May Flowers… and November Elections
May 2016. This month Sandy Sorensen, Director of the UCC Washington Office, talks elections – How people of faith can engage, why our voices are needed, and what you and your congregation can do to make sure that everyone in your community is empowered to exercise their right to vote.
Perhaps those words, “November elections,” and the long campaign leading up to them, give you a feeling of dread rather than anticipation. I get it. The 2016 election cycle, with its heightened polarization, partisanship and mean-spiritedness, may seem especially difficult to engage in a thoughtful, faithful, nonpartisan way.
But we would be mistaken to think that our faith, our vote and our voices don’t make a difference. As people of faith we have the gift and responsibility to lift up a vision of right relationship in our communities and with creation. This vision transcends any singular political party, candidate, ideology or platform. We are a powerful and much-needed voice in the public dialogue and our common life.
The UCC Our Faith Our Vote toolkit offers ideas for individuals and congregations who want to offer a positive, prophetic, nonpartisan witness in this election season. Through Our Faith Our Vote (OFOV) UCC members and congregations are encouraged to look deeply at the issues at stake in the elections from a faith perspective . And although the presidential campaign is dominating the airwaves, it is important to engage the electoral process at every level, from school board to state legislature to the U. S. Congress.
OFOV takes a three-tiered approach. Congregations are invited to engage in voter registration and empowerment; issue education; and efforts to get out the vote on Election Day. Here are some examples of how you might involve your congregation in this election:
Voter Registration: Make sure your congregation is 100% registered. Create nonpartisan voter registration opportunities for graduating seniors in your congregation and reach out to clients who utilize social services through your congregation and community. Learn about felony enfranchisement laws in your state and provide education opportunities for formerly incarcerated returning citizens.
Issue Education: Hold forums in which church members can engage the candidates and each other in respectful dialogue about key issues in this election season. Create spaces to encourage people to connect their faith with their hopes for the 2016 election and have discussions in a civil way. You don’t need to find experts – they are right there in your congregation! Invite community members who are educators, health care providers, parents, law enforcement personnel and others who may provide a unique and personal perspective on the issues.
Voter Mobilization: Organize nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities in the weeks leading up to the elections and on Election Day. Demonstrate the importance of voting to the children and youth in your congregation by involving them in efforts to get voters to the polls. Educate voters about their rights and participate in Election Protection to ensure that every vote is counted.
It is certainly true that we face great challenges in our democratic process and in the process of voting itself. In 2016, for the first time in 50 years, voters will go to the polls in November without key protections contained in the Voting Rights Act. The disproportionate influence of money in campaigns threatens to drown out the voice of the average voter. Because of this it is especially important that the members of our churches know their rights and are engaged in voting. The people in our community need our support to exercise their right more than ever.
Several years ago I read these words from an essay entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet,” written by William River Pitt which was written in response to those who were threatening to withdraw their participation in our democracy in protests. He said, “Henry David Thoreau argued for non-participation in a broken system, but a system that has been broken by non-participation requires a different remedy.”
These words challenge my cynicism and remind me of scripture’s call to “Lift every voice!” I hope you will lift your voice by engaging with your congregation in the Our Faith Our Vote campaign.