What Comes Next? Reflections and Resources for Responding to January 6

We know from more than a quarter of a century of working with colleagues and students from around the world and from our own work in the United States that democracy is fragile and democratic systems of governance are only as strong as our ability to sustain just and respectful relationships. 

The January 6 events in Washington DC should have surprised no one. The rhetorical justification for disrupting the peaceful transfer of leadership in the United States has been on full display for years. In dark corners of the online world, it has mutated into a toxic stew of conspiracy theories and fantasies of a lost Eden and a final battle of redemption. The boundaries between our open online lives and the darker parts of the digital world have grown porous. On January 6, it all spilled out into the open. 

January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, a fitting day for a lot of people to experience sudden insight into the true nature of where this country is and where we might end up if we don’t do something. Here are some indicators that we are reaching a new understanding. 

  • The mainstream media immediately recognized and called out the differences in law enforcement response to the mob that invaded the Capitol and the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.  We are reaching a cultural tipping point in the awareness of racial disparities and injustice in policing. 
  • Much of the media (including Fox News) called those who invaded the Capitol rioters, a mob, and marauders and they acknowledged the presence of white supremacists and QAnon conspiracists in the crowd. We are being more honest about the threat of domestic terrorism and the radicalization of our neighbors.
  • Brian McLaren — a Christian author, activist, and former pastor — reminds us that we need to figure out why many who stormed the capital did so in the name of Christian faith. We who claim Christian faith for peace are recognizing that we need to have hard conversations with Christians who don’t share our views about current social and political challenges.  

Clear sight is only the first step. We have years of work ahead of us if we are going to call this country into the full fruits of equity and justice; the necessary foundation for a robust democracy. We have seen the power of language and symbols to mobilize people to violence. When working to transform the drivers of violence, we need to be equally attuned to the power of our words and symbols. We need to be precise and accurate in our descriptions of what has happened while building bridges to our neighbors who are starting to recognize the threats to democracy. 

Center for  Justice and Peacebuilding 

Strategic Leadership Team

3 comments on “What Comes Next? Reflections and Resources for Responding to January 6”

  1. Federico Reggio says:

    (a few thoughts from a restorative justice viewpoint)
    As an advocate of Restorative Justice, I am convinced that polarization never helps. Neither retaliation, nor rough justice: you might strongly disagree with your opponents, you might well point out how certain undeniable limits have been violated, you might invoke personal responsibilities and yes, this might be all legitimate claims. You might feel anger, frustration, even fear for the loss of some legal and ethical borderlines that appeared undeniable, whatever they may be.
    But (as I have also learnt with and from many of you during my stints at EMU), you never solve a problem imitating its logic, despite from a different angle. This would only increase it. Therefore, it is, in my opinion, necessary to use more caution in all communications and to understand that a “violation of dialogue” should be addressed in a way that does not prevent dialogue itself. If you want to change a state of things, to protect or foster certain values and principles, your action – and the change process – should embody those values and principles.
    The issue at stake is more than "pros and cons": it is to restore a commitment in the search for the truth and for the common good, able to transcend particular opinions and political alignments. This is the challenge. To be indeed "restorative" and enhance conflict transformation processes even when you feel that your most important values, and you as a citizen, have been victimized.

    (from a mediation / conflict transformation viewpoint)
    I deem that most Americans feel victims in this moment, probably on both sides. This is a commonality that you can probably focus on, despite the “narratives” and the elements around which such feelings concentrate could appear hard to reconcile, if not opposite.
    From my (external, European, Italian…) viewpoint see anger, frustration, fear and I hear claims from many sides that seem to focus on the protection of values, interests that each party esteems as undeniable or at least vital.
    The true challenge is to resist the temptation of taking sides and “demonizing” the opponent; it would be important to avoid labels (fascist / communist; terrorist / stealer…) that in the end are functional to preventing a deeper and more critical analysis of the situation. It is also important to be careful on commonplaces, which usually gain immediate consensus but often hide complexity, thereby enhancing “double standards” and “deforming lenses” in reading facts and situations.
    In other terms, openness to complexity as well as care for relational networks are key for transcending those polarities that, if not solved, could easily turn the “opponent” into an “enemy”.
    Political processes are not linear, and the “real life” of citizenship is all but something that is written in the books and immediately applicable: it is often the result of a complex interaction of forces and narratives. This interaction can be “explosive”, though, and can be also “driven from outside”: in physics one principle is that the “mass” goes where a “force” moves it. Being conscious of the forces at stake (from both sides, including the possible manipulative use of information and media, especially social networks) is a first step: could the second be an appeal to reason and common reasons more than to forces? There is, on the background, the underlying question: is politics the creation and expression of majorities, or does it embody a research for common good and the protection of common values and principles? If so, what are the basic commonalities that keep your communities, your country united and “meaningful” as it is?
    (from a Christian viewpoint)
    There is a fine line that separates the political meaning of a religion and the possibility of manipulating religious contents for political purposes. Being Christians embodies a set of beliefs, values and understandings that project into social and political action, as it is not a mere private fact: it touches a vision of the world. But there is always a risk to transform religion into a “political product”. Principles and goals invert, and religion can become an instrument in the hands of power, as well as a byproduct of a social or political design.
    In the history of Christianity there has always been a struggle between such approaches: one has produced very important gifts to the world (culture, solidarity, example, care) and the other has caused the parallel risk of transforming religion into a means for persuading people into choices or behaviors that little have to do with spirituality and with the core-values that characterize “being Christians” (despite the many differences that occur between confessions and denominations).
    As Christians, we know that we do not “possess” the truth, we cannot “translate” God’s thought and will into our limited human means and categories: our being “in syntony” with God’s Logos starts with the consciousness of our limitedness in separating good and evil (which is by the way one of the symbolisms connected to the original sin in the Genesis’ narration). “Why do you call me good master? Only God is good”, and God works in mysterious ways, which require discernment and humbleness, as well as courage and the possibility of finding yourself “walking against the flow”. We are asked to cooperate to the “light of the world” and to being “salt of the Earth”: what does that mean? Which attitudes shall be cultivated? Is this compatible with some contemporary “megatrends” that seem to sanction anyone who is not “aligned” with those ideas? How can certain values and principles be contextual without falling into a full-fledged relativism that turns those values and principles into “anything goes”?
    As a Catholic, these days I would recall the example of Thomas More, a great philosopher and lawyer. In his disagreement with the Power, he did not accept to subdue his conscience and religions convictions to the King’s will: this resistance, though, was not violent; he defended himself in a legal way, within a legal process, thereby presenting arguments and reasons. And he died not to bind his conscience to personal or political interest.

