By Fr. Dean McFalls
As a Caucasian American born into the middle class and raised in Seattle, I always considered citizenship, voting, and making a political difference as a foregone conclusion. It never dawned on me that huge sectors of American society might feel themselves isolated, counted-out, or systematically unwelcome in the process of self-determination and of shaping the future of this great democratic nation.
Much less did I imagine that so many might choose to hide behind walls of silence, convinced that they can do nothing to create a better environment for their children.
I was five years old when my mother took me by the hand and marched me to the neighborhood polling station. There, she cast her vote for John F. Kennedy. Three years later, I stared in shock at our third-grade classroom TV monitor, watching live coverage of my hero’s assassination. But that tragedy didn’t kill our faith in the hard-earned American institution called the electoral process. Yet five years later, soon after winning the California primary as Democratic Presidential Candidate, Robert Kennedy would, like his brother, be gunned down. Now I was thirteen, and with the Vietnam War underway and the murder of Martin Luther King, I began to lose hope that anything could redeem my country. I became very deeply cynical.
Another three years passed. Desiring to do something positive besides study hard, play four sports and volunteer at church, I spent a month in Eastern Washington.
John and Robert Kennedy had been profoundly influenced by a quiet man of hum-ble origins who’d been organizing farm workers in the heart of California. I heard about this Mexican-American: how his family had been cheated out of their home in Yuma, how they struggled to get by through poorly paid field labor, how he dropped out of school after eighth grade to help his family survive, how he joined the Navy to serve his country and get ahead in life, but instead endured two of the worst years of his already difficult life, how he suffered countless humiliations and set-backs to mobilize workers around the principal of their common human dignity.
Over forty years ago, then, I was re-inspired by Mexican migrant farm workers and the example of Cesar Estrada Chavez to re-invest myself in making of my nation a land of the free and a home of the brave, in which the inalienable rights to life, lib-erty, and the pursuit of happiness would be accorded to all God’s children, not only to those of the privileged classes, or of superior economic status, or political connectivity. I returned back to Seattle to join the boycotts and to advocate for the United Farm Workers. Two years later, I’d register as a conscientious objector to a war that had lost its way. At 18 years, I would begin to vote my conscience.
Thirty years ago, I walked across America from sea to shining sea with a group of citizens concerned about the nuclear and bio-chemical arms race. We began at the
Trident Submarine Base and ended in D.C. during the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial. There, we prayed and fasted three days while the American Catho-lic Bishops held their annual conference. The most important task they had, then, was to compose a faith-based response to the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Today, other compelling issues demand our attention and our faith-based response.
When a national pollster called me Tuesday afternoon, I stopped in my tracks to try answering her endless questions. Though irritated by the interruption, I appre-ciated the opportunity to prepare myself for November’s elections. At one point, the caller listed a dozen or more critical challenges facing the people of California.
“Which of these issues,” she inquired, “Do you consider the most urgent?” “All of them,” I wanted to say. But I thought long and hard. What would you, my friends, consider the most important issues we face today? What are you going to do to make your voice, your position, known? Are you committed to make a difference…