What difference can a few thousand votes make? In 2010, Republicans won control of Minnesota’s legislature by a few thousand votes. Democrat Mark Dayton became governor that year by 8,770 votes. And in 2012, Democrats took back control of Minnesota’s legislature by a few thousand votes.
So today’s announcement that potentially 15,000 people of faith were going to vote “together” in Minnesota’s November election could carry some serious political clout, if the religious leaders organizing a massive “Prophetic Voter” drive can really pull it off.
ISAIAH, which is an organization of about 100 religious congregations in the Twin Cities metro area and St. Cloud, plans to reach out to 56,000 religious voters between now and the election. The group is targeting people who are unlikely to vote in non-presidential election years — the poor, minorities and in general people who have lost hope that their vote can create change for the better. Of those 56,000 voters, ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack expects about 15,000 will go to the polls to support an agenda that includes “economic dignity”, “transit equality” and other issues where race and economics can be a barrier to equality.
“This election for us is about putting people back at the center of democracy”, said Slack. “For far too long, we believe that our community and our democracy has been hijacked by partisan politics.”
“Amen”, said more than a dozen faith leaders who joined Slack at a news conference.
“It is time for us to work so we can stop that dead-end train and begin a new one to lift up the values of all people”, Slack added. “And by all, we mean all.”
Rev. Chris Bellefeuille of Valley of Peace Lutheran Church in Golden Valley said a church survey opened her eyes to the level of suffering that current policies are bringing to Minnesota — not just to the inner cities, but in the suburbs. “We learned that many people in our congregations, including my own congregation, are suffering under crushing debt — suffering because they have been denied the dignity of work. Suffering because of the actions and deceptions on predatory lenders.
“It is simply unacceptable that in our state my son has a better chance of a solid education than another mother’s son simply because of the color of his skin.
“This next election must be different. We intend to work hard so this next election will be different.”
To make a difference, ISAIAH will need to convince those who normally don’t vote in non-presidential elections to go to the polls. They will need more converts who are willing to put election apathy aside… such as Towanna Williams, a member of New Creation Church in Minneapolis. She normally wouldn’t have time for politics because she’s focused on trying to take care of two children with medical conditions, but doesn’t have the resources to do so.
“We are working minimum wage jobs to put food on our table and we are scrapping every day. I believe no parent should have to make impossible choices between one necessity and the other.
“When I vote this year, I am going to vote for change for my family and for all families. When I vote, I will not be alone. I will have thousands of other families standing with me to say we need change, not someday, but now.”
“Amen” said the congregation of clergy behind her.
“I used to be one person trying to make a change, but now it’s not just me”, said Williams. “I am standing united with other people of faith. We vote together and we act together to assure that every child has an opportunity to be just a kid and that every family that comes behind me will not have to struggle like we have.”
Slack made it clear that the group was not going to endorse any candidates. It can’t without threatening its non-profit status. He also said that they are not necessarily against candidates because they are incumbents or because they belong to one party or another.
“We’re going to create the accountability so it is not just our words”, said Slack. “We’re working to make it a reality by having a voice that means something to those elected. We’re turning people out to the polls. And we’re voting for ourselves. We’re voting for faith. That is what this election is about for us. And come November, it’ll be what this election is about for everyone.”