November 3rd, 2020. Election Day. You could not ask for a better day to take part in election defense. It started out chilly, but swiftly warmed to an unseasonably warm 75°. We were some of 150 people recruited by DSA to protect vulnerable voting locations, in anticipation of voter intimidation and disruption at the polls. Members of our team arrived at precinct 6-2, Matthews Park, the heart of Seward, just before 8 am. We were met, rather quickly in our estimation, by our first DOJ official. The official stated they lived in the neighborhood, were going to various precincts throughout the day, and were stopping by to see who we were representing. It seemed rather innocuous but was an omen for how seriously the Barr DOJ was taking “election fraud” in Minneapolis. More defenders appeared throughout the morning, with a table, food, and supplies – provided by Non-Violent Peace Force – arriving shortly after we connected with a member from Common Cause.
After about a half-dozen DSA-affiliated members arrived, we briefly checked in with one another, discussed how we thought the day would go, sorted out basic logistical information – it appeared that because of COVID, access to voting was going to be handled through the school gymnasium, and not through the park building main entry – and discussed potentials for violence on this day. Our mantra was “Boring Means Success”.
Boring was very much a part of this day, except for answering some basic questions about our role, how long we’d be there, who we were with, etc. This appeared to be a good day, well spent, with like-minded people.
Around 10 am, one of the captains noticed some suspicious activity; a white male, parked in a pick-up truck, in the park building parking lot, that did not have any movement for about 90 minutes. We all made note, let the command center know, and remained vigilant. Shortly before lunch – and before we were able to gorge ourselves on some masterful burritos [thanks Bol and SEIU] – we were approached by two obvious “cops” – DOJ – checking us out, asking questions.
It was around noon when we were starting to realize, and hearing from command, that our blaze orange vests – I made the decision not to take a vest at our weekend training, as I had a safety yellow vest for construction site visits – were making the wrong impression around the communities we were stationed. Hunting season. The fact that MPR was not presenting our actions in a favorable light was likely the source of this concern, but in all honesty if I was looking at us from a distance, it did appear like a gathering of hunters, and our complexion, in a large minority neighborhood likely did not help. Doh! First lesson learned.
From noon on, it was more of the same; a trickle of voters, fine-tuning our explanations to the curious, waving to passers-by, and generally becoming a friendly presence in the neighborhood. It was starting to have an impact, as people would drive by, wave, honk horns, and pass along thanks. It was exactly what we were hoping for: Minnesota Nice…and boring. The “cop couple” returned, but they observed at a distance, and remained the most suspicious activity of the day.
The pm shift arrived, and many of the am shift remained, or took breaks as necessary, but as the day drew on, we remained a healthy dozen or so DSA affiliated members, making sure that if a line of voters appeared after a long day of working, we’d assure the right to exercise their franchise would be protected.
We capped the night off with Pizza Luce, content with the knowledge that our presence, while seemingly boring, was time well spent, and furthered the cause of voting rights, no matter how the night would turn out.