Healing the Democracy Gap

Sister Simone 1 Meme

Guest Blog By: Jamie Rezmovits, RLI Global Advisory Network Chair

Restorative leadership demonstrates a fundamental belief in human potential and the power and wisdom of community.  It’s a belief echoed and practiced by Sister Simone Campbell in her work as a tireless champion for democracy.  I recently listened to Sister Simone talk about the role of community in democracy in the On Leading podcast, Making a Joyful Noise for the 100%, and was inspired to begin doing my part to heal the gap that threatens one of the most essential tenets of our democracy, equal representation.

According to Census data and the nonprofit, VOTE, the gap between voters and non-voters breaks down strongly along class lines. In the last presidential election year (2012), there was a 15-point gap in voter turnout between lower and higher-income households, there was a 21-point gap between younger and older voters, and a similar gap was found between non-Hispanic white voters and Latino and Asian American voters. These statistics confirm what most of us already have a felt-sense of – that our government is not truly “of, by and for the people” because large numbers of lesser-advantaged Americans are left out of the democratic process entirely.

In the podcast, Sister Simone shares about a recent Nuns on the Bus tour where she and her fellow nuns spent time going door-to-door in an effort to get people to turnout to vote.

“One of the troubles in our society right now is that folks who are struggling mightily economically are being pushed out of the process of democracy. We did this big bus trip in the fall trying to get people to turn out to vote. I was doing door knocking in Colorado Springs and this guy answers the door- a tall, good looking African-American guy in his late twenties, early thirties, I'd say. He tells me that he is a disabled vet, but he is getting good service from the VA and he is very grateful for that. Then, we talked some more about his situation and all this, and then I asked him, “Are you going to vote?” And he said, “No, I’m not going to do it.” “Well why?”  And he said, “They don’t want my opinion, they don’t want to know what I think.”

Sister Simone warns, “if you leave people out, then you don’t have democracy.”

For Sister Simone and the Restorative Leadership Institute, the response to this issue is the same: it is acting on the fundamental belief in human potential and the power and wisdom of community.  It is the knowing that when people at the economic margins do better, we all do better. We must all do our part to ensure that all voices are heard this election season. Here are some ways we can take action:  

Volunteer to register people to vote. Check out volunteer matching websites like VolunteerMatch.org for election events in your area. Or join up with national organizations like Rock the Vote. You can also gather your friends and family and participate in National Voter Registration Day.  On September 27, 2016, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” for National Voter Registration Day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts.

Help registered voters get to the polls. Contact organizations in your area that serve underrepresented populations and volunteer your transportation services.   Or, if you happen to live in Nebraska, check-out Warren Buffet’s Drive 2 Vote initiative, where people can sign up for a ride or to give a ride on Election Day.  Buffett personally pledged to "take at least 10 people to the polls who otherwise would have had difficulty getting there"!

Check out Sister Simone Campbell’s organization, NETWORK, a Catholic leader in the global movement for justice and peace that educates, organizes and lobbies for economic and social transformation.

Will you join us in doing your part?