Thursday, October 18, 2012

To Vote for Your Neighbor is Not Fraud

To impersonate someone else at the polls is voter fraud; to vote for the sake of someone other than just yourself is to care about your neighbor.   Voter suppression laws enacted in state after state this year have been a solution in search of a problem. Voter fraud was not the issue. Keeping large groups of people from voting and thereby trying to influence the outcome of the election was the strategic goal. Although some voter suppression laws have been curtailed by court rulings, many remain in place. Some new strategies will be implemented.  Election officials may make ongoing changes to early voting availability, including locations and hours.  Putting out confusing information if not outright misinformation, and scrutinizing details on voter I.D.’s may cause havoc on Election Day.  Your neighbor may not be able to vote.  How do we vote, not in the neighbor’s place, but for the sake of the neighbor?
People who cannot or can no longer drive, people who are poor, people of color are vulnerable. Likewise college and university students. On our Wartburg Seminary campus, many students have a driver’s license in one state but are in residence here in Iowa. We have provided voter registration twice here on campus. Students can vote early. And I urge them to do so. “Absentee ballot” does not necessarily mean you are out of town on Election Day. You may be in classes all day and thereby choose to vote early by mail. That also provides a shorter line on Election Day for someone who has to get to work.  That’s a way to vote for the sake of your neighbor.

In some states new laws have taken away voting on the Sunday before Election Day when traditionally African Americans, as a sign of citizenship and freedom after the Voting Rights bill was passed during the Civil Rights Movement, would go together after church to vote. For people with limited personal mobility, that was an act of communal care, not a “voting block.”   Some students on our campus are organizing car pools to go to the polls together before or on November 6, thereby encouraging one another and making sure that all have a ride.  That’s a way to vote for the sake of your neighbor.

As a professor I do not tell students for which candidate to vote, but I can and do raise the subject of the vocation of citizenship. Last Election Day I offered to give students and their spouses a ride to the polls, and even to take care of their children.  One student spouse told me later, “I didn’t call you for a ride, but I might not have voted had you not sent that offer.”  That’s a way to vote for the sake of one’s neighbor.
Voting for the sake of your neighbor is what the right of citizenship is all about. Citizenship is more often taken for granted than examined. It’s not just a matter of exercising my own right as a citizen, but being a citizen for the common good, not only for the country, but for the sake of the world. One is not called to be a citizen in isolation. 

One hears often, “What will the candidate do for me?”  People should ask, “Whose interest is this supporting?” “Who will benefit if this policy is implemented?” “How will people different from me be helped or harmed if this candidate is elected?”  It’s a matter of vocation, paying attention to those who are suffering and using one’s wisdom and to see how they can be best served.  In public policy, priority needs to be given to the good of the community. In the October issue of The Lutheran magazine, Darrell Jocock, Gustavus Adolphus College, has an excellet article on vocation as an invitation to become a channel for God's activity in the world by putting the neighbor first. He gives examples of Luther's involvements in public service.
 It’s not too late to gather people to have informed discussion, to sort out the truth from misleading statements, yes, even at church in an adult forum. (Youth will also benefit from seeing adults do this and from having such conversations at church themselves.) Such informed discussion can empower people for action towards fostering justice and working towards equality.  Vote for the sake of the neighbor to restore relationships and mend the world.

Registering and voting early is essential.  College and university students, and anyone who has moved recently, such as people who rent their residence, may be issued only a provisional ballot at some polls on Election Day. Many of these may not be counted.
In spite of voter suppression efforts, stalwart people have been out registering people one by one, and informing them of their rights, helping them obtain newly required I. D’s. Some of these workers remember when they, or their parents or grandparents, could not vote before the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Thousands of people marched and many died so that others could vote then, and today.  Vote for the sake of them.  Vote for the sake of the voice and vote of those who come after you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running Together Rather than Being Chased by Fears

It was a beautiful day for a run. All stood at the starting line amidst the fall colors. One last instruction: “Be careful on the first turn. It is tempting to start out so fast that you catch the heels of the person in front of you, causing someone to stumble. A whole bunch can go down. Ready? Off you go.”

It could have been a fall day on a college campus, but this was an elementary school in a small Iowa city. Third graders, eight-year-olds, prepared to run and walk their first mile! They had previously practiced once around the track which was the path around their playground. This would be 4 ½ times around. And they made it!

Ten years from now they will be 18-year-olds setting off on tracks of their own. What I watched last Friday afternoon, I would like to see ten years from now. All outside together in the world, prepared, fully participating according to their individual gifts and abilities. No one needing to drop out.

This is the season of specials on television, and on-line about our nation’s schools. There are dire predictions. And fear-based headlines: “Is college really worth it?” “The nation’s schools are in crisis.” We used to be first. We need to be first. We have to be first. Run as fast as you can! There are indeed statistics to which we need pay attention, but it is easy to let fears cause us to stumble.

Pell grant money saved, for now. But tuitions continue to rise. Since the beginning of the great recession people are charging less to credit cards and saving more. But defaults on student loans are a reality. Will we make it around the first turn without being knocked down?

Don’t misunderstand me. The challenges are great. We need college students who choose teaching as a career. We need more teachers who can answer the call of a lifetime…for a lifetime. We need communities and states who honor, respect and support teachers and community schools. Public schools where are all welcome.

I worry when competition is the answer for everything. I cringe when blaming teachers’ unions continues to be the fashion. And the gap between money spent on schools for students of wealth and students living in poverty continues to grow. The new segregation.

Yes, innovation is welcome, but I notice that a four-minute TV segment on a charter school’s creative idea ends with “We want this to be a model for every school in the country.” One says what we need is “Grit.” (Yes, we all need persistence and resilience, but does building in some “failure” as a response to “giving a blue ribbon to everyone” really fit students who need self-esteem?) Another says the answer, the only answer, is “technology.” (Yes, we need technology in every school for every student, but also “innovative” ways to help develop face-to-face social skills.) Another says….

And a voucher system for elementary education is just as dangerous an idea as a voucher system for health care for the elderly.

But now I’m sounding dire. Yes we need to recognize the problems; we need also to appreciate places and people who are working hard together. I have seen teachers and administrators creatively working together on professional development, charter and neighborhood schools collaborating, community colleges, states universities and private colleges together shepherding students through their education. I see the graduate school where I teach building a teaching-learning community that is life-giving, and which connects on-line learners with daily life on campus.

Last Friday, every single child in that third grade class was out there together, under the supportive, watching, caring eye of their gym teacher and two paraprofessionals. There were the children who took off fast and ran as quick as a rabbit the whole mile. There were some children with special needs: Autism, Down syndrome. There were children who walked together, friends. All had been prepared to walk, jog, or run as they could. A girl living with a chronic disease did a wonderful job of pacing herself by running and then walking, running and then walking. They were fit and able, as they were capable of being.

Yes, we have a competitive society that schools us all to beat out the person ahead of us. Hurry, hurry or you will be left behind. But I saw no one cheering because they had beat out another. All did their best. All received their times. No not a “give everyone a blue ribbon day.” No ribbons at all. They didn’t need them. The students had purpose and were growing in endurance. They did their first mile last Friday. Miles to go before they sleep. It was a beautiful fall day. Beautiful!