November 06, 2020
We look at Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine the U.S. presidential election with Jane McAlevey, a union organizer, negotiator and senior policy fellow at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center who was an eyewitness to the 2000 Florida recount. She says the 2000 election holds lessons for today, when Democrats allowed Republicans to claim a controversial victory. “We have to have a counternarrative. We have to have very large numbers of people in the streets,” she says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at Donald Trump’s attempts to steal the U.S. presidential election, how he can be stopped. We’ve been speaking with independent journalist Allan Nairn. I want to bring in Jane McAlevey into the conversation, from San Francisco, union organizer, negotiator, senior policy fellow at University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center. Jacobin recently published part of her firsthand account about what happened in Florida in 2000 and its lessons for today, in a piece headlined “To Stop an Electoral Coup, Study What Went Wrong in the 2000 Florida Recount.” Her recent interview in Jacobin is headlined “Prepare to Hit the Streets After Election Day.” She’s the author of several books, including A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy.
Jane McAlevey, thanks so much for being with us. Why don’t you lay out what you’re seeing now and what you feel needs to be done?
JANE McALEVEY: Good morning, and thank you for having me.
Yeah, you know, in Florida, I was among the first people to land in Florida, like literally the next morning at 6 a.m., and one of the last people to leave. So I spent an incredible amount of time on the ground in Florida in 2000 and, I think, experienced an electoral coup. The fact is that Al Gore did win Florida. And the consequences of that decision is something we’re still paying for.
So, the parallels right now, that are sort of nerve-wracking, from my viewpoint, are the following. One, what we hear from, we hope, President-elect Biden is a lot of the same sort of commentary that we heard from Al Gore: Stay calm, the process is working. There’s sort of an overinvestment in the idea of counting and the legal process. And that, that was an error of judgment in a pretty profound way in Florida in 2000. And people like myself and many other trade union organizers who were there on the ground immediately to try and defend the democratic outcome and the votes of working people in Florida understood, within 24 hours of being in Florida, that we needed nonviolent — I’m going to stress that — nonviolent, peaceful direct action, in large numbers, both in Florida, for sure, back in 2000, but also around the country. We needed it because we understood that the conservatives, the right wing, were going to frame a narrative that it was Al Gore who was trying to steal the election versus Bush. And, of course, we didn’t have to wait for Election Day, you know, because Trump has been saying this for the month and a half leading up to Election Day. So he’s been forecasting every single thing he’s doing right now.
So, on the one hand, to say, “Stay calm, the process is working,” we should stay calm. Secondly, as Nairn was just describing, your previous guest, I mean, the Byzantine nature of this process is confusing to the average voter. So, part of why I think that people need to be engaged in very large, very peaceful, very nonviolent, I hope, faith- and trade union-led demonstrations this weekend all across the United States is because we have to have a counternarrative. We have to have very large numbers of people in the streets saying, “Hang on.” Right now Biden is nearly 4 million ahead, and I think, as Juan was saying earlier, it’s going to be more like 8 million when the final states come in. So, there’s no question that the popular vote is massively favoring Biden. The popular vote was favoring the candidate in Florida in 2000. So, to me, you know, as someone who was on the ground in Florida disagreeing — I was disagreeing pretty wildly with the Gore lawyers, as well as, at the time, frankly, my employers, which was the national AFL–CIO, and saying to them that it was one thing for the Democratic Party to behave in a way that trusted counting and the legal process, but if you’re a union organizer, which I am, and I’ve experienced one unionization election after another where the employer cheats and voter suppression is rampant and massive, in the way that it is now in the United States in this presidential election, we understand that narrative creation really matters. And we understand that legal cases are not made in a vacuum, which Nairn was also just saying, right? But I want to really emphasize this. No legal decision —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jane, I wanted to ask you — for those many of our listeners and viewers who were probably youngsters back in 2000 —
JANE McALEVEY: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — the people don’t understand that even back then there was a mobilization by the supporters of President Bush in the streets outside a lot of these counting places and quite a bit of intimidation that occurred. Could you talk about what was actually happening on the ground when you were there?
JANE McALEVEY: Yeah, it was absolutely intense, and it was violent, by the way. And people — I think you’re right, Juan, that many — the reason I keep writing and talking and writing articles about Florida right now is because, in fact, I experienced violence. I was followed and chased by people called “Christian militants.” I mean, I wrote a lot about this in the book chapter which Jacobin published. I was actually followed. I had a security detail, because I became the lead 1% precinct counter in Miami-Dade, which was this really crucial moment, because the Bush people understood — we had opened up counting in Palm Beach. We had opened up counting in Broward. I was involved in all of those counts. And then, what’s called the 1% precinct threshold, which is where the violence really got intense, was — the Republicans understood, the Bush team understood, if we opened up the recount in Miami-Dade, that there were a lot of votes, back then, that were going to be — that were trending absolutely Democratic and that would put Gore over the top.
So I was sent there as one of two people in the entire United States to be what was called the 1% precinct counter. And it was at that moment that I began to seriously experience the violence, the intimidation. We were being brought in in vans that were — as a union organizer, I usually associate strikebreakers being brought in in vans that look like this. They were shaded, they were dark, so no one could see us. There was huge personal security for the counters themselves, myself included. And, you know, I’m someone who is used to standing up to union thugs, union busters and a lot of normal violence, really, in unionization campaigns. But this was unprecedented in my life experience. I was 36 years old. It was sent in to do the 1% precinct count. And it was unbelievably nerve-wracking. And I was walking up the stairs when the Brooks Brothers riot was conducted by the right wing — right? — which, as we know now, the Brooks Brothers riot refers to, you know, what we know now were Republican staffers, dressed up in nice suits, who began throwing tables in Miami-Dade as soon as the counting got serious, because they needed a way to disrupt the counting process. So, it was violent. It was totally intense.
And part of what counters, in all of these places where they’re counting right now, and governors and Republican legislatures and everyone needs to see is that we’ve won this election, once again. And we are not — our side is not going to let them steal it. We need the two biggest organized forces that know how to run nonviolent, large, peaceful demonstrations, which is the houses of faith and the organized trade union movement, to get people into the streets, so that we don’t have a vacuum being created, which is happening right now, where you’ve got sort of like little skirmishes going on. Little skirmishes aren’t going to help us, by the way. We need things that look as large as the Women’s March, the Climate March in New York City several years ago. We need a massive outpouring of support by ordinary people, so that governors, the Democratic governors who are in the three states that have to certify these electors, certify the right people, and they certify the election correctly. Like, there’s so much going on.
And I would say one more thing. There’s a lot of people, ordinary people, who don’t follow the ins and outs of this, who are sitting home right now, who worked very, very hard, who wrote millions of letters, did text messages, phone banked, did a ton of work to drag Joe Biden over the finish line. And all of those people need a way to experience and demand that they’ve won this election in the streets. They need to build solidarity. We need to practice governing power, because to move a Joe Biden, assuming that we can stop the Supreme Court from acting as they did in Florida, we’re going to need governing power. And that’s going to mean that a lot of those same voters need to practice what it means to intervene right now to save this election from going back to Trump. So, nonviolent direct action is essential. The counters need support. The Democratic governors need to see it. The Supreme Court needs to see it. And, you know, the Supreme Court does not act in a vacuum. Even an ideological right-wing Supreme Court does not act in a total vacuum.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane McAlevey, we want to thank you for being with us, union organizer, negotiator, scholar, currently senior policy fellow at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center.
When we come back, we go to Georgia, that has just flipped from red to blue. Stay with us.