UU the Vote – Action is the Antidote to Despair

“Hope doesn’t come from calculating whether the good news is winning out over the bad. It is simply a choice to take action.”

— Anna Lappe

Do you often feel anxiety or despair at the state of our nation, our world? Does it seem that the forces of hate have the upper hand? Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Action is the antidote to despair*.”

Across the country UU congregations are taking actions to defend our democracy against the forces of hate with a campaign called UU The Vote. Each congregation is encouraged to develop their own campaign plan and members of our Peace & Justice Action Team at Starr King are developing those plans now.

The 2020 national elections are perhaps more important than any other in living memory. Without stopping the harms caused by the rise of authoritarianism and fascism, progressive movements have little chance of any effectiveness for the next generation and beyond. Therefore, these 2020 elections are not another “issue area” competing for resources and volunteer time alongside a dozen others; they are a “movement moment” in themselves, and our ability to bring to bear the experience and fierce commitments of activists, organizers, and people of conscience who care deeply about a wide range of progressive causes will determine the future of the human species and the planet.

Progressive people of faith can take up a meaningful role in election years without being partisan by shaping the public discourse with a values-based framing, rooted in our theology and principles. As UUs specifically, our deepest beliefs in interdependence, democracy, human worth and dignity across difference, the richness of pluralism and diversity, and the inborn right of all peoples to access self-determination and agency are a life-giving, life-saving, life-sustaining alternative to the narratives and policies of domination, supremacy, exceptionalism, and exploitation that are on the rise. UU The Vote Launch Guide

In February our Starr King Peace & Justice Action Team voted unanimously to participate in our own UU The Vote campaign as advocated by the Unitarian Universalist Association. Our committee is making plans for non-partisan work for the November election including:

  • a voter registration drive
  • get out the vote efforts

We are seeking community partners such as

  • The League of Women Voters and
  • The NAACP Hayward South County

All around us is evidence of those in despair taking action that saved their lives and those of others.

After her daughter was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980. In the midst of her grief she turned her despair to action and started a very successful political movement that has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.

Perhaps you believe that as a religious organization we cannot engage in the political process without jeopardizing our standing as a tax-exempt organization that can collect donations and pledges that are generally tax deductible. The truth is that, just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been very successful in advancing their values and lobbying for political change while remaining a non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax deductible organization, so can we as a religious congregation advocate and even lobby for our values as long as we refrain from participating in political campaign activity for a particular candidate or group of candidates.

The Real Rules

The Real Rules – IRS Rules for Religious Organizations

The IRS rules on the tax status on advocacy and lobbying by religious congregations can be summarized in three parts:

Issue Advocacy: Without limit, religious congregations and their representatives may engage in issue advocacy including educating and mobilizing their members and the public in support of their values. For example, forums and film showings decrying fracking of fossil fuels for its irreversible environmental damage such as sponsored by our own Peace & Justice Action Team. Such advocacy cannot be tied to so-called political campaign activity, such as endorsement or opposition to any particular candidate, political party or group of candidates. Advocating for our values in the political arena is totally acceptable under IRS regulations.

Lobbying: Within limits, congregations and their representatives may engage in lobbying, defined as advocating for or against specific pieces of legislation. This includes proposed local, state and national legislation such as voter initiatives, state or congressional bills. The “limits” are not defined by the IRS, but courts have held that anything representing less than 5% of all activities, including total amount of congregational money, staff and volunteer time is within limits. Considering our entire budget, multiple committees, staff and volunteer hours we have considerable allowance for this type of lobbying efforts. Again, such advocacy cannot be tied to endorsement or opposition to any particular candidate, political party or group of candidates.

Individual Activity by Religious Leaders: The political campaign activity prohibition cannot infringe on the right of religious leaders from speaking as individuals on important issues of public policy in the public arena. This may even include partisan statements or endorsement of electoral candidates or political organizations if it is clear that the religious leader is not speaking for the religious organization. On the other hand, religious leaders should not make partisan statements that could be tied to political campaign activity in official church publications or at church functions.

Blue State, Red State or Purple State?

Why should we be involved in a UU The Vote campaign in California which is decidedly not a “swing state”?

We live in California and issues important to us and our community will be on the ballot. We can shape the outcome by ensuring that our neighbors are registered and turn out to vote in record numbers.

Undoubtedly, some members of Starr King may choose to organize or participate in political campaign activity in swing states on their own time. Congregants may even solicit others in the congregation to do so. Some may choose to participate in post card writing or phone banking that advocates for a particular candidate or group of candidates either locally or in other states. All is permitted free speech activity. What would jeopardize our tax status is advocating, organizing or advertising for partisan political campaign activity in church publications or by church officials at church functions.

Join Us

The Starr King Peace & Justice Action Team meets the 2nd Sunday of each month – Next month on Sunday March 8 at 12:15 following the worship service. This will be a chance to take action to relieve despair.

“For Unitarian Universalists, this is faithful, moral action because democracy and the right of all people to have a voice and a vote are at the very heart of our Seven Principles. This work is about the inherent worth and dignity of every person; it is about restoring right relationship with the planet; it is about our commitment to justice and equity for all people. We are called to courageously embody the deepest values of our faith with our hearts, bodies, and spirits while building toward an abundant future in which all are free and flourishing.”

–Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President Unitarian Universalist Association

— Bob Britton