Thistlethwaite: Reject the politics of violence
There is an alarming escalation of threats of violence and physical violence against school board officials, teachers and health care workers, among others.
This has to stop now.
This kind of politics of violence carried out by extremists is exponentially increasing and is very dangerous for our democracy. Reason is shut down and conspiracies pushed by a few are trying to take over our national life and institutions.
We cannot let that happen.
The National School Boards Association and the School Superintendents Association felt compelled to issue a joint statement condemning this kind of politics of violence that is rising in response to schools trying to keep kids, teachers and administrators safe from a deadly pandemic. Their statement is from Sept. 22.
“School leaders across the country are facing threats because they are simply trying to follow the health and scientific safety guidance issued by federal, state, and local health policy experts…(F)or their hard work, school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers and others who work in service to our students are being subjected to online and in-person threats, abuse and harassment. This must stop.”
Threats of violence against health care workers for advocating face masks in school have been called “the other epidemic.” The pandemic has seen a dramatic rise in violence against health care workers who have been “kicked in the ribs” and “harassed at vaccine sites.” One hospital, “among the earliest and worst hit by coronavirus surge — has seen a recognizable increase in both verbal and physical attacks against its staff over the past 18 months.”
This is not the first time the United States has been riddled with violence in communities and in national politics. We actually fought a war over the institutionalized violence of slavery. After the Civil War, legal slavery was ended, but the politics of violence of lynching, convict labor and terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan replaced it.
The 1960s saw a terrible rise in the politics of violence with the assassinations of a sitting president, a presidential candidate and many civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We could conclude that the politics of violence is the norm for the United States. But that is not entirely true.
Peaceful protest, widespread voting and the peaceful transfer of power in our national, state and local elections have also been normalized.
There is much we can do to turn the tide against this new rise in the politics of violence.
First, one of the best ways to deal with violence is to stop it before it begins.
Much is made of the so-called “influencers” that have arisen in social media, for good and for ill. The politics of violence is very much a product of influence, both from the top down and the bottom up. Violent rhetoric and action are being normalized and even rewarded.
This must be disrupted with counter-messaging, especially coming from the local level. All politics is local and the politics of violence is ultimately local.
For example, local leaders need training in identifying patterns that lead to violent outbursts and how to de-escalate them. There is a dearth of philanthropy in this area and that must be corrected so that targeted groups get the training they need to do preventative work, as well as handle coordinated attacks. A good resource on this whole issue is by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Democracy, Conflict, and Governance program.
News media, especially at the local level, can be helpful in countering the emotion-laden politics of violence with the emotion of what it is like for health care professionals to care deeply for those who are sick from the pandemic.
Kids have suffered during the shutdown year, and profiles of teachers and students back to school, facing challenges and coming to terms with the reality of keeping safe while learning are crucial.
We cannot reduce the politics of violence to a mental health issue, but there is no doubt that the enormous stresses of our time are affecting people’s mental health. It is such good news that Eagle County is building up its mental health resources.
You know as well as I do that I have only touched on the enormous issues we are facing in countering a rise in the politics of violence.
A good first step, however, is for citizens and community leaders to say in one voice “this is completely unacceptable and must stop.”
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.