Countering the Coup: From the Grassroots Up


In the aftermath of the January 6th siege of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, Laura convenes a panel of pro-democracy activists to discuss the fate of the nation. What really led to the events of January 6th and how should we move forward? How do we go from insurrection to cooperation in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy? Is building a healthy political ecosystem and humane economy even possible in the America we have today? And can the Biden/Harris administration solve what ails us? Panelists Scot Nakagawa, Senior Partner at Change Lab, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Center, and Eric Ward, Executive Director at the Western States Center, discuss all this and more.

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Where to Watch

You can watch this episode on your local WORLD channel at 11:30 am ET on Sunday, January 17, or on your local PBS station.
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– When Black power movement rises, so does white supremacist backlash.

– The violent expression of that we saw with the invasion of the Capitol. Which of course then happened just one day after the Georgia elections, in which we saw pro-democracy forces actually win a major victory.

– What won was a black led, multi-racial, working-class-rooted united party.

– You have to join other people in America right now, to save our democracy. It’s that critical.

– It’s all coming up on the Laura Flanders show the place where the people who say it can’t be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it. Welcome. I’m Laura Flanders, and I couldn’t be happier to be joined by three extraordinary people to engage in a practice I love to do on television, radio, wherever I can. And that is smart, deep thinking in public. We are gonna be thinking about what we have seen in the first weeks of 2021. What it means for our nation, our communities, our individual lives, and what we’re seeing that indicates a possible future to believe in. So on this occasion, I’m gonna be joined by one of the people who is one of my go-to persons for what is happening on the right, and that is Scot Nakagawa. Watchers of the Laura Flanders show last saw him on our, I think, post-election program, which you can find on our website. But Scot I’m gonna to be inviting to, in a sense, co-moderate this conversation, steeped as he is in the critical questions of this moment. So Scott welcome, I’m so glad to have you. And we are joined by Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, also no stranger to the audience of this program, the co-executive director of the Highlander Center, and Eric Ward from the Western States Center. And you’ll see why he is here in about an instant. So Scot, to start with you, what did we see in these first few weeks of 2021? We’re speaking just days after January 6th.

– Since the election, you know, and particularly since the new year began, we’ve seen a lot of things kind of work themselves out. We saw Trump put up a very significant challenge to the election – to very legitimate election results – attempting to basically mount a coup. And in so doing help to further consolidate the base for white nationalism and other far right ideologies in the U.S. And a violent expression of that we saw this week with the invasion of the Capitol, which of course then happened just one day after the Georgia elections in which we saw pro-democracy forces actually win a major victory that is going to change the game for us going into this new era. So, so much has happened. And we also saw a Republican, some of the Republican leadership using the Trump opposition to the election results to figure out how to pivot away from Trump as he leaves office. And to try to figure out how to find their footing in this new time.

– I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.

– And then people like Josh Hawley, who obviously think of themselves as little Trumps, who are rising to leadership and trying to assume his style of leadership – that bombastic, authoritarian, populous style. And I imagine we’ll see that happening not just in the Congress but at every level of government, particularly in local government. And so, you know, it’s a whole new era for us, and we have the people here who I think can speak best to that. Ash-lee, who has been one of the leaders in the struggle in Georgia and throughout the South, particularly in the Georgia elections, helping to secure us those victories. And Eric, who is one of the foremost experts on white nationalism and building resistance to authoritarian movements in the United States and in fact in the world. So I think we’re really lucky to have them. And I thought we should start with Ash-lee because you are kind of the it girl at the moment having been so involved in those major victories, you know and then, you know, being in the midst of celebrating those victories and trying to figure out what the steps forward are while the Capitol’s being invaded by white nationalists among others. So, you know what, what’s your sense at the moment?

