our callingFrom the President
We are a year away from the 2004 U.S. presidential election. As I wrote in my last column (“Stand Up for Families,” September/October), I have come to believe that the greatest service our faith community can perform is to help Americans reclaim our democracy. We need to take action to help bring more of our fellow citizens to the voting booth.
Most Unitarian Universalists see voting as a fundamental civic and even religious duty. Many of us have individually contributed time and money to voter registration drives. But we have not, as a movement, committed ourselves to increase either voter registration or voter turnout on Election Day. It is time we did.
In our Fifth Principle, Unitarian Universalists covenant to affirm and promote “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Too many Americans are not exercising that right, in effect giving away their part in our democracy and thus weakening the checks on those in power that regular elections provide. As one letter-writer to the New York Times put it shortly after the 2002 election, low voter turnout “is precisely what gives the government the mandate to act as if no one cares and no one is looking.”
So I want to urge all of our congregations to take on voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns as a priority this year. We are seeking out partnerships in this work with both secular and religious organizations. I’m imagining election-week work camps for our youth and young adults, volunteers making phone calls and knocking on doors, car pools to the polls. I’m imagining targeted support for and systematic poll-watching in key states. (Florida comes to mind.)
Voter registration is not a partisan issue, but I believe deep in my heart that greater citizen participation in our electoral process will change the shape of the debate, and that it ultimately offers hope for changing our nation’s direction. If every one of the more than two million people whose jobs have disappeared in the last two years were to come to the polls, how would they vote? If every student who participated in an antiwar demonstration this past year were to come to the polls, how would they vote? MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign sees the war in Iraq and the economy as the two most powerful vehicles for bringing new youth voters to the polls.
How many people can we reach? Many of you heard Julian Bond say, as the Ware lecturer at our General Assembly in Boston in June, that the single most important thing each of us can do this year is “to search out twenty like-minded persons and make them ambassadors to ensure that they in turn get twenty like-minded persons to vote in next year’s presidential election.” You do the math: There are about 160,000 adult American Unitarian Universalists. Multiply by twenty and you have more than three million. Multiply by twenty again and you have 64 million. A small fraction of that number could change history.
We have posted a list of resources and links to our partners in this effort on the UUA’s Web site, www.uua.org. If your congregation needs ideas or advice, contact Susan Leslie, Director for Congregational Advocacy and Witness, at firstname.lastname@example.org. And be sure to tell her what your plans are so that we can pass good ideas along.
For now, I’m going out to look for my twenty people. I hope you
and your congregation will join me. We can take this democracy back.