RI Staff Talk: 2018 Midterm Elections

Welcome to RI Staff Talk, where the staff of the Religious Institute weigh in on religion, current events, social issues, and even political matters affecting progressive people of faith. This edition, we discuss the 2018 Midterm Elections.

Why is it important for people of faith to be engaged around the midterm elections?

Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey: As people of faith, we are rooted in something beyond our own self-interest. So it’s important for us to speak about the responsibility to vote and make our voices heard at the local, state and national levels. We must also be outspoken about the faith and values that inform our voting.

This election cycle is particularly important because lawmakers at all levels will be deciding issues that will impact people’s lives: what’s to become of the Affordable Care Act, whether access to abortion and contraception will be further restricted, whether children and parents will continue to be separated at the border, whether LGBTQ people can be discriminated against — and so many more.

As a Christian and the leader of this multifaith organization, I feel that I have a responsibility to vote for the common good. I vote because I still believe that we can have a society in which compassion and care for all people are the norms. I vote because I believe the world can be better than it is. We can’t give up hope at this crucial time in the history of our country. As people of faith, we must be vocal about our values and live them out by voting.

What is one issue that you’re paying attention to this election cycle?

Lew Whitaker: In my home state of Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp is locked in a tight race for governor with Democrat Stacey Abrams, the nation’s first black woman to to be nominated for governor by a major party. Kemp is currently serving as Georgia’s Secretary of State and, in a clear conflict of interest, will oversee Georgia’s elections, including his own. Kemp’s underhanded attempt to suppress the votes of people of color has become national news. Sadly, Georgia is only the most visible state exposed for engaging in voter suppression. The right to vote, whether on the local, state, and federal level, is one of our most cherished rights, yet, for people of color, it is increasingly under attack. The evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 made it even more difficult for minorities to vote and emphasized the importance of ensuring free and fair elections for all. Although I no longer live in Georgia, I’ll be paying special attention to the governor’s race, and to nationwide efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. The midterms are November 6th. The right for every citizen to vote was secured at great cost. We must treat this election, and every election, as the most important one of our lives.

What is one thing you’re doing to help mobilize people to vote this election?

Drew Konow: One thing I’m doing this election cycle is personally reaching out to friends and family. Like everyone else, I have friends and relatives with whom I disagree politically. In times past, I would spend a lot of energy debating policy or candidates with them. Often those debates would follow a familiar, dead-end pattern — with hardly anyone walking away persuaded or changed in any way. It was exhausting and largely unproductive. This election cycle, I am trying to steer clear of those familiar sparring partners and spend time reaching out to people who are not as engaged in politics or policy debates. I’ve started by texting my friends and family, asking them if they’re registered to vote and offering to help them through the process. This kind of personal outreach has been really effective. To my surprise, I did actually know people who weren’t registered. As we know, registering to vote is only half the battle. So, I have also offered to help friends and family working through the candidates and issues on their ballot. Ballot measures and local races, in particular, can often be incredibly technical or confusing. Often, the information voters need is not easily accessible or well organized. I’ve found the voter guide and sample ballots from Vote Save America to be particularly helpful in this regard. Learning to navigate these races can make voting seem less impersonal and intimidating, but it’s not always clear where you can turn for help. Especially in our current political circus where the loudest voices often suck all of the oxygen out of the room, those still trying to understand politics or develop their political opinions are often left confused or turned off. My hope is that by reaching out to my friends and family, I can be a resource as they become more informed and engaged voters.

What values guide your decisions as a voter?

Rev. Kentina Washington-Leapheart: You cannot legislate heart-change. You just can’t. And as a person of faith and a minister, I know that the ultimate responsibility for the deep transformation of souls around socio-political issues lies in Something greater than me. That doesn’t leave me powerless, however. In our current political climate especially, the attempts of progressive-minded citizens to maintain democratic ideals has been an exhaustingly uphill battle. The attacks from those in power on the basic human rights and liberties of the most vulnerable in our society have left many of us feeling frustrated, at best, and demoralized, at worst. And yet, this election season we are seeing record numbers of people fired up and running for office. Women, especially Black women, are stepping up and stepping out, taking the tremendous risk of entering into the fray of this hostile, divided political landscape. I look for candidates who are outspoken, dedicated, committed, on-the-side-of-the-oppressed, radically inclusive, honest, creative, not without fear but also deeply courageous — the same values I try to live out in my own life. I am paying attention to both long-time progressive political mavericks as well as new kids on the block and underdogs. Many of their hearts are already in the right place as they fight to take back this country from the grips of fascism. We, as a voting public, are in a prime position to harness the power that we do have to incite the changes we so desperately need.