There’s nothing like an election to divide people. I remember a number of political discussions and arguments in my family. We were a divided house when elections approached. Mom worked for the Republicans and Dad was a Democrat. I remember a couple of heated arguments around our house which ended with a terse, “My vote cancels yours.” Still, my family had a sense of the common good.
Sometimes my older brothers argued about politics, too. One was convinced that the job of political parties was to promote the needs of business—tax cuts, minimal regulation and the whole laissez-faire Republican agenda. Another brother was a union man doing his co-op term in a local industrial firm. In addition, family members disagreed about the pressing Civil Rights issues raised as African Americans followed the lead of Martin Luther King Jr. and others.
Yet, at least after the elections, we were family. We knew we had to get along. Now that the recent election is behind us, I hope folks around the country can just get along, too. Moreover, I hope our representatives in the House and Senate can work for the common good.
Current political developments remind me of the late 1960s. Then, for the first time, I was old enough to vote. However, I was disenchanted with both parties. The 1968 national election was the high point of great social tension. There was the escalating war in Vietnam, the Civil-Rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, the peace movement, hippies and so forth.
In 1968, one interesting college course I had was a class in the sociology of revolution at the University of Detroit. It was taught by an activist professor. The course involved some “field work” during the 1968 elections. My classmates and I were assigned to analyze whatever might happen at a George Wallace campaign speech. We got into the rally because we had tickets obtained by students posing as Wallace supporters. The rally was a shouting match at first. Then it turned into a chair-throwing brawl inside the arena when anti-Wallace students stood up and shouted Nazi slogans as Wallace went to the podium. Pro-Wallace supporters did not take kindly to such comparisons.
Wallace was hustled away by his security people as the arena rally turned violent. Afterward, the mounted police chased us students around downtown Detroit because somebody threw a string of firecrackers near the mounted police and the police decided to charge. My analysis was that there were limits to any dialogue or debate when racist ideologies were in conflict with a call for civil rights for African Americans.
Despite my encounters with political violence, I made an infallible determination that involvement in nonviolent protests was the only way to bring about justice and social change. However, I had second thoughts on my personal infallibility when I studied Latin American liberation theologies before my ordination in 1973 and beyond. I began to wonder if violence might be the only way to bring about justice.
In the early 1980s, working as a missionary in the rural Philippines, I saw the evils of martial law and engaged in what the Marcos government called “subversive activities.” Things like community organizing, monitoring for free elections, and filing human-rights cases were acts of subversion for the Marcos government.
It bothered me that the US government supported Marcos. I saw the fruits of the Marcos regime in the poverty of my parishioners. How could the vice president of the United States declare, in the name of the US government, “We love your adherence to democratic principles”?
I was determined that Marcos would leave the Philippines before I did.
The bishops of the Philippines declared the Marcos government illegitimate after the fraudulent elections of January 1986. So, it was with great hope that I stood with the Filipino Church in pushing for the removal of Marcos in early 1986.
Today, I wonder if most US citizens understand the opportunities to work for the justice they enjoy.