In the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I found myself seeking – and approaching – a sense of calm over whatever the outcome might be: Serenity to accept the things I cannot change and all that. With the rhetoric so heated I needed to cool myself off, and for a time I did.
After a few days of this peace I saw my folly: peace only came to me because as an educated, employed white woman in a Commonwealth with a strong social safety net, I had very little skin in the game. It is unlikely that I will lose very much.
When the shock of the unexpected outcome began to wear off, I cast a critical eye on the goals of many of the people who will be dominant in Washington over the next two and four years, and I saw how much there truly was to fear for so many.
That’s when I realized what skin I had in the game: my commitment to care for the poor and the marginalized. My identity as a Catholic Christian is expressed in looking out for those with less power than others. I don’t use words like “poor” and “vulnerable” to be dismissive or paternalistic, but to name a power imbalance. Some of those groups include:
• Disabled people who rely on Medicaid, whose benefits may be cut the system switches block-grants.
• People in neighborhoods where the only access to cash is from predatory lenders and check-cashing businesses, whose protections may be decreased if the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau is defanged.
• Those in the US and around the world who can’t insulate themselves from the effects of climate change, whose plight may worsen if the EPA is run by a climate-change denier.
• The financially poor who are held back by unjust structures in the United States, whose struggles go unrecognized by a Speaker of the House whose positions imply he thinks poverty is a character flaw.
• Prisoners whose fundamental human dignity is violated by torture and other degradations.
• Young people who have lived as undocumented immigrants since childhood who fear deportation.
• LGBT citizens whose right to live without discrimination may soon no longer be codified in law.
• Low-income, advocate-less or disabled youth whose public schools may lose funding due to charter schools (or other schools supported by vouchers) which could not meet their needs.
• Any American who is not wealthy enough to influence political conversation in our post-Citizens United era.
• Jews, women, racial minorities, and anyone else who has been maligned by the so called “alt-right”, the chief proponent of which will soon have an office in the West Wing
• The unborn, defense of whom prompted many to vote for those who will be sworn in this January, who may still suffer due to lack of pro-family policies that lift families out of poverty and make it easier to support children both born and unborn.
For a long time I thought that political differences were people disagreeing about how to help people – and among many groups that is still the case. But for the past few years, and perhaps longer, the question has become not how do we help the most people, but how do we help some and exclude others.
I can’t accept a system that is designed to only care for some. For me, it is my Catholic convictions, especially my belief in the dignity of all humans and the preferential option for the poor, that lead me to this, but I know people of all religious stripes (and plenty who disavow religion entirely) who feel the same way, and I am glad to join them in the fight to help those who are vulnerable.
These fights are not new, and they are not limited to one political party; neither has given enough attention to the poor for some time. Instead of retreating into my privilege I try to remind myself that my convictions drag me back into the fray.
So I still look for peace, but when I find it in my own societal power and material comfort I do my best to reject it. May my peace only come from knowing that I have done what I can, every day, to fight for love, acceptance, prosperity and justice for all.