US Midterms 2018: Three Peacebuilding Lessons for Election Day

Drawing upon our experiences with other deeply divided societies, Peace Direct’s Bridget Moix proposes three peacebuilding lessons as America heads to the polls.

Today is voting day in the United States and record numbers of voters are expected to turn out to the polls.  In fact, voters have been casting ballots in record numbers for weeks already in early voting around the country, suggesting how important people of all political stripes view these mid-term elections.  A wave of new candidates are running for local and state office, and voters will decide if the Republicans maintain control of Congress, or if Democrats regain one or both houses.

The outcomes of the 2018 elections will certainly shape what issues the next Congress is able to address, as well as how much the current Administration is able to achieve on its policy agenda in the next two years.  They will also shape important political trends at the local level and the direction of a huge range of policies that affect people’s everyday lives.  Perhaps most important from a peacebuilding perspective the character of the outcome of these elections and how both the US political leadership and the population responds to them could determine if we see further division and escalating conflict in America, or new openings for healing.

Image result for american midterms reuters

Credit: The National Interest 

How can peacebuilders help bridge divides, prevent violence, and forge a more just and peaceful future in America after the elections?  Here are three lessons we can draw from our field and experience with other deeply divided societies.

  1. Change begins locally. While national elections capture headlines and can be triggers for conflict and violence, transforming societies is work that begins locally and extends out and up. Peace Direct’s experience working with local people to stop violence and build peace affirms again and again how important local level peacebuilding is in the context of divisive national politics. In places like Burundi, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan, where recent or upcoming elections threaten violence, local peacebuilders play a vital role in helping strengthen social resilience, monitor and respond to incidents, and promote dialogue and cooperation across political and other divides. Although national politics have become nearly toxic in the US and the rhetoric of division pervades the media, I am encouraged that local communities across the country continue to stand up against hate and work together to solve problems and bridge divides.  Earlier this year we joined the Alliance for Peacebuilding to launch a mapping of local peacebuilding efforts in the US.  The number of initiatives mapped now stands at over 130 and continues to grow.  These local efforts defy the national political divisions and offer real hope for restoring a more civil and nonviolent democratic culture in the US, no matter what the results of the elections.
  1. Youth are powerful agents for positive change. The role of young people leading peace efforts around the world has been documented recently by the report, Missing Peace, a progress study following UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security.  It offers inspiration and practical lessons for our peacebuilding work here in the US and the importance of supporting young people as leaders of change.  In fact, young people in the US are already leading efforts to reduce violence and move beyond partisan politics.  The March for Our Lives movement led by young people that organized a massive demonstration calling for an end to gun violence earlier this year is still marching.  On election day, voting age high school and college students will hold a walk out from their classes to go vote and demonstrate their power at the ballot box and in shaping a nonviolent future for the US.  Supporting young people as leaders for peace in the US and globally is critical for addressing legacies of injustice and crafting new relationships for the future.
  1. Peacebuilding requires early action and sustained commitment. While the risks of US elections sparking broad-scale violence are lower than in many conflict-affected countries, we have seen incidents of violence and mounting hate speech around our electoral cycles. In other countries, the peacebuilding field advocates for early action to help prevent electoral violence, noting the need to begin preparations at least a year in advance, provide effective monitoring throughout the cycle, and sustain efforts to ensure the outcomes are fair and violence does not ensue.  We should apply these lessons in the US and begin thinking ahead to the 2020 elections, which promise to be divisive as well.  Drawing on experiences and practices of the international peacebuilding and democracy communities we can begin working now to help create safer, more transparent, and peaceful elections in the US.

Whatever the outcome of the 2018 elections in the US, peacebuilders here have an important role to play.  We can demonstrate our commitment to managing differences through dialogue and nonviolence.  We can promote narratives for inclusion, cooperation, and justice to counter hate speech and violent rhetoric.  We can practice what we preach and stand up against oppression in our own communities, during elections and beyond.

Please join Peace Direct in mapping local peacebuilding in the US.  Add information on groups you know doing peacebuilding work in your local community here.

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