I was 10 years old when our family friend, Bill McClure, ran for Circuit Court Clerk in Henderson, Ky., and I was tapped to be the campaign’s youth chair for the Highlander Acres precinct. Obviously, it was a highly coveted political appointment, and I took my position quite seriously, knocking on more than 200 doors, explaining why my piano teacher’s husband, Mr. McClure, would be far better at issuing state drivers licenses than the incumbent.
Mr. McClure didn’t win that election — my first foray into politics — and I can vividly remember sobbing at the kitchen table, listening to the election returns, when the reality of that painful loss sunk in. (For the record, he carried my precinct by a sizeable margin.)
I went on to work on many campaigns as a young person, including Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential bid, headed statewide by another close family friend. President Carter — one of my heroes — visited Henderson during that campaign, and returned again while in office, and I got to meet him.
Both before and after I was old enough to vote, I volunteered for gubernatorial and congressional candidates, and even led the Young Democrats at the University of Kentucky during Walter Mondale’s not-so-stellar run for the presidency. That November was a double whammy for me, because I already had been selected to work the following summer in the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Senator Walter D. Huddleston, but that opportunity never materialized, because that’s the same year that Huddleston lost his seat to current-Senator Mitch McConnell. (I had to settle for an internship with a smarmy Representative, one who eventually went to prison during the House Banking Scandal of the early 1990s. But that’s another story.)
Suffice it to say, I learned early on that elections have consequences. But far more important than any candidate’s win or loss, or my personal investment in it, is the impact that elections have on the policies and programs that public officials oversee, initiate, strengthen or dismantle. Will opportunity extend to more people? Will the poor get poorer? Will all children have access to quality education? People’s lives are impacted, literally, by the voting booth, where we make important, shared decisions — not only about who serves, but the direction they will take us.
In my office hangs one of my favorite possessions — a framed poster-portrait taken in 1890 in Omaha Nebraska of about 30 leaders of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement. Included in the group photo are legendary activists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and even the Rev. Antoinette Brown, the first woman ordained into Christian ministry.
I often find myself staring into their wise eyes, pondering the perseverance of their 70-year fight to secure women the right to vote, a campaign most of them never lived long enough to see realized personally. I similarly marvel at the determination of African-American civil rights leaders who fought for these same rights and against all efforts to disenfranchise their full participation.
Their labors for equality are a sacred story for me. They make me far better than a “proud American.” They, instead, ground me as a committed, engaged Christian working for a better world. Prayerfully, I always vote, because it is a faithful, loving response to God and for my neighbor in need.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.