Change maker, trail blazer, bold voice for change – all describe the United Church of Christ Associate General Minister, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, named by the Center for American Progress as one of 15 faith leaders to watch in 2020.
Blackmon, executive of the UCC Justice and Local Church Ministries and pastor of Christ The King UCC in Florissant, Mo., has been honored by the independent nonpartisan policy institute for creating positive change through advocacy; specifically for taking bold steps to get out the vote through nonpartisan mobilization and engagement in 2020.
As the article reads, “The ability of American democracy to advance the common good relies on the active participation of the nation’s residents. The United States’ diverse religious traditions encourage their members and broader communities to carry out their civic duties. At a time when our democratic processes and norms are coming under increasing threat from voter suppression and from foreign interference, faith leaders are among the many community leaders playing a critical role in strengthening our common purpose.”
CAP pointed to the UCC’s longtime Our Faith, Our Vote campaign. Its goal, as Blackmon described it, is “to equip people to vote their guiding life principles above political parties.” This year, OFOV’s new Civic Action Center offers online voter registration and education, which has been made more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign is organizing informational webinars with a number of national thought leaders and is offering grants to congregations to engage in voter mobilization initiatives locally.
Blackmon said her faith is central to this work.
“As a Christian, I model my life after the earthly ministry of Jesus, an Afro-Semitic Palestinian who was born into a family of modest means on the less than desirable side of town. Most of Jesus’ public ministry was spent reaching out to those who were ignored in community and underserved by the ruling class,” Blackmon said. “In my quest to follow him, I am compelled to do the same.”
“But no matter the sacred text, people of all faiths share a common mandate to serve and care for our neighbor. It is this unified understanding of goodness that ensures democracy,” she continued. “Government by the people is indeed government for all of the people.”
The other named faith leaders in 2020 represent diverse faith traditions and a variety of approaches to voter mobilization and engagement.
- Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, which is mobilizing Sikhs to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 election. Her organization is recruiting and training voter registration volunteers to become get-out-the-vote champions in their local communities.
- Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. The Reform Movement’s 2020 civic engagement campaign is called “Every Voice, Every Vote” and seeks to achieve 100- percent voter participation by reaching congregations, engaging student voters and combating voter suppression.
- The Rev. Billy Michael Honor, director of faith organizing for the New Georgia Project. The “Still Strong, Go Vote” campaign hopes to mobilize 100,000 people of faith across Georgia, despite the challenges of COVID-19, to pledge to vote in the 2020 elections.
- Diane Randall, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), which is focusing on an initiative to reach young adults in the FCNL network, encouraging them to register to vote and reach out to their friends to register and to make a plan to vote in the upcoming elections.
- The Rev. Adam Taylor, executive director of Sojourners. His organization has partnered with the National African American Clergy Network to help Black clergy — with the support of other multiracial church allies — combat voter suppression efforts in nine key states.
- Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which is recruiting volunteers to call friends and people of voting age to register them to vote. The group is mobilizing its followers to ask Congress to prioritize expanding voter access in November.
- The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, as well as the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. Both organizations are engaged in a campaign called “We Must Do M.O.R.E—Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering and Educating,” to build electoral power among the 140 million poor and low-income people in the United States.
- Mohamed Gula, national organizing director for Emgage, which educates and empowers Muslim Americans and hopes to turn out 1 million Muslim voters in 2020.
- María Teresa Kumar, founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, which focuses on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters. Under her leadership, Voto Latino has already directly registered hundreds of thousands of new voters and is in the process of achieving its goal of registering 500,000 voters in the 2020 election cycle.
- Amy Sullivan, strategy director at Vote Common Good and the founder of This Is My Story, an initiative to empower and equip Christian women to make voting an act of faith.
- The Rev. Ben McBride and Joseph Tomás McKellar, the co-directors of PICO California. This year PICO California launched “Faith Votes CA,” a grassroots movement to turn out 1 million new and infrequent voters in low-income congregations and communities.
- The Rev. Ashley Horan, organizing strategy director of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Nicole Pressley, national organizer for UU The Vote. They are working to engage Unitarian Universalist individuals, congregations and institutions in bringing their values to the public square in the 2020 elections.
“These diverse faith leaders are working this year to get out the vote,” the article reads. “Their work feeds the soul of our nation and contributes to a well-functioning and healthy democracy.”
A number of UCC clergy have been lauded as American faith leaders to watch in the years since 2012, when CAP first introduced this annual honor. General Minister and President John Dorhauer was recognized in 2017 for the important role that he and other religious leaders play in promoting a more just nation and world.
Read more about these faith leaders here.