Josh Hild via Unsplash

This is not news to anyone who has been living in politically divided areas of the country, and certainly not to marginalized communities who have suffered from violence and oppression for generations, but over the course of this past year, it has become undeniably apparent to the entire nation and world.

If the elections have shown us anything, it is that the U.S. is in dire need of peacebuilding.

When results were announced, there were mass celebrations in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, and the international community seemed to breathe a large sigh of relief. But there were also protests against the results in many places, and court cases challenging them will continue. Conflict escalated in the lead-up to the elections as the count took some days after the polls closed, and President Donald Trump has yet to concede. Many of his followers will continue doubting the results for months or even years to come.

Similar to how the murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide awakening to the depths of racism in America, these elections have exposed the depths of our political division and the fragility of our union. They displayed the height of leadership failure from the current president and revealed the stark contrast between two ideological visions for the future of the country. What’s more, they have reminded us that whatever our deeply held beliefs about the other side, there is no overwhelming political majority in this country between Republican and Democrat.

These elections also have shown us some of the best of our country. After one of the most contentious elections campaigns in U.S. history – amid a surging pandemic and ongoing civil unrest – vote counting is continuing, and Americans waited as patiently as possible for the final results. U.S. voters turned out in record numbers on Election Day, voting peacefully alongside their neighbors. Thousands of people volunteered to help get out the vote, protect the vote, count the vote, and ensure every person’s right to participate in that process. The TRUST monitoring and response network, in which Peace Direct participates, shared reports in real time of warning signs and incidents occurring around the country. They are also highlighting the local responders that successfully de-escalated conflicts in places like Minnesota. Peaceful protesters gathered in key cities to hold vigils for the results, and faith leaders around the country held watch and offered a calming presence at the polls and at protests since. In his first speech as president-elect, Joe Biden called for healing, rebuilding relationships and giving one another a chance.

The renewed focus on bridging our divisions in this country, as well as the multitude of citizen-led efforts to prevent violence and hold space for peace amid such an unprecedented time of tension in the country are a welcome reminder that we can manage the stark divisions that have split our country without violence. They remind us that, despite the divisions we saw in this election, the most important foundation of our democracy – the commitment of ordinary Americans to resolve our differences fairly and non-violently – is what will help our country recover and heal in the months and years ahead.

Peacebuilding is not naïve. We should expect further conflict in the days to come as the expected political wrangling, court battles, and protests continue. We will still need to practice extraordinary patience with one another and our political process during this time, but practicing patience does not mean doing nothing.

Here are five things you can do now to help pave the way for peace and healing in the U.S.

1.Keep calm and speak up against violence – While political divisions will persist, we should all agree that violence is not an acceptable response. Whatever your circle of influence – with friends, family, congregations, businesses, media – you can be a voice for peace. Urge calm and a commitment to no violence in your community.

Amplify messages of peace. Post on social media, write a letter to an editor, or speak to your neighbors. Do not share posts or messages that inflame tensions or denigrate others.

2. Reach out to others – We should not wait for political leaders to resolve their differences to start rebuilding community where we’ve been divided. Now is a good time to call our family, friends, and neighbors with whom we may disagree politically and practice active listening and empathy across our differences. Try to just ask how they are doing and let them know you want to listen. If the conversation is too hard or becomes heated, stop and try again another day. We can all be reminded that behind the pain and hate that has been exposed in our country, there still lies a great groundswell of our common humanity.

3. Create space for peace – Join the +Peace coalition in opening more space for healing by downloading their Peacebuilding Activation Guidebook to learn more about peacebuilding and organize an event in your community.

4. Share hope – While this kind of electoral crisis and conflict is new to us, it is not so different from what many other countries and communities have experienced in other parts of the world. We can learn from peacebuilders who have lived through electoral crises, and much more, elsewhere. Read our recent article on Peace Insight with advice from local peacebuilders around the world and share it with others.

5. Connect with other peacebuilders in your community – Local peacebuilders (like you!) are everywhere. Connect with others in your community who want to help prevent violence and build peace. Look for groups in your area on our U.S. peacebuilding map, add your own organizations, and join local efforts in your community to keep up the work for peace.