Our bitter polarization won’t end with the election

October 15, 2020 12:28 am

Protesters argue with a counter-demonstrator during a “Reopen Virginia Rally” in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

By Michael Murphy and Steve Richardson

Virginians have a proud legacy of significant contributions to the creation and preservation of the Republic. The words “Give me liberty, or give me death!” were uttered by Virginian Patrick Henry in Richmond. The decisive victory at Yorktown won our independence. And of course, Founding Fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were sons of Virginia.

More recently, Virginia is the place where modern-day patriots stood up against racism and destructive nationalism. For example, when White supremacists marched on Charlottesville in 2017, a diverse gathering of citizens risked their lives to oppose them and advocated for a more inclusive future. 

With the election just weeks away, some of us cannot wait to cast our vote. In addition to control of the White House and Congress hanging in the balance, there is an important amendment to Virginia’s Constitution on the ballot that would fundamentally change how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn by creating a bipartisan redistricting commission. And many of us are simply looking forward to the end of a long, ugly partisan campaign.

Regardless of where you stand, we implore you to constructively participate in this election to uphold and advance the freedoms that others before us fought so hard to secure. There is too much at stake, both nationally and in the commonwealth, to sit this one out. 

The first and foremost civic obligation is to make sure your vote is cast. For those who are wary of going to the polls on Nov. 3 due to COVID, there are absentee and early voting options allowing you to cast your vote up to 45 days before Election Day. There is no good reason not to vote. Virginians make history, not excuses.

However, at this critical moment, making sure we all vote is necessary but not sufficient. While the outcome this November will undoubtedly impact our nation’s trajectory, one election will not abate the growing polarization and partisanship gripping our country. 

That is because the tumultuous period we are experiencing — and the rising division, distrust, and dysfunction permeating our politics — is the culmination of a hyper-partisan environment that has been building for years. The inability of the two parties to work together on a range of issues — big and small — pre-dates our current situation, and is the result of a multitude of political, economic and cultural divides growing over time. 

Because this challenge has been a long time in the making, there is no silver bullet to fix what divides us, nor will change happen overnight. Real change starts with each and every citizen not just voting, but also working within their circles of influence to help build mutual empathy and understanding with those with whom we may disagree. 

We are contributing to that effort by being part of an initiative called FixUS, which encourages deeper citizen engagement to combat the declining trust in our political system. This effort can help rejuvenate participation in the political process and fix our broken system.

FixUS is promoting a Civility Pledge in which voters promise to be respectful of others’ opinions and to tone down the rhetoric in this campaign. This may be challenging, to say the least, in today’s political climate, but it is imperative that we conduct ourselves in a way that promotes unity and progress long after the voting ends.

The pledge will create a foundation for national healing, regardless of the outcome. We encourage you to sign the pledge, stay calm, and listen to what your fellow Americans are trying to say.

The future of our democracy depends on your active, civil participation in this election. Please help us lead the way toward a more peaceful 2021 and cast your vote with the best interests of the United States and Virginia in mind.

Michael Murphy is the director of FixUS, a project housed within the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group.  Steve Richardson is a resident of Falls Church and a volunteer organizer of FixUS– Virginia.  

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