Congratulations if you were one of the roughly 90 million United States citizens who voted in the Nov. 2 midterm elections. Considering there are 310.6 million people in the country, that puts you in something of an elite group. You’ve done your civic duty, so now you can kick back and relax, right?
It would be nice if things worked that way. Elections are relentless and exhausting. We tire of blaring negative campaign ads on our television screens and pre-recorded endorsement messages on our voicemail. Wading through candidates’ rhetoric in order to glean concrete information about where they actually stand takes dogged work. After voting in good conscience, the average person is understandably ready to wash their hands of the whole political process and move on with their daily lives.
I know I feel this way, and not just because I happen to work at a suburban newspaper where we were inundated by local and regional politics for the past few months. When I do vote – and I’ll admit my record is a spotty one – it’s with a sense of relief as much as a sense of democratic delight. Thank goodness that’s done with, I feel. Now I can take a well-deserved break from politics.
Yet I know that’s a mistake, especially for Christians who believe Jesus calls us to redeem this world for him. When living in a democratic society, in particular, being engaged in the political process beyond voting is really part of our Christian duty rather than a privilege we should exercise when we manage to find the motivation.
So how do we make political activism a priority? As I said, my own involvement has been limited by both personal and professional skepticism, so I’m asking the question as much as trying to provide an answer. Seeking the advice of others for this piece, I was pointed in a few directions. Among the organizations that came up were Protestants for the Common Good, covering Illinois, and The Center for Public Justice, based in Maryland. Sojourners, a similar group, even has a Faith in Action Web page that highlights current issues and suggests concrete ways you can affect change using the political process. For the nitty gritty on business in Washington, D.C., I was told to keep tabs on the likes of Politico, Roll Call and Congress.org. Whether speaking directly from a Christian perspective or not, these outlets offers ways to stay informed, if not more.
Then there is volunteering. This can mean anything from being a part of a committee in your town’s government to joining a political action group, such as one of those mentioned above. If there was a local candidate you strongly supported in the midterms and he or she managed to get into office, offer to work on one of the initiatives they’ll now be pursuing.
What other ideas do you have? How can Christians – no matter what their varying political stripes – make voting only the first step to becoming responsible citizens? And for readers outside of the United States, how do you stay involved in the political process in the country where you live?