My name is Erin Sweeney and I am a student intern doing a summer research project for Democracy North Carolina. I’m working out of Democracy NC’s headquarters in Durham. It may surprise some of you that Democracy NC does not have a fulltime organizer for the Triangle; the main office serves more as a communications hub and operation site that coordinates other staff (and other interns!) throughout the state. However, Democracy NC recognizes Durham’s importance in the upcoming election, and wants to explore the possibility of a “Souls to the Polls” program in the area. “Souls to the Polls” encourages faith-based communities to register, educate, and mobilize people to vote.
My job is to reach out to area religious leaders of all types to discuss how faith and political participation intersect in Durham. One of the questions I most enjoy asking priests, reverends, pastors, ministers, bishops, rabbis (and other faith leaders I have yet to interview!) is: “What are the most important social/political issues to you and your congregation?” The answers vary but interestingly, nearly all of my conversations have included discussion about the need for “immigration reform.” That buzzword conceals more about the issue than it actually reveals; immigration is a complicated issue that poses challenges for political leaders on both sides of the isle.
One congregation I visited was Immaculate Conception, a Catholic church whose congregation includes many Latinos. Father Dan, the priest there, told me Durham is unique in the way is values community-based organizations that “aim to improve the structures that impede citizens, and even non-citizens, from enjoying society’s benefits and blessings.” Organizations like Durham CAN and El Centro Hispano “provide a locus for Durham’s Latino community, in addition to the churches,” Father Dan continued. When I cautiously asked how many people in the church’s congregation have legal documents, Father Dan shrugged as if to say, “It doesn’t matter to me.” He went on to explain how the church has adapted to become a more inclusive environment. Most of the staff speaks Spanish fluently and all of the signs and pamphlets are available in multiple languages. As I drove away from the church, I waved goodbye to Father Dan and sighed, relieved that I had met someone who truly welcomes all immigrants, regardless of legal status.
Something Father Dan said about gratitude is stuck in my mind. He said “No blessing is accepted, or taken for granted. They are meant to be shared. We must ask ourselves, ‘How can we make society more generous?’” Father Dan was speaking about wealth, saying that richer people had a moral and theological imperative to help the less fortunate. But I find myself wondering how the spirit of generosity and sharing blessings extends to things like job security, peace of mind when passing a police car and voting rights? Democracy North Carolina encourages people exercise their right to vote on behalf of those who cannot.” Amen to that.
To be continued…
Democracy NC Intern