Two days after Election Day, and with the outcome of the presidential election still undecided, experts from across Massachusetts joined GBH News' Jim Braude, Margery Eagan, Joe Mathieu, and Arun Rath to discuss how the country might move forward in the weeks and months ahead.
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, fresh off a successful re-election campaign of his own, joined Braude and Eagan first and discussed this year's huge voter turnout among 18- to 34-year-olds, which he saw as a continuation of the local trend from this year's Democratic primary in Massachusetts. Since 2018, there was a 50% increase in votes from that demographic in Massachusetts.
"I think it is something that goes to how energized young people are about the issues of racial justice, climate crisis, the need for everyone to get health care," Markey said. "There's a really engaged younger generation that we have not seen in recent political memory, and I don't think they're going away."
Markey also discussed what could happen in the event that former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency, but is left with a Republican-controlled Senate, especially against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing political and social upheaval, and economic strain.
Phillip Martin, GBH News senior investigative reporter, has been covering the ongoing social upheaval in Boston and beyond. He joined Mathieu to talk about what’s happening in the nation's streets as demonstrators rally against voter suppression and the president’s requests to stop vote counting. “The ‘angry white man’ has spoken — that’s what this election is all about. A lot of that is about white grievance,” Martin said, noting that the protests have been peaceful. “The streets are talking a lot louder than many members of Congress these days.”
People have been taking to the streets to demand change for centuries in America, and Malia Lazu, an entrepreneur, founder of Mass VOTE and lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, began the next panel discussion by invoking Dr. Martin Luther King and his ultimate goal of reconciliation. “We’re going to figure out how to work toward and continue to lean in towards justice,” she said.
Lazu and fellow panelists went on to discuss the role of the news media and social media in creating and fostering political polarization. Dipayan Ghosh, a former advisor to President Barack Obama while in office and former Senator Hillary Clinton in her campaign for president, who now studies digital privacy and civil rights at Harvard University, noted that our society is experiencing a fundamental shift as technology changes how people communicate. He pointed to the prevalence of disinformation online, not only in English, but also in Spanish, as a deep concern.
The technology may be new, but the human desire to connect is not, according to Gregory Fried, professor of political philosophy at Boston College. He explained a classic tenet of political philosophy, which holds that as political animals people need to “see each other embodied,” and that anonymity brings out the worst in society. He told Mathieu that disagreements can be constructive but people don’t need to react every time, as is all too easy to do online.
Lazu noted that the root of polarization is not just political disagreement; rather, it's steeped in — and upheld by — centuries of systemic racism. “Someone that looks like me shouldn’t get shot in bed while sleeping. We need to make people’s bodies and lives matter,” she said, referring to the killing of Breonna Taylor in her home by police. And, referring to the video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police that went viral, she added, “it’s not the news media — it’s that 8:47 video.”
So, what's next? The panelists pointed to several areas for optimism in the weeks and months to come after the election is, finally, over. Although “movements take time,” Lazu encouraged viewers to get creative about how they can keep their activism going in their own lives and communities; for example, by supporting minority businesses. Fried said that the enormous increase in turnout among young people in this year's election is the best way to reinvigorate the long-held American ideal of ‘We The People.’
Next up, WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller shared his thoughts on the biggest challenge facing the next president, as well as the American people: overcoming deep political and ideological divisions to once again unify as a country.
"The challenge is always to transform a crowd into a community," Keller said, borrowing a line from a recent letter to the membership of the Archdiocese of Boston from Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley. "Donald Trump has proven to be a master at drawing and exciting a crowd. But not so adept at creating a sense of community beyond his own narrow base. That's why he appears to be headed for defeat."
"The challenge for Joe Biden, if in fact he's the next president, and for the entire Congress, is going to be to figure out how to transform a crowd into some semblance of a community," Keller said.
As the nation seeks moments of comfort amidst the uncertainty of the last few months, Porsha Olayiwola, the Poet Laureate of Boston, followed Keller with a powerful reading of her poem “what is the suffrage movement to a blk womyn?: an anthem" as a reflection on civic engagement.
Host Arun Rath concluded the conversation with a special edition of In It Together, in which he talked about the intersection of politics and the pandemic, including how the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and how to maintain self-care in times of heightened anxiety throughout the election, social unrest, and the pandemic. Guest Michael Curry, Deputy CEO and General Counsel of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, called the pandemic "our national Katrina," likening the mismangement of the crisis, and resulting devastation, to the 2005 hurricane.
Watch GBH News Presents - Election 2020: What's Next in its entirety here.