Voting … it seems we are talking about it all the time right now. We understand it as a treasured right of freedom, hard won over the generations. In the book of Isaiah we are taught to “learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” When we vote and teach others the importance of voting, we are reminding ourselves of how much we have learned through great pain – slavery, segregation, denial of voting rights, marginalization and repression of immigrants. This pain birthed the writing and passing of equal protection under the law (14th Amendment), where no one can deny our right to vote (15th Amendment) and the 1964 Voting Rights Act. After having learned these lessons through so much pain, this is no time to go back and unlearn what we have learned. Expanding voting rights is, in large measure, how the scriptures teach us to live.
Civic engagement looks very different across our nation. The common ground is that it serves to bridge communities’ voices and their strengths to improve any environmental deficits. At Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, we’ve defined our civic engagement efforts as providing a space for the community to have a voice in political decision-making processes. In our community, the resources, or lack thereof, are a result of decisions being made by political leaders at local, state and federal levels. Our community, and communities like ours, across the nation have suffered from broken systems and special interest policies that leave our kids behind and break up families. Our schools are underfunded, police and community relationships are broken, immigration policies target hard-working families and, quite frankly, no one in power seems to care about the ‘hood.
This year represents a tipping point for many of these issues. We have candidates running for the highest positions that will impact policies affecting the poor and vulnerable. Those are our people, the ones we work with and live with day to day. Doesn’t it make sense for our communities to have a say in who is President, or who represents them in congress or city council? For the past 5 years, particular civic engagement tools have been at the core of Neighborhood Ministry’s social justice program along with advocacy and activism. Neighborhood Ministries will continue the efforts to register low propensity voters, especially in 2016. The folks that have lost faith or never really had it when it came to the voting process will be engaged on multiple levels, walking the streets registering voters, being registered or discussing civic responsibility. This is vital to our restoration and justice process. In addition, our efforts will highlight leadership development skills for those that can’t yet vote. Everyone gets to have a say in who is making decisions. Everyone gets to play!
How can all of this happen in a non-profit, faith-based organization? Well, let’s start with the fact that all of this is non-partisan. By law, we cannot influence party preferences with anyone we engage. Morally, that would take away from our goal to allow every voice to count. Secondly, relationships with community members and our partners who share the same values builds our collective capacity to canvass different neighborhoods. Thirdly, we need to remember that this is bigger than just knocking on doors. For many of our families, this will be the first time someone has asked the questions that are key to all of our work: “What would you like to change and why?” This is vital, because it provides a new narrative, where the overwhelming issues in the community push us to take action.
2016 is a significant year for all of us at CCDA. Our communities – the most vulnerable – need to have a voice! Let’s lift up those voices and put the power back in the hands of our communities. After all, we believe this is where the next generation of leaders are coming from.
Ricardo Zamudio is one of the Youth Pastors at Neighborhood Ministries and directs the civic engagement work inside NM’s Social Justice Department.
Kit Danley is President and Founder of Neighborhood Ministries