Election Reflections: How to Fix Our Unfriendly Politics

Election Reflections: How to Fix Our Unfriendly Politics

Well, this year we vote. At some point, perhaps in the early morning hours of the day after the election, perhaps not for several days, we will find out who has been selected by our Electoral College system to serve as President for the next four years. I expect that the winner will not fulfill all the promises they have made. Nor will their presidency be as apocalyptic as the prophets of doom have predicted. Both of these candidates have virtues that are worthy of our admiration, and weaknesses that merit our concern. Nonetheless, based on the deluge of Facebook posts by my friends, I expect that while somewhere around a third of you will be ecstatic over the result, another third will be bitterly disappointed.

But this post isn’t really about who is President for the next four years. We’ll all survive that. This post is about our friends, our neighbors, the stranger we see on the street, the person driving in front of you whose bumper sticker you disagree with. It’s about all of us. For no matter who wins this election, the last election, the next election — most of us will still be here. There is an old saying that we get the government we deserve. And frankly, based on the vitriol and animosity I have seen in social media surrounding this year’s presidential campaign, we don’t deserve much.

The Facebooking of Politics

I have heard friends accuse friends of being bigots and racists because of who they are voting for. I have seen friends accuse friends of being “uninformed, misinformed, communists or opposed to this country’s values” if we vote for specific candidates. I have seen friends accuse friends of being haters, homophobes, misogynists, etc., if they vote for others. I have seen friends “unfriend” friends. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to unfriend some folks myself, although I have resisted the urge. I don’t know if we are reflecting the polarization of Washington, or if the Beltway reflects the hatred and spite of the American citizenry.

Here’s what I rarely, if ever, observed: People truly listening. People asking questions of people who view the world differently than them. People seeking to understand.

To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, it’s not that we have tried to engage in gracious, thoughtful political dialogue and found it wanting — it’s that we have found it difficult and not tried. We have told people what they think rather than asking them. We have refused to believe their reasons, choosing to trust our own stereotypes. We haven’t listened to their stories — we’ve made them shallow caricatures in a story of our own creation.

I expect I have noticed this acutely the past several years during the 2008 and 2012 elections, because those were the first elections when so many of us were on Facebook in a presidential election year. But of course, politics, not to mention religion, has been a taboo topic of discussion for years, long before the Internet. It is tragic that those two disciplines that capture the depths of human values and meaning — religion and politics — are considered off-limits for many of our conversations. I expect much of this revolves around our need to be right, and our fear of people who see the world differently.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, as a friend of mine has continually jabbed at supporters of the other candidate, goading them to respond to some of the more troublesome aspects of their candidate’s platform. Always done in a shaming, blaming way. Not surprisingly, no one took my friend up on the offer to explain.

But let me make a few friendly suggestions about how we might do this better four years from now.

The Wisdom of Listening

First, ask questions. And listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for the person you disagree with to take a breath so you can shoot down their position. Listen seeking to understand. Assume that they are a person of good faith rather than an evil, bigoted hater. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong. Try to understand why they view the world the way they do. Affirm aspects of their values and perspectives that you can respect and admire, even if you might view things differently. Make it safe for them to share their deepest hopes and fears with you. In the Old Testament, Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (ESV). Are we practicing the wisdom of listening?

You will find that when you have asked questions, listened actively seeking to understand, and affirmed common ground, that you will develop trust. You will also have created a space where they may ask you questions and give you the same respect that you have shown them. They may even be willing to express respect for some of your values and vision.

Confession Is Good for the Soul

Then, admit to them the concerns you have about your own candidate/party, acknowledging that candidates, like the rest of humanity, have their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Then, and only then, might they feel safe enough to address the weaknesses in their candidate/party that trouble you. Few of us embrace the entire platform of the candidate we vote for. You may not change your friend’s vote. But you will have deepened a friendship. And opened a mind. You cannot wait for them to take the first step; you have to do it.

And whoever wins this election, be open to the possibility that some of their policies, all of which have been informed by advisors and embraced by close to half the population, might actually succeed. Hope and pray for the success of the candidate, even if you’re skeptical. Be more concerned about the good of the country than the success or failure of political parties.

