Pearl River The divisions in politics around the world have often and always been violent. Party adherents attack the devotees of over parties. Rivals eliminate rivals in order to hold on to power or gain power, or in milder cases, jail and exile them. In the United States, we like to pretend the periods of political violence are behind us, so last century or two ago, but we now know better after January 6th and Trump-time. Hundreds of election officials have indicated that they will quit before the 2024 presidential election, because they do not believe that the violence will be contained, and they are being threatened. Politics is dangerous business. Always has been, and, sadly, seems that it always will be. As H. Rap Brown memorably said, “violence is as American as apple pie.”
In Britain, there are 650 electoral constituencies that make up Parliament. In this relatively small country, that means that elected officials are a lot more local and well-known to their voters, than we might imagine. Doctor’s offices in the UK are called “surgeries,” and in a long tradition, the one-on-one meetings by elected leaders with their voters are called “constituency surgeries,” providing an opportunity for a personal checkup on issues and interests in a democracy. Tragically, a conservative parliamentarian was stabbed to death recently in such a surgery. This is not a one-off situation. A handful of others have been killed or wounded from different parties as well in similar situations. There’s now debate there about whether politicians need to end such one-on-one meetings and retreat to Zoom or behind a plexiglass screen in permanent social distancing or perhaps someone will suggest a prison visit type scenario with a phone hookup.
No doubt, security has to be increased, but we can’t eliminate personal contact with our political leaders, or the only ones talking are those with money, and all the listening is to those same groups and contributors. Temporarily, perhaps there should be more meetings in public buildings where there are metal detectors like we find in almost all US government buildings now and airports. Still, that seems extreme, and I will bet you popular politicians will still hit the hustings knowing that’s where they can meet and move the voters.
Violence is not conquered by hiding, but by proving that it doesn’t work and confronting it head on, but that’s not to say that politicians – or any of the rest of us working with and among people – need to be reckless or foolhardy. There’s still no substitute for good judgement.
Nonetheless, we know that we have to persuade people. That’s why organizers, like politicians, hit the doors. We need to meet, listen, and visit with people on their ground and on their terms, not at our convenience behind shields and walls. My bet would be that pols in Britain and elsewhere will still go out in public and go meet people. They might be wearing Kevlar, but they’ll be in the crowds. We need to stop the violence, but we can’t staunch it with dollar bills and pound notes. We have to confront it body and soul, face to face, hand to hand.