  2. Bonnie Price Lofton says:

    Federico, Your words in response to the “What Comes Next?” piece posted by CJP’s Strategic Leadership Team touched me on a level that is far deeper than the points made in “What Comes Next?”

    I was mildly surprised by the Leadership Team’s praise in its first point for the mainstream media’s reporting — the same media that garners increased profits when it focuses on mayhem of any kind (from plane crashes to riots), interspersed with titillating trivia (like Tiger Woods’ relationship issues). I noted that the second point on the “radicalization of our neighbors” and the third point on our need to have “hard conversations” with those who call themselves Christian – because presumably our group has better claim to the Christian mantle – seemed intended to evoke a sense of righteous indignation for me to act upon. This did not happen in my case. I felt numb.

    Perhaps my numbness was linked to this: The only Trumpian-QAnon member of my immediate family who might have joined the invasion of the Capitol had just died. Her 71-year-old decomposing body was found on Dec. 29 in her small apartment by our local police department after I noted that her car had not moved for at least a week, maybe longer. She apparently died of natural causes (maybe Covid-19, though that can not be ascertained when a person died many days earlier). She died as she lived. Deliberately alone, except for her online conspiracy-universe friends. By her bed was a laudatory book on Trump, with a bookmark where she had stopped reading it before she died. Long ago, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but she had refused any form of treatment. My 95-year-old mother provided my sister with lodging, utilities and a car; my sister’s $730 monthly Social Security check covered her food and gas. She had a concealed gun permit. I was always afraid she would turn her gun against those she hated – including me, her own mother, and her immediate neighbors. She was unable to hold down a job.

    I offer these details by way of saying that my sister gives me a glimpse into who might be attracted to a Trump-type universe (here in the USA, or in Italy, or elsewhere in the world). She was mentally sick. All of her co-conspirators may not qualify for the same diagnosis as she had, but most of them appear to be in the grips of some kind of inner turmoil, to say the least. At a minimum, they feel screwed by the status quo. And then their unhappiness gets cynically tapped to increase the profits of certain businesses or to increase certain people’s political powers.

    What is the answer to this?

    Jack Kornfeld, a widely read author on Buddhist-style meditation, believes “during these challenging times, it’s important to steady our hearts so we can tend to ourselves and then respond and tend to the world around us from a place of a wiser, more peaceful heart.” He points out that it makes most sense to start with ourselves, then to radiate calming light into our families and immediate circles, which will then continue to flow further.

    Federico, I feel you were saying something similar when you wrote, "If you want to change a state of things, to protect or foster certain values and principles, your action – and the change process – should embody those values and principles."

    I nodded my head when I read these words of yours: "In other terms, openness to complexity as well as care for relational networks are key for transcending those polarities that, if not solved, could easily turn the 'opponent' into an 'enemy'."

    Finally, I endorse your cautionary words about believing that a particular version of Christianity is the right one in political terms: "We are asked to cooperate to the 'light of the world' and to being 'salt of the Earth': what does that mean? Which attitudes shall be cultivated? Is this compatible with some contemporary 'megatrends' that seem to sanction anyone who is not 'aligned' with those ideas?"

    Let me be clear: I do participate in the political process. I have donated considerable dollars to Democratic candidates in this election and earlier ones. I have gone door-to-door to try to defeat candidates whom I felt were racists or demagogues in other ways. Today I plan to convey my dismay to the four Republican members from Virginia in the House of Representatives who supported overturning the pro-Democrat election results.

    However, I am under no illusion that “my side” has a monopoly on the truth or on high-minded values. My financial donations land me on email lists where the flood of appeals for more money usually strike me as phony and hysterical. In short, I end up feeling manipulated by “my side.”

    My answer is to try to quiet down the outer noise – often taking a break from the flood of information and misinformation – and to focus on steadying myself inwardly and to further helping those nearest and dearest to me. Peace begins with me.

    Thank you, Federico, for the time you took to write your thoughts – amazingly well-written in what is not your first language – and for prompting me to ponder my own thoughts and to try articulating them in writing.

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