I am writing this column on the Monday before the biggest election of my lifetime. On Wednesday, November 9, the day AFTER this biggest election, I will celebrate my birthday…a ‘major’ birthday, as they say, and I know that – even thought my husband and I have made a reservation at a very nice restaurant – it will be a dinner of celebration and exhaustion or of mourning and exhaustion.
Election time is important in the US. People in the town where this church is located fought, and some died, for the right to determine the course of our democracy. So here, particularly in Lexington Massachusetts, I remember what happened on the Battle Green a mile and a half from this church, and how John Hancock, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and the Sons of Liberty worked to shape this democracy, championed by Rev. Jonas Clarke, their progressive minister.
These feelings about affirming our democracy are not small potatoes in any election year, and it feels much bigger this year. Not just because of the major party candidates who have been duking it out for eighteen months, but because of the terrible polarization that exists in this country. That division, and some of the angry rhetoric that drives it, has taken hold not only among adults but among children and youth. I can remember my daughter’s time in elementary school when it was reported that the child of a lesbian parent was being harassed for being ‘gay’; I heard just this past week that a middle schooler I know – who is biracial – has been subject to harassment and has been called a ‘nigger’ and worse. Yes, this is Lexington Massachusetts and yes, this does go on…and children and youth watch what we do and say, and learn from us, from their friends, from the media. We should not fool ourselves: no matter which way this election goes, things will not be settled. It’s not only about winning, it’s about the temperature of the country in which we live, and that sense will endure long after the votes of November 8 are counted and filed away.
This past week in our classes at church, the first and second grades and the third and fourth grades took time to talk about voting and elections and democracy as a way of life in this country. We used materials from the UUA’s “Toolbox of Faith” curriculum and those prepared by the UUA’s Faith Development staff to not only explain democracy, but to talk about why elections and voting are important principles for UUs to understand. We recall that “A free and democratic search for truth and meaning,” the fifth principle of Unitarian Universalism (translated, in language for younger children to “All people need a voice,”) guides us as people of a progressive faith tradition.
I hope that if you have children living at home with you, you took them to your polling place. If you couldn’t do that, I hope that you have had conversation with them about why ‘fair and free elections’ are a key principle of the United States constitution, and why all people need to exercise their right to vote, and make sure that the right to register and vote is upheld for all citizens. And I hope that – no matter which way this election turned out – you are taking time to talk with your children about what has happened, about the divisions that exist in this country right now, and about how we all might play a part in building, or rebuilding a deeply divided country so that we might call on (as Abraham Lincoln said, one hundred and fifty years ago) “the better angels of our nature” to guide us forward.
This is the work of all of us: children, youth, adults, young and old, and we must engage in this work now if we are to imagine a future that is inclusive, affirming of the values of all, and that offers a promise for a better tomorrow.
Interim Director of Religious Education