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on being nonpartisan in a partisan world

September 8, 2008

As the field intern, I spend a lot of time speaking with constituents who want to learn more about FCNL, our positions and how they can become more involved in FCNL’s work.

As we enter further into the election season, I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from constituents asking for advice on who to vote for or requesting that we support their favorite candidate. When I have these conversations with constituents, I usually give them two main reasons why FCNL does not support any candidates for public office:

  1. FCNL is not a Political Action Committee. As a 501 (c) (3) and 501 (c) (4) FCNL is legally forbidden from endorsing any candidates for public office.
  2. We are able to have stronger relationships with politicians of all political parties if we remain nonpartisan, which makes our lobbying work more effective.

This last July, I inherited a Nalgene bottle from my sister, Claire, who had already decorated the bottle with various stickers. One of the stickers was from an organization that she and I both support. The sticker was endorsing a certain candidate for president of the United States.

After some soul searching, I decided that it was best to cover that sticker up.

First of all, I knew that it would be inappropriate for me to be seen around the office carrying a sticker that was supporting a presidential candidate.

But the more I thought about it, something else bothered me. I agree with the organization that the candidate in question has taken a stance closer to their (and my) position on a certain issue than the other candidate. But his position on that issue is still far from where I would like it to be. I cringe at the idea of congratulating him on his stance, which I believe lacks courage or vision just because I like the other candidate’s position even less. I understand why that organization decided to endorse him, but I worry that by doing so, they’re saying that this is as good as it’s going to get, or as good as the people of the United States deserve. I do not believe that’s true.

When I look at the major presidential candidates’ stances on any of FCNL’s issues, I find the same to be true. While one or the other may take a position closer to FCNL’s stance on an issue, neither come close to our statement of purpose. For instance, both support an increase in the size of the military.

Of course it would be ridiculous and false for me to say that the candidates are the same and it doesn’t matter which one you vote for. On November 4th, I’m going to walk into my neighborhood polling place and vote for the candidate that I will have decided best reflects my values, which are strongly shaped by FCNL. I encourage all of you to do the same, and I think FCNL has done a great job of supplying you with information about how both major candidates’ positions relate to FCNL’s values. But FCNL will not be endorsing a candidate that only partially meets our standards. Instead, we will be encouraging all candidates to take more courageous positions on behalf of peace, equality, simplicity and the earth.

That’s why it’s great that FCNL is nonpartisan! As politicians, maybe Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain have no choice but to cater to pro-war elements in their parties, but I love that FCNL is held to a higher standard. When I go to the polls in November, I will do so with a heavy heart, knowing that, as a pacifist, I will not be voting for a candidate that holds my most deeply held belief and I probably never will. But I will feel better knowing that in the time leading up to the election I have worked hard with FCNL to encourage Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama and hundreds of congressional and senatorial candidates to embrace a world free of war and the threat of war. It will be a small comfort to know that even if I feel like I’m selling out some of my values in the voting box, at least I never felt like I had to at work.

So, FCNL constituents, friends and staff, embrace the freedom that comes with nonpartisanship! Write to Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama to tell them that you are disappointed that they support an increase in the size of the military. Then, write them both another letter congratulating them on their stances on nuclear disarmament. Write to your congressional candidates demanding a ban on cluster bombs, an end to torture and an earth restored. Hold all of your candidates to a higher standard and refuse to congratulate a candidate for merely being the lesser of two evils. If you want more ideas on how to engage with candidates about issues that matter to you in this election, check out FCNL’s Make Peace An Election Issue campaign.

And then, after the election, keep working with them. If the candidate that you voted against wins, don’t give up. If the candidate that you voted for wins, don’t just go back to sleep. Whoever it is, there will still be a lot of work left to do.

As one FCNL staffer has been known to shout when she’s had enough of politicians from both major political parties threatening war with Iran or taking away our civil liberties, “thank God we’re nonpartisan!”

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