ICPJ steps back to reflect, refocusing on ending voter suppression, healing community

During the pandemic, I realized how much of my work at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) is focused on conflict resolution and conflict support, and how important that is when we do coalition work or relationship building and recognizing that at this time, at this moment, there’s so much unsettled energy we weren’t aware of before.


We’ve realized sometimes we need to step back to reflect and not keep pushing to just do something. Recently, as part of a team planning a statewide event, we realized, “You know what, we don’t actually have the capacity to do this right now.” In order to maintain the relationships that we’ve been building, we actually just needed to step back from the event, and doing so was a way for us to push against capitalism and white supremacy by not centering what we could “produce.”


We realized that the relationships we have are what’s important because we need each other for the long haul. My Co-Director and I were talking about this feeling, and it’s a phenomenon about how things are moving so fast because in our work there’s so much going on.
There’s so much need, there’s so much to focus on, and so we keep pushing. At the same time, this is the kind of moment when we need to actually reflect. This is the exact moment when we need to grieve, take stock of the collective capacity of ourselves and our members, prepare for what is coming, and understand how we fit into that. Then we will be able to focus our energy in ways that can be more powerful than if we just keep pushing.


With the upcoming election, we’ve been working on voter engagement and addressing voter suppression. We need to continually build community power and practice democracy so we recognize how it works, what our role is in it, and what we can do to bring it more in line with our collective values. We know voter suppression is real and what it looks like. We see 2020 as the start of our 10-year clock — whether we are going to be able to stem the tide of the climate catastrophe in front of us.


We recognize how tied that is to the political decision-makers and changing political will, so we can’t take any election for granted. Here and in neighboring Detroit, the voter suppression machine is in full force. To combat that, we have been sharing information about how to register to vote, how to make sure your absentee ballot counts, and how to become an election worker.


We’ve been meeting regularly with collaborative action partners, and it’s important to me that we start our meetings with a check-in. After one of the police shootings this summer, I asked, “How do you find healing in these times?” Many of us struggled to answer. It’s tough, but this shared historical experience is requiring a lot of folks to think about what it means to feel healed and whole in a different way.


It’s important and powerful for us to continually expand our circle of who needs to be safe, protected, and cared for in order for us to feel safe, protected, and cared for ourselves. Extending that circle out further and further is what it will take for us to keep changing, as we need to, and to right the inequities that we see or know to exist.

Desirae Simmons is a co-director of the Interfaith Council on Peace and Justice in Ann Arbor. She lives in Ypsilanti. See more leaders' stories in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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