The author is a member of HPTA
opinion published in the Raleigh News and Observer, Chapel Hill section, June 3, 2017
BY ALLISON MAHALEY
“I don’t usually make political posts, but what happened to compassion?”
This recent Facebook post gave me great pause. Indeed, what happened to compassion and why do both state and national lawmakers seem to lack it? More importantly, why did my friend categorize her query as political? Isn’t compassion something we often think of as rooted in religion and fundamental ethics? If compassion is at the heart of religion, what responsibility does religion play in bringing compassion to policy-making?
The loss of compassion is evident in the rhetoric and actions not only of our newly elected president but of our North Carolina legislators. Among those actions: two – not just one but two bans on refugees from Muslim countries; a commitment to building a border wall without mention of common-sense immigration reform; and a budget that reduces services to the poor in order to benefit the rich while gleefully celebrating a health-care proposal that would leave millions without access to care.
All this was after North Carolina lawmakers targeted our transgender community with HB2 and used its partial repeal to highlight their power over our governor. It is dizzying. But when the layers are peeled back – this is an administration that, at its core, has legitimized a spirit of meanness. So indeed, what happened to compassion?
Moreover, what has happened to our democracy? The entire electoral process has been exposed as fraudulent. The Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina congressional districts were unconstitutional, N.C. House and Senate districts have been challenged in court for being gerrymandered. Politicians choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians have made inclusive, representative governance all but impossible. Even worse, legislation keeps being introduced to limit voting rights – again. All of this is enough to cause most to lose faith in our democracy. In fact, many, many people especially young people have done just that: the deck is stacked – why bother?
The power of this government is supposed to be derived from the consent of the people, and our consent is given via our elections. If we lose faith in our democracy and stop participating, we risk being governed by a self-serving oligarchy, and we will suffer the erosion of our freedoms.
Let’s connect the dots: the absence of compassion in our politics derives from a self-serving class of politicians who have secured disproportionate power through a gerrymandered electoral map. Their claims to religious rectitude mask their true commitment to wealth and control. Their political dominance results in arrogance on their part and frustration, anger and resentment by others.
One of our most basic freedoms is to chose if, where, and whom we worship. A recent poll indicates that most Americans identify as “nons,” meaning they do not associate with a religious organization. I suggest that this decline is at the root of my friend’s Facebook post – if compassion has disappeared from our politics, it seems that our current political leaders, though publicly hyper-religious, are betraying the faith they claim to defend and are fomenting division and fear.
Indeed, if you acknowledge the role religion has played in polarizing our country, then religion can also play a role in restoring our faith in democracy. I believe that progressive religious institutions hold the promise of righting this ship and putting our country back on course.
It is time for those who are motivated by compassion, religious or ethical, to become active and vocal in our body politic. Rebuilding the power of the people is best done through institutions that already have the capacity to sustain, nurture, and direct people for the common good. Churches, synagogues, mosques, congregations, gatherings of like-minded people – people who believe in the common good are invited to reclaim our democracy.
For more information about this exciting opportunity, see orangedurhamau.com or email one of the sponsoring organizations and ask about how you can get involved restoring Faith in Democracy, a coalition effort to help grassroots organizers and social justice warriors across our state.
Allison Mahaley is the president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – Orange Durham Chapter.