By Rachel Herbeck
As Catholics we are called to actively live out the Gospel in public life. A call that sometimes solicits the thought, “Do I really have to?”
From what we see and hear in the world, politics can seem like a dirty arena, completely devoid of principle. We may see the process as being too complicated or impossible for citizens to make a difference. Because of the vision we have of politics, we think that our experiences will be negative and draining. These misunderstandings often keep Catholics from making a difference in our communities.
This session, two members of the Catholic Advocacy Network decided to get more involved in politics. By taking steps to get equipped, stay engaged, and build and maintain relationships with their legislators, they learned that getting involved was life-giving and an essential part of spreading the Gospel.
Julie Schweich, a parishioner of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, attended Capitol 101 this session. After a morning of hearing from legislators, asking questions, and discussing critical issues, she felt more confident meeting with her legislators.
“I never thought I would be able to go sit and talk to my Senator about an issue, but after learning more about the pornography and human trafficking bill and asking questions, I felt more confident conveying my thoughts and opinions. At the end of the meeting, I actually felt like I did something to help my Senator understand the bill and our point of view.”
Julie’s experience at Capitol 101 gave her the tools she needed to be an effective advocate.
Not only can you engage directly with your legislators, you can stay up to date on bills as they go through the legislative process.
John Lucke, a junior at the University of St. Thomas, had an interest in the issue of pornography and its ties to human trafficking. Before the House of Representatives voted on this bill (HF 2967), John attended its committee hearing. At a committee hearing, a group of legislators discuss the bill, ask questions, hear from testifiers on the issue, and vote on whether the bill should continue to the next step.
John’s experience at the hearing convinced him that he needed to be more engaged in the process.
“Hearing the experiences of the testifiers was a turning point for me, a moment of reinvigoration. I left convicted that this fight was worth my time and effort.” Not only did the hearing energize John, but the legislators also took notice that constituents were there in support of the bill.
John continued his engagement and took the issue to his Senator. At the meeting, they discussed the dangers of pornography for over 30 minutes. By the end, the Senator agreed that pornography is dangerous.
By taking one simple step to attend a hearing, John learned more about the political process and was motivated by the prospect of the positive change that could happen through the lawmaking process.
John says he now sees that his legislators needs him as a resource, and all he had to do was take time to be one. “Taking advantage of MCC’s resources and my own willingness to speak up was all I needed to begin that relationship,” he said.
Julie tries to be a resource to her legislators through consistent phone calls. “I’ve gotten into the habit of making quick calls to my legislators while I’m driving home from work. In the last month, I’ve called my Representative about pornography, human trafficking, and gambling. The calls take me less than five minutes.”
While on the phone, Julie reminded her Senator of their meeting at Capitol 101 and the importance of passing the pornography and human trafficking bill (SF 2554). Not even a month after their meeting, the Senate bill, which would require police to collect information on the connection of pornography to human trafficking cases, passed unanimously.
Her Senator’s “yes” vote helped Julie to see the importance of maintaining that relationship. “When I heard that the bill passed, I felt that I had a hand in helping make that happen.”
Both Julie’s and John’s experiences were entirely different than they expected. “The media makes you think that politics is just like the show House of Cards,” John says. “Once I began to get involved, my experience was actually really life-giving because I was on the front lines, really living the Gospel in action.”
John and Julie show that getting involved is not only simple, but enjoyable and life-giving. Whatever our perceptions may be, if dread is your response to the call, participating in politics may be a more positive and effective experience than you think. All you have to do is give it a try.
Rachel Herbeck is the Policy and Outreach Coordinator of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.