Editor’s Note: As we witness the final push for campaigns in the US midterm elections, we’re glad to share this word from RLC Contributor Morf Morford about what it means to follow the Way of Jesus in an election year. As RLC is a communicator’s collective, we like to highlight when multiple voices are singing in harmony. The video clip below is an exhortation from RLC Contributor and architect of “Moral Mondays” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.
The ancient Greeks (who gave us Democracy) defined citizenship by the degree of community engagement. In other words, to the ancient Greeks, citizenship is what you do – not where you were born or your score on a test.
I make a point of voting in every election, even though I know citizenship is about more than that. I volunteer and support a variety of agencies and public services. I am part of my neighborhood watch group and am a member of my local neighborhood council.
But on election day, I know I am called to vote.
My city, like most in the USA, is very ethnically, racially and religiously mixed. Our community is enriched by the contributions of each of these groups. And the safer any one of these groups feels, the safer we all are.
I, like many of us, work with, learn from and eat with people very different from those I grew up with.
I am convinced that we can be a far stronger community as we absorb, reflect, and respect voices from other cultures and perspectives.
At the same time, we are having a national debate over who ‘belongs’ here. Who should be allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship? Who are the ‘real’ Americans? What makes a citizen? Who decides?
Several states have changed their voting laws based on the concept of ‘documentation’. It turns out that in any given state, nearly 20% of citizens (mostly elderly, disabled, minority or poor) do not have access to (or need for) ‘official’ photo ID. Many of the very few World War II veterans still with us will, for the first time (and quite possibly the last time) in their lives, be kept from voting because of new voter ID laws.
I know that if I didn’t drive, I would not have (or have need for) photo ID. Would that make me less of a citizen?
The idea is preposterous – and certainly counter to what America has always stood for.
As Charlie Crist, former Republican governor of Florida recently put it;
When one takes away another’s right to vote, he is taking dead aim at democracy and undermining the very virtue that makes us the envy of the world.
Including as many Americans as possible in our electoral process is the spirit of our country. It is why we have expanded rights to women and minorities but never legislated them away, and why we have lowered the voting age but never raised it. Cynical efforts at voter suppression are driven by an un-American desire to exclude as many people and silence as many voices as possible.
The right to vote means precisely the right to participate as a full citizen in our political process.
The rights of free speech, expression and assembly–even the right to bear arms–mean little if we are kept from active, sustained, informed and respected engagement in our own political system.
The 15th Amendment prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
The 26th Amendment guarantees every citizen over 18 the right to vote.
States or political parties are not given the right to decide who of those citizens actually gets to vote.
To ascribe artificial and arbitrary bounds on the definition of who is an eligible voter is blatantly unconstitutional and political chicanery at its worst. Those who would restrict legitimate voters from voting have allowed their lust for power to override the law, the Constitution and American decency.
One of the many ironies is that voter ID laws have been established in states not with the highest rates of voter fraud, but in states with a history of racial discrimination.
Citizenship, by definition, is shared, and enduring. Those of us who are citizens of the kingdom of God should step out into the public sphere with the intent of making our communities and the world a better place.
This will have a cost. But I am convinced that our community can be stronger, healthier and more vibrant. Where is the prophet of our times who will cry out “Let my people vote!”?