How Local Influencers Can Model Healing Post-Election
A small town newspaper begins a community conversation about a path forward
I am sure many of you, like me, are worried about the state of our nation. The intense polarization, the othering and dehumanization of our opponents, the assumptions we make about how our opponents perceive us and what they’ll do to us and to our country if they win, and the incessant drumbeat of information (true and false) are both exhausting and frightening.
But here’s the thing. We live in America but we also live in local communities. And the leadership and tone set in those communities at all levels, in all manner of institutions and organizations and all manner of people, matter too. They matter a lot.
So I was especially heartened today to learn that the editorial board of The Berkshire Eagle, a paper based in Pittsfield, MA, is beginning a conversation about how to heal our communities after the dust settles on the most divisive and consequential election of our lifetimes.
The Eagle, like the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, where I sit on the board, have been the impetus for this effort. They are trusted community partners, influencers and convenors. Together, institutions like these across the country can help foster community cohesion, de-escalate polarization and help our communities to come together post-election.
Here’s what The Berkshire Eagle wrote on October 26. I hope many other local newspapers and media outlets will issue the same clarion call to their readers to imagine a way forward that values mutual respect and humanity.
Our Opinion: Seeking the path forward through polarization
On Election Day, a grueling marathon will make its final lurch toward the finish line, but the road toward healing for a nation wrought with unprecedented polarization will still stretch long into the horizon.
At the end of a year marred by pandemic-induced mass death, racially charged civil unrest, widespread economic anxiety and relentless politicking, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will face off for the final time on Americans’ ballots. One will win and one will lose, but both will likely be just fine in the aftermath. What will ultimately become of our city upon a hill, however — from sea to shining sea, for the fortunate and the least of these — will be determined not just by this singular electoral outcome, but by how, and if, Americans can come together as greater than the sum of our parts and stronger than the forces that would divide us.
Unfortunately, the winds of division remain strong and likely to affect our country’s post-election tack — and have lit some embers close to home here in the Berkshires. The nation’s eyes were drawn to Dalton earlier this month when a large political display made out of hay bales was set aflame. And residents in Otis worry that the worst of politics has even reached their small town, as people across the political spectrum complained of stolen or vandalized endorsement signs.
Afterward, one Otis resident put it best: “We’ve got to get good at talking to each other, even when we disagree.” It’s a prescient prescription that we have little time to waste in adopting. Whatever the impending electoral outcome, we will all have a pressing bipartisan project to take up in the immediate aftermath: reconciliation. The challenges we now face require a nation divided to stand together. The first question is not what we will aim to reconcile, like our values and priorities, it’s simply how. After the votes are counted, how will we get better at communicating across the chasm of ideology even as it widens?
We don’t think one person has the answer to this question, which is why we’re asking for your input. What are the prerequisites for reconciliation — as a country and as a community — as we seek to divert our path away from the precipice of polarization? How do we even begin this process in the wake of a historically rancorous campaign season and a year of such tribulation?
This is not a call for last-minute ideological messaging and jousting, but a call for conversation-starters that leave no one out. Most people likely already know what they want on Nov. 3; how we move forward together will be the pressing question on Nov. 4. As a newspaper, we want to be a proactive and prominent part of this dialogue for our community and beyond. Help us figure out where to start. Send your thoughts, in 150 words or fewer, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1. On Election Day, we’ll publish as many of your responses as we can. Be sure to include your name and town with your response. Though we won’t publish it, do include your phone number in case we need to verify your response with you. Sending us a response here will not count against our policy of one letter per writer every 30 days.
As the dark clouds of political polarization gather, let us find the silver lining together — let’s get better at talking to each other.