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Politics & Government

Milwaukee Advocates Celebrate High Voter Turnout But Say Healing Splintered Country Will Take Time

Susan Bence
Jennifer Nordstrom (center), senior minister of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, spoke of the importance of civic engagement and every vote counting at the post-election gathering in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday.

As talk of a Joe Biden presidential win in Wisconsin clashed with Donald Trump’s demand for recounts Wednesday, some community leaders gathered in downtown Milwaukee in celebration and to make it clear the voice of every voter is essential to our democracy.

About 20 people, some wearing clerical collars and others blaze yellow sweatshirts proclaiming “count every vote,” assembled in front of the central count building in downtown Milwaukee. Several spoke in celebration of the high voter turnout. Unitarian minister Jennifer Nordstrom could barely contain her enthusiasm.

“It’s exciting to live in a robust democracy where we’ve seen historic voter turnout; where people of all races and faiths and ethnicities and ages and backgrounds and sexualities and bodies and histories came out or sent in their ballots to vote," Nordstrom says.

One of the people fully engaged civically is Rija Rehan. They are interning with Leaders Igniting Transformation – a Black and brown-led group focused on nurturing the next generation of social and political leaders.

Credit Susan Bence
Rija Rehan is an intern with Leaders Igniting Transformation.

“Young people, Muslim voters, newly naturalized citizens and other groups have turned out in record numbers across the country. More people of color are accessing and participating in our democracy than ever before despite all obstacles,” Rehan says. “I am excited about this election and I’m committed to counting every vote so that we can tackle the challenges we face as a country, all of us.”

After years of battling social, racial and political injustice, Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces de la Frontera says a new strength is growing as more groups come together.

“We are stronger post this election — as a movement that’s standing up for the needs of people of color, for the poor, for working people. And we are going to get the change that we need because we are stronger after this election and moving forward,” Neumann-Ortiz shouted.

But when the fury and confusion around the 2020 presidential election subsides, what will it take to bring a divided country together?

Credit Susan Bence
Amanda Avalos (far left) with Leaders Igniting Transformation says her organization works year-round to cultivate grassroots power among young people, adding their voices need that deserve to be heard.

Amanda Avalos with Leaders Igniting Transformation thinks one step is to cultivate leadership among young people and then give them space to exercise it.

“I think what we can do better is listen. We get stuck in the process and a lot of time we’re opting people out before they’re part of the conversation. Young people are increasingly becoming stronger leaders and a stronger voice as a collective and they’re showing up,” Avalos says.

Emily Tseffos with a grassroots group, Indivisible Wisconsin, pulled the post-election press event together. 

She thinks fear drives much of the division in our country but says, "You can break down fear through love."

"I think we have to embark on a journey of healing and reconciliation. It will take the investment of our hearts and souls because it is a soul wound for the country and for the people who live in it." - Jennifer Nordstrom

She says groups like those that showed up for the press conference want more than inclusive elections, they ultimately hope to change hearts and minds.

“You see that in campaigns that are highly energetic and really focused on the message of togetherness and then do the work in between to make sure everyone understands about that value-based politicking,” Tseffos says. “That I think we need more of these days.”

Unitarian minister Jennifer Nordstrom — who is so jazzed about the get out the vote success — is more circumspect about healing as a nation.

“I think we have to embark on a journey of healing and reconciliation. It will take the investment of our hearts and souls because it is a soul wound for the country and for the people who live in it,” Nordstrom says.

Healing, Nordstrom believes, will take decades to achieve.

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