We tend to reduce politics to what happens on election day. That’s understandable, of course. It’s the day people feel like they “do something,” casting a vote for the candidates they believe will best serve the common good. And that something they do is relatively easy and concrete. You take a little while out of your day, go to the polling place, fill in a ballot, put on a little sticker, and when it’s all done, all those votes are tallied and determine a real outcome: who will be in elected office come next year.
As church leaders have so often pointed out, however, the things that happen outside of election day matter a lot too. It’s outside of election day that legislation is drafted and voted on and perhaps passed into law. Outside of election day is when when regulations are made, debates on important issues are carried out, candidates who will be on the ballot are decided, party platforms are determined, and more.
In short, it’s all the rest of the days of the year when policy is made (or not), our problems addressed (or not), and our divisions heal (or not).
“Doing something” during those other days of the year can feel less easy and less concrete. It may involve deeper learning about an issue, figuring out the best way to contact a legislator or other public official, trying to express yourself clearly and respectfully and helpfully. Then, after all that, you may get a form letter from an official whose mind was never open on the subject to begin with and wonder if you’ve accomplished anything at all.
Organizations like the Minnesota Catholic Conference do a good job of helping inform people about issues of concern to Catholics as they arise and connecting people to their representatives. They advocate approaching this from the standpoint of “civic friendship” — of developing personal, friendly relationships with elected officials and our fellow citizens. Please do check out their work at www.mncatholic.org and get on their Catholic Advocacy Network mailing list.
However, even apart from building relationships with elected officials, what about improving civic friendship with our fellow citizens? We can do that even without an emailed action alert and policy briefing. Tension continues to rise in our society, along with distrust and sometimes hostility and hatred. We are the bearers of the truth of God’s love for the human race and for each member of it. We are bound by the commandment to love each other, to love even those who would be our enemies.
Each of us in our small way can work on doing that 365 days a year.