A coalition of progressive religious leaders says it will work during this year’s election to advocate for social justice policies and boost what typically is a low-turnout election.
ISAIAH, which includes more than 100 congregations around the state, said it is launching the “Prophetic Voter” campaign. The goal is to directly contact 56,000 potential voters in communities across the state. If it succeeds, ISAIAH hopes it will acquire the clout to push progressive policies in the statehouse. It plans to pressure lawmakers to expand access to affordable health care, create more public transit options and work on educational initiatives to end the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
The group says its get-out-the-vote effort will be nonpartisan, but it will ask potential voters to align themselves with ISAIAH’s values of economic and racial equity and family security.
“Any election is a very public opportunity to have yourself heard if you speak with enough voices,” said Ann Mongoven, an ISAIAH leader and member of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community, a Minneapolis church. The effort, she said, “presents an opportunity to have a more important voice in policy changes.”
Mongoven said the goal is to have voter turnout that more closely approximates a presidential election than a midterm.
State election figures show that in the 2010 midterm, about 2.1 million Minnesotans out of an eligible 3.8 million cast ballots. By contrast, nearly 3 million Minnesotans went to the polls for the presidential election in 2012.
Clergy groups are no strangers to the political process. The state’s Roman Catholic bishops in 2011, for instance, launched a formal effort to pass a 2012 amendment that would have prohibited same-sex marriage. (The measure was ultimately defeated.) That same year the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, an interfaith group, opposed a proposal to expand gambling to fund the new Vikings stadium.
ISAIAH’s mission includes advocating for low-income and minority communities it serves, particularly on issues involving housing, public transportation and racial inequity.
“It has never been clearer that in our democracy some voices are being heard and others are not — with pain and unrest in Ferguson, gridlock on immigration reform and the growing income gap between the haves and the have-nots in our country,” said the Rev. Paul Slack, pastor at New Creation Church in Minneapolis and ISAIAH president, at a news conference last week to unveil the effort. “We are here today because the people in our communities are suffering; because too many people in our state have lost hope in our democracy and because this election can and must be different.”
Group leaders said one region they will focus on is St. Cloud, a city with a growing minority population. U.S. Census figures show that between 2000 and 2010, the city’s black population grew more than 260 percent, to 5,152.
Clergy leaders there, such as the Rev. Randy Johnson, associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church of the St. Cloud Region, said minority communities are energized for the upcoming election. “There’s a growing sense of what we can do together in St. Cloud,” he said.
“Communities have lost faith and hope in political processes,” Johnson said. This November “we’re all in this together, and it’s about opportunity for all Americans.”
Between now and the November election, ISAIAH will phone-bank and knock on doors hoping to secure commitments from potential voters, organizers said. Johnson said his region’s campaign will formally kick off with an event Oct. 9 that Gov. Mark Dayton has been invited to attend.