When we remain open to the virtues and vision of our elected officials’ leadership, they may be more willing to listen to our legitimate concerns about those who might get left behind by their policies.

And maybe, just maybe, this sort of political engagement will catch on.

Getting ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Florida

Getting ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Florida

WALKING BY FAITH TO THE POLLS: Dozens af marchers from various churches leave the New Hope Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday Oct. 28, 2012, en route to the African American Cultural Library to vote. (Photo: Joe Cavaretta, South Florida Sun Sentinel)

On a day punctuated by echoes of the civil rights movement, hundreds of people poured out of churches after services in South Florida’s historic black neighborhoods Sunday to march to the voting booth, intent on honoring a right for which ancestors shed their blood.

“People have died so I could do this,” said James Gadsen, 74, a deacon at New Hope Baptist Church, the rallying point for the mile-long walk down Sistrunk Boulevard to the polls in the African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale. “Too many people have given up too much for me not to go vote.”

In Boynton Beach, scores of parishioners gathered at St. John Missionary Baptist Church and other houses or worship and were bused to various polling sites.

“We do not make an endorsement, but we urge people to consider a candidate who would do what Jesus would require,” said the Rev. Nathaniel Robinson, pastor of Greater St. Paul AME Church, who led his parishioners to the polls in Delray Beach.

Dubbed “Souls to the Polls,” the get-out-the-vote effort on the second day of statewide early voting was sponsored by several churches, local NAACP chapters and several public service sororities and fraternities, including Delta Sigma Theta.

The march reflected the tradition of many black voters casting their ballots after church on the Sunday before Election Day.

This year, however, the eight-day period set aside for early voting — cut from 14 days in the last presidential election — does not include the Sunday before Nov. 6. Early voting ends Saturday.

Many Democrats charged that Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature scaled back on early voting for 2012 to suppress the minority vote. Republicans deny that charge.

But those marching Sunday said they did not want to take any chances.

“We need to make sure our voices are heard,” said march organizer and attorney Alfreda Coward of Delta Sigma Theta. “And we need to make sure we elect people who are passionate about the issues that we are passionate about.”

The march and the rally outside the polls were nonpartisan. Both Democratic and Republican candidates were introduced before most marchers got in line to vote.

But there was little doubt which of the presidential nominees most of the marchers backed.

“Four more years,” the crowd chanted as the marchers streamed past Ray’s Meat Market, BG’s Home Cooking, under Interstate 95 and over the New River Bridge on a breezy, sunny day.

Not everyone marching was eligible to vote. Among the many youngsters joining family groups was Isaiah Blackwell, 15, a student at Northeast High School. Walking beside his grandmother, Blackwell said he could sense the historical precedents he had only read about.

“This makes me think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle against segregation,” he said. “We have to vote to succeed as a country.”

Inside the library, Broward County supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes said at mid-afternoon that waiting time to get into one of the 50 voting booths ran from 20 to 60 minutes.

That wait time was down from Saturday, when Broward set a record for a single day of presidential early voting.

“We had 28,000 people vote Saturday,” said Snipes. “That is an exceptional number, shocking. I did not realize that people would turn out the way they did.”

By 4 p.m. Sunday, more than 19,000 had cast ballots in Broward County, according to county election officials.

The count of first-day early voters in Palm Beach County on Saturday was more than 13,200, according to elections office spokeswoman Erin Lewandowski. Numbers from Sunday were unavailable.

Whether Sunday’s effort will make up for the loss of early-voting days remains to be seen. But this campaign in South Florida, along with other faith-based efforts in cities like Pensacola, Tampa, Orlando, Kissimmee, and Gainesville, will give Florida residents a chance to try.

© 2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL). Distributed by MCT Information Services. Used by arrangement with Newscom.

Intentional Acts of Kindness

Intentional Acts of Kindness

LITERACY MISSION: With his tour across the nation, Acts of Love founder William E. Hall hopes to improve the lives of urban kids one book at a time. (Photo by Amanda Edwards)

How do you measure the impact of an act of kindness? Is it by the words that are spoken or perhaps by the response that you elicit? Or is it something subtler?

For William E. Hall, pastor and founder of Acts of Love, the measure of his organization’s effectiveness comes by counting the number of smiles he sees each time he hands out books to children.

