Congregations have opportunities to register voters in their communities to help people participate in the democratic process.
Voting booths in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, for the general election held on November 3, 2015. © 2015 Tim Evanson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
For more than 150 years, Unitarians and Universalists have been involved in the struggle to deliver the right to vote to more Americans. The urgency only intensified when the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. So what can your congregation do to assure the right to vote extends to as many people as possible? Plenty, and the UUA can help you.
“It’s in line with our First and Fifth Principles,” said Susan Leslie, the Association’s congregational advocacy and witness director, who is coordinating efforts to assist congregations in their own voter registration drives. “It’s us saying, ‘You matter to us. Your vote matters to us.’”
As the 2016 election approaches, congregations will have opportunities to register voters in their communities, not for partisan reasons, but to empower more people to participate in the democratic process.
Here are some ways congregations can take advantage of UUA resources for their voter registration initiatives:
Connect with partner organizations. The UUA has a list of potential partner organizations, all of which are either already assisting congregations or are willing to. Partner organizations can do everything from providing training and equipment to mapping out walking routes for volunteers to follow and giving advice on how to have the confidence and communication skills required in multicultural environments. Potential partners range from the NAACP’s “This Is My Vote” campaign to the PICO Interfaith National Network’s “Let My People Vote” initiative and individual UU state advocacy networks.
Get financial assistance for your initiative. The Fund for UU Social Responsibility will give congregations up to $500 to support their voter registration efforts. The grants, which can be applied for through Nov. 1, 2016, may cover such expenses as purchasing voter education materials or mounting informational forums for voters, providing transportation to volunteers, and even arranging meals for participants in training programs.
Watch the “Voting Rights & Mobilizing for the 2016 Elections” webinar. Scheduled for early September and archived for later viewing, it will offer an up-to-date report on the UUA’s voter registration initiative, describe what it can do to help your congregational initiatives, and share news about congregations that have projects up and running. (uua.org/liberty/electionreform)
Get connected to other congregations with voter registration drives by joining the “UUs Forward Together: Voting Rights and Mass Moral Movement” Facebook group.
Participate in “The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values,” an interfaith revival tour that moves from city to city challenging people to be more vocally opposed to harmful policies that disproportionately impact the poor, immigrants, and communities of color. “That includes a call for people to work together on voter registration,” Leslie said.
Revival events took place on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (with UUA President Peter Morales participating) and on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, all with contingents of UUs present.
Lots of UU congregations are getting involved with voting rights initiatives. One great example is All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C.’s Reeb Project for Voting Rights, named for former All Souls associate minister the Rev. James Reeb, who was killed in 1965 while in Selma, Alabama, for the voting rights march.
The project’s main goals for the 2016 election are to impact the national discussion on voting rights; increase voter turnout in a specific North Carolina community; raise consciousness of the disenfranchisement of D.C. residents; and develop a multiracial, multicultural voting rights team at the congregation. In October, the group will travel to North Carolina for a weekend of voter registration. It is also supporting Get Out the Vote canvassing and phone banks.
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Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who is also a member of the UU Church of Studio City, California.