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Making real the promise of democracy in the face of armed insurrection

Count every vote and Black votes matter signs
Rally outside the Philadelphia Convention Center, two days after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, calling for all votes to be counted.
  Photo: Ronna Bolante / AFSC

Yesterday, spurred on by exhortations by the president of the United States, a mob of white supremacists and Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election. This attack on democracy was shocking, but not surprising given the increasing violence, dehumanizing rhetoric, and outright lies that have been normalized over days, weeks, and years leading up to this moment. We are saddened to hear reports that four people are now dead and many more injured.

For decades, political leaders and media producers have been feeding a sense of white grievance to gain power and profit. Our screens and airwaves have been filled with rhetoric that devalues the ideas, humanity, and needs of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); women; LGBTQIA people; non-Christians; government leaders and workers. This demagoguery has created fertile ground for a rise in white supremacist violence.

We hope that this is a wake-up call. Our nation needs to undertake the long and difficult task of dismantling white supremacy and all forms of oppression in our communities, institutions, media, and government.

While we grapple with the legacy and current fruits of white supremacist thinking, we must also address the ways in which our culture affirms and perpetuates violence. Violence inherently devalues people and prevents trust-building efforts among communities. As a Quaker organization that is founded on the faith that every single person deserves to be treated with dignity, we abhor violence and the logic of dehumanization that supports it. That applies to armed mobs as well as to the violence of the state.

At Black Lives Matter protests and protests throughout U.S. history, BIPOC people and their allies have faced immediate opposition, arrests, tear gas, and violent instigation by police. In stark contrast, reports from yesterday’s insurrection showed police taking a dramatically more permissive approach – a blatant reminder of the enormous racial inequities in how laws in the U.S. are enforced.

As we grapple with the Capitol takeover and the events that preceded it, we all must see the politics and rhetoric of white supremacy – and those using white supremacy to divide us – with new clarity. We call on leaders at all levels of our society – businesses, governments, media, faith groups, civic organizations – to speak out against the baseless conspiracy theories about the election that the president continues to promote and pledge their support for nonviolence and building up democratic institutions. We call on the president and his advisors to immediately and unequivocally lead in this.

And we call on people from across the political spectrum to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of democracy, liberty, and justice for all. This means supporting a peaceful transition of power. It also means protecting and expanding voting rights, supporting the right to peacefully protest, and challenging the systemic racism and militarism that made the events of yesterday possible.