This past week all of the headlines have focused on keeping score over who wins control of either the House or Senate in last week’s midterm elections. All of the constant media buzz has brought back memories of when I worked as an advocate on Capitol Hill on issues like immigration and mass incarceration. During my time on the Hill I worked with and even became friends with a number of staff people who worked in House and Senate offices. While there are certainly exceptions, I found the majority of staffers on both sides of the aisle to be deeply committed to public service and to what they believed in that would make the world a better place. There were disagreements over how to do that for sure, but most of the people I met with had good intentions.
As I got to know the staffers I began to view elections in a much different way than merely keeping political score. I remember back in 2012, talking with the staff of a Republican Senator who was being primaried by someone from the extreme right and the staffer talked about the stress and strain he and all of the staff were feeling as they faced the prospect of losing their jobs if the Senator lost. He talked about how his family had been living in the DC area for close to ten years and this was a job he loved. We often disagreed about stances on issues I worked on, but he was honest and professional and he had a deep respect for the process of governing. The Senator did lose his primary election and I lost track of most of his staff, but I will always remember the fact that elections have real life impacts.
I share this because the headlines so often do not carry these human stories and the human stories are where, I believe, God is present and where our empathy should be focused. Does God care whether Republicans or Democrats run the Senate? I sincerely doubt it. But I do believe God has a deep and abiding love for people; even people of opposing political ideologies.
So, let’s consider how many people work for 535 Members of Congress. Representatives, not in leadership, typically have around five to seven staff members and Senators can have twenty or more. And this does not count the number of staff who work for the various Committees in each chamber (Judiciary Committee, Ways and Means Committee, Labor Committee, etc.), nor does this count the large number of staff who work in in-district offices. There are a lot of people involved in governance, which makes all of the endless campaign attacks on people who govern somewhat ridiculous and even a bit cruel.
Beyond the political intrigue that seems to fuel cable news channels for weeks and months at a time I want to suggest we remember today the people whose lives were tremendously uprooted with the result of last week’s elections. In fact, I was so touched by the many stories of the people who work on Capitol Hill that I learned to use these stories in my advocacy to those same people. Just as staffer stories call us to remember the personal impact of elections, so too must staffers who work for Members of Congress remember the people beyond the headlines who are so deeply impacted by the policies they work on. So, when crime or immigration or other issues are raised in political campaigns – as they were in this past season’s campaigns in a very detrimental and dehumanizing way – it is absolutely crucial that we as advocates for justice remind these same people that demonizing or not acknowledging the personhood of those currently incarcerated or of those who are undocumented is just as evil a sin. Recognizing the dignity of all people should be a very basic value that everyone who engages in the political process agrees on. It is not right now, but it very much should be.
Bottom line, we would do well to remember that beyond the headlines that come at us all day every day are people, made in the image of God, who are struggling to live their lives, sustain their families, and contribute to their communities. Can you imagine how our politics would be different if we all remembered this one truth?