by Joyce Herman
One of the strengths of the Pachamama community, both internationally and locally, is a commitment to encourage one another to see a wider set of possibilities, even as we look squarely at serious challenges.
As I have written before, democracy is what underpins the beautiful, simple mission that guides Pachamama Alliance - to bring about a human presence on earth that is socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling. If we ever took democracy for granted, we can't afford to do so anymore. Since 2020, a movement determined to find ways to obstruct civil rights and manipulate the election process has been gathering steam. Many of those who study these issues believe that what is happening may be the most serious threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War.
It is not too strong to say that recent legislation has massively increased impediments to voting – we are talking about 33 laws in 19 states, based on reporting from the Brennan Center for Justice. Primarily these laws are designed to prevent African Americans and other people of color, immigrants, and poor people from voting. Moreover, whether or not these groups manage to vote, legislation is also afoot to install officials empowered and willing to change the count and overturn results.
This legislative strategy on the political right arose after all of the officials who were involved in counting ballots from the last presidential election, regardless of party affiliation, concluded the former President had lost. Every judge hearing a case contesting those results concluded likewise.
That led those committed to re-installing Trump in the next presidential election to recognize that the most important contests going forward are for officials in charge of administering, counting, and verifying the votes. Basically, the idea is that it doesn’t matter who is running for legislative office because the vote-counters will rule. The Washington Post wrote that ”More than any other category of elected official, secretaries of state could be instrumental in overturning the popular vote in their state—an unprecedented move in American history—or take other actions that throw results into question.” All this is profoundly un-democratic.
How do we respond to this? That's what I've been asking myself and my community in the Rochester Pachamama Alliance. It's a serious challenge, if not an emergency.
Looking into that wider field of possibilities, I am reminded that committing to a living, breathing democracy that supports the Pachamama mission takes vigilance and concrete political action, and not just at election time.
So, what can we do?
Direct Action. A Rochester group, Postcard Friday, is working with Reclaim Our Vote to send postcards encouraging people of color to have their voices heard through voting. The Postcard Friday team acquired 10,000 postcards (!) and now the need is for people to fill them out with the non-partisan message from Reclaim Our Vote. See this great article, with photos, from City Newspaper about the group's activities in 2019-2020. When you sign up to take part, you’ll receive clear training, scripts, and materials, as well as the intangible benefits that come with joining a well-organized community of like-minded activists. Right now there is a February 14 deadline for postcards to voters in Texas because of an upcoming election, but there's plenty of need and reason to get involved later. For more information about the current effort and/or to be added to Postcard Friday's weekly email list, contact Trish Harren.
More action. MoveOn.org is urging voters to pay attention to the races for Secretary of State, especially in swing states. Their campaign is aimed at supporting voting rights officials committed to free and fair elections. You can support their work not only with donations but also by signing petitions and following through with alerts to contact your representatives, which is easier than ever, and still a basic, non-violent, democratic way to communicate your opinions.
Learn the fascinating history of democracy in the U.S.: "Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union": a documentary from PBS, tracing the ebb and flow of democracy in U.S. history from the American Revolution, through recurring cycles of civil rights progress and backlash, to the 2021 Capitol riot and beyond."
Take the current lessons. We've learned that ALL of the activities surrounding voting and vote counting matter. This has led to a focus on voting officials, who set the rules for voting and determine how ballots are counted. Until now their power has largely gone under the radar. Educate yourself, raise your own awareness, and learn how to speak about these issues. Here, for example, are two articles giving details on the role of officials involved in the voting process.
How ballots are actually counted, explained by three election officials. (Vox, November 2020)
Elections and Election Integrity (from the Policy Circle, this brief focuses on election basics and ways to ensure free, fair, and secure elections)
For an action-oriented angle on the situation, read Steve Bannon Is On To Something, a recent NY Times op-ed by Ezra Klein, who argues for Democrats to pay attention to and engage in local and regional races this year.
Follow the research and stay up to date on the current situation. Here are some of my own most valued current resources:
On the website Bright Line Watch, you can follow political scientists who monitor and report on the state of democracy. They compile hundreds of media stories and conduct relevant surveys.
A recent article We Need to Think the Unthinkable About Our Country by Jonathan Stevenson and Steven Simon, discusses the importance of vigilance.
Build strong alliances. This might be the most important thing anyone can do. Here is a video to inspire and get you started. From last month: An interesting conversation about why we must build alliances among women, Jews, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Begin at 5 minutes..
Be open to insight from new directions. Remember that worldwide movements for democracy can inspire each other in surprising ways. Timothy Snyder, historian and author of On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the Twentieth Century had what he called an “uncanny” experience on a recent visit to Poland. Walking at the edge of the woods just outside the center of town with his family, he heard a protestor blocks away reading aloud from what he soon realized was a Polish translation of his book!
In another example of how his message had spread, a Ukrainian protestor, recovering from a beating by the authorities, traveled to New York where his band played “Know your Rights” by The Clash. Snyder attended the concert and heard the 20 lessons from On Tyranny added to the lyrics of the song. At the same time, Snyder warns that Americans’ conviction about our “exceptionalism” when it comes to democracy can blind us to actual threats.
In conclusion, there is nothing more important than preserving, protecting, and reclaiming our democracy. It is deeply interwoven with everything we care about, including regenerating the earth, ending every kind of social injustice and inequality, and the mutual respect and interdependence implied in the concept of personal freedom.
To address the erosion of democracy, we must see and correct the injustices and prejudices that undermine the democratic system. We must be observant of efforts on social media and among groups to promote doubt, separation, dissension, and violence. Racism, anti-Semitism, ongoing harm to indigenous peoples and people of color, and gender inequality - all of these require us to examine our role, engage in educating and healing ourselves, and facilitate alliances with and among vulnerable groups.
© 2022 Joyce Herman