Category Archives: Minority Rule

Aftermath — Part 2: A Constant Struggle

Aftermath — Part 2

Amelia Boynton was my landlady in Selma, Alabama. She was also a prominent local civil fights activist, one of the handful of Black Selmians who had managed to badger her way onto the voting rolls despite segregation.

Mrs. Boynton, on the Pettus Bridge, 1965.

When she was knocked out cold on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge during the “Bloody Sunday attack on March 7 1965, she was 54 years old, and had been a working advocate for thirty years. When the Voting Rights Act was signed in August, she was about to turn 55.

Mrs. Boynton lived for 48 more years. That was long enough to see a Black mayor elected in Selma, a Black woman sent to Congress from its district, and a Black man sitting in the White House oval office.

But she also lived long enough to note that the poverty rate in Selma and the Alabama Black Belt was still as high in 2015, 50 years after  the Bridge was first crossed. She also saw the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, with the 2013 Shelby County decision. She was then102.

Two years later, she joined the Obamas, Congressman John Lewis (who had also been knocked out during the 1965 attack) and many others to cross the Pettus Bridge on the march’s 50th anniversary. And that time, like the Act itself, she was on her last legs. Mrs. Boynton died that August, a few days after her 104th birthday.

Mrs. Boynton was one of many pillars of the struggle for voting equality. Yet the arc of her life is uniquely emblematic of it, tracing its rise to a summit of achievement, followed by a  backslide which is sinking ever closer to where she started out.

Its course marks my first reflection on the 2022 midterm aftermath: what we’re facing now, on many fronts, will take a long time to repair. Voting rights demolition started well before this election, and more is all but certain to come. Regaining its upward momentum will likely take a long time.

Long-term: This observation should be a truism, a platitude. But in my experience, it isn’t. Americans, and too many liberal Quakers (including me) have assimilated to a culture of ever-shortening attention spans. Along with fast food, fast cars, fast internet, a fast track and fast weight loss, we expect a fast lane to social change and justice.

Sometimes big change does happen “fast’: after 65 long years of formal Black disfranchisement, it was a mere five months (the blink of an eye in Congressional time) from “Bloody Sunday” til Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.

But that was likely a once-in-a-lifetime cataclysm. Much more often, it takes longer. A lot longer.

This is a bipartisan truth, which the right seems to have learned and applied better: the movement to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act took 48 years. The crusade against Roe vs. Wade lasted 49; neither took their “eyes off the prize.” (How long will it take to topple Obergefell and same sex marriage?)

Looking further back, I see the smiling visage of my personal Quaker hero, Lucretia Mott: bringing encouragement she worked to end slavery for more than 50 years, and for black equality thereafter. And she “inherited” that imperative from her parents’ generation. However imperfectly, it’s fair to say Quakers labored and agitated on this matter for a century.

Lucretia also worked for women’s equality almost as long, though women did not win the vote til four decades after her death in 1880.

Such long-term labor, planning, or even attention, is increasingly rare today; for too many of us, a “long term” view barely extends beyond the next election — and have you noticed? These days, election season never ends. Yet how many of our Quaker institutions know how to transmit this long term Quaker work ethic to our children? (Hint: not many.)

I have no magic potion for reawakening the capacity for Quakers to think up and put together long-term work. Nevertheless, I maintain it’s the starting point for moving from hand-wringing irrelevance to faithful witness and actual influence,

And I think I’ve found a few clues. I’ll share some of them next time.

For now, here’s a teaser: during the civil rights years, freedom songs helped me and so many others hang on. And one, which I recall joining while in jail, sums up a lot. No one knows who “wrote” it; the movement did. It’s called “A Constant Struggle.” Here’s the refrain; verses varied:

“They say that freedom, is a constant struggle.
They say that freedom, is a constant struggle.
Yes, They say that freedom, is a constant struggle. . .

Oh Lord, we’ve been struggling so long
That we must be free,
We must be free . . . .”

Barbara Dane & the Chambers Brothers: “A Constant Struggle”

Watch it here, performed by Barara Dane & the Chambers Brothers

“Aftermath” — Part 1 is here.

Wendy, The Fair Daredevil

A long time ago, before we crossed paths, the Fair Wendy rode a motorcycle from Ohio to Pittsburgh and back, then later to Chicago. She loved the independence, the adventure, and the wind.

Monday was Wendy’s birthday; she’s now — well, never mind. I got her a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.