– I have a lot of feelings about this moment. One is that we live in the past present and future all at the same time. Yesterday was not a shock to so many of us who have for centuries been talking about how when black power movement rises, so does white supremacists backlash, right? This is not shocking. I think that the story of yesterday to me sure started with all the fear, the anxiety, the triggered emotions the anger, the righteous rage of what it means that white supremacists descended on the Capitol. But the actual story of yesterday is that, again, a black led, multi-racial, working-class-rooted movement, a united front, a coalition of forces across the urban rural divide, flipped the Senate. After centuries of black power movement building, centuries of collective liberation, infrastructure building, decades worth of relationship building, we won. I have no question that white supremacists, white supremacists are gonna continue to try to throw temper tantrums to scare us into immobilization, right? That’s a story as old as Highlander, right? We remember in 2019, when they tried to burn our administrative offices down to keep us from doing this incredible work and they lost again. So, you know, I think we know that’s gonna happen. And I also don’t think that we’re confused that we weren’t voting to elect saviors, right? Whether it’s on the local level or up to the Biden-Harris administration. We were voting for our next targets, right? To control the terrain in which we were fighting. And so, I come to this this conversation with people who I love really inspired by the incredible amount of organizing that happened in Georgia. And I don’t just mean like the national organizations that flew in and did a lot of work to help support. And those organizations were incredible. I’m talking about like, Majinte, I’m talking about so many other folks, Black Voters Matter, the regional outfit that came down, all these incredible folks. I’m talking about also like the folks that have been organizing for 20 years that are people’s grandmamas that were on the ground. I’m talking about Black Voters Matter. I’m talking about, you know, GLAHR and all of the incredible Asian Pacific Islander organizing that happened in Georgia that made this win a possibility. I’m talking about Southern Crossroads these scrappy working class white folks. They went down there and organized their cousins. This work worked, and so I feel hopeful. I feel rejuvenated, I feel ready to fight with everything we’ve got in the first 100 days for everything our people deserve, not just what we would concede to.

– Eric when we talked yesterday, you actually said but what if we’re winning? You asked me that question when I started to ask you about what Wednesday meant to us. What that invasion at the Capitol meant. But you also pointed out that what Ash-lee has described as the last gasp is actually very long, long, long, last gasp, right? It’s been going on for 50 years now and has been expressed to broader politics and then institutionalized in a number of ways. And one of those is in significant disparities in policing across race and ideology. Basically Black versus white, left versus right, that we saw some of on Wednesday in terms of the response to the white nationalist uprising. So what up with that and how should we respond?

– I believe we are winning. And when we look at the advancement of civil and human rights, racial and economic justice, women’s rights, right? When we look at kind of the hallmark question around governance, the idea that to have real democratic governance means universal participation, means universal equity. It is true that the long arc has leaned towards real inclusive democracy in America. Meaning people centered, transparent and accountable. But we also understand, those of us who believe in democracy, who believe in the universalism of human rights, that every advancement brings a backlash. And the United States has been facing a backlash since 1968. And despite that very hardy backlash, Black communities, immigrant rights communities, Asian Americans, women, poor whites, have continued to push forward to create what is merely been an aspiration in America – Real democracy, real prosperity real community health and safety. This backlash has taken the form of something called white nationalism. It is a social movement. I believe it’s distinct from the systems of discrimination that we call white supremacy. At the end of the day, the Black civil rights movement in this country, right? The movement for Black lives, Black Lives Matter, those African-Americans who have been organizing for generations in the South, have actually delivered more for white America than the white nationalist movement and white supremacy has ever delivered. What white supremacy has delivered is a benefit for a very privileged few in our society at the expense of everyone else, including white America. However, the narrative of white supremacy is strong. It has been around for a long time. And one of the ways that it has been able to intersect with white nationalism is what we saw in DC. What we saw are at least, some law enforcement who turned a blind eye to what was an armed insurrection. An invasion of the national Capitol. This disparate treatment that law enforcement continues to play out each and every day in our country where it treats Black people who are protesting to strengthen democracy as enemies and traitors, while allowing those who are actually trying to subvert democracy in the United States through armed violence, it treats them as heroes. And it is that subversive unconscious racial bias that is now the real national security threat in the United States. It was the willfulness and the inability of our democratic institutions and our elected leadership at the federal, state and local level, to take that sedition seriously. And it remains to be seen what this means for the United States moving forward.

– And just to add to that Eric, it was not only the question of failure to take the seditious acts of the insurrectionist seriously, but the collaboration, the participation with their objection and obstruction of the electoral college count. You had eight senators and I think close to 150, 139 or so members of the House join even after all of that in the objecting to the electoral college. So continue Scot, but I just want to insert that we are very far from a sense that this white nationalist movement you’re describing is separate from our federal government.

– We should understand that it wasn’t just those who invaded the Capitol building that should be held responsible. It is those who created an environment of sedition. Who called for sedition, who called for political violence. Whether we’re talking about Rudy Giuliani who said at one of the rallies that democracy should be a trial by combat, that that is how we should decide our elections, to Donald Trump who said that he would lead a march to the dozen state legislators who participated in these marches, to other elected officials. These individuals need to be held accountable. This was sedition. This was an attempt to overthrow democracy by taking over the people’s house. And it can’t stand.