Based on the mantra “Extending a Hand and a Heart to the Next Generation,” Acts of Love is a community-based, non-profit campaign founded with the goal of collecting and distributing 1 million books to marginalized and underprivileged youth. “Our ultimate hope is to improve the reading and comprehension skills of students across the nation,” said Hall.

Birthed four years ago on DePaul University’s Chicago campus, Acts of Love is an outgrowth of Hall’s civic outreach organization, Communigize. Along with several of his closest friends, Hall launched Communigize as a community program centered on educating, mentoring, and inspiring urban youngsters.

Hall was born and raised in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He grew up like any normal teenager, having fun and exploring the city and all that it had to offer. But he discovered early on how random acts of kindness can transform a person’s life.

“For me, it was always about how can we make lives better, for real and that’s no cliché,” he said. “As a kid, I saw so many examples of that right next door. My grandma and grandpa would wave or talk to strangers walking down the street and make their day.”

Hall added that his grandfather was especially interested in encouraging young people.  “He just lived to see young people walk by, and encourage them by giving them pencils and raisins, and little cookies for afterschool treats.”

He carried those ordinary examples of kindness with him as he grew into adulthood. Now as a youth pastor, one can see how those principles have helped shape his ministry.

WORDS OF LIFE: At urban schools around the nation, Hall shares with young students about the importance of reading, learning, and making good choices in life. Here he meets with students at a Chicago grade school.

At DePaul, Hall always had those principles in mind as he pursued his studies as an economics major. While on campus, he was instrumental in starting several student organizations that shared that focus. Groups like Soul Food and Communigize were organizations designed to positively impact students’ hearts through the Word of God.

But Hall quickly realized that by only working with kids while in classroom settings, his outreach was limited. He remembered a specific field trip where he and his friends took several students to Navy Pier.

“As a youth pastor, we used to bring young people up and would allow them to run around on campus. We would just mentor them and expose them to places they probably wouldn’t see. When driving past [Chicago’s] Navy Pier, one of the kids in the car did not know what it was, and looked at the big Ferris wheel and was like, ‘What’s that?’ And that’s when I knew how important it is to really love young people and to really help them.”

Over the course of the next four years, he would yearn to do more. Hall realized that although he had touched the lives of numerous young people, God had placed a greater mission field in mind that would extend far beyond his reach with Communigize and the city of Chicago.

He completed his bachelor’s in 2007, and then went on to further his studies at McCormick Theological Seminary, where he received his master of divinity degree in 2011. It was during his years in school that he says God inspired him to take the message of love and inspiration across the country.

“I told my friends, let’s do this. Let’s organize and begin to look at ways we can strategically build something to help young people,” Hall said. And that’s how Acts of Love was born.

“[We are] living out what’s required of us as Christian people created by God, and that is to love others,” he said. “When we do a kind act, that’s really saying to someone I’m giving you the joy and happiness that comes from God, abounding love.”

This summer, Hall and his team of volunteers hope to inspire 700 or more adults to join the “Love Young People Tour” in going door to door, visiting some of the nation’s poorest communities in cities like Chicago, Gary, Detroit, Miami, and Washington D.C., and handing out 7,000 or more books to elementary, middle, and high school-aged students.

THE POWER OF BOOKS: Hall loves counting the smiles that come as he and his volunteers hand out books to young people. After getting their books, these young students in Columbus, Ohio, were eager to start reading.

Hall says he wants to make love tangible, and wants young people to “fall in love with knowledge” and the wisdom that can be discovered on the written page. He believes that when a difference is made in a young person’s life, the world can be changed. That’s why he and his staff of volunteers have partnered with Chicago aldermen Pat Dowell and Roderick Sawyer in hopes of counteracting literacy rates in the Windy City. And he hopes to duplicate this in other communities around the nation.

He added, “We never know how the seeds of knowledge that these kids find in books or just in the art of reading will impact them 10 or 15 years from now.”

In addition to the ambitious goal of collecting a million books, Hall also plans to join with other community partners to provide new books for urban libraries, build 50 reading rooms centered on growth and development, and supply 50 urban schools with a comprehensive extracurricular reading curriculum to aid them in improving student reading skills.

