Choose Democracy

November 1, 2020

The Unitarian Society, East Brunswick, NJ

Reverend Karen G Johnston

Choose democracy. 

That’s the title of this service.  I want to be clear from the outset, I am not advocating a particular vote for a particular candidate.  I cannot do that and will not do that. 

Despite a general assumption about this congregation, we do not all vote lockstep.  Even in presidential elections.  Even in this presidential election.

I am, however, advocating that all of us choose democracy, even defend it, and certainly, as our Time For All Ages story suggests, to protect it.

While this country has a riddled history of attempts and successes at disenfranchising eligible voters – usually voters of color – we have seen in recent years the expansion of such efforts in brazen and anti-democratic ways.  What is new – definitely in our lifetimes, if not longer – is that we have a sitting president who has not committed himself to a peaceful transition of power, should he lose the election. Or, frankly, if he wins. 

This, coupled with his mixed messages that leave him allied with white nationalism, makes choosing democracy both harder, and all that more crucial.

This seems like a good time to remind you that Unitarian Universalism’s Fifth Principle reads as follows

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

As I wrote in a memo to the Board of Trustees earlier this week, there are (at least) five possible scenarios that will substantially impact the nation in general and/or this congregation in particular. It would be beneficial if we were to anticipate them, not alone in our personal or family silos, ruminating and spinning ourselves into a frenzy, but together, so that we can imagine a response that is informed by our Unitarian Universalist principles. 

  • No clear outcome for an extended period of time.  We should count on this.  As I preached back in August, we can no longer think of it as Election Day.  We do not have a national election so much as fifty plus state-based elections and during covid times, that means an extended election season.
  • The sustained presence of irregularities.  I am not speaking here of voter fraud, which has been found to have no substantial basis and acts as a dog whistle to authoritarian-leaning elements. Unlawful and unethical-yet-deemed-legal barriers to all cast votes being counted.
  • Biden wins, yet Trump refuses to leave office.  How likely is this?  It depends on where you get your news and whose analysis you trust.  Yet, as I said before, this is the first president – ever? In our lifetimes – who has not committed to a peaceful transition.  If that is bluster, it still instills fear in the nation, which those authoritarian-leaning elements are using to their benefit. There have already been credible threats of violence from the far right.
  • Biden wins, Trump concedes, yet in the process of transition, Trump guts the integrity of the governmental system.  I do not know how likely it is that Biden will win. Yet a Biden win does not mean the country is out of the wilderness.  There is the possibility of the current president, on his way out, will wreak havoc on protections for the most vulnerable. There has been conjecture that self-interest will lead to raiding public resources for his personal benefit.  And not to go on too long here, but frankly, white supremacy culture and hetero-patriarchy do not go away regardless of who wins the presidential election.  And the Supreme Court is what it has recently become, making decisions that will change the landscape of access to full reproductive health, full marriage equality, full enfranchisement, and much more.
  • Trump wins, resulting in grief and fear for most in this congregation. We will need each other then. We will need to take care of each other, gently, fiercely. And take care of those who will be at ever higher risk.  And we shall.  We are willing.

This service contains music and poetry to validate your alarm and to give you, at least for this moment in time, a chance to imagine the possibility of a collective choosing of democracy.  Content that emboldens each of us to find that part of ourselves that is willing.  Content that affirms that in the end, even if that end takes its time in coming, all fascists are bound to lose.  Content that reminds us that alone, we are not enough, but as we join together, so much more is possible:

How can you stop them?
Alone you can fight, you can refuse.
You can take whatever revenge you can
But they roll right over you.
But two people fighting back to back
can cut through a mob
a snake-dancing fire
can break a cordon,
termites can bring down a mansion

Two people can keep each other sane
can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation
a cell, a wedge.
With four you can play games
and start a collective.
With six you can rent a whole house
have pie for dinner with no seconds
and make your own music. (Marge Piercy, The Low Road, excerpt)

It makes me want to cry, to scream, to hide, to escape into magical thinking, but I have to say to you because I love you: we must be prepared for chaos this week and in the weeks to come.  Just in case.

I hope that I am wrong.  I hope that have to eat crow and apologize to each and every one of you for falsely raising your fears. 

Have your loved ones’ phone numbers in your phone AND written down.  Reach out to the people assigned to your TUS Care Ring

in the spring – even if you don’t know them or know them well. This builds layers of connection and protection.  Share your phone numbers with each other. Stay connected.  The surest form of security is not having access to law enforcement; it is having living connections and deepening relationships and engaging in mutual aid – with those near us (neighbors) and those near us in heart (chosen family, family of origin, beloved friends).  Check in on people who you know lead isolated lives. 

Do the things that make you feel strong – look at the list I sent out in my monthly column. Pay attention as much as you can without risking your sanity. As well as take intermittent media Sabbaths, so you can stay grounded.  Put my cell phone number in your phone if it is not already there (it is in the directory).

In the coming week, there are ways to come together locally and online.  On Election Day itself, there is an online space for UUs across the nation, with spiritual practices every fifteen minutes, from 10am to 10pm. This will be on Zoom and on Facebook Live. 

From 9 – midnight, Community Church of New York is hosting a similar thing – go to their web site to access. 

On Thursday evening, at 8pm, the UUA – the “Mothership” for want of a better term – will be hosting a national vigil online, just as they did after the George Floyd murder.  Information on how to access all of these is going out in an email this afternoon or evening and can be found on our Facebook page.  While I would love to help you find these things, please don’t email or Facebook me to find it but search your email (or spam) for this information.

Also in that email is information about local outdoor, socially-distanced gatherings of which I am aware, one of which I have helped organize and we are co-sponsoring.  On Wednesday – around 4 o’clock – people are gathering in Metuchen and in Highland Park to show our support for choosing democracy.  The message: Every Vote Counts.  Count Every Vote.

This morning’s anthem– All You Fascists Bound to Lose – is an old Woody Guthrie song, updated by the fabulous Resistance Revival Choir. 

It’s not just a song.  There is social science there, as I have preached on before.  Erica Chenowith and Maria Stefan, in their research covering the whole of the 20th century and the first six years of this one, found that campaigns of non-violent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts.  They have found that nonviolent resistance presents fewer obstacles to high levels of participations of people like us, which contributes to enhanced resilience and a greater probability of tactical innovation. 

They have found that successful nonviolent resistance movements usher in more durable and internally peaceful democracies. 

Fascists bound to lose, when we come together, nonviolently, strategically, resiliently.

We can be prepared for the chaos that may well come in the days and weeks of this strange, stressful election season. 

We can prepare to respond nonviolently to irregularities and upsurges of violence, or support those who do with whatever resources we have: our financial resources, our creativity, our ability to make food, to honk our horn to show support, to make sure that those who are taking risks for our democracy know that they are not alone.  Let us be a people so willing.

May it be so. Amen.

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