Building On Our Base
DAY 8: Suppress Voter Suppression
Many of the freedoms we take for granted required tremendous struggle and sacrifice on the part of committed individuals and communities. One struggle involved gaining full voting rights for all people – women, people of color, workers, and young adults. Today, voter suppression threatens the gains made through numerous justice struggles, and negatively impacts our democracy. Examples include income inequality, disappearing educational and employment opportunity, reproductive justice, access to health care, immigrant justice, the civil rights of LGBTQ persons, and unequal treatment of marginalized people in the judiciary system. After a week of learning more about voting suppression, and the state of democracy in our country, where do we go from here?
In her post, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK (Nuns on the Bus), asks us to consider the intersections of civil and voting rights for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country who are waiting for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation:
Forty-nine years ago in Selma, Alabama, Catholic Sisters marched for civil rights, voting rights and an end to segregation. They stood up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others to proclaim that segregation was wrong and democracy needed everyone’s participation. Almost fifty years later they are honored as the “Sisters of Selma.” One of their members said in a recent documentary, “It is one thing to have a right on a piece of paper, but unless you can act on it…it is nothing.”
On “Nuns on the Bus” tours across the United States, we Sisters of another era discovered the same truth. In every age we need to stand up for our rights to speak and act for justice. In Florida, I met Hispanic teens and young adults who were working to improve their communities as local organizers. In Camden, New Jersey, I met seventh graders working together to improve their park and their city. In Laredo, Texas, I met border patrol officers, Sisters of Mercy, and local court officials working together to improve their community and lessen the harshness of our broken immigration system. Everywhere we went, people of faith were working together to improve our communities and make democracy work.
But I also discovered on the Bus that there is a fear-based psychology of “scarcity” that causes fearful people to think that there are not enough rights to go around. Fear causes people to protect their own rights and think that they can’t give these same opportunities to others. Fear demands a self-protective response that makes me think that if I allow others to have their rights, I will lose my own. This is wrong!
The antidote to fear is community. In community, we know we are not alone and that someone has my back. This shared responsibility calls us to exercise our civil obligations. In fact, community can only exist if everyone contributes to the shaping of our society. This realization has led me to believe that an important task of the twenty-first century is to protect our rights by focusing on civil obligations. We as a community have an obligation to make sure that everyone is included. We must protect the right to vote, the right to education, the right to food, shelter and healthcare.
Catholic Sisters in Selma knew we had to stand together to ensure that justice was done. Achieving justice, they knew, was a mix of struggle and hope. In our time, it is the same. We must stand together to make sure all of those eligible can vote. But that is not enough. We must ensure that all of us together do the hard work of democracy. We are called to build relationships, talk across differences, and find new ways forward.
In short, we are called to struggle together to form a more perfect union. No one can be left out of our care. In community, we know that we are our sisters’ keepers; we are our brothers’ keepers. Like the Sisters of Selma, we know that our rights are not just on paper. Our rights live in our vibrant democracy as we struggle toward justice.
Sister Simone, S.S.S.
Executive Director, NETWORK (Nuns on the Bus)