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On Violence, Democracy, and Voting: A Statement from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy's statement violence in Pittsburgh and around the U.S.

October 30, 2018

The murders of 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue; the attempted assassination of leaders in the Democratic party, along with reporters at a major television network; the shooting of two African Americans shopping in a grocery store in Kentucky – all these horrifying events, so random and yet so obscenely deliberate, have rocked our society to its foundation. Coming so soon before the midterm election, these events cause many Americans to fear for our democratic society in a way that they haven’t before.

Democracy exists as a response to violence. In the 16th century, the wars of religion forced western civilization to accept that disagreement, difference, and diversity, are inescapable. Liberal democracy emerged as a way for society to deal with those differences without violence. We argue and strive to persuade; we vote, and the majority rules. But with majority rule comes minority rights. Within wide latitudes we accept that everyone can think, say, believe, and live as they choose. We accept these freedoms for everyone so that we can assure them for ourselves. 

That is why these violent acts are such an affront to our democracy. They destroy the idea that society and disagreement can and must go together. These acts tear at the fabric of a civilization that was so costly to weave and that can so quickly unravel.

Assenting to these rights also means that we have a duty to defend them. Regardless whose lives are threatened, we must stand united against any such act. All of us, therefore, politicians and citizens alike, must recommit ourselves to the republican virtues of honor, public service, and, especially, courage.  

But in these few remaining days before an election, it is also right to insist that voting is itself a way to say no. Voting is not just a non-violent act, it is an act against violence. It is an act that affirms that disagreements can be both deep and abiding yet civil, that all of us have the right to have our say, and to live life as we see fit and happily let others do the same. For all who worry about our democratic society, this is one very important task at hand.   

- The McCourtney Institute for Democracy