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NOTE: The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of Young Democrats of Atlanta.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bridge building
Today's bloggerI’ve just returned from the Young Democrats Convention. There was plenty of drama and intrigue to go around. I sometimes felt frustrated and annoyed, but mostly I was excited to get a glimpse of the Democratic Party’s plans for 2006 and beyond and to begin strategizing to make those plans a reality.

After all the hope and all the planning over the weekend, it was irritating to drive back to Atlanta on 316. Just as I was beginning to have a picture of Georgia as a progressive, populist state, billboards every mile or so quoting God shoved another picture of Geogia: “Don’t make me come down there. – God” and “You think it’s hot now, just keep taking my name in vain. – God” are just two examples of the religious fervor that bombards the hapless driver. Who knew God was such a smart ass?

This use of religion can only make its adherents feel smug and self-satisfied and the rest of us angry. Surely no one thinks that these signs actually produce converts. Great. Another example of religion widening the divide between red and blue in America. Just what we need.

Such divisiveness is particularly troubling to me. I live in two worlds – the world of Democratic Party politics and progressive activism and the world of Christian ministry. For the past couple of years I have spent significant time in the political world. This fall, my attention will shift somewhat when I start attending seminary full time and I concentrate my efforts on my ministry. To me, though, these worlds are integrated and political activism will continue to be a part of my life. One world would not exist without the other. I see no conflict.

However, I am used to both my political friends and my religious friends having a hard time understanding why I see it this way. Therefore, it was refreshing to read this article on Alternet written by a pastor at a Presbyterian church in Austin, Texas. He and his congregation have recently allowed an atheist to become a member. As a result, this pastor has received angry mail from Christians who conclude that liberals will stop at nothing and have no convictions. At the same time the atheist member has been criticized by his community for joining a superstitious, morally bankrupt organization. But, the pastor explains, “neither the church nor Jensen views his membership as surrendering anything, but instead as an attempt to build connections. Such efforts are crucial in a world where there seems not to be a lot of wood to build the bridges we need. And the shame is, while we fight among ourselves, the world is burning.”

Personally, it’s very difficult for me to talk about publicly about religion. I’m so embarrassed by the religious right and the historical examples of intolerance, persecution and complicity in crimes against humanity. I’d rather not be associated with the likes of George Bush, John Ashcroft and Pat Robertson. But I’m inspired by the movements of the past that have been motivated by religion – the civil rights movement, India’s fight for independence, and abolition. I’m also encouraged by the work of religious leaders like Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, and Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of the Left Hand of God. These are religious progressives who are brave enough to start the conversation about the left’s need to build relationships with religious people. I hope that I can be an advocate for cooperation between spirituality and politics in my ministry.

The world is suffering. It needs healing. Who will help us in our cause? How can we include them in our plans? Can we be inclusive enough so that believers and non-believers can work together to save this world? After this weekend’s convention, can we even be inclusive enough to work with different chapters and with members who have different levels of experience and maturity? Can we be inclusive enough to work with people who have different priorities than whatever our pet cause may be? It’s hard for me to believe it’s possible. Those highway 316 billboards are so hateful and I know how frustrated I get working with people who have a different perspective from me. It’s easier just to go home and seek out my own kind.

I guess in order to build bridges and make connections we have to start slowly. Maybe open ourselves a little by trying to listen to others instead of planning our response while they’re still talking – actually try and get inside their head for a while and understand where they’re coming from. That’s something I could certainly practice.

Thinking about Cathy Cox’s speech on Saturday gives me another idea as well. I was so impressed by her vision for a state of Georgia we would actually be proud to live in. Listening to her made it easy for me to forget bickering and infighting. I think we have to fall in love with a vision of where we’re going to the point where we forget our grievances and reach out to anyone who might help us get there. We have to trust that we won’t lose ourselves in the process of sharing that vision with those who are different.
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posted by Justice at 4/03/2006 01:56:00 PM

13 Comments:

Blogger Kate said...

Once again, Justi wins the best blog post award. Dig it.

4/03/2006 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Oh, and I've seen those ridiculous, smug billboards. They have the same ones alongside the highway in Indiana or Ohio or some such state in the heartland. I remember seeing them while driving home from Notre Dame to Washgington, DC.

While we're on the subject of divisive billboards...

In a couple of weeks, Jay and I are going to Phillipsburg, Kansas to visit my grandmother. I challenge you to find somewhere more isolated that P-burg. It's five hours from the nearest airport, has two stoplights and has a population of 1,800.

There are approximately zero Democrats in town. Or within 300 miles, I reckon.

During the five hour drive from Kansas City, you pass through one little town after the next, and a whole lot of crazy billboards, most of which are anti-abortion. "CHOOSE LIFE. Your mother did." "Abortion stops a beating heart." And so on.

It makes you wonder a few things: 1) Do these people think they're going to change someone's view on abortion? And are there any pro-choice people around to sway?

2) Why don't liberals have billboards like this? Is it just another example of conservatives being better at messaging?

3) Who is paying for these billboards?