With more than 6,000 books already collected and nearly 500 people that have already pledged their support, Hall and his team are seeking additional supporters willing to make the commitment of sowing a seed of knowledge into the lives of the next generation.

“I want people to understand the power of love, and the need to love young people,” he said. “That’s what I was created for. We want a million people to make that commitment; to take that pledge, participate, and pass the word.”

If you would like to partner with the Acts of Love campaign or the Love Young People Tour 2012, please visit the www.millionactsoflove.org for more information.

Cory Booker: Keeping It Too Real?

Cory Booker: Keeping It Too Real?

GOING ROGUE: Last Sunday, during a 'Meet the Press' panel discussion, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for President Obama's re-election campaign, praised Obama's record but went off-message when he scolded the Obama campaign for negative ads.

On Monday night, I was out with friends when my pal Outlaw told me about another person there who’d made some less than flattering comments about him. Here’s the thing: Outlaw is my friend. This random guy running his mouth was not. So from there I went on to joke about the stranger, making assessments about his overall character and so forth. Then Outlaw laughed and said, “We can’t really speculate on who he is based on this one comment he made about me. You’re just saying all that stuff because you’re my friend.”

I replied, “Of course I am, duh! That’s what friends do.”

And I mean it. I believe that’s what friends are for: to love you unconditionally and support you when you need it. When your friend gets cheated on and calls you, your job is to pick her side and provide comfort. Now, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that pesky thing called accountability. When you’re wrong, your friends should tell you and hold you accountable. But when you’re in a fight –particularly physical ones — you expect your friends to jump in and sort out the details later. Right?

Well, it seems the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, was in a bit of a quandary. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, but if not … Mayor Booker is a progressive young politician who enjoys immense popularity in his hometown and across the country. Many believe he has the potential to hold an even higher position, maybe even president! While he’s managed to appease liberals and conservatives alike in his home city, he primarily moves rank and file with President Obama and has been an outspoken and helpful backer of the Obama administration. When the President voiced his support of same-sex marriage, Cory Booker took to his Twitter feed (as he often does) to applaud and agree. One could say that Mayor Booker and President Obama are pretty chummy.

That was until Mr. Booker was interviewed on Meet the Press last week. Mayor Booker called the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, “ridiculous” and “nauseating.” In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you take a look below.

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When I saw Mayor Booker’s comments flicker across my timeline, I thought that I was surely misreading it. I mean, it’s one thing for lil ol’ me to disagree with President Obama (I do so pretty often, actually), but I’m not the President’s pal; I’m not an elected official; I’m not a leading voice in the Democratic party; and I don’t have anything close to Cory Booker’s 1,150,727 followers.

However, when Mayor Booker calls out the Obama campaign’s tactics, it makes us wonder … was it the right thing to do? The media recognized the spectacle right away, declaring that Booker had gone “rogue” and speculating on how damaging his words would be to the Obama campaign. After Booker released a personal video in a desperate attempt to clarify his comments, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough even suggested that Booker is “fighting for his political life.”

From my perspective, this controversy ultimately goes back to those old conflicting questions about friendship. Should Mayor Booker have stuck to his guns and his morals that said, “The political discourse has gone too far, we’ve got to get above the nasty fighting and stay above the fray?” Or should he have stood by his friend and fellow statesman who’s running in a tight race against a man that Mayor Booker surely doesn’t want to win the presidency?

It’s a tough call and one we often have to make in our personal lives. Do you stand by your friend even when you disagree with her cheating on her nice yet gullible boyfriend? Or do you call her on it and threaten to expose her if she doesn’t shape up and act right?

In this case, I too have some critical feedback for the Obama campaign’s tactics. The emails I’m getting from the Democratic National Committee often sound as divisive as a Fox News personality, and there’s an ad out that compares Mitt Romney to a vampire for “sucking jobs away from a steel town.” That type of rhetoric is polarizing and doesn’t resonate with the inspiring picture of our president that draws voters together. Perhaps Obama’s campaign does need to take a couple chill pills. However, I believe Mayor Booker could have expressed his concerns to the campaign without necessarily sharing them with the world. I can’t say for sure if the mayor already tried to do this and had to resort to airing his concerns on Meet the Press, but think about it this way: Drawing on the previous example, if your friend is cheating on her boyfriend, do you tell her to get right via Twitter or over a one-on-one brunch? Obviously, the personal, less-public option is the only way to go if you have any interest in preserving the friendship.

