Irresistibly drawn to resist, or, what I learned as a campaign manager: #UUtheVote

“What are you doing with your rage?” recently asked the Rev. Meg Riley, a member of the interim ministry team at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka. What would you say? People mentioned poetry, meditation, perusing seed catalogues, playing with babies or puppies or grandkids, skiing the Loppet, Netflix binging, swearing, developing mysterious undiagnosable conditions…

… But a BIG one was: I can’t just sit here. I have to DO something to #UUtheVote.

Yes!! I am SO ready. Some of you know that I helped organize Caucuses and state-level political campaigns for about 5 years before coming to MUUSJA last August. For political organizers, there’s an inevitability to January of an election year. It feels like those Septembers on campus, or when you have kids, and summer’s ending and the school year is about to start and now it’s time to really get SERIOUS about the schedule and supplies and updating your contacts and getting your hair cut and maybe some new clothes, because it’s time, now, to push.

Minnesota’s Attorney General says, “You may not be into politics, but politics is into you.” Elections are how Minnesotans pick some of our neighbors to decide how to share and sustain the stuff we all need. Things like water, air, roads and bridges, schools, libraries, parks, firefighting and other social services. We need to recruit and hire decent, conscientious, thoughtful and responsible people for that job. Their tools and resources are policy-making, raising and spending taxes, appointing advisors and commissioners, but that’s the “how” not the “why.” What I have learned so far is, it’s the “Why” that really matters. And the “why” is the common good. And that is, ultimately, nonpartisan.

Three other essential things I learned as a campaign manager in 2018:

  • Candidates and elected legislators are human beings. (At least, all the ones I know are.)
  • As such, they are just one important part of an interconnected web of voters, non-voters, paid and volunteer campaign organizers, donors and Party activists and media, established nonprofits (like League of Women Voters, Unidos Votamos, and many others), pop-up volunteer groups (like local Indivisible chapters, at first), and agencies (like the Secretary of State or Campaign Finance Board) – all of which weave our government, anew, every year, but with particular vigor in Presidential election years.
  • There are few joys more powerful than feeling your web succeed. To be in the Capitol rotunda when it echoes with cheers and tears because an oppression you’ve fought is lifted, or a freedom you’ve hoped and worked for finally is achieved. To be in assembly with friends and strangers who have successfully elected someone who will try, imperfectly, to serve the common good. Imagine being one cell in a gigantic beating heart – knowing the heart cannot beat as well without each one of you – knowing no one of you could possibly sustain that pulse, alone. (Pulse: A powerful name of “joy and woe” as the poet says).

I also learned that running for office is a lot harder and less glamorous than it might sound. It is a brutally grueling, emotionally exhausting, intellectually demanding, physically stressful, often thankless, full time job — even at the level of a  state representative.  The people who try it, and those who support them, have to be willing to fail. More than once. They get better with practice, usually. And people who do it are just people, no better or worse, no smarter or dumber, no more or less wise or ethical or corrupt or duplicitous, than you and me, on the whole.

Their jobs, if elected, grant a measure of power that can be distracting or even corrupting, as with any job which bestows access to information, resources, and influence over others’ lives. And each person confronts power and its distractions differently, drawing upon their own character, background, sense of purpose, and relationships – including families, friends, mentors – and always including constituents — which is where we all come in.

We owe it to the people we elect, as well as to ourselves, to initiate and remain in dialogue – to be an active, ongoing, noticeable part of the web to which they are responding. (All this is not to deny the malign influence of Citizens United, Dark Money, that whole thing. That’s a topic for another day). Right now I am talking about you. About us. We matter, too.

When we go to the Caucuses, the polls, or to a Day at the Capitol with groups like the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition or OutFront Minnesota or Protect Minnesota’s Interfaith Alliance for Gun Safety or Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light … which we WILL do this year… remember this: It is not about “us” (the people) talking to “them” (the government). It is about us, talking to our neighbors AND speaking truth to power at one and the same time. What I have learned is that elected officials are humans with minds, hearts, hands, inherent worth and dignity – and that your voices may be the ones that determine how they vote on the issues that will change your life. Any one of you could be elected. Any one of them, has been, still is, and will again be, a constituent. We are interconnected.

We saw this in the fight for same-sex marriage. We can, and inevitably will, see it again. When we speak from the heart – from the core of our own authentic experience and, yes, faith-based beliefs – and especially when we speak in unison on issues of shared concern — it is almost impossible not to be heard by someone, sooner or later.

We did not win that new step towards equality in just a couple of years –  it took at least 40 years of dedicated organizing before marriage equality “tipped.”  It took persistence and determination, not just imagination and hope. It took people who turned their rage into refusal to accept the status quo.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama said: “When they demonize, we organize.” Yes. No matter who is doing the demonizing – we still need to organize (get together, set some goals, make some plans) and mobilize (inspire, recruit, train, and send out our people to talk with others, to encourage participation in Caucuses, Primaries, election processes and voting).

Now is season to re-weave our government, again, with imagination born of hope, diligence born of necessity, and determination born – in part – of rage.

So I ask you Meg’s question, again: What are you doing with your rage? Will you consider joining all the Unitarian Universalists who are ready to #UUtheVote? This is the invitation. Tomorrow, MUUSJA will begin posting additional Minnesota-specific information, resources, tools, partners, and events. See you soon.

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