US elections crisis: An opportunity to build peace - Peace Direct

US elections crisis: An opportunity to build peace

Sharon M Leon via Flickr Creative Commons

As the Nov. 3 U.S. elections unfold, tensions are escalating. Political and social divisions are deepening. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to push for racial justice, even as reports of police violence against people of color continue. The coronavirus pandemic and related economic recession persist with no end in sight. Many Americans feel the very future of their country is at stake.

According to the U.S. Crisis Monitor, a joint project of the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the U.S. is facing a heightened risk of violence and instability during the 2020 electoral season. The data shows the biggest shifts – from July to August 2019 to the same period in 2020 – resulting in the heightened potential for violence and instability are due to three factors:

  • An increase in the use of force by government authorities against demonstrators;
  • An increase in the activity of armed non-state actors engaging with protestors; and,
  • Rising numbers of counter-protests across the U.S.

(For trend analysis, click here.)

For peacebuilders around the world, these trends sound all too familiar. Recently, Nigerian government forces shot into protests against security force abuse, killing civilians. In Pakistan and many other countries, the space for civil society dissent has been shrinking. In Belarus, anti-government protests have led to widespread arrests. And in Kenya and Burundi, elections are often the spark for protests and violence. Many international peacebuilders are expressing fears that the U.S. is looking more like countries we often call “fragile” or “conflict-affected”.

Fortunately, the crisis around the elections is being met by an outpouring of locally led peacebuilding across the U.S. Not only are record numbers of people exercising their right to vote, but new initiatives to protect and count every vote and to ensure a fair and peaceful election have sprung up around the country. In a time when polarization is rampant, many of these initiatives are nonpartisan. Many are drawing from the experience of civil society peacebuilders and other nonviolent movements around the world.

Restoring a strong democracy, undoing racial injustice, and bridging the partisan divisions in our country will take time, hard work and local leadership. But that’s what peacebuilders do.

One such initiative is the Trust Network, a coalition of groups with practical experience in electoral violence prevention, mediation, nonviolent civilian protection and peacebuilding. The network includes both locally based groups in hotspots around the U.S. and international experts who are setting up data monitoring systems. Its aim is to develop a network of trusted, local monitors, responders and messengers who can help tamp down potential violence and amplify voices for peace. The Trust Network offers trainings and is actively recruiting people to join the work during and beyond the elections.

Peace Direct is engaged with the Trust Network to bring the wisdom of our local peacebuilding partners from around the world to share with the group. Working with peacebuilders in other places has taught us that there is opportunity for positive change through times of crisis. Restoring a strong democracy, undoing racial injustice, and bridging the partisan divisions in our country will take time, hard work and local leadership. But that’s what peacebuilders do.

There’s still time for the U.S. to step back from the brink and build peace in our country. It is time that we all come together as peacebuilders and take advantage of this opportunity to open a new path toward greater justice and healing in our country.

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