Mediation, Neutrality, Political Conflicts and the 2020 Elections
- A Social Crisis: Sparked by racism and police brutality, and extending to violence and discrimination against women, LGBTQ people, Jews, Muslims, Asians, immigrants, and others
- An Economic Crisis: Sparked by the global lock-down, and extending to economic inequity, poverty, class exploitation, and prioritization of profits over people and planet
- A Political Crisis: Sparked by autocracy and denials of the right to vote, and extending to gerrymandering, the Electoral College, voting by mail, and the continuation of democracy itself
- A Health Crisis: Sparked by the Corona virus, and extending to Ebola and other diseases, the availability of health care for all, drug resistance, and attacks on science, disease experts, and the World Health Organization
- An Ecological and Environmental Crisis: Sparked by global warming and species extinctions, and extending to air, water and soil pollution, destruction of rain forests and coral reefs, use of pesticides and fossil fuels, and ecological unsustainability
These seemingly separate and unique crises intermingle and interact, making all the others more serious and difficult to resolve without addressing them as well. They can therefore combine, amplify, and synergize, potentially giving rise to a sixth, multi-systemic general crisis, leading either to profound, far-reaching, transformational changes; or to regression, retreat, barbarism, and collapse.
Through these crises and conflicts, we are rapidly approaching a point on which the future of our planet, our people, our profession, and our personal lives, will pivot. The most immediate and important of these points will be reached in November 2020, with the election of a U.S. President and members of Congress (and therefore the Supreme Court), which will profoundly impact our global future.
The potential consequences can be seen in the extreme polarizations we are witnessing, just in response to Covid 19 and racism. On the one side are many Republican politicians, flanked by white-supremacist ultra-right militias armed with assault rifles, confederate flags, conspiracy theories, and Nazi regalia, demanding the lifting of health precautions, and harassing minorities and people wearing masks. On the other side are many Democratic politicians, flanked by healthcare professionals, grocery clerks, essential employees, and members of progressive and left political groups arguing for facts, science, personal protective equipment, and empathy, demanding equality and wearing masks.
These escalating polarizations extend to efforts to halt gender inequities, police violence, global warming, and climate change; to the advance of autocracy, hatred of foreigners, and the acceptability of pollution and environmental destruction; to the willingness to cooperate, or even participate in international partnerships; to the coercive use of military force, nuclear threats, protectionist tariffs, and denial of medical aid directed against “hostile” nations; to the continuation of explicit, implicit, and systemic bias, and intolerance of diversity; to the survival of independent journalism; to the right to vote; to whether political leaders are above the law; even to the desirability of democracy and constitutional government.
Polarization, in every conflict, is a sign that we are approaching a crossroads, a definitive choice, a point of departure. It is a signal that something deep, fundamental, and systemic has already been born; that the past is over, yet the future is uncertain and insecure; and that confusion, nostalgia, resistance, and fear of loss are intensifying in an effort to reverse course and return to a world that no longer exists, and can no longer exist.
What has any of this to do with the practice of mediation, peace building, and conflict resolution? Ultimately, everything.
As mediators, it is often difficult for us to assist those who are in conflict to listen to each other, communicate, engage in dialogue, jointly solve problems, collaboratively negotiate, and not just settle, but resolve their disputes. It is especially difficult to do so in deeply divisive, highly emotional, and immensely consequential political disputes, where there is resistance even to the idea of conversing, negotiating, or engaging in dialogue with “the other side,” who are routinely stereotyped, demonized, and regarded with intense hostility and suspicion.
It is therefore critical that mediators, peace builders and conflict resolvers actively search for ways of plying these skills in political conflicts, and help turn divisive, excessively polarized conflicts in the direction of collaborative social problem solving, in part by designing, organizing, and facilitating democratic dialogues over difficult and dangerous issues.
Yet, it is essential in doing so, that we recognize the possibility that social, economic, political, health care, and environmental conditions can worsen and become so thoroughly polarized, and the parties so deeply discredited and reviled, that our efforts fail completely, making the work of communicating and connecting across even minimal differences nearly impossible — as often happens in active warfare, and under brutal autocracies and dictatorships…..
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