Nate Nehring: We need to recommit to nonviolence in politics

As MLK told us, we can overcome oppression and violence without turning to oppression and violence.

By Nate Nehring / Herald Forum

Over the past few years as a public official, I’ve had quite a few opportunities to interact with local middle school and high school students on the subjects of local government, community involvement and respecting those with whom we disagree. I’ve had a great time talking with and learning from these students, as I’ve written previously in the Herald Forum. I seem to learn something new with every class visit, but one constant is the desire from our local youth for a more civil and respectful approach to politics.

Given these positive interactions, I was stunned, as I imagine many would be, to read the results of a recent poll on partisanship and political violence from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Among the more surprising results from this poll were the responses to a question on political violence. The poll results showed that across party lines, younger (defined as under 50 years of age) Democrats and Republicans voiced between 32 percent and 44 percent approval for “assassinating a politician who is harming the country or our democracy.”

This gives a pretty grim outlook for the future of our country. It seems that the perceived toleration for political violence is already taking a toll, with fringes from both sides of the aisle playing a part. Just last week, a planned assassination plot against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh ended in arrest, with the suspect reportedly telling authorities he planned to kill Kavanaugh in order to give his life “purpose.” Earlier this week, an arson attempt occurred at the office of state Rep. Andrew Barkis when two men were caught on camera smashing a window and throwing a lit flare into his office. Also in the last couple weeks, we’ve seen new footage of the violence which occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

This behavior is completely unacceptable and must not be tolerated. It seems to me that the responsibility for turning this frightening trend around is shared by all of us who want to see our country prosper. In reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

We can and must set a good example for future generations. This requires an inward reflection on respect for our neighbors (even and particularly in light of stark political disagreement), valuing ideological diversity as an opportunity for learning from one another, and embodying Dr. King’s words in our daily actions.

Nate Nehring represents District 1 on the Snohomish County Council. He lives in Arlington.

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