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Political Violence, Community Safety, and Faith Leadership

Just a few weeks ago, RAFI-USA hosted a Community Conversation centered around the myriad connections between land and the historic struggle for civil rights and liberation by Black farmers, and the struggle against voter suppression today.

With the 2020 election nearing, the United States is in danger of experiencing political violence, which is sadly nothing new for our country. Voter intimidation and suppression have been synonymous with voting itself for many marginalized groups in the U.S. Whether it be the Wilmington, NC massacre and coup of 1898, the armed extremist group protests in Charlottesville in 2017, or the existing attempts to suppress voters through the enforcement of Voter ID laws, political violence, and voter suppression have been a consistent part of the history of the U.S. Now more than ever is the time for people of faith to live into the call of supporting both peace and justice by taking critical action steps to ensure a safe and fair political process before, during, and after November 3. Not only can faith leaders respond to political violence, but they can also start now to help prevent violence.

What Can Faith Communities Do?

We recently attended a webinar by Faith in Public Life and Over Zero, “Faith Leaders Preventing Violence Messaging,” and highly recommend it. It primarily focused on what faith leaders — who don’t expect to be targeted for racial or religious reasons — can do to act in solidarity with communities who may be targeted for violence or intimidation, and how to use messaging that decreases the chances of violence. Thorough toolkits on preventing political violence and a recording of the webinar are available here. Faith in Public Life also hosted a follow-up webinar on building a network of resilience in your community.

We highly encourage you to check out both webinars. Here are some of our takeaways:

  • The most important thing faith communities can do now is to proactively build relationships with other community members. Particularly for those which are predominantly white or do not face the threat of violence or voter suppression, the most important first step is to listen and consult with people or groups who may be targeted for political violence or voter intimidation.
  • Through these meetings and interactions, faith communities can come together to build a resiliency network. Any effort to support others should begin by listening to those most likely to be targeted. Before any action steps are crafted or scenarios are discussed, building trust and listening to the needs and ideas of others is necessary.
  • Consider ahead of time — and have conversations within your faith community ahead of time — about what you might be able to offer, or how you could respond in various scenarios. This will allow you to be honest with others about what you can commit to and follow through on.
  • Helping others have a sense of agency is critical during this time since feelings of powerlessness make people less likely to take action. Making sure that people know they have a choice and helping them identify concrete actions to take is vital.
  • The language we use can be extremely helpful or harmful. It is essential to use positive, inclusive, and humanizing language in these conversations.
  • Members of faith communities, particularly faith leaders in clerical garb, can provide moral witness by showing up to the polls to be a visible, encouraging presence, with signs thanking people for voting.

There are concrete, proactive steps that faith leaders and faith communities can take to both prevent and if necessary respond to political violence. People of faith can be a part of the collective effort to keep our communities safe, ensure everyone can participate in the political process without fear, and strive for the highest ideals of our democracy.