by the Rev. Barbara Threet
Most of us have been following political developments in our country quite closely, some for decades and some only for the past few years. Most of us have strong opinions on a variety of issues or candidates: on some of them, we UUs tend to have similar opinions and on others we diverge considerably. One of the things we agree on just by being UUs is our fifth principle, which says we affirm and promote “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”. A bedrock of democracy is the right to vote. The refrain “This is the most important year ever to get out and vote” has been sung before, and I don’t know that 2018 can be declared The Most Important – only hindsight can tell us that – but I do know it is very important.
So, a brief story:
Martin Niemöller was born in Germany in 1892. As a young man, he joined the German Navy, and at the outbreak of World War I, he was assigned to a U-boat, eventually becoming its commander. The Armistice Agreement, which took effect on November 11, 1918, stated that German commanders were to turn over their U-boats to England, but Niemöller and several other commanders refused, and so were discharged.
A few years later, he entered seminary and became a Lutheran minister. He was a supporter of the Third Reich for several years, but in 1934, when he and a few other church officials met with Hitler to discuss state pressure on churches, he realized that his phone had been tapped by the Gestapo, and that the Pastor’s Emergency League, which he had helped found, was under surveillance. This meeting began to shift his thinking, and he came to oppose the rise of the Nazis. After the war, Niemöller was among the first to openly talk about the complicity of the German people – and of himself – in the Holocaust, publishing a book about that complicity and later speaking about it publicly. He died in 1984.
Niemöller is most widely known for a short poem he wrote. The words have appeared in many ways, altered to name different groups that have been subjected to persecution, but here’s his original:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This election does matter. If the issue or candidate you support is likely to win anyhow, your voice will give a stronger mandate. If the issue or candidate seems likely to lose regardless of your vote, your voice lets it be known that there are some who disagree. And if the issue or candidate is hanging in the balance, your vote might help tip that balance.
Your vote matters: your voice matters. The voices of your family, your friends, and your co-workers matter. Encourage others to vote – and vote yourself. Use this gift. VOTE!
Shalom and Salaam,