– Eric, you and I have been in this fight with white nationalism and vigilante white supremacism since the ’80s. And that seditious act that you refer to does seem to me to be a significant upping of the ante. It appears as though, and the Trump election basically showed us how far to the right we’ve come, and, you know, including resulting in a number of Republicans suddenly realizing they were in the wrong party and registering as Democrats, right? So that’s a whole new game. They’re no longer these marginal groups that we faced in the ’80s who while real threats, did not have the kind of institutional leverage and power that they have now. Nor were they are as sophisticated or as radicalized. And so how do we respond to that while also recognizing the institutional failures here? Both and.

– Yeah, the first is that we continue to support and engage in grassroots organizing that empowers community leaders who are seeking to build a society that is grounded on equity. Who are creating communities where everyone has the right to live, love, work and worship, free from fear. And we should understand that the more that that happens in the American South, the more national backlash that we will see. The liberation of Black people in America is the last line of white supremacy. White supremacy falls when Black people in America are seen as fully fledged citizens with all the rights and responsibilities. So we should understand the white nationalist movement has grown into a fully fledged mainstream movement that is attempting to slow down that progress. And seeking to slow down that progress by overthrowing American democracy, right? Even American democracy that is tainted by white supremacy. They see white supremacy as a failed program and the new program that they are pushing forward is ethnic cleansing. The idea of an all white nation free of people of color and Jews. The second is holding our institutions accountable. It is completely unacceptable that over the course of 10 months, law enforcement in this country have arrested over 13,000 individuals who have participated in civil rights and racial justice marches around this country, yet they only arrested, I think I saw 53 individuals, who were involved in the invasion of the nation’s Capitol including after the four deaths, including the death of a law enforcement officer. We have to understand there is a disparity and we have to respond to this disparity by making law enforcement either disband or uphold law and order in this country.

– So Ash-lee, Eric says, we need organizing. So you’re, you know, one of the best organizers I’ve ever met. So what do you think is necessary? And you’re right there in the South as well where we know it’s, you know, it’s both the cradle of white supremacy and the mother of all resistance. So what’s up, what do we do?

– I couldn’t agree with Eric more that grassroots organizing is what will defeat the Neo-Confederacy. That’s the work of our time. And so I think a couple of things needs to happen. In addition to what Eric already said, I think Eric already gave us the game plan, but I think if I was getting specific, I would say we need to recognize the as goes the South so goes the nation isn’t an opinion, it’s a fundamental fact. We literally got examples of that in this last electoral season, right? We saw that if we organize the South, you win DC which is also below the Mason-Dixon line, right? We also saw that when you want to win the Senate you’ve got to organize yourself. Like, we should quit conceding territory. What we taught everyone is that every state should be a battle ground state. You get what you invest in. And because we’ve invested in decades worth of relationship building, organizing, activism, relationship building, infrastructure building, we won. So I think that’s important. And the second thing that’s important is what the frontline has been teaching me. Actually in this moment if we’re going to continue to defeat fascism, and authoritarianism, and white nationalism in this country, we need the biggest “we” we can build. This is not a time for sectarianism. This is not a time for us to be in our silos focused on our single issues and not figuring out how to work together. What won was a black-led, multi-racial, working-class-rooted united front. So the key now that we have built this incredible united front is to not let the pressure off, right? Towards organizing the South, we need to invest in it. We need to invest in the grassroots organizations that have been led by these marginalized and targeted communities, because they are the ones that are winning. And we need to not be lazy in our demands. And I mean that in general. We need to demand what we want. When we said defund fund the police, we meant that. When we said we want to abolish ICE, we meant that. When we said we wanted to break the budget of the military industrial complex. We need to demand what we want, but that also means in response to what happened this week. It would be a lazy miscalculation, for us to make a demand that actually gives the state the opportunity to increase the amount of dollars that go to policing in this country. And that is what I fear will happen, right? We’ll say, “Oh, we just need more, we should’ve had more Capitol police.” No, that’s not the fix. The fix isn’t just calling these people terrorists and then actually then using that designation to criminalize even more Black protestors, indigenous protesters, API protesters, Latinx protesters, right? This is not the time to criminalize our way out of this. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we know is that that system does not work. So we actually need to be bold and brave in all of our righteous rage, and fear, and joy, for the sake of actual collective liberation. And I feel like the only thing that will keep us from it is us tripping over our own lefty shoe laces at the finish line.

