Just a few days ago we celebrated United States Independence Day. Flags were flown. Parades marched through our communities. The day culminated with a wide array of fireworks. In the midst of all the picnics and parties, I wonder if we paid enough attention to the real meaning of independence. I wonder if we take our democracy as seriously as we should. If we did, we would demand that our democracy belongs to the people—to all the people.
By definition, democracy means equality and fairness. Unfortunately, in so many cases this seems to apply only to the wealthiest, hence most powerful. The power of wealth is demonstrated over and over during the election season when the most viable candidate is measured by his or her ability to raise money rather than votes. There is further evidence in the legislative process when highly financed lobbyists converge on elected officials to ensure that their wealth is protected during deliberations on laws meant for the common good—also known as equality and fairness.
Our democracy is 237 years old. We must re-visit the premise of our basic civil rights from time to time, lest we forget what democracy is all about. Throughout history, when we realized that equality and fairness was denied to some citizens, laws were revised to remedy the situation. Powerful examples come to mind such as the abolition of slavery, citizenship to Chinese persons brought to this land to build our railroads, provision for women of the right to vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Laws must stand the test of time spanning from generation to generation to prove that all members of the democracy are included.
At the turn of the 21st Century—when we consider race, ethnicity, and class—we finally experienced some level of equality and fairness at the polls. More African Americans and Latinos registered and voted in 2012 than in years before. In many states, there were fewer instances in which voters were denied access to the basic right that democracy affords. However, many more states still create structures intended to maintain control by the historically powerful.
Just when we thought legal protections were in place so that democracy could expand voting access to citizens in all states, it was interrupted when the Supreme Court nullified section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Court claimed that racial discrimination is no longer practiced in this country. The very states that have a history of racial discrimination can once again do just that. Because of a slim 5-4 Supreme Court majority, the momentous work of millions of voting rights activists must begin anew.
On July 2, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (the denomination’s biennial national gathering) renewed its commitment to join with the church’s Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries and other partners in this movement to reclaim voting rights for everyone. Our denomination will add its prophetic voice along with the voices of our faith partners, because equality and fairness are fundamental to our Christian teachings. We will be vigilant until a democracy that belongs to the people—all the people—is realized.
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.