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Prepping for post-election protest

IN A VIDEO accompanying this story Sarah Stott of Bristol provides a simple, step-by-step primer on making phone calls in the run up to this election. Watch the video at the link at the bottom of this page.

ADDISON COUNTY — Political activists, both locally and nationally, are preparing for the worst-case outcome on Election Day — an election that’s too close to call that evening and a rule-defying president who has deliberately spread doubts about the validity of mail-in ballots and has threatened to declare himself the winner before all ballots are counted.
To counter the president’s threat and to make sure America’s election proceeds within the law, activists are already staging training sessions and lining up citizen volunteers to be ready to peacefully protest to make sure every vote counts.
Bristol resident Sarah Stott is working with dozens of other Vermonters to encourage mail-in voting and to prepare for any presidential interference in the voting process on Nov. 3. Those two efforts are the main focus for political activists across the nation, she said.
“Everyone who cares about someone becoming president is working to get their candidate to become president. So, that’s number one,” Stott said. “Then there’s the ‘what if something untoward happens related to the election?’ That’s number two.”
Stott clarified that the concerns stem from the possibility that President Donald Trump will prematurely declare victory or challenge the results in some way if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected.
“The president has said he’s not sure he’s going to accept the ballots that are cast,” Stott said. “I’m concerned about that. That is the basis of our democracy — that we respect everybody’s right to vote. If Trump is the legitimate winner, we all need to respect that; and if Biden is the winner, we all need to respect that.”
Weybridge resident Spencer Putnam said one way to avoid any challenges to the election’s results is by encouraging a decisive victory. If the winner is decided by a small margin, it is possible there will be controversy, he said. 
“Number one is to work ahead of the election to try to make a decisive victory,” said Putnam, who is active in the local Democratic Party. “We expect that there’s going to be some sort of controversy, possibly a very serious challenge to the outcome, starting Nov. 4 or late Nov. 3.”
Putnam and Stott noted that there were several local activist groups working to get out the vote, as well as organize ways for Vermonters to be engaged in battleground states — through phone banks and other means that don’t require travel to those states.
3FlippingThings, a voter engagement group based in Middlebury, has been staging, according to their website, “postcard and letter writing efforts, but as the election nears, we’ll begin to identify other high-impact ways to support Democratic candidates in close races. This means phone banks, sending texts, and donating to campaigns. In addition to expanding the ways in which we engage, we also will continue to try to grow our membership through outreach efforts. People who want to get involved can sign up for our notifications of actions at our website 3flippingthings.org.”
Educating the public about the voting process and making sure the public understands that it will likely take several days, or possibly a week or more, after the election to get all the ballots counted in battleground states like Pennsylvania is one of the key objectives, Putnam said.
“We’re not going to have final results immediately,” said Putnam, particularly in populous states with millions of votes cast by mail and election rules that prohibit counting those ballots ahead of the election. And that doubt could cast the election’s outcome in dispute, particularly if President Trump attempts to incite voter unrest over his potential defeat.

TRAINING TO PROTEST
The question activists have asked themselves is this: What can and should they do if Trump tries to win the election by means other than letting the voters determine the outcome?
Their answer has been to activate thousands of citizen volunteers to be prepared to peacefully demonstrate in towns and cities all over the country, advocating for a full accounting of the electorate and a peaceful transfer of power, if Biden wins. To that end, online training sessions on how to peacefully protest have been held for the past several weeks.
Putnam and other Middlebury activists recently formed an affinity group in anticipation of a disputed election. Already planned is a rally to “Protect the Vote/Choose Democracy” on Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. on the Middlebury Town Green. Their group plans to continue this rally every day thereafter until the vote count is resolved and there is a peaceful transfer of power. 
Though preparations are underway, Putnam and Stott are adamant that demonstrations remain peaceful and nonviolent.
“It’s possible that we will have an event on the 4th in Bristol if the election is disputed,” Stott said, “and we want to make sure it’s safe if we do have one. We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way.”

TWO WEEKS TO GO
Sally Burell, a Bristol resident who has been working alongside Stott preparing for the Nov. 4 event and other forms of community engagement, emphasized that the main goal of activists like Stott and herself is to make their efforts both known and peaceful. 
“I think peace is the best thing,” she said, “doing whatever we do as peacefully as possible and not making an opportunity for violence to happen. Whatever makes sense that is really peaceful and is still something that can be visible to all.” 
And even if Vermonters don’t see many protests within the state, because polls suggest Vermont is likely to support Biden by a large majority, it’s probable other states will see disputed outcomes, which is a reason why local residents should be ready to support the democratic process in those states.
Putnam noted that there may be some Vermonters willing to travel and demonstrate in places like Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C., and the best way to do that is to stay informed and communicate with leaders of movements that are already planning such demonstrations.
“Many of us would be willing to travel, except for the pandemic,” Putnam said, adding that “people who are interested in that should get in touch with the leaders of this movement so they can form their own traveling affinity groups.” 
With Election Day less than two weeks away, there is still time for locals to get involved in activism work. Stott said locals can use online resources to educate themselves and be ready to act if need be. 
“Choosedemocracy.us has excellent material about some of the possible scenarios that could happen and what individuals could do,” she said, adding that several other groups (see informational box within this story) have also been active in the past few months. With each group, she said, the first act to take is to “be aware” and fully informed. “People need to do their homework and look at different kinds of media to get a balanced perspective.” 
***
In this short video, Bristol resident Sarah Stott explains how to get started with phone banking.
***
Concerned about the upcoming election and want to know how to get involved? Here are several left-leaning organizations that are working to get out the vote, and to ensure every vote cast in this election is counted in case the election outcome is disputed.
National Organizations:
•  Vote Forward- votefwd.org
•  Choose Democracy- choosedemocracy.us
•  Reclaim Our Vote- actionnetwork.org/forms/reclaim-our-vote-signup
•  Swing Left- swingleft.org
Vermont Organizations: 
•  3 Flipping Things- 3flippingthings.org
•  VPIRG- vpirg.org 
•  350 Vermont- 350vermont.org 
•  Rights and Democracy- radvt.org
•  Lean Left Vermont- leanleftvt.org

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