Since day one, Donald Trump’s presidency has been a nonstop attack on social justice.
His anti-immigration actions have been widely denounced by bishops, his proposed healthcare plan, meant to replace the ACA, would leave tens of millions of people without medical coverage, and his recent budget proposal aims to cut programs that feed and shelter our nation and the world’s poorest people.
For Catholics—especially millennials—now is not the time to retreat from modern society (as supporters of the proposed Benedict Option have suggested). In fact, if we’re to take Christ’s call to care for the least of these seriously, then we have an obligation to get involved and promote social justice in the political realm.
But that doesn’t mean we have to go straight to Washington. In fact, young Catholics looking to make an honest difference should focus less on Congressional races in distant districts, and more on local and state politics. Here’s why:
Local Politics Has A Direct Impact
So much of what directly impacts our daily lives happens at the state level and below. For example, city councils and county commissions are often responsible for handling grocery taxes, community grants, economic development, and (in some areas) wage rates. District attorneys, county sheriffs, and local judges are directly responsible for criminal justice in their communities. And school boards make decisions that have immediate consequences for students.
Furthermore, with so much media attention focused on the federal level, it’s easy to forget that states retain a significant amount of power and governing autonomy within their borders.
Consider the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Though a federal bill, the final draft of the ACA allowed states a tremendous control over how it would be carried out (particularly because of Supreme Court rulings). In my home state of Alabama, our state government fought tooth and nail against the bill, implementing only the bare minimum and refusing the Medicaid expansion. This left hundreds of thousands of Alabama residents without any access to health insurance, even as millions of others were gaining insurance nationwide.
Homelessness is another example. For years, advocacy groups have been trying to get state lawmakers to pass a bill that would create a housing trust fund to combat Alabama’s absurdly high rates of childhood and veteran homelessness. Yet, the bill is routinely voted down, and there’s very little the president or the US Congress can do about it.
Big Change Starts in Your Community
Besides the impact, there’s another important fact to consider: widespread local action is the gateway to real change in our country.
As Dorothy Day once said, “People say, ‘what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions.”
Truly effective progress is always bottom up, and organized movements at the state and local level eventually make their way into Washington. The Tea Party Movement is perhaps one of the best (though not exactly the most positive) examples of this. What started as a grassroots movement changed the face of the Republican Party on both a local and national scale.
More Ideological Diversity
Consider for a moment that John Bel Edwards, Louisiana’s Democratic governor, is an outspoken opponent of abortion, or that John Kasich was one of the few Republican governors to accept, and praise, Medicaid expansion. Even in Alabama, it’s not uncommon to see conservative voters (especially teachers) flip for Democratic candidates.
You are more likely to find ideological diversity and bipartisanship at the local level, because campaigns tend to be driven by actual issues facing the local population. And any political arena that’s more open to reaching across the aisles is good news for Catholics—especially since the Church’s social teaching doesn’t perfectly mesh with either major party.
That’s not to say that party politics don’t come into effect—they absolutely do. But local politics provide a unique opportunity for diversity and inclusivity that’s much rarer at the federal level.
You Can Take Action Now
If the current political climate is any indication, the 2018 midterms are likely to be one of the most important elections of our lifetime. Along with nearly every congressional seat, multiple state and local offices across the country will be up for grabs, giving motivated Catholics plenty of opportunities to get involved.
For those with the heart and mind for leadership, run for office. If the publicity isn’t for you, put your efforts towards finding and recruiting candidates that will support a whole life platform. At the absolute minimum, go vote.
But don’t sit at home. Don’t avoid action. Find a way to get involved, make a stand, and promote social justice in your community.
Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.