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St. Pete Buddhist rallies the faithful to go to the polls

A St. Petersburg Buddhism-based spiritual center is asking members to vote this year because “our country is in crisis.”

President Donald Trump “not only encouraged these violent acts, his response has been to blame the victims,” wrote Tami Wheelock-Long, who works for Shambhala St. Petersburg, a world-wide organization of meditation and cultural centers centered on Buddhism philosophy.

“… Recently, the President announced that he is a ‘Nationalist.’ We know this means a White Nationalist.”

Wheelock-Long referred to the pipe bombs mailed to high-ranking former and current elected officials and prominent Democratic supporters.

What did all these people have in common? They were all critics of the Trump agenda,” she wrote. The email also mentioned the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that claimed the lives of 11 congregants.

Wheelock-Long is calling on leaders of every Buddhist tradition across the U.S. to ask their ‘Sangha‘ to vote. Sangha are members of the Buddhist monastic community who often shy away from public life and rarely engage in politics.

“These are not normal times. I believe we as bodhisattvas should vote to help end this violence. The pain and suffering of so many Americans could be eased simply by shifting the power in the United States,” Wheelock-Long wrote.

She also called on members of the Buddhist faith ‘in retreat’ to hit the pause button long enough to vote. Buddhist retreats are typically periods of time during which followers stay in isolation and, in some cases, remain silent for various periods of time.

“So many lives are depending on this election. We need to stand up to this hate filled, racist, anti-Semitic president. Our fellow human beings need us more than ever right now,” Wheelock-Long wrote. “If the Buddha could have stopped Hitler by voting, would he have?”

The letter is indicative of the larger, nationwide vitriol surrounding this year’s midterm election. Many races, including Florida’s Governor’s race, have centered on or included references to candidates’ support for, or opposition to, Trump.

Democrats hope the contentious presidency and events that have unfolded since Trump’s election will push more voters to the polls in what they have described as a “blue wave.”

It’s not clear whether Wheelock-Long’s plea will drive any Buddhist followers to the polls this election, but it’s telling that a religious leader would call on a pause in ritual to vote.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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