Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries launches October Election-Fest

First event focused on compassionate voting

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — With participants hailing from Kentucky to Puerto Rico, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM) held its first October Election-Fest event on Thursday. RE&WIM, in partnership with GreenFaith, held Compassionate Voting 101, the first in the series of month-long events designed to help young adults of color navigate a difficult and critically important election year.

GreenFaith’s Compassionate Voter Campaign is a nonpartisan grassroots effort to get more people of faith and spirit engaged in relational conversation and action around get-out-the- vote campaigns and voter protection. The organization does not support any specific candidates, but instead works to increase compassionate participation in a democracy that is equitable and inclusive to all.

The evening opened with remarks from the Director of RE&WIM, the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, reminding participants that they were in a safe space to explore and navigate the 2020 election process. Hunter then offered the opening prayer.

The event, translated in real time in Spanish and Korean, discussed the different aspects of voter suppression – what is it, how to fight it and how and why to stand against it. Presenters also walked participants through two informative websites, vote.org and vote.gov. The second website is multilingual and includes territories and districts, unlike vote.org. A bilingual sample ballot was also shared with participants so they would be familiar with the form when they cast their vote.

“We want to provide tools of faith and action that enables folks to educate and motivate others to vote in the 2020 U.S. election,” said the Rev. Alexandra Zareth, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for Leadership Development & Recruitment for Leaders of Color.

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, of Tampa, Florida, a Presbyterian pastor and organizer for GreenFaith, spoke on what it means to be a compassionate voter. “Why compassionate voting?” Astudillo asked.  “We recognize that our diverse faiths are what make possible the building of a movement through which we can transform ourselves, our spiritual institutions and society to protect the planet and create a compassionate, loving and just world.”

 “That is our shared mission and it is a mission and a worldview we commit to, even though, like the prophet Moses, we may not live to see fulfilled during our lifetime,” Astudillo said. “We may not be the people most affected by the lack of a just world, but we are still committed, as an act of faith, and love, and hope, mindful of those who are most vulnerable and future generations.”

the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo

Astudillo says it is from this vision and concern for the state of our planet that GreenFaith approaches the act of voting in the November 3 election.

“We approach the act of voting not just as a concern for the state of the planet, but also the communities that live in it, our communities,” she said. “Especially the immigrant communities, Black communities, impoverished communities; those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and all its symptoms.” Astudillo explained that the recent droughts, severe floods, more frequent and stronger hurricanes as well as environmental pollution disproportionately impact communities of color.

“Not everyone can pack and go, and then come back to rebuild their homes,” Astudillo said. “We see these communities are not only the most vulnerable to respond to the changes in our climate, but COVID-19 has taught us how the stress of living constantly under stress — because of systemic racism, lack of secure jobs and lack of access to healthy foods, clean air and clean water — make individuals in these communities even more vulnerable.”

“COVID has shown how those most affected by this virus are the same communities mostly affected by climate change and pollution,” Astudillo said.

Astudillo says all of this leads us to think about voting as an act of faith. She says this is not faith that our candidate will win or that our candidate is the one God wants. “No,” she said. “We talk about faith when we realize how our vote, or our neighbor’s vote, or our family’s vote, no matter how private and individual an act it is, has a social impact, an environmental impact, a long-lasting impact on our planet.”

Following Astudillo’s remarks, Louis Roman, a GreenFaith organizer based in New York, spoke to the issue of voter suppression.

Roman identified 10 key factors of voter suppression:

  • Voter ID laws
  • Voter intimidation and false narratives
  • Gerrymandering
  • Felony disenfranchisement
  • Voter purges
  • Corporate influence
  • Long lines and under-resourced or underfunded election commission and departments
  • Global pandemics or climate disasters, which contribute to at least two voting hindrances:
  • Closed polling sites and
  • Complex mail-in procedures

He explained that those most at-risk to voter suppression are African Americans, Latino-a Americans, Asian-Americans, younger voters and the poor.

Roman said people of faith should be moral observers. “As a moral observer there are five things we can do to address voter suppression,” he said.

Here are those steps:

  • Educate your community about voter suppression and make sure they have resources to cast their votes.
  • Submit a letter to the editor to the local newspaper
  • Give a sermon or speak to your congregation or spiritual community
  • Observe at the election poll
  • Document and report on acts of voter suppression.

To take the GreenFaith Compassionate Voter Pledge, click here. Find sermon resources, sample letters to the editor, a step-by-step guide on how to report an instance of voter suppression in GreenFaith’s Our Organizing Guide . For more resources, visit vote.org resources and GreenFaith’s partner resources. 

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