The 2020 election is a test of who we are as Americans and what we will do to preserve our democracy when it is in mortal peril.
Throughout our history, Americans have risen to the moment to extend and defend democracy. From the abolitionists and suffragists who risked their freedom in the fights against slavery and to secure the vote, to the working people who faced violence and repression when they organized unions and defended free speech, and from the armed forces who defeated fascism in a world war, to the civil rights activists who fought the Jim Crow South, Americans have made immense sacrifices and put our lives on the line to make the democratic promise of “liberty and justice for all” a reality. The American Federation of Teachers—our members, our locals, our state federations and our national organization—has been part of that democratic quest: We fought against fascism here and abroad, including our participation in the great battles of all of our civil rights movements.
Today, we in the AFT face a historic challenge. Donald Trump’s presidency has been marked by a series of attacks on the democratic institutions and norms of our government and civil society: assaults on the rule of law; an independent judiciary; a free press; the separation of governmental powers; the right to protest; equality under the law; the rights of people of color, believers in minority religious faiths and immigrants; the freedom of association of working people; and more. This endless barrage has taken a deep and destructive toll on our political life, our national psyche and our national identity, threatening to lay waste to our country’s motto: E pluribus unum—out of many, one.
Now, in the final week leading up to the 2020 election, in the midst of a surging coronavirus pandemic and as Americans are voting, Trump and his supporters have mounted an offensive on the very foundation of democracy—the power of the people to choose their government through free and fair elections.
The AFT is unequivocal and unwavering in our response: We stand for American democracy. Democracy is a defining principle of our work as educators, healthcare professionals and state and local government workers, and a core value of who we are as unionists and citizens. Our vote is our voice and a sacred right upon which freedom depends. We see no choice: To be true to ourselves and the values we hold dear, we must rise to the defense of democracy.
While our opposition to Trump is clear, our defense of the right to vote, the requirement to count every vote and the assurance that the will of the voters must determine who is president must not depend on a presidential preference.
In the coming days, we will do everything in our power to support our fellow citizens in the effort to exercise their democratic franchise and cast their votes. We will remain engaged with fellow democracy defenders to see that those votes are counted and that the will of the people is reflected in the peaceful transition of power to the legitimate winners of our free and fair elections.
To ensure that the will of the people is respected in the 2020 elections, we dedicate ourselves to the following four propositions:
- Every American citizen registered to vote must be able to vote. In the context of the current pandemic, voters must have the ability to cast their ballot in ways that do not endanger their health, such as mail ballots and early voting, as well as have sufficient ways to vote on Nov. 3. There must be sufficient numbers of polling stations and election officials for all voters to vote. Intimidation of voters must not be allowed to stand.
- Every vote must be counted. Given the unprecedented numbers of votes that have been cast early and by mail, the final tally will not be known on election night. Indeed, there may not be enough of a vote count available on Nov. 3 to project who has won. Counting must continue until all votes have been counted.
- The electoral verdict of “we the people” must be respected. It is not the right of those in power—whether they be in the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, or in state capitols and local governments—to decide who governs us. It is the right of the people, and the people alone. The reins (or leadership) of government must be transferred peacefully to the choice of the people.
- We will not be intimidated. AFT members have a proud tradition of engaging in the peaceful struggle for American democracy. In the tradition of our teachers, Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph, we will organize and participate in peaceful, nonviolent mass protests against any efforts to thwart free and fair elections and to undermine American democracy. When democracy is in danger, we will be in the streets and in our workplaces with our colleagues in the labor movement and allies in the community, defending it against its enemies—foreign and domestic.
Make no mistake, the AFT believes that the American people should freely elect this country’s next leader, and we will accept the legitimate outcome of the election regardless of the victor. However, as a union deeply rooted in democratic principles, we will do whatever it takes to stand by our commitment to reject election interference, threats, tampering, stealing, acts of violence or other actions that undermine the will of the people in this exercise of Americans’ democracy. We, the people, must decide.(2020)