Dharma Vote, a self-described “community of mindfulness practitioners dedicated to social political engagement,” is meeting every week until the US midterm elections on Tuesday, November 8.
The Zoom sessions are held every Sunday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, during which time volunteers meditate and write letters together to encourage potential voters to engage in the democratic process. There will also be additional sessions throughout October with guest teachers and talks on social and political topics, including the environment.
“We care about a lot of things. We care about the environment, we care about reproductive rights, we care about economic justice, we care about so many different causes,” said Kristen Rae Stevens, a meditation and yoga teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner and consultant, and Dharma Vote’s lead organizer. “Come and bring your letter- and postcard-writing, tell us what you’re working on. Tell us about your local elections and local concerns.”
Dharma Vote was started in March 2020, prompted by Buddhist teacher Ethan Nichtern, asking a group of students what they might do ahead of the November 2020 presidential election. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Zoom became the only way for volunteers to meet, and letter-writing became the focus because it was one thing everyone could do together while online, Stevens said. After the 2020 election, Dharma Vote continued to write letters for the 2021 Senate runoff elections in Georgia that saw Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff elected, the Virginia gubernatorial elections in the fall of 2021, and community-oriented work with organizations including Black Lives Matter.
Dharma Vote’s newsletter has more than 1,600 subscribers, and the Slack channel has more than 250 users from across the US. Stevens said that more than two years into the pandemic, inviting people to join in another virtual meeting can be a tough sell, but that the group is committed to creating an “open and heart-forward space” where the participants can talk about challenges, lift one other up, and find solidarity and support.
Guest teachers have included Buddhist teachers Ethan Nichtern and Sharon Salzberg, and Reggie Hubbard, a yoga teacher, activist, and founder of Active Peace Yoga. Stevens said that the group hosts guest speakers involved in government and policy as well as dharma teachers.
“A lot of what our community asks for is being held in the space by someone who is in deep practice, but also for information,” Stevens said. “We have a lot of people who are steeped in dharma practice but have very little political organization or political knowledge. And so they’re kind of like: How does this work?”
The group initially began with a nonpartisan focus, Stevens said, but has since slowly become more partisan, leaning left, and supporting Democratic candidates.
“At this point, I don’t think if someone were to have differing ideas or thoughts that they would come to the meetings,” Stevens said. “I would hope that we would be able to hold a wider space for discussion, if it was a respectable discussion. But we haven’t had that opportunity,” Stevens added. “We’re also not a monolith—there’s a lot of representation in how people are seeing or experiencing what’s going on, even within more Democratic party lines.”
More information about Dharma Vote, including the newsletter sign-up and events schedule, is available on their website.
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