Last Sunday was the calm before the storm in several respects. It was the last hours we were allowed to be outside in the D.C. area before Sandy struck and the last days before both presidential candidates make their final, frantic push before Election Day. I decided to use my time off last Sunday to join a Get Out The Vote canvass, and made the (perhaps unhealthy) decision to keep talking about politics and religion even on the weekend.
The GOTV event I attended turned out to be a joint venture by a group of young Jewish professionals and a group of young Muslim professionals. We began our trip with a prayer by a local Imam, who blessed us and told us that democratic participation was the work of Allah (God). It ended with a d’var of sorts from one of the Jewish leaders who discussed his childhood, his religious values and how they informed his political participation.
We spent the afternoon, as the storm clouds gathered over rural Northern Virginia, walking from house to house asking people if they planned to vote on Election Day and offering to help find them rides to the polls. We did this in pairs, usually one Jew and one Muslim. I worked with a Muslim man who had grown up in Paris and was about to begin work on a Ph.D. in the states.
As we walked, we talked about the election, about politics and our beliefs. He told me about his experiences as a Muslim in France and America, his religious convictions and how they informed his politics. I told him about being a Jew from Wisconsin. I talked about my Jewish values for social justice, my thoughts about the Jewish historical narrative and how they contributed to my political convictions. We agreed on some things, had more in common than I might have expected, and of course we disagreed on others. But our ability to maintain the conversation amazed me; our ability to listen, forgo judgment, and continue to walk together made this a truly powerful experience.
It dawned on me during this walk that this is what elections could be. That instead of divisive bickering and partisan pundits talking past each other, they could be about people from different backgrounds coming together to talk about their values, their sameness and differences, and working toward something they all agree is a general good. Elections could be profound times of unity and common cause.
Then I got home, turned on my computer and checked the polls again.