The Common Good
September/October 2008

Vote Out Poverty

by Elizabeth Denlinger Reaves | September/October 2008

From election rhetoric to real change.

With Election Day looming, political rhetoric is picking up its pace across the country, with candidates praising the “American Dream” and the “land of opportunity”—but many more Americans live in poverty today than in 1968. Even more distressing, 30,000 children die each day of preventable causes around the world, and millions go to bed hungry. As Christians, we are called to respond to the people behind these statistics.

The contradiction between election rhetoric and reality gives us a key opportunity to do just that. Elections give citizens the chance to leverage real commitments from political candidates—commitments to specific anti-poverty targets and proven strategies. And history shows us that a determined, steady, and well-organized constituency can hold elected officials accountable to promises that are made.

Too often, we let this opportunity pass us by. But this election season, a common call against national and global poverty is growing across the religious and secular anti-poverty community, including Catholic Charities, Christian Churches Together, and the Center for American Progress.

Sojourners’ contribution is the Vote Out Poverty campaign, which seeks to empower Christians with practical, effective strategies. Our goal is simple: We want a national plan from the president and Congress to cut domestic poverty in half over the next decade and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, a set of international goals for reducing global poverty.

The Vote Out Poverty campaign has two parts. First, in the months before the election, it is about educating voters in the faith community about the biblical imperative to consider the welfare of all people when casting their vote in November—to “vote through the lens of the poor.” Those educated voters will ask candidates to sign pledges affirming that, if elected, they will work to accomplish specific anti-poverty goals.

BUT THIS IS just the beginning: After the election, the second half of the Vote Out Poverty campaign will hold lawmakers accountable for their campaign-trail promises. Next April, Sojourners will convene thousands of Christians from across the country for a mobilization in Washington, D.C., focused on overcoming poverty. Together, we’ll make a strong call to the new administration for anti-poverty leadership, and we’ll follow up with every candidate who pledged to be a leader in poverty reduction. We’ll urge them to endorse and pass a policy platform of proven poverty-reducing initiatives and legislation, joining other organizations, here and abroad, that are working to end poverty.

We know that success is possible. Consider Great Britain: In 1999, the government publicly committed that it would, by 2010, cut in half the number of children living in poverty. This measurable target increased urgency inside and outside of government. The government raised the minimum wage, expanded access to child care, and examined and addressed the root causes of joblessness. The result? A 17-percent decline in child poverty in the first five years.

The Vote Out Poverty campaign is already gaining momentum across the country. In June, Sojourners trained 300 grassroots organizers to lead Vote Out Poverty campaigns in their local churches and student ministries. They and others will host “Poverty Sunday” in their churches on Sept. 21, registering voters, preaching and teaching about the biblical call to social justice, and calling their friends, family, and local candidates to commit to making poverty reduction a national priority.

As Christians, we are called to respond to the deadly statistics of poverty, and most of us do, through loving our neighbors in local ministries and giving to charity. But policy solutions—such as changing tax codes and mandating affordable health care—are also crucial. With the Vote Out Poverty campaign, Christians are putting out the challenge for candidates to move beyond their stump-speech rhetoric and join with the amazing movement already happening in the church—a movement to overcome poverty in our country and around the world. Together, we can put poverty reduction on the national agenda this election season.

Elizabeth Denlinger is deputy director of policy and organizing at Sojourners. To learn more about the Sept. 21 “Poverty Sunday” or about the mobilization to end poverty next April 26-29 in Washington, D.C., visit www.voteoutpoverty.org.

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