She still has the motorcycle, under a tarp behind the house. Fortunately (from my perspective) it’s too rusted to be cranked up.

Continue reading Wendy, The Fair Daredevil

Amish & The Vote: Their buggies are cute; their clothes & dialect are quaint; their food is good (& fattening). Their politics? Well . . .

New York Times – Opinion: Guest Essay

Doug Mastriano and the Potential of Amish Voters in Pennsylvania

Ms. Kristian is a journalist and a fellow at Defense Priorities, a foreign policy think tank.

Former President Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania in 2020 by just around 80,000 votes out of more than 6.9 million cast for president. This year, in the background of the state’s governor’s race — in which Attorney General Josh Shapiro is expected to best State Senator Doug Mastriano — there’s a tension playing out among an unlikely group of voters with the potential to change future elections there:

These photos are from south central Pennsylvania, in a heavily Amish & Anabaptist area, some years ago, taken by the blogger.

the tens of thousands of Pennsylvania Amish, Mennonites and other Christians in related sects who have traditionally refrained from voting.

It is the unusual campaign of Mr. Mastriano — a retired army colonel involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election — that has raised the possibility of an increased Amish vote in particular, starting with the white bonnets and Shenandoah beards that dotted the crowd at his primary victory party.

Mingled among ordinary political revelers in campaign regalia, these plainer people may have been some variety of Amish or members of the CMC, a denomination formerly known as the Conservative Mennonite Conference, to which Mr. Mastriano himself has been repeatedly linked.

The candidate’s own religious beliefs have proved difficult to nail down. The Mastriano campaign has a practice of ignoring almost all media requests; the CMC congregation in question did not respond to my repeated requests for comment.

But a debate about political participation — once sharply limited or entirely forbidden by strong religious convictions about violence, power and the state — increasingly involves the Amish, Mennonite and related communities, conservative and progressive alike. A permanent plunge into politicking would be a major break with longstanding belief and practice for these Christians. It could also have long-term political implications for the whole country, beginning in Pennsylvania but in nearby Ohio, too.

The umbrella term for these groups is Anabaptist. The Amish and Mennonites are the best known. Some Anabaptists are Plain or Old-Order, known for their distinctive dress and low-tech lifestyles. Others, like the congregation I joined as a young adult uncomfortable with flag-and-country evangelicalism, wear modern clothing and happily use the internet.

Linking these groups are a handful of historical-theological distinctives, especially rejection of violence and coercive power as incompatible with the Christian life. Anabaptism doesn’t require adherents to be apolitical or as separate from mainstream society as the Amish have tended to be, though Anabaptists have generally avoided military service.

Christians may not “employ the sword,” and it “is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate,” declared the Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession of 1527. Jesus rejected political power and violence, the confession said, and so must his followers “so shall we not walk in darkness.”

Especially in the last decade, however, that tradition has begun to fray. Amish, Mennonite and other Anabaptist Christians are debating and practicing political engagement to a degree that once would have been unthinkable.

Mr. Mastriano’s possible ties to the CMC are a good case in point. An Associated Press photo of the victory party pictured the pastor of a CMC church where Mr. Mastriano’s wife, Rebbie, has reportedly held membership. People who appear to be Anabaptist appear in footage of campaign events where Mr. Mastriano has rallied alongside Mr. Trump and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

His candidacy has raised controversy among Pennsylvania Anabaptists, and the CMC, in its Statement of Practice, still officially rejects involvement in “any office, career or organization that requires us to employ the use of force, military service or retaliation to accomplish its objectives,” a traditional Anabaptist perspective.

 

The strangeness of these bedfellows is less about Mr. Mastriano’s specific platform than the very fact of his candidacy; his willingness, stated in a prayer to God, to “seize the power that we have given to us by the Constitution and by you”; his regular touting of his military service; his enthusiasm for the militaristic and vengeful Mr. Trump; and his skepticism of the separation of church and state. This would be unremarkable were we talking about support among ordinary evangelical voters. But for Anabaptists, it’s exactly the “walk in darkness” we once fundamentally eschewed.

 

And this shift is not unique to Pennsylvania; G.O.P. outreach and upticks in political engagement were reported in Amish communities in Michigan and especially Ohio over the past six years. Nor is it unique to Republicans. The biggest surprise of my seven years in a Mennonite Church USA congregation was how rapidly, how eagerly many of my coreligionists were diving into political action. There, the politics were typically pro-social-justice, anti-Trump progressivism — very far from Mr. Mastriano’s culture-war Republicanism. But the accelerating rush into politics was strikingly similar.

