Renewing the Promise of ‘By the People, For the People’
Sister Simone Campbell
During our Nuns on the Bus trip in the fall of 2018, just before the Midterm elections, we heard many stories about efforts to limit access to our democracy:
- For every Republican office that we lobbied (or attempted to lobby) we heard constituents’ stories about their representative’s refusal to meet with them. One Republican member’s district chief of staff even went so far to say that the problem was that her boss “was incredibly shy…he was an introvert.” As if that justified it when he met regularly with donors.
- We heard of some state legislation that would require a street address in order to vote. However, on the Native American reservations there were no street addresses so Native American people would be “purged” from the voter rolls.
- Gerrymandering was mentioned at many stops where the Congressional district maps were drawn to benefit the majority party. In fact, it was so bad in Pennsylvania that the court had stepped in and redrawn the state’s map for Congressional representation. This was the first election under the very new map, but even that was confusing to some of the voters we met, as their districts and their representatives were now different.
I ended the bus trip worried about our democracy and how it is being undermined. The political “game” of winning has taken precedence over the commitment to let every voice be heard.
This isn’t just a “Republican thing.” In Maryland, where Democrats are in the majority, districts were drawn to benefit Democrats and reduce the number of Republicans in Congress and the state legislature.
This bipartisan desire to win at the expense of democracy underscored for us why we need to heal our democracy if we are going to “Mend the Gaps” in our nation. For this reason, access to democracy is one of the key provisions in our policy agenda.
But this work is multilayered. We initially started by thinking that it was only about the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court undermined a few years ago in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holderdecision. But as we went deeper, we realized that if the census is flawed then the data from which districts are determined is also flawed. Article I Section 2 of the Constitution mandates that there be an “enumeration…every subsequent term of ten years.” This is a mandate to count everyone without regard for citizenship or even immigration status. The Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country.
Therefore, we are engaged in making sure that there is adequate funding for the 2020 Census count and that it is carried out in a way that encourages participation. We have been fighting against including a “citizenship question” to the census questionnaire or any other actions that would push people away from responding to the census.
Whether our work is about the census, efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act, or ending gerrymandering, we do this work because every voice matters in our democracy. This is the difference between the economy and government. In the capitalist economy there are those who are “winners” and those who are left out. But in a functioning democracy everyone needs to be afforded equal dignity and opportunity to be heard. It is this dignity of the individual that is at the heart of our work…and the heart of our faith.
Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.’ That is why the Church set before the world the ideal of a ‘civilization of love’.” (Paragraph 231)
Let us labor in love in our society to ensure that everyone in our nation can fully participate in our democracy. This is the doorway to realizing the common good.
This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.