At the forum this past Sunday at which the guest preacher at our 10 a.m. service, Ruby Sales, was also the speaker, that question – What is to be Done? – was raised several times in the Q and A period that followed her talk on the continued oppression of racial minorities in America. Indeed, that is the crucial question. I did not hear an answer that morning, but it came to me later in the day. I think it is simply this.
It is in the power of the people to change things by simply electing different people to office. Indeed, nothing will change until that happens. All the demonstrations, and marches and speeches will have no effect until the pent up frustrations are expressed by massive turnouts of the disaffected at polling places on election days.
Ah, but of course it isn’t quite that simple, is it? Action can’t wait until the day polls open No, first one must be registered. And there are deadlines for registration, sometimes a month or more before an election. So the simple act of voting must be preceded by the more difficult act of registering. New laws on voter identification have foreclosed many who do not have an acceptable form of identification. So yet another action must be taken before the act of registration – obtaining the acceptable form of identification.
It is common knowledge that there is now an open effort to make voting more difficult. There are tighter ID requirements, reduced hours and places for registering, and limitations on who can engage in registration activity. While abhorring the impulse behind this wave of restrictions – in the name of preventing voter fraud when there was no indication of such fraud – I can’t really find fault with procedures that in themselves will ensure the integrity of elections.
But those against whom the restrictions have been adopted need to fight the very battle that has been created. Each restriction must be met with a resolve to satisfy the requirement. If a new form of ID is required – get it. If the opportunities for registration have been curtailed – find out when and where they are and register. If the cutoff time for registration has been made earlier – find out when it is and register on time. If the hours for voting and the number of polling places have been reduced so that you will have to stand in line – be prepared to stand in line all day and into the night if necessary to cast your ballot. If you, because of residence outside a jurisdiction, are prohibited from engaging in voter registration (as has happened to the League of Women Voters in some places) you could still make a difference by driving people to registration locations. And on election days you can drive people to the polls.
Above all, churches should take the lead in educating people about voting requirements and in strengthening their resolve to engage the battle on its own terms, not by senseless acts of violence, but by registering and voting, no matter how inconvenient and difficult it is made to be. Churches might well return to the days when a parish was a geographic area, the spiritual care of which was their responsibility. Few things will improve the spiritual life of a parish as the recovery by all of its people of a sense of civic responsibility and an active and meaningful engagement in the established procedures that determine who will wield the awesome powers of government to enact laws and to enforce them.
Wake up churches. The time to get the people in your care prepared for the next election is now.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 18-August-2015.