That politicization was limited in my local church, but in the broader denomination, political engagement seemed to be on an inexorable rise. At a denominational conference in 2018, I was startled by how political much of the content was. Our confession of faith looked to God for true justice, but in one conference session after another, justice seemed a primarily political hope, often tied, explicitly or by clear implication, to voting out Mr. Trump.

I’m not alone in observing this shift among Anabaptists left and right. American Mennonites are feeling the “seduction of political engagement,” the Anabaptist scholar John Roth has noted, lamenting that often their “political witness … basically aligns with the partisan divisions of the broader culture.” Mennonite Church USA’s denominational discussion around the 2020 election simply assumed political participation, and in 2020, Mennonite pastors across six denominations addressed rising political polarization in their churches.

Political operatives have taken notice, too, and in some cases are actively encouraging Amish and Mennonite forays deeper into political territory. As The Washington Post reported in 2019, Republican activists have identified the Amish and other theologically conservative Anabaptists as potential new party members, even founding a project called Amish PAC to recruit voters for Mr. Trump. The political action committee, which took in about $200,000 for the 2020 election and has reported raising about $31,000 for this cycle, has bought billboards and ads in local periodicals. Initially, many Amish people were resistant to the idea of voting, but “since 2016, every single year, it gets a little bit easier,” an Amish PAC official told The Post. “I think behaviors are finally changing.”

Increases in new voter registrations from the Amish-heavy Lancaster, Pa., area in 2020 suggest he’s right, even if the numbers remain modest. In 2016, researchers estimated, about 1,000 Amish people cast votes in the county out of about 15,000 eligible voters. The potential, though, is there for meaningful differences in close elections. And while it’s hard to get a firm tally of potential Anabaptist voters, they easily number in the tens of thousands in a few key states.

Data from Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies put the Pennsylvania Amish population north of 84,000, with 80,000 more in Ohio, and these numbers leave out more traditional but distinct Mennonite groups. It’s the theologically conservative factions — those more likely to vote Republican — seeing rapid growth: Pennsylvania’s Amish population nearly doubled in the last two decades. Still, it remains relatively rare today for the Amish to actually vote.

But the looming potential for the end of Amish and Mennonite wariness of politics, the disintegration of this tradition, looks to me like a weather vane in an ill wind. As American partisanship becomes more desperate and vicious, even Christians once adamant that our faith puts real constraints on pursuit of power are now inclined to shake off those strictures.

Yet however much I rue it, I can’t deny this is where many Anabaptists are moving. A recent issue of Lancaster Farming ran an Amish PAC ad alongside a passionate letter to the editor headlined, “We Can’t Vote.” Two issues later, the vehement rejoinder came in a new letter: “You Can Vote.”

Bonnie Kristian (@bonniekristian) is the author of Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community.” She is a columnist at Christianity Today and a fellow at Defense Priorities, a foreign policy think tank.

2022: The Aftermath – Part 1

Imagine that these dreaded midterms are over.

What happens next?

As to the electoral results “que sera sera,” what will be, will be. No predictions will be offered here, except this one:

Whatever the outcome, I am dead-sure it will not be the end of our national time of trial. Win lose or draw, the authoritarian forces will still be busy, expanding on the battering ram impact of their captive Supreme Court, using it and Congress to buttress and expand minority rule in and beyond the so-called red states.

Even if progressives win some key races, I expect they will still feel, and be, largely on the defensive.

Further, as soon as the polls close on November 8, the political and media focus will shift to the next horse race in 2024. That struggle will surely be momentous, and the chatter about it nonstop. But here I’ll mainly ignore it.

Instead, I’m going to consider the 2022 aftermath from an insular, even sectarian perspective, that of my faith group, the Quakers, or Religious Society of Friends. Continue reading 2022: The Aftermath – Part 1

Quote of the Weekend: Jamelle Bouie Does It Again

Jamelle Bouie is increasingly a voice crying in the wilderness, and increasingly important to read and remember, as in these excerpts:

Minority Rule Is Steadily Undermining Our Democracy — Again

Jamelle Bouie, New York Times –  Oct. 21, 2022: Continue reading Quote of the Weekend: Jamelle Bouie Does It Again