Is encouraging people to vote my business? Do you think its intrusive of me to talk to reluctant voters? I would suggest that as a Vincentian, my charism, my gift is to advocate for social justice – then it certainly is my business. What do you think? Should it be an explicit part of our Vincentian mission to explain that voting is needed for systemic change?
If someone says they are not going to vote because their vote does not count, does not matter, this speaks to me of a person who feels disenfranchised, powerless to change their circumstances. Somehow, their belief in affecting a positive outcome is diminished. Maybe they do not feel front and centre in society – their opinion is marginalised. Then they are certainly those that St. Vincent, Pope Francis and countless change makers exhort us to support.
You will notice immediately I am not advocating any particular political opinion, party or movement. This is important.
I am advocating voter education to encourage people to consider what is best for them and society as a whole. Hopefully, it will also protect them from partisan politicians and pundits who say we must vote a certain way, because we are Catholics, or a particular class, are a business owner, or of a particular race. Being better informed, they can then make up their own mind.
As Vincentians we offer charity in physical terms when it is needed; the meal, the shelter, the home, the recovery from disaster, illness – and above all the hand up when life is bodily, mentally or spiritually challenging. We have learned too that as well as the immediacy of our work, it is in longer term policy change that we can make a lasting impact on people’s lives.
This is the case for voter education – we should support people’s understanding of how they can affect and effect policy change by taking their place at the ballot box and casting their vote.
Someone who reached this conclusion a long time ago is Sr Bernadette McMahon DC, Director of The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, (VPSJ) Ireland. In 1996 when serving in an area of Dublin, which was so impoverished it had European Union Development Funding, the local people explained why they didn’t vote because they did not understand how national and local Government worked, and how they felt “the system” always worked against them and not for them.
The VPSJ research revealed that ‘a community with low vote turn-out on polling day had very little power to bring about change in their area, as thereafter politician will not listen.
VOTING GIVES PEOPLE A VOICE AND POWER
The Ladies of Charity, USA have begun an advocacy programme to encourage their members to be Informed Voters. They are using the resources from US Catholic.org to create a series advising their members how to educate themselves about the issues and to vote.
As Sr. Bernadette did, Pope Francis encourages a “culture of encounter.” Francis believes that rather than judge people who are lacking courage, knowledge or exhibit apathy, we exercise compassion and open up an “encounter.” Like Vincentians, “Francis seems to intend the idea of reaching out, fostering dialogue and friendship even outside the usual circles, and making a special point of encountering people who are neglected and ignored by the wider world.” (Fr. John Freund, Mindwalk famvin.org August 30, 2020).
Sr. Bernadette and The VPSJ method is to facilitate a course of three workshops with 85% participation and 15% leader input. Some of the comments below illustrate how empowered people felt afterwards.
The Ladies of Charity, USA are encouraging their members to access the materials individually and in groups. The Irish model is designed for “communities in disadvantaged areas to promote justice and inclusion.” VPSJ believed that people feel alienated from society and the democratic process, therefore do not get involved. However, it is only through getting involved that their voice will be heard and their issues addressed. This is their chance to help them to use their voice.
“FIND YOUR VOICE, USE ITS POWER,
BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY, WORK FOR CHANGE.
IT IS ALL IN YOUR VOTE”
In a homily on Sunday, a priest said “silence is not a response.” This encapsulates why I will advocate for Active Citizenship by encouraging or leading on Voter Education. Join me in this “culture of encounter?”
Dee Mansi is a lay member of AIC and Vincentian Collaboration Commission; a retired School Principal, Schools Inspector and Leadership in Education Lecturer. Dee is Irish, living in London with her husband and son, she travels in Europe and beyond.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views.