Voting matters. Whether you go out to the polls on Election Day, vote early, or absentee vote, it matters that each of us casts our votes on the ballot. Voting is way of putting your faith in action.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, my wife and I hit the streets for a local voter registration event, also called voter engagement. We were deployed to a strip shopping mall that included a chain grocery store, a cell phone outlet, and laundry mat among several other businesses. It was at the laundry mat that we encountered a trio of young African Americans. I approached them gently with my appeal about registering to vote. Their response was no less than a vigorous “no!”
A young lady was the spokesperson for the group. She indicated her belief that elections, especially the presidential election, are rigged. “They already got it figured out,” she said. “They know who is gonna win, so it doesn’t make sense for me to vote! I’m not interested.” She seemed to seal the fate of the others with her confident declaration.
She refuted all of my attempts to encourage her to reconsider. At one point, she became irritated as she told me that Obamacare was rigged, also. She described a conspiracy theory. I got no one registered in that encounter.
But I learned something important: some people despise the election process and have no interest in participating. Sadly, I realized that those most disenfranchised and often those who rely heavily on their faith--people of color--often can’t be persuaded to vote. There seems to be a disconnection between faith and action. So I was out there the following two weekends trying to bridge that disconnect.
One of my close friends takes a tack similar to the young people that I encountered. He says the national elections don’t affect his life on a daily basis. He insists that local elections matter more. He’s in the Tip O’Neill camp: all politics are local. After all, local elections determine decisions regarding boards of education, neighborhood infrastructure, property taxes, law enforcement, water quality, etc. The list is endless. For this reason, I rarely miss an election.
Yet, I argue that national elections are vital for the course of the nation. A recent article in the New York Times detailed how President Obama’s administration has passed legislation and regulations that affect areas of our lives that we take for granted. Two important changes: women can buy emergency contraception pills without a prescription; salaried workers earning up to about $47k must now receive overtime pay (time-and-a-half) if they work over 40 hours per week. These are significant changes that do affect everyday life for Americans.
All presidential administrations have this impact. When I think of the young blacks, they wouldn’t have the right to vote without the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Looking back at history, it is safe to say that had Richard Nixon won the presidential election in 1960, it less likely that he would have worked with Dr. King for voting rights as Johnson did.
I wonder whether my three young black compatriots experience any pride associated with Pres. Obama. I certainly do. While many people of color consider Bill Clinton the “first black president” and have close emotional ties to him, that is no match for the boost to our collective self-esteem that came with Obama’s election. Not to say that he is “Black America’s” president nor that he perfectly responds to the issues of the black electorate, but his election victory provided people of color with a sense of belonging that we hadn’t experienced before as Americans.
The pride that people feel about Obama translates into better citizenship because people of color better feel that their interests are represented in the White House. They feel like their lives matter; like they are on equal footing with whites in terms of their humanity.
The sense of full humanity is at the core of most religious faiths. The first principle in Unitarian Universalism, my faith tradition, affirms the inherent worth of all persons. Christian theology affirms that humans are created in God’s image. Other faiths encourage adherents to surrender all in order to find their true essence (Buddha nature, Christ within, authentic self), and therefore, the truest form of bliss.
A recent spike in voter suppression laws have made it more difficult for the poor and working class, racial and ethnic minorities, and students to exercise their right to vote. Hence, this element of bliss is being aggressively diminished in the courts. Harvard professor, Alexander Keyssar, puts it this way:
Voting your conscience is not likely to be a straight path to blissfulness, but voting is one act of faith that puts our future in our own hands. Even though our candidate doesn’t always win, we Americans should still commit to participating in the democratic process. It is a sure way of exercising our faith.
This election, the stakes are high. They are always high, however. As a democrat/independent, I’m keeping my eyes on the so-called “swing states.” That’s where the action is. I encourage you to allow your faith to lead you to the polls.
Spread the word that voting matters. Leave no voter behind. Bridge the gap between voting and faith.
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