Collage of photos including a black woman talking, a guy with a rifle, people standing in line to vote and Boogaloo boys

Morgan Harper at top

“Premature declarations of elections outcome” is the hot-potato phrase being passed around by lawyers, political operatives and journalists. It sounds way too Trumpian, but if it were to happen from either Trump or Biden it could spell disaster this week and the weeks after.

For older activists, especially those who remember Woody Hayes calling for peace between anti-war protesters and the National Guard as they faced-offed on the Oval, it boggles the mind Tuesday’s outcome could potentially ignite a deranged civil war on our downtown streets where not even the ghost of Woody can save us.

Peaceful rallies at the Statehouse called for by local and national progressives are scheduled for Wednesday night and Saturday, and no matter Tuesday’s outcome, hopefully the gun-toting red hats won’t be itchin’ for a fight, but we know how they lust to be shootin’ them dangerous Antifas. 

Not intimidated are the city’s growing number of 20-something and 30-something progressive activists. It was a demanding and tumultuous year for them to say the least. They created the city’s first tenants’ union during a pandemic, were jarringly arrested on our downtown streets for supporting Black Lives Matter, and now going door-to-door for a presidential candidate they don’t truly believe in or trust.

It’s all culminating to a fork in the road and neither way is what they had hoped for.

Nonetheless many have been meeting weekly since August preparing and bracing for…the day after.

Wednesday night’s Statehouse rally and others nationwide – March for Freedom and Democracy: Join the Progressive Fight– was first called for by the national office of Our Revolution(inspired by Bernie Sanders’ book “Our Revolution”) and another coalition called Protect the Results.

“We are partnering with other progressive organizations to hold an action Wednesday to make clear we want a fair election count and a focus on an equitable recover,” says 36-year-old Morgan Harper, who since her 2019 Democrat primary loss to Rep. Joyce Beatty, has emerged as local progressive leader.

Harper and her “Morganizers” have quietly and effectively stayed their course. As the pandemic surged in the spring Harper was volunteering at Southside foodbanks, and as crime spiked this summer she was rallying urban neighborhoods with her new organizing effort Columbus Stand Up! to have socially distant outdoor get-togethers to talk issues. 

“We’ve been involved in extensive voter engagement through community meals, lit drops in partnership with other community organizations, phone banking with Ohio women’s alliance, and a volunteer rideshare program with Indivisible 12,” said Harper. “Just like we saw during the primary, people face many barriers to voting, and we are doing everything we can to help them overcome these barriers. Over 100 people have volunteered to drive people to the polls.”

Back in August, 20-something Becca Barth helped form an ad hoc coalition of local progressive leaders, from Socialist Alternative and Yes We Can and others, to talk weekly about what they should do post-election.

Barth’s activist epiphany occurred this past summer when she helped initiate some of the first local BLM protests.

“We wanted to do something regardless of what happens with the election,” says Barth. “Even if Joe Biden does get declared the winner on Tuesday night, we’re still going to plan on gathering at the Statehouse on Wednesday night. We want to keep pressure on Biden to support what progressive groups believe in. The Green New Deal, Medicare for all, student loan forgiveness, things like that.”

But if Trump has a premature declaration the Statehouse protest will put pressure on the vote count.

“Our action will be that all votes are counted. Here in Ohio our mail in ballots can be counted all the way up until ten days after the election,” she says. “We want to make sure that neither of them try to claim victory without all the votes being counted.”

Barth says they are expecting several hundred to show Wednesday night. The rally has a contingency plan in case you-know-who also shows.

“If they do show up (Proud Boys or the like), and if they are okay and just being annoying, we will just ignore them. But if they do show up with a bunch of guns and try to start something, we have a team of extraction cars to get people out of there,” she says.

Yes We Can activist Will Klatt suggested post-election chaos could easily be sowed by accident or ineptitude at the local and state-level offices managing the vote. The Franklin County Board of Elections, for example, didn’t boost anyone’s confidence when they mistakenly sent 50,000 absentee ballots to the wrong voters – prompting Trump to tweet about it.

“I have limited confidence in the (Franklin) County Board of Elections, but it’s not a partisan question, it’s incompetence,” says Klatt. “As far as corruption, I don’t see anyone trying to mess with the outcome with the ballots that are cast. I think it’s more about nepotism because the Board of Elections has become a place where they put bad campaign managers.”

In a statement to the Free Press, the Ohio Democratic Party’s David Pepper says they “launched the most robust voter protection program ever” and been “working for months to prepare for early voting and Election Day by recruiting poll observers across the state.”

“It’s troubling that Donald Trump used his platform during the debate to encourage a white supremacist group to ‘stand by’ for further instructions and urge his supporters to ‘go into the polls and watch very carefully.’ That would be illegal voter suppression, and it’s precisely what we feared Trump and the Republican Party would do once the consent decree was lifted that had barred the RNC from coordinating voter intimidation efforts directed at Black and Latino voters,” stated Pepper.

He added, “It’s incumbent upon Mike DeWine, Frank LaRose and Dave Yost to make it crystal clear that what Donald Trump is encouraging is illegal under state and federal law. It’s incumbent upon them to stop the Ohio Republican Party from attempting to coordinate this sort of illegal activity. We will pursue every legal option to protect Ohio voters, if the Republicans that lead this state refuse to act.”

Klatt says it wasn’t lost on anyone this past summer when some leftists at downtown BLM protests were shouldering semi-automatics just like the Trumpers.

“Guns have been a new development on both the Left and the Right,” says Klatt, who is not a spokesperson for Wednesday’s rally. “I do not support both carrying guns at protests. I don’t think it protects anyone.”

Klatt, who’s level-headed political Facebook posts are well received and respected, says it not out of the realm of possibility the only ones shouldering assault rifles at post-election rallies will be civilians.

He and others have wondered if the 2019 Bolivian right-wing military coup over its leftist government after election results could play out here?

“I am worried about it,” he says. “We are living in a dystopian novel, right?”