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Opinion: We have to work together to protect democracy from threats

Carolyn Normandin and Kamilia Landrum

Escalating political tensions and the rise of political extremism have been felt acutely in Michigan. In the run-up to November’s election, our state saw the worst that extremism and the uncontrolled spread of misinformation has to offer. The challenges of the political moment have been enhanced by the most dangerous public health emergency in a century.

During an election like no other in recent memory, the gravity of the moment was felt by voters who made their voices heard despite attacks on our electoral process that continue to stoke the flames of political extremism. These threats are all too real for Michigan residents. Beyond the plot against our governor, Michigan has witnessed high-profile threats against our secretary of state, state representatives and our electors.

Voters made their voices heard despite attacks on our electoral process that continue to stoke the flames of political extremism, the authors write.

It is because these threats persist that the Anti-Defamation League and the Detroit Branch NAACP joined a broad nonpartisan coalition to share resources and expertise to protect voting rights and prevent the spread of extremism in our state. This year, upwards of 30 like-minded institutions representing diverse communities and oriented toward productive engagement in our democratic processes joined together to ensure Michiganians participate in our Democratic process unencumbered and irrespective of preferred outcome.

Through the Take Your Soles to the Poles campaign, the Detroit Branch NAACP canvassed 20,000 homes, made more than 50,000 calls, organized outreach to various faith-based, civic and labor organizations, created social media campaigns to mobilize voters and conducted voter registration efforts in the Wayne County Jail. Both Detroit Branch NAACP and the ADL supported voter hotline efforts and offered support from lawyers to protect voters from intimidation and harassment. 

Alongside the state’s residents and its municipal leaders, we have worked toward our shared goal to protect the electoral system in our state — and the processes, protocols and personnel it is composed of — from the threats of sabotage, misinformation and violence. This year, the ADL, the Detroit Branch NAACP and our partners have brought together leaders on a bipartisan basis to better understand the risks that our systems and voters face.

Prior to the election, the ADL and its partners held meetings with mayors, governors, attorneys general and other leaders nationwide to convey trends in extremism and offer tools to help them mitigate the threat. Across the country, the ADL reached over 20,000 law enforcement officials with these tools and worked closely with state leadership from both parties here in Michigan.

As the election ends and the winner is sworn in, our work will not stop. We must remain vigilant. Between 2019 and 2020 our country saw nearly 10,000 incidents characterized by racism, antisemitism, white supremacism and other forms of hate and extremism. Our state experienced more than 130 incidents, including the alleged plot against our governor, and threats against many other state officials. Confronting these challenges requires the ADL, the Detroit Branch NAACP and many other important organizations to band together and push back against these forces.

We remain firm in our belief that this threat can be countered with civic action, education and the commitment of our partners in state and local government. We call on policymakers and leaders at all levels in Michigan to consider all avenues that would foster an environment where hate and extremism are pushed to the margins, including legal, educational and regulatory measures. This must be accompanied by a bipartisan and full-throated rejection of efforts to traffic in conspiracy theories and extremist ideas — particularly those in public and political life.

Leaders from across Michigan’s civil society have proven that by working together we can inform and engage millions of voters and help protect access to the polls. With the help of organizations like the ADL and the Detroit Branch NAACP, state and municipal leadership, organizations like MichiganVoting.org and countless residents and communities, we can continue to exercise our greatest constitutional gifts and preserve our democratic institutions.

Carolyn Normandin is the Michigan regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. Kamilia Landrum is executive director of the Detroit Branch NAACP.