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To build trust in our civic institutions, we need violence-free civic spaces

I recently attended a meeting hosted by Keep Our Republic, a group of leaders from across the political spectrum. The group's mission is to keep our democracy safe and free for years to come. Sign me up. On the heels of Spitfire’s launch of the “Replenishing Trust” guide, I was interested in what the group had to share. Here are some top lines that offer some guidance about how we as social justice communicators and organizers can encourage civic engagement and oversee safe elections as a way to build trust in democracy.

Research is increasingly showing that people expect political violence. Media coverage is amplifying this. Media is much better at and prone to cover civil discord than civil discourse. We need to call on the media to widen the lens and give a more accurate picture. Many people are contributing to holding safe and accurate elections in 2024. A record number of people are signing up to be poll workers. Media needs to quit overhyping every altercation and glitch. Sure, cover them — but cover the civil discourse and safe election preparation too. One absentee voter box dropped in the wrong neighborhood is not more important than 500 polling places opening on time, closing on time and having no issues.

When people are primed to expect violence at the polls, when serving on juries and when going to express our opinion at a community meeting, it leads to a sense of inevitability. For humans, this oftentimes engenders a sense of helplessness to stop it. Soon people believe this is a condition they must suffer through rather than a problem to solve.

Social justice communicators and organizers can flip this. The social norm we want alive and well is that there is no violence in civic spaces. People can disagree with each other about the issues of the day. That is an important part of democracy. But there is a big difference between smack talk and smacking. And the latter isn’t something we will put up with. To flip this, I recommend the following:

  • Frequently show that most Americans are against violence. Not all are joining up with militias and buying guns. Americans expect to get to and from the voting booth without being doxed, threatened or assaulted. We need to showcase this majority opinion so people know what the expected behavior is, and that people will enforce it socially.
  • Show actions that individuals and groups are taking to prevent violence giving people renewed confidence that violence is preventable and that others are being proactive about this. Everyone can contribute to violence-free civic spaces.
  • We need to condemn violence when it happens and hold those accountable who perpetrate it. Even if it is “one of our own,” we must stand up against any violence and call for accountability. The U.S. has strict laws, and society needs to uphold them. Online media platforms need strict community rules that prevent users from amplifying violence-inducing language.

Democracy requires debate and discussion. To engage fully and meaningfully, we need violence-free civic spaces. Let’s use this election cycle to reinforce that this is sacrosanct in America.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 24, 2024 at 08:40 am and is filed under Communication planning, Crisis communication and Trust. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.