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Voting and Thanksgiving

By Carlton Elliott Smith

This week was a difficult one for me and many of my fellow Unitarian Universalists in Mississippi. On Election Day, we saw the affirmation of the existing power structure by voters who elected and re-elected individuals who oppose a woman’s right to choose, lgbtq inclusion, equal voting protections, quality education for all public school students, appropriate compensation for teachers, affordable health care, environmental safeguards, and justice for immigrant workers. That power structure now holds all the statewide offices and an increased majority in both houses of the state legislature. This in spite of an increase in voter turnout from the last statewide elections.

As a recent former candidate for State Senate myself, I can attest to the challenges of advocating for values of inclusion, equity and justice that are at the core of our Unitarian Universalist faith in this era of distrust and fear. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the sentiment that voting doesn’t matter because “they’re gonna do what they wanna do anyway”, I would have a lot of money! Mississippi, a state that had a Black majority at the end of the Civil War, still has the highest percentage of Black residents of all the states at 38 percent. However, generations of domestic terror, suppression and nullification have resulted in tremendous resignation, apathy and disempowerment. And that’s just one marginalized population: When we consider all the many other people who threw up their hands and left the state or stayed home on Election Day, the impact is astronomical.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to stay hopeful.

While we cope with the situation in Mississippi, we celebrate the victories in Kentucky and in Virginia, as well as in other parts of the country where elected officials reflect the growing diversity of the population.

Often, we Unitarian Universalists ask, “What can I do? What can we do that will actually make a difference?” I’m happy to say that the leaders in our Association at the highest level have given abundant thought to this question, and are looking at what our role is in the 2020 election cycle.

At General Assembly this year in Spokane, our UUA President, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, encouraged UUs from across the nation to UU the Vote — that is, to “show up as people of faith, with [our UU] values front and center … offering a viable alternative to narratives and policies of domination, supremacy, scarcity, and exploitation that threaten and diminish our lives and future.” You can read her whole column about this topic in the winter edition of UU World Magazine here.

In the next several weeks, you will see and learn more about the UU the Vote campaign. Its success will be dependent upon your financial support and your leadership in your congregations and communities. Together, Rev. Susan affirms that we will “grow and sharpen our skills for faith-based organizing. No matter who you are, and what your skills and passions are, everyone has a role to play.”

To be clear, this is not a partisan campaign, but rather a partnership campaign with people who belong to directly impacted communities.  Regardless of political affiliation, each Unitarian Universalist committed to our UU values of justice, equity and compassion has a stake in making them real in the public sphere if we want a more promising future for ourselves and all those who will follow us.

Our task, Rev. Susan tells us, will not be just to show up ourselves, but to mobilize others to show up outside our conventional networks. “This will require that we go beyond the usual voter registration campaigns to build relationships with and follow the leadership of directly impacted communities,” she writes. This will take courage and compassion.

As I write this blog, I am in the waning hours of my birthday, on the City of New Orleans Amtrak train. I’m on my way back to Memphis after joining with UUs of Greater New Orleans to celebrate the 14 years that the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (the Center) existed. It was born out of the epic disaster of Hurricane Katrina and provided so much support, community and strength for so many over its life. It’s examples like the Center that give me hope. We Unitarian Universalists and our partners can accomplish meaningful things when we bring our values and our full selves forward. We can receive inspiration and boldness to build upon organizations and projects like the Center that have gone on before.

Thanksgiving is exactly three weeks away, and my heart is full of gratitude for all the ways I’ve grown, served, loved and been loved in 2019. Chugging along on tracks that run the length of my home state of Mississippi, I am aware of the famous and the unknown justice-makers who made it possible for me to be here and moving forward toward my destination. I’m so very thankful for the values they exemplified and for the privilege of carrying their legacy forward in the ways that I can. When I engage with the UU the Vote campaign in 2020, that will be one expression of my giving thanks.

Will you join me? If so, visit #UUtheVote in 2020 on UUA.org here, and let’s get this conversation started!

In faith,

Carlton

csmith@uua.org

About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

For more information contact sr@uua.org.