The Diocesan Office of Social Concerns and Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC), a faith-based community organizing group with strong Catholic ties, are helping parishes form civic engagement teams that will urge parishioners to vote in the November 4 general election. The parish teams will also urge support for State Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The measure would allow those who commit six specified non-violent offenses to have their conviction downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor, with the savings generated from reduced prison populations going toward mental health and drug abuse programs, K-12 education for at-risk youth and victims services.
At press time, civic engagement teams were already in place at ten parishes including Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral and St. Bernardine Church in San Bernardino, St. Joan of Arc parish in Victorville and four parishes in the Coachella Valley. Eight other parishes are in the process of forming teams. ICUC is attempting to form a total of 40 civic engagement teams in Catholic and other denominations.
“This is a real opportunity for folks to get some experience in building social concerns ministry capacity at the parish level and to put faith into action,” said ICUC organizer Thomas Weiler.
ICUC organizers conducted trainings of those who are serving on the parish civic engagement teams in September and the parish teams were then to start inviting parishioners to sign cards pledging to vote. Volunteers will next follow-up by phone with voters in their parish using voter registration lists cross-referenced with the signed pledge cards. Finally, the parish civic engagement teams will canvass homes around their churches in an effort to reach vote-by-mail voters.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Sister Hortensia Del Villar, Director of Social Concerns for the Diocese, says of working with ICUC. “If it works out well it’s going to be a good system to continue.”
The overall goal of the effort, called “Let My People Vote,” is to turn out 10,000 low propensity voters in the two counties. In the June 2014 primary election voter turnout in California was a record low 28 percent, the San Bernardino County turnout was only 15 percent.
Sr. Del Villar says she is aware that some are not comfortable with efforts to encourage voting and civic participation in a church setting. She says that parishioners who will do the outreach will emphasize the Catholic teaching that voting is a moral obligation that helps ensure the common good and promotes human dignity.
“Some people say this is political,” Sr. Del Villar says. “It’s about being prophetic.”