So, Mayor Booker, I agree with what you said; I just question if the setting was right.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s campaign now has a new star in their most recent attack ads against President Obama — the one and only Honorable Mayor Cory Booker.

Who. Woulda. Thunk?

If nothing else, this little episode tells us we should be gearing up for an ugly presidential election. Which is exactly what Cory Booker was trying to avoid.

First Black ‘Bachelor’? Please, No

First Black ‘Bachelor’? Please, No

A DISTINGUISHED BREAKTHROUGH?: Will this man, Lamar Hurd, become the first Black "Bachelor" on ABC's popular reality show?

When I stumbled upon the news that Lamar Hurd launched a campaign to become the first Black man cast on ABC’s The Bachelor, I sighed and shook my head.

Let me say this up front: I hold no ill will toward Lamar Hurd. A late-20s sportscaster based out of my hometown of Portland, Hurd is the type of guy I should have no problem finding likeable. He was a standout ballplayer at Oregon State, and went on to play pro ball overseas for a year before returning to build a career in broadcasting.

So what I want for him is the same thing I want for me, my loved ones, and really for all people in general — to have lives of significance, spent in the pursuit of our God-given purposes, developing meaningful relationships along the way. According to a recent interview, his faith is an important part of his life, so I think that he probably wants the same thing for himself.

Which is why I hope he changes his mind and stops trying to get on that show.

Because 20 years from now, I don’t think being the first Black guy on The Bachelor is something he’ll look back on with much pride or accomplishment. Even if we ignore the lawsuit that two other African American applicants filed decrying The Bachelor’s lack of diversity, the political or cultural implications of achieving diversity goals via class action litigation in general, and how it might negatively impact Hurd if he’s cast as a result of public pressure to fulfill a quota … even if we ignore all of that … it’s still a bad idea.

Not that I don’t understand the allure, though.

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I understand the whole First Black Guy thing. My dad was the First Black Guy in his region to take a full-time staff role at a particular faith-based nonprofit. I was among the first few Black guys to graduate my elite private high school. There is a certain element of privilege at being able to break through a perceived color barrier, which is part of the reason why President Obama will always occupy a special place in history, regardless of the efficacy of his political legacy.

But we’re not talking about politics, or academics, or even sports. No, Lamar, we’re talking about reality television.

(Can I call you “Lamar?”)

This is the genre that made household names out of Kato Kaelin, Omarosa, and Jon Gosselin. Is this really the venue where you want to establish your reputation, a show where the male protagonist is encouraged to sample ladies like hors d’oeuvres at the supermarket? It’s not exactly consistent with the kind of sterling character and integrity that you spotlight in your campaign video below.

C’mon, Lamar. Not only does this have the potential to make you look bad, but seriously … do you really want to select a wife from a pool of women who are incentivized to actively compete for your attention? When the woman in Proverbs 31 is mentioned as being shrewd in the marketplace, she’s supposed to be the seller, not the product on display.

Plus, even if we assume that you and your prospective wife both succeed in participating in the show without degrading yourselves — a long shot, to be sure — it’s still no way to prepare for a long, committed, prosperous marriage. Because anytime she disappoints you by not living up to your expectations, you’ll be tempted to compare her to one of the other dozen ladies who caught your eye before, and think, “Shoot, I should have picked her instead.”

If you’re really serious about your faith, then put more of it in God than in a reality TV show. You may be surprised by how well He can meet your deepest needs and desires, even those you’re not aware of.

Or, if you prefer, think about this like a basketball player. Do some scouting. Research the last ten guys cast as The Bachelor. Find out how many of those guys are still dating or married to the woman they selected. Then ask yourself if this show will get you the best, highest-percentage shot at a successful marriage.

And if none of that works … just hit me up, bro. I know a few ladies who could be a good fit for you. I don’t know if they share any of your likes or dislikes, but I know they have more sense than to audition for The Bachelor.