Keep Calm and Protect Democracy

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force

When there was that kerfuffle about permits for inauguration day, I wrote about how this was something worth watching. Now the permit issue seems resolved, but there are still some very serious warning signs of potential trouble. Here’s the relevant bit of what I wrote back in December:

Canadians can easily recall the G20 summit protests to see what happens when protesters and police clash. Americans can think of our long history of Civil Rights protests, anti-Vietnam War protests, student protests, and unrest over police brutality in recent years. The difference is that Trump has a history of showing little care for Americans who disagree with him. His tweets retaliating against people have lead to death threats for teens and union bosses alike. He has said that people who burn the flag should be stripped of citizenship, and that terrorists should be punished by having their families killed.

So what we have here is a president-elect who is willing to harm people he disagrees with, willing to harm the innocent families of enemies, and otherwise shown himself to be authoritarian and lacking strong regard for the first amendment. We also have here a possible major clash between angry citizens and police (and the secret service). This is precisely the set up authoritarians need to declare states of emergency and martial law. We have seen this recently in Ethiopia where protesters clashing with police led to dozens of deaths and the declaration of a state of emergency. Historically, this was used by Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines to quash unrest; it heralded incredible brutality and torture for the people of the Philippines. Historians of Germany point to the Reichstag Fire and the emergency decree made by President von Hindenburg (at the urging of Hitler) as a pivotal moment in Hitler’s rise to power.

Let’s look at what’s happening with the inauguration just days out. We now have Trump’s private security, the secret service, local police, and the national guard on hand. Additionally, Bikers for Trump have decided to create a “wall of meat” to keep protesters at bay. We know emotions are going to be high. We also know Trump has support among violent white supremacists. Even if allegations that right-wing groups have been planning to have provocateurs to incite violence and unrest prove untrue, it’s a tinderbox. Oh, and Trump has fired the head of the National Guard in DC, who has been coordinating the security for inauguration, as of 12:01 PM, the exact time he becomes president. What could go wrong?

There are protests planned for around the United States for Friday and Saturday. As I wrote in December, protests can serve as sparks for violent conflict, even if protesters have entirely or primarily peaceful methods. You don’t actually need provocateurs for things to go bad. It will be of the utmost importance that protesters avoid violence and altercations with police and counter protesters. The rhetoric around protests as riots has shown how public opinion shifts depending on language — and how some protests are more likely to be labelled riots than others.

Unrest, violence, and “rioting” have been used to invoke martial law and states of emergency giving national leaders unchecked power before. We must avoid this, but of course, it is not entirely in the hands of the protesters. And it is likely that at least a few altercations will result in the hundreds of protests planned in coming days.

If you or someone you know plan to go out, consider getting active bystander training. (The link here is for free DC-area training.) Brush up on your rights as a protester. The ACLU has a page on this and a PDF guide, but there are also local chapters with websites with specific state laws. has a protest infographic. These resources deal with your rights, but you want things to avoid getting into questions of rights if possible. This guide to preparing for a safe and legal protest is a great resource. It might sound scary, but you’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

The best thing you can do is to practice calm yourself. Avoid the temptation to shout back at angry counter protesters or a heavy police presence that feels or looks threatening. Practice breathing. If you see someone in distress, help them by helping them and not attacking someone who seems to be making things worse. Anger is natural and expected, but try to channel this. Think of those obnoxious posters: keep calm and carry on. American democracy might depend on it.