A Civic Sacrament

The highlight of my eighteenth birthday was not buying cigarettes or getting into the clubs – it was my mother driving me to city hall so I could register to vote. No, seriously. It was February, 2001, a good three years from my first presidential election, but I had been waiting for this moment since I first knew what voting was.

The first memory I have of electoral politics was the 1988 presidential election. My mom and I lived with her parents in upstate New York. I remember the Dukakis button on my mom’s pink ski coat as clear as yesterday. My Poppy told me that he wasn’t just a Democrat, he was a union member, and that meant an awful lot in deciding who to vote for. It was then that I couldn’t wait to be part of the excitement of making the big decisions about the future of my country. Since that formative moment, politics has almost been like a religion to me. My childhood idols were, equally, Joan of Arc and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Political identities, like our spiritual identities, are a way of navigating the world in a manner that coincides with our most deeply held values. Leading up to the 2002 election, I wore my green Wellstone button with the same regularity as I wore my miraculous medal. When the electoral process elicits this type of fervor, it can be difficult to remember that people of good conscience can come down on different sides of the same issue. While it may be easy to demonize someone who supports the Iraq war or legalized abortion, it is necessary to approach political discourse with a spirit of charity. No doubt, each of us have reached this time and place with deeply held convictions that we hope reflect God’s love, and the best way to spread that love in a world still imperfect.

I’ve voted for Sheriff in Venango County, caucused for Kucinich in central Minnesota, and am anxious to cast my ballot on Tuesday. In my experience, voting has taken on a sacramental tone. We are, in the voting booth, alone with God and our conscience, not too much unlike confession. Democracy is a blessing and a responsibility. Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” For those of us so blessed to live in a time and place where we, as women and as citizens, to be able to have a fair and equal say in who will lead our country is nothing to take lightly. I pray that as each of us (in the US, anyway) head to the polls on Tuesday, we will do so in a spirit of hope and love for our neighbors – especially those with whom we disagree.

Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer living in Wisconsin and working in non-profit administration. Her least favorite thing about autumn in the Midwest is snow before Halloween.

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