– Well, let me just intersect for a second, Scot. Speaking to those who maybe don’t all identify themselves as lefties, but have lived through this last year, I want to ask you – We’ve been talking about the territory of race and white nationalism but what we’re seeing and what we’re living also plays out on the territory, on the landscape, of neo-liberalism, and economic decline, and of the pandemic. The South too is the pained heart center of our economic system as it was created under slave capitalism. So let me ask you to address that piece of the story that is in the ether, that those to whom Trump is speaking are those who are disaffected, discouraged, hardworking white people, who’ve been sold a lie about a zero sum game of goods and wealth in this country and are desperate not to lose theirs.

– Absolutely. I don’t want to minimize how devastating the impact of Neo-liberal politics and white supremacist, white nationalist, authoritarian, fascist tendencies have been our communities. It’s been devastating. But why I know that we’re winning has been that in the failure of the state, social movements have continued to utilize and build the infrastructure required to fill the gap. That’s a story as old as the Southern Freedom Movement, right? Read “Hammer and Hoe” by Robin D.G. Kelley talking about black folks that had been building social solidarity economies in Alabama in the twenties. This is not new to us. I think that what is real is that the things that are causing that devastation are not gone yet, right? And that’s what I was saying earlier, is it won’t be gone after J20. When Biden and Harris get inaugurated, folks down here will still be unemployed, they will still have closures of rural hospitals because our governors didn’t expand Medicaid, they will still have unemployment numbers out of the – just out of this world! So there will still be work to do and that’s why our investment and our commitment, to telling the correct story about the South really matters.

– So Eric, what’s your response?

– So here’s what I would say to everyone listening today. While may be hard to hold, our economy has largely benefited from the exploitation of over 500 years of free Black labor, right? Of 40 years of free immigrant labor in this country. As that exploitation is challenged, the economic system that we have designed in this country cannot provide the opportunities and benefits. It means we have to adjust the system. We do not live in scarcity. Those who tell us that the United States and our economic system can only be built on scarcity are lying to us. They are telling us that so that we are divided. There is no reason for an individual to be a trillionaire in the United States of America in this moment when there are hundreds of thousands of children going to bed hungry each night. Where there are people who are literally dying in their beds because they cannot afford health care. That is gross. It is unbecoming of a democracy and these are the things that have to be addressed if we are going to give each other a hand up. I’m not here to try to steal money from those who are wealthy. What I’m saying is, it is time for those who have wealth to pay the same fair share that every other American pays in order to have a functioning society. We have decided That we are Americans across lines of race, religion, gender, national, origin, right? It doesn’t matter if you are an immigrant, a migrant, you’ve been here 30 generations or four generations. Our destiny is entwined together and it’s time for us to get serious about that work. We are hard workers, we are creative people, across lines of race, religion, and gender. And it’s time for us to show each other, just how well we can help each other build our barns. It’s time to build the American barn. It’s time for us to take care of one another. And that can’t happen unless you are part of some type of organization in your house of worship, in your community, in your professional association, you have to be in organization. You have to join with other people in America right now to save our democracy. It’s that critical.

– You know, the first act of a activist, the most important act, is to inspire people. And this was incredibly inspirational to me. I will take away this idea of barn building with me, and certainly all of your stories about organizing. And yeah, continue to ask myself the question. You know I’m a political hypochondriac. I see the right and I keep thinking, oh no the time it’s near the end, it’s coming. And I’ll keep asking myself that question you asked me last night, Eric. What if we’re winning? And I’ll take that really seriously.

– And I will continue to hold space for these conversations, and for conversations that constantly question who is the “we”? Who is the “we” that we are referring to, that we’re holding dear? Who is the we, that you in the audience are thinking about, loving, caring in these times? I really appreciate what each of you has had to say. And I know that we are going to be in more regular communications as the months and year goes on. Thank you so much, Scot Nakagawa, pleasure co-hosting with you. Eric Ward, thank you. Ash-Lee Henderson, thank you. We have more information and more interviews with just about all of these guests at our website, so subscribe to the channel, check out the podcast. It’s been great having you. For more on this episode and other forward thinking content and to tune into our podcast, visit our website at and follow us on social media @theLFshow.


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