and the second, stay nonviolent. We should tighten up our whole movement so that our commitment to nonviolence clearly means anti-violence.

We must believe that all this is happening, even though it is amazing and astounding. This is not theory. This is a nightmare, but it is not a dream. This IS unconstitutional usurpation, the arrogant abuse of democratic power, the president's explicitly declared will to dominate the world in our names, the will to wage illegal aggressive war with the seized power of the United States, the will of the president and his junta to kill in order to steal control of the oilfields of Iraq, and now a national election set up to be stolen.

We are taught by our parents to obey the rules, and from grade-school on to obey, that it's patriotic to obey. Now, we must have the courage to do the opposite, to disobey. To march. To resist. To refuse to cooperate. These are our unfamiliar, but sacred duties now as patriots, as American citizens, and as human beings.

But what, specifically, do we do now about the democratic emergency?

John Kerry calls for the recountability of all ballots. The Democratic national platform says all voting systems should be "independently auditable." Many steps are being taken by Kerry and alarmed citizen organizations to tighten voting-system security and to monitor the election that day and night of Nov. 2.

But, then, what if it happens? What if analysis shows that the presidency has been stolen again? Are we going to just sit around agape for another three weeks while the politicians and pundits talk and posture and the networks tell us about some more hanging chads and the Supreme Court gives it to Bush again? This time we'll all know what's happened, and there will be a serious potential for tragic violence.

Gandhi said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Robert Kennedy said, "The future is not a gift; it is an achievement." Permit me to suggest to you that the peace and justice movement and all the allied organizations and individuals that first cohered powerfully at Seattle should begin planning now what to do if that happens -- how to be ready to fully understand, and what to do in, the first 24 hours after the polls close. What then to do as citizens, and as a people. Only if we prepare now to act together then in nonviolence can we head off whatever tragic violence might then occur, while also absolutely refusing to accept the second theft of our government in four years.

Let's brainstorm a minute. I'll start it off, but let's immediately make it a multivoiced, million-footed conversation and set of actions.

Suppose we were ready to judge the election returns with high-quality exit polls reported to us by midnight election night? Suppose, to cope with this democratic emergency, leaders of the people's movement and organizations assemble now, say, a Committee of the Democratic Emergency, or the Committee of November 3rd, which will be prepared to call for the nonviolent occupation of Washington in the event of a stolen presidential election. Only planning by such a broad-based representative of the entire people's movement could possibly fund and master the million organizing details for Nov. 2, 3, and after, that would be required. Arranging in advance for bedding down thousands in the D.C. area. And coming up with a step by step plan, of daily bulletins, websites, demonstrations and marches, public hearings conducted by willing members of Congress and leading citizens, on such subjects as national health insurance, the public funding and public conducting of public elections, a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote and have your vote counted and manually recounted.

"The odds are that this election the window of opportunity will be 24 hours," as Jonathan Simon, a specialist in exit polling, says. If it comes to that, such a committee might call for the occupation of Washington in the memory and honor of, say, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King. Might bring back to life the leading spirit of Reverend King by finally enacting the peaceful occupation of Washington he was actively planning when he was murdered 36 years ago.

We have the movement to do this, the organizations, and we have the living leaders. Who are these leaders? Let me call them out, just a few: Medea Benjamin, Julian Bond, Barbara Boxer, Noam Chomsky, Joan Claybrook, Chuck Collins, John Conyers, Kevin Danaher, Marian Edelman, Daniel Ellsberg, Amy Goodman, Doris Haddock, Tom Hayden, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Jr., James Jeffords, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, Michael Moore, Barack Obama, John Passacantando, Chellie Pingree, Kevin Phillips, Carl Pope, Dennis Rivera, Bernie Sanders, George Soros, Howard Zinn -- and you could easily come up with an entirely different list of them in ten minutes.

As the great liberated American woman Margaret Fuller said, "It is so hard to prevent one's feelings from evaporating in words." We have to act. As another advocate of planning for Nov. 3 says, "We need a whole suite of approaches." If you want to do this please tell Nick Biddle who, under the rubric "Save the Election," is collecting the names of organizations and individuals that want to do this, or something like it, before, when, and if worst comes to worst on Nov. 2. Nick Biddle's telephone number is 541-385-5998 and his email address is

We the American people are on trial at the bar of history. If we let the presidency be stolen with invisibly counted votes we're both stupid and supine. If we do not act now against the theft of the election, we may be complicitous in the confirmed incarnation of the first privately controlled dictatorship of the mass mind in history.

No. Consider, instead, that we, and all our good and strong organizations, might decide to form -- say -- the Committee of the Democratic Emergency, and through it take upon ourselves, if we come to deem it necessary, to declare -- say -- a State of Gandhian Noncooperation and Nonviolent Civil Resistance, to declare -- say -- that the stolen presidency, and the White House occupied four more years by the usurper, we will Never Accept.

And then, as Shelley visualized, speaking to the garment workers in New York at the turn of the last century, "We will rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number, Shake our chains to earth

"Like dew which in sleep had fallen on you -- for We are many, they are few."

Ronnie Dugger was founding editor of the Texas Observer, co-founder of the Alliance for Democracy, author of biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan and has reported extensively on mechanical and computerized voting irregularities. Email See his article, "How They Could Steal the Election This Time" in The Nation for Aug. 16 ( This article is an excerpt from a speech the author gave at Fanueil Hall, Boston, July 27 in an event sponsored by Alliance for Democracy, American Friends Service Committee and United for Justice and Peace. © 2004 Ronnie Dugger

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