Written by Connie Larkman
The upcoming presidential election is less than two months away, and congregations of the United Church of Christ are focused on community education and advocacy with National Voter Registration Day coming up on Sept. 27, to make sure everyone who chooses to vote has a voice this year.
As part of this month's Our Faith, Our Vote initiative (OFOV), church leaders are underscoring the importance of getting those eligible out to vote, noting that in 2008, six million people missed the opportunity to vote because they missed the registration deadline in their state or didn't know how to register.
"Voting is at the heart of the democratic process. We, the people, are the heartbeat! Informed, engaged voters are critical to a vibrant democratic process and a robust marketplace of ideas," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington D.C. Office. "Our common life suffers when our electoral process is not fair and accessible for a diversity of voices to be heard. Ensuring that eligible voters have the opportunity to register to vote is an essential part of the process."
That's why UCC clergy and congregations, a dozen with the assistance of grants from Justice and Witness Ministries, are reaching out to eligible voters in their communities. Fellowship Chapel UCC in Detroit, which has a voter information session scheduled this week, is just one of several UCC churches around the country organizing around issue education, ballot initiatives, and registration so that everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to do so.
Yvette Anderson, the OFOV captain of the Detroit congregation said the Saturday, Sept. 10, session "will include somewhat of a civics presentation that will help participants connect the dots between voting and their daily lives. Fellowship Chapel initiatives include working on a GOTV program (that will increase turnout compared to the last Presidential Election) and educating the community around a number of local proposals including the Regional Transit Authority and the Community Benefit Agreements that will be on the November ballot."
In Rockingham, N. C., the Rev. Dian Jackson, pastor of Mt. Zion United Church of Christ is working on voter registration, education and mobilization in her area, in partnership with leaders of other faith communities and the state NAACP.
"In this presidential election year, voting is extremely important," said Jackson. "Every Sunday we have a booth and are registering our church members and their friends to vote." And her efforts reach beyond the congregation. "We are working not just in our faith community, but with people in the Richland County jail and local housing developments, answering questions and giving out information." A pastor for six years at Mt. Zion, Jackson is using her partnerships in the community to open doors so she can assist others to understand their right to vote.
In addition to organizing around information and registration , Jackson is also trying to rally other churches in the area to work together to get people to the polls, using vans to pick people up at area nursing homes and take them to voting sites or to get absentee ballots into the hands of eligible voters. She noted she is targeting the African American community, since "traditionally they don't come out to vote on a large scale other than for presidential elections. We are asking people to know what the candidates say they stand for, and make your informed decision. We want people to understand their vote really does count."
Locally, Jackson is hoping her efforts are reflected in the elections around county leadership. "Richland County is growing so much, we want the diversity of the board of county commissioners to reflect the diversity of the population."
The Our Faith, Our Vote website has a variety of resources churches and individuals can use to get involved in the elections. There's information on ballot initiatives, webinars and worship resources. You can even register to vote.
"Raise your voice. Make sure everyone can hear you," said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. She and the other national officers, the Rev. Jim Moos and the Rev. John Dorhauer, are sharing personal testimonies that underscore the important civic responsibility and privilege of casting a ballot in this country.
As Sorensen said, "As people of faith, we can create nonpartisan spaces for people with a diversity of perspectives to register to vote, share in respectful, thoughtful dialogue about key issues of the day, and protect the right of every voter to cast their vote and have their vote counted."