Beware of groups, candidates seeking to undermine voting rights, violence
October 26, 2022
“There’s nothing wrong with Illinois that can’t be fixed with some conservative common sense,” reads the website Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey, the Republican nominee for governor.
On Aug. 16, Bailey spoke at a rally at the Illinois Capitol sponsored by AWAKE Illinois, a conservative organization that focusses on parent advocacy, to address “radical sex education standards.”
AWAKE also targets school boards, objecting to critical race theory, aiming to ban books they find offensive and inapropriate, and protesting against nationwide sex ed curriculums.
Bailey has sought the organization’s support, and AWAKE has provided it, assured that he supports their goals.
The reach of groups such as AWAKE goes beyond school boards. Inflammatory causes are being used by candidates and advocacy groups to motivate voters using fear, playing into the polarization of political and human issues and the influence of elections.
At their core, these inflammatory issues spur voters to see their own freedom and livelihood as being on the ballot in the upcoming election, only a few votes from being taken away.
Candidates such as Bailey are incentivized to frame issues this way, prompting a passionate base which is more likely to donate and vote.
“Funding is a major problem right now where candidates are trying to attract money for campaigns,” U-High history teacher Cindy Jurisson said. “They see that the best way to get money is to churn outrage and fear in voters, so they feel they are voting out of concern for their very survival.”
With the funds to advocate for issues, these groups frequently target marginalized groups.
Recently in west suburban Downers Grove, a Drag Queen bingo event organized by the public library was canceled after an onslaught of threats. The library also received a letter, addressed by “Your Friends at Maga,” and accompanied by a bullet and a Confederate flag.
Members of a Facebook group planned a protest outside, one member even suggesting people “bring weapons” to the LGBTQ youth-aimed gathering.
We have people who are dealing from a sense of profound fear because they no longer see a place for themselves in American society. That perception can lead them to use strategies and endorse claims that do not follow democratic norms.”
— Cindy Jurisson
After the event was canceled, members of AWAKE Illinois rejoiced in a blog post, celebrating a “victory for the protection of all children.”
David Goldenberg of the Anti-Defamation League has witnessed extremism among a select conservative base gain momentum in past years.
The ADL’s Center on Extremism noted 100 right-wing extremists running for office in the 2022 elections, with many of the candidates also holding ties to conspiratorial, fringe ideologies and groups.
While political groups have long sought and obtained influence over American politicians, the question arises as to why groups such as AWAKE seem to exert more power even as they become more radical.
Dr. Jurisson believes AWAKE has formed from a fear of belonging.
“We have people who are dealing from a sense of profound fear because they no longer see a place for themselves in American society,” Dr. Jurisson said. “That perception can lead them to use strategies and endorse claims that do not follow democratic norms, and they think that they’re justified in doing so because they have no other options.”