Election Day 2020
It is Election Day. This is the day that so many of us have been anticipating and dreading since November 4 th, 2016. It may have felt like many decades since that all to memorable election, but can you believe that it was only four years ago? The calumny and catastrophe that our social and political fabric has borne over these four years is immense, and I know that I’m feeling the weight of that in my shoulders and in my gut.
As I write this, I’m sitting at the Minneapolis Area Synod office awaiting calls from polling places about voters facing disruption, agitation, and intimidation. I’m part of a Rapid Response De-escalation team, a group of clergy and congregants, trained in non-violent direct action ready to respond when things go south at nearby polling places. Church folks have some gifts and strengths that make us ideal responders in these scenarios; familiarity and experience engaging with some big feelings, practice serving as a non-anxious presence in anxious situations, and a routine of grounding ourselves in the grace and mercy of a God who acts powerfully in our world.
As of this moment, we’ve been pretty bored. A sign that things have mostly gone smoothly at polling places across the Twin Cities. Here’s hoping it stays that way.
What I’m wondering now, as I wait, is what happens tomorrow? What happens when we have a real sense of what the political leadership of our country will look like over the next handful of years?
I try not to be too anxious about the many and varied possibilities, but I can’t help but think ahead and wonder.
How we respond to the results of this election will obviously depend on the person and their experience, but I’m wondering especially how we respond individually and collectively as people of faith, as Christians. Collectively, our tactics, our timeline, and our motivations will be different depending on the results of today’s election. That is most certainly true. And yet, if we learn anything from these last four years, I hope it’s that our call as people of faith will remain the same.
For many of us, and for many of our faith communities, issues related to immigration were suddenly centered in our consciousness because of Donald Trump’s cruelty and his administration’s vindictive policies. My congregation declared itself a Sanctuary Congregation in the month’s following the 2016 election along with nearly 60 other communities of faith across the state. Thousands of people gathered at airports across the country to protest Trump’s first and subsequent Muslim ban. We raged and mobilized public actions when DACA was rescinded.
But the truth is that life for immigrants in the United States, especially those who have dark skin, has been dangerous and full of terror for many generations. Deportations under the Obama administration reached record levels, with many calling the President the Deporter in Chief. DACA recipients were routinely pitted against their parents in any legislation that might offer even marginal protection for the population of young immigrants. Immigration law has been a mess in the United States since its founding.
Racial inequity and the all too common occurrence of police violence and brutality has gripped the country in the last year in ways that we haven’t seen in a generation. When George Floyd was murdered in May, many of us had already been outraged by Trump’s comments about white supremacists (very fine people), his reveling in the dog-whistle of law and order, and his constant vilification of people of color who disagreed or stood up to him. Watching the scene of George Floyd’s murder on Chicago and 38 th, many of us sequestered in our houses while social distancing, sparked an outrage and a lament that energized a movement that was already powerful, eliciting responses from elected officials that have often been all too quiet.
But the truth is Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, and Philando Castille were all murdered while Obama was President. Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers were murdered before many of us were even born. And countless named and unnamed Black men and women faced police violence and state sanctioned oppression before, between, and after. Disparities in education, housing, and criminal justice are not new under the current administration.
Questions about poverty and income inequality have become central elements of campaigns on the left, and even in certain parts of campaigns on the right. Polarization and division are often identified as the number one issues facing our country at this moment. Climate change is marching on, promising to devastate parts of the globe in the very near future.
But you know what, these were all issues before Trump was elected, and they will remain long after he’s gone. I don’t want to downplay the serious threat that I think the impulses that elect a person like Trump pose to our Democracy and our country. Those threats are very real and very serious. I mean, I am currently prepared to respond to fascist agitators at polling places in Minnesota for God’s sake.
I also don’t want to suggest that we can’t make a difference, because if I believe anything it’s that we can, and have, and will. But the evils that we face are often more consistent and persistent than we let on. Sin is pervasive and duplicitous. It morphs and evolves and transmutes. It sticks around. No matter the results of tonight’s election, we will still need to organize for immigrant rights, and criminal justice reform, and an equitable distribution of wealth. We will still need to build power, influence decision makers, and hold our leaders accountable. And for the church, for this family who has been called to follow Christ, we will still need to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, and serve and accompany our neighbor.
We can do that.
I’m not sure if it’s optimism or resignation or both, but I’m feeling a little bit better tonight than I was, even yesterday. Because I’m remembering all the ways that my job will remain the same tomorrow, and next year, and the years after that. I’m remembering that the life we live in Christ doesn’t shift as much as we think under the shadow of particular administrations. I’m remembering that we have all the spiritual, communal, and mystical muscle memory for times such as these, whoever is ultimately elected to the Presidency.
I prayed this morning for a safe and powerful election, and yes, I prayed that Donald Trump would lose. But as the sun goes down, and we get closer and closer to tomorrow, I’m praying instead for courage, discipline, and the kind of faith that will keep me moving and organizing and loving my neighbor. No matter what, tomorrow’s work will need doing. And we will be ready to do it.
Originally published at https://nicholastangen.com on November 4, 2020.