Here’s an inspiring message from TTFOI Rachel Viscomi:
As the United States engages a deeply consequential election, one thing I know for certain is that, whatever the final tally shows, we have a long road ahead of us. The election, while vitally important, can only do so much. It can tell us who will sit in the Oval Office, in the Capitol Building, and our state governments; it can tell us what ballot measures will win and fail; but it cannot show us how to build the world we envision. It cannot weave the fabric of our communities, or help us to learn from each other’s fear and pain and loss. It cannot create a sense of shared care, connection, and responsibility among us as we move forward.
In recent years, many have felt uncertain about the power of dialogue and connection in the face of deep divisions, while others have decried its wisdom in the face of insidious and enduring structural imbalances. From where I sit, the importance of empathy and compassion has only become more vital. I see no path to a more just, more equitable, more caring world that does not require that we embody justice, equity, and care in the way we interact with each other—without exception. While there is critical work that remains to be done in dismantling and rethinking many of the foundational assumptions and practices of our field, the work feels more urgent than ever. In these moments in which there are those who would continue to divide us and profit by our division, I believe it is radical to seek to hold space for each other, despite our many differences. I believe it is only by hearing from and bearing witness to one another’s pain that we can truly seek to move forward.
In our multiparty negotiation course last spring, we watched a powerful clip from a PBS documentary called “The First Rainbow Coalition.” The film documents how the Black Panther Party in Chicago worked across racial, ethnic, geographic, and political lines to build an unlikely coalition with the Young Lords and the Young Patriots, uniting Puerto Ricans, southern Whites, and Blacks. Despite the division and distrust between them, they managed to cultivate a sense of connection and common purpose by appealing to a shared desire for revolution and change. That the coalition did not endure is, paradoxically, a testament to its power and the fear it created in the established order. Over 50 years later, this improbable example of unity reminds us that impactful political and social change begins with building bridges to one another.
I know I am not the only one who has felt a depth of exhaustion and, at times, despair, in these last months. Many of us are running on empty. We are trying to care for ourselves, for our families, for our communities under trying circumstances with no end in sight. And we are working toward a better future.
My colleague Morgan Franklin is fond of quoting Alice Walker’s adage that “the most common way people give up their power is by not believing they have any.”
May we believe in our individual and collective power.
Director, Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program
Assistant Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School