The Call to Renewal has a unique opportunity this year to begin the process of bringing a new civility, honesty, and fairness to the political debate, especially on behalf of those who are traditionally at the bottom of society and are systematically shut out of the system.
We can communicate to those running for public office that many Christians do not accept the philosophy and dictates of the Religious Right. We have the means to demand of our elected officials that they embrace a new political vision that heals our communities rather than wounds them; that brings our people together rather than creates ever-widening divisions of class, race, and culture; that seeks to deliver a message of hope rather than drive us deeper into despair; and that engages rather than alienates and manipulates the electorate.
We encourage you to begin that process in your local communities by hosting a candidate forum this fall. Elections are an important part of how our society runs. A candidate forum allows you to set the tone of the discussion and demand a new dialogue from participating candidates. It can help voters become better informed on the candidates running for office and on the issues vying for attention.
A number of important goals can be achieved by holding a public forum with candidates on the issues that are important to your community.
- Positively influence the public debate. Through a candidate forum it is possible to redefine and redirect a public political dialogue that has grown increasingly mean-spirited and divisive. You set the tone and control the forum, and therefore can demand a higher standard of dialogue. You can send a forceful message to those in office and those who aspire to office that many people are knowledgeable and concerned about issues, and are frustrated with the current tone of politics.
- Educate. Few techniques for educating are more effective than personal testimony. A format for candidate forums that features the stories of people struggling to make ends meet and the success stories of community groups beating the odds will make a lasting impression on those who attend the forum and the candidates who participate. Asking candidates for public office to respond to real-life situations can be far more effective than academic discussions of theoretical issues.
- Organize. Many people think the political system is too complex for them to understand. As a result they remain on the sidelines. By demystifying the process, helping people to understand federal, state, and local programs, and educating them about policy, it is easier for them to become involved. A candidate forum can be an important event to launch a Call to Renewal network in your community. It should be viewed as an organizing opportunity, rather than just a one-time event.
The Call to Renewal has developed a guide with basic suggestions on how to organize a candidate forum. If you are interested, please contact us for a copy. The Call to Renewal staff is also available to help you with questions that may arise along the way.
Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Contact Call to Renewal, c/o Sojourners, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8842.