Seeking Justice and Balance in 2018
Last Tuesday night, I felt a tremendous wave of relief move through my body when I saw online that Doug Jones had been declared the winner of the Alabama Senate race. It had boggled my mind: The idea that the other candidate, Roy Moore, a person with a history of overt racism, homophobia, sexism and predation on minors, was about as likely to win as Jones, a civil rights attorney who successfully prosecuted two of the killers of those four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Months ago, I started supporting Jones’s campaign weekly with a modest pledge, and a prayer that the people of Alabama would organize and rally to elect the only viable candidate I could see. The results were as I’d hoped, largely because Black voters in general and Black women in particular turned out strongly for Jones. I felt similar elation the night of the November 7 election, as we saw competent, caring progressive candidates win in jurisdictions where their success might have once been considered all but impossible.
As Unitarian Universalists, we have among our Seven Principles that we affirm and promote the “right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and within society at large.” For me this principle represents a sense of checks-and-balances — We appreciate that each of us has an inner guidance system that gives shape to the decisions we arrive at and the choices we make. We also have a system of governance within our congregations and within our country that says the will of the people rules. This affirmation of the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process was among the ideals that excited me when I began my journey into Unitarian Universalism in the early 1990s.
As many of you know by now, I am a registered candidate for U.S. Congress in Mississippi’s First Congressional District. It stretches along the southwest Tennessee state line, halfway down the Alabama state line, and zigzags back up to diagonally toward Memphis, Tennessee. It’s the part of the state that my dad’s parents moved to when he was a small child in the 1930s; where my mom was born and grew up; where my parents met as college students in the 1950s; where I was born and raised; where my parents were the first Black Mayor and First Lady of my hometown, and; where I returned to when I joined our UUA’s Southern Region team in 2013.
When I came home to the Magnolia State, it was in large part to be of support to family members who needed more up-close care than they had in the past. I could not have imagined then the growth and the evolution that would lead me to follow in my dad’s footsteps and pursue elected office. However, through the process of working with our Southern Region congregations, through the faithfulness and the support of my colleagues on the Southern Region team, as well as those in our UUA leadership more broadly, I’m ready for the year ahead, and this quest to represent the will of the people of my home-state.
I believe Mississippi and our nation are out of balance. While the vast majority of us benefit when our market economy is robust and the wealth of the country is distributed among economic classes, a very, very small percentage of us benefits when our government functions as a pipeline flowing money away from poor and middle-class people toward people who already have great generational wealth. As we have seen over the past few years, many elected officials and their appointees are aggressively moving to undermine civil rights protections, environmental protections, and the economic safety net that some of us have taken for granted most of our lives. Now is the opportunity for Unitarian Universalists and other people of goodwill to assert our commitment to what is in the best interest of the majority of us. I feel called to be among those in the chambers of our nation’s Capitol building, voting and speaking out for the masses who would be rendered voiceless by those whose primary allegiance is to corporations and their shareholders.
With the intensity of this call growing, it has become clear to me that if I am to be a serious contender in this race, I will need to give the Carlton for Congress campaign my full-time attention much sooner than I had originally anticipated. With the gracious support of my Southern Region colleagues and the administration of our UUA, I will be on leave from my work with our Association from at least February 1 until June 30. Should I have more votes than the other candidate in my party the day of the primary, my leave will be extended until the end of November.
If there is any thing I can do to be of support between now and February 1, please let me know (csmith [at] uua [dot] org). After that time, I invite you to contact our team’s Administrator, Jessica Curren (jcurren [at] uua [dot] org) with any questions you would have directed to me. I’m grateful to be part of our liberal religious tradition at such an exciting time in the history of our nation and the world. May each of us be true to our conscience and to the democratic process we lift up as a profound religious and civic practice.