Thursday, November 10, 2005

Getting Out the Vote!

When it comes to electoral politics, the candidate who is most effective at GOTV (getting out the vote) wins. But what happens when a nonpartisan community organization decides to launch a massive GOTV effort around its own, broad-based issue agenda? Well, Montgomery County is about to find out.

Last week, on November 2, over 350 leaders from Action In Montgomery (AIM) gathered in a historic Bethesda church and voted overwhelmingly to insert the diverse coalition of 32 congregations (representing over 30,000 county residents) into the thick of the upcoming election. So, how does an organization of churches and synagogues approach electoral politics in a way that remains true to their nonpartisan nature? Rabbi Mark Raphael, of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, explained it this way:
...we must confront, engage and be political. If we want things to be better we have to live in the real world and strive for a better world. And while we are political we do not support candidates. We only support our agenda.

Legally and ethically, we do not ask people to vote for an individual. Instead we seek to educate and arm our community with the knowledge of the issues and where the candidates stand on our agenda. Then we all most vote our consciences.
Rev. Jeff MacKnight, rector of St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Bethesda, added:
Some groups ask candidates to answer questionnaires. We don't. Some groups support a candidate's agenda. We don't. Some groups endorse candidates. We don't.

We hold thousands of face-to-face discussions in our communities. We create our own issue agenda, and then we ask candidates to endorse it!
Rabbi Raphael posed the question to those in attendance: "Do we translate our power, our numbers, our leadership, our willingness to act - into voter turnout?" Leaders from each congregation lined up at microphones to give their answer - a resounding "Yes!" Every representative, without exception voted to approve the GOTV effort and, in addition, pledged to bring scores of people to a larger action in early March 2006. All told over 700 people were committed to attend the March event, where AIM will unveil its new, expanded issue agenda and challenge candidates to support that agenda in the face of the largest, most organized voter turnout operation ever seen in Montgomery County.

FYI - here's the Gazette's account of last week's AIM action.

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