It makes you wonder what would happen if you put up an anti-Bush billboard with headshots of the 2,000+ dead American soldiers. Or a billboard with a blood-stained hanger and messaging about back-alley abortions. I'm curious how people would respond, but I guess we'll never know.

We Demmocrats are poor, bad at messaging and, uh, too polite for that kind of thing. Right?

4/03/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Oops. That'd be Democrats with one M.

4/03/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Kate I think its a matter of us stooping to that level of Billboard. I don't think those billboards change anyone minds about anything so why waste the money? When we can spend our money else where that will hopefully do us some good. I'm not so sure if the Republicans are so good as messaging then we are, but I think they are better at hammering at us about what they believe and why we should believe it to.

Melissa

4/03/2006 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ummm......i'm not sure saying that "we are better at spending our money then they are" and "we dont stoop to low levels" is really the best argument

4/03/2006 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess i should clarify.....i dont think that its the best argument because i dont think that its true.

4/03/2006 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Shelby said...

Once again, you sackless right-wing troll, grow a spine, put your name down, and offer up a real point, or else bugger off and get your own damn blog.

And for the love of GOD learn how to use apostrophes. You are one child left behind.

4/03/2006 09:15:00 PM  
Anonymous erin said...

There are a lot of those on the drive from N. Florida through S. Georgia. I seriously doubt the effectiveness of those billboards on anyone with an IQ over 50, but it comes down to a principle favored by the religious right and our current administration, using fear to control people. I really have a hard time understanding how people can trumpet their Christianity, a religion based around a poor pacifist who stood up to authority when he believed it to be morally wrong, and yet somehow rationalize it and distort it in such a way to view someone like Bush as a Christian. But then again, I'm the type of warped Papist who finds the psychotic anti-abortion billboards really, really funny, way better than Dinosaur World or Largest Ball of Twine. Maybe we can put up some Cheney sponsored gun-control billboards, though.

4/04/2006 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger Shelby said...

I have to say, though, there is one, maybe a couple, in that series of billboards that I actually like, but probably because they fall into the "Aw, ma," camp and not the fear-mongering camp. Isn't one of them like, "You never call anymore. --GOD"? That one actually makes me think, gee, maybe I should bust out a rosary when I get home.

Of course, then I forget and hop on the internets. Jeez.

4/04/2006 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, its not a right-wing troll, but whatever. I mean, there might be one on here, but I am not it.

In regards to the placement of billboards in areas that trend republican anyway, I don’t think that the intention is to change votes at all. It is rare that people do not have a position on issues like abortion. They are either pro-choice or pro-life, no one is indifferent and no one really changes their mind on it. I have been pro-choice since I was 10. Republicans are fantastic at getting out the vote where on the Democrat's side it is one of our biggest issues. I think putting up these billboards in "red" areas is just one of those "get out the vote" tactics. Say you're a republican, you are pro-life, but you work long hard days at the factory and usually do not want to take the time at the end of tiring day to vote. Now say every day on your drive home in your Ford F150 you see a sign that says that those darn liberals are still killing innocent babies. Wouldn't that put that daily anger in your head? Wouldn’t that make you be sure that you were at the polls the next election day? It works in the same way that whenever we see those signs we go "Those crazy republicans!! I better make sure I vote for someone who is going to keep a women's right to choose!" So as irritating as I find these billboards, I think that they are effective campaign tactics. We should be so lucky that they would post them in more liberal trending areas. It might make us mad every time we see them, but it might make all of our more apathetic neighbors mad as well.

Now for my second part, I guess I should apologize for being short in my response to Melissa's post, but I still think my statement is true. We can say that we are morally superior in our stances on civil rights, gay marriage, gay adoption, women's rights, helping the disadvantaged, ect. But to say that we are morally superior in our campaign tactics? I think that it is false, and we only say that because "we love democrats". I'm certainly not saying that it shouldn’t be changed, I'm just saying that we don’t have that much of a leg to stand on when it comes to campaign moral superiority.

-Nicolette

PS-I used apostrophes, capitalization, and spell-check just for you Shelby!

4/04/2006 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh - it should be noted that I am not the anonymous poster in the West Wing post. That is someone else.

-Nicolette

4/04/2006 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I'm with Justi and the whole religion and politics thing. Being a Christian is what COMPELS me to be a progressive and a Democrat! I too used to be so ashamed and embarrassed by the religious right that I'd not talk about my faith in public. But I eventually got mad that my church, my faith was hijacked by the likes of Sadie Fields. Jesus was the original lefty, so those fools can kiss my ass!

As for billboards, many of the companies are owned by GOP nutjobs. When Georgia Equality tried to buy space in South Georgia for its "We are Your Neighbors" campaign, Lamar Advertising refused to sell them any space. But they sure have no problem with all the "Messages from God" and the "Dear Rep. Murtha" ads.

4/06/2006 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

"The world is suffering."

Unless your a Republican lobbyist. I hear they get paid pretty well.

4/07/2006 10:40:00 AM  

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