Reverend Sarah Stewart
Voting matters, and the best politics is local. On November 8, when you cast your vote, you will have the opportunity to vote on the ballot measures and candidates for elected office. These voting measures help shape our state and local communities in line with our values. When we vote, we live our values.
I intend to vote ‘yes’ to all five voting measures, but I want to talk to you about two voting measures in particular. Ballots 4 and 5 give us the opportunity to shape our local community and live values of care, compassion and justice.
Ballot paper Question 4 is a late addition to the ballot paper. A “yes” vote will enforce a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license. This helps ensure that anyone driving on Massachusetts roads meets the requirements to be a safe driver. It encourages people to have their car inspected and to stay on site if they have an accident.
Undocumented immigrants with a Massachusetts driver’s license are not registered to vote and must meet all the normal driver’s license requirements: reside in the state, pass a driving test, and demonstrate knowledge of the traffic rules.
Our sacred texts repeat the instruction to love our neighbor, whether they be a stranger or a friend. “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” says the summary of the sacred law in Deuteronomy. The Bible says that God loves the stranger and gives them what they need to live.
The phrase “undocumented immigrant” makes it sound like these drivers are different from you, perhaps if you’re a citizen or in good standing in the United States. But these are our neighbors. Their stories are human stories, about looking for work, escaping violence or coming to this country as a child. The US economy depends on the work of immigrants. There is no “them” and “us”. We are one commonwealth and try to be safer drivers together. I encourage you to vote “yes” on 4.
Ballot paper Question 5 is for voters in Worcester and some other neighboring towns. A “yes” vote will pass the Community Preservation Act. Worcester City Council voted in favor of this measure earlier this year and presented it to voters for approval.
If passed, the Community Preservation Act will add a modest increase in property taxes (my own taxes would increase by less than $70 a year), and give Worcester access to matching state dollars. Our city will then use this money to support green space, historic preservation, recreation and social housing. A committee made up of citizens will decide how the money will be used.
It’s good for Worcester that our population is growing and we’re seeing new construction and growth. The Community Preservation Act will help us manage that growth for the benefit of all citizens. It gives us access to government money – a fund that our registration rights already support – to keep our city livable and affordable. Worcester is characterized by its economic diversity, its historic neighborhoods and its green spaces, as well as its industry and economic vitality. A “yes” vote on 5 ensures that Worcester remains a city for everyone.
Both voting initiatives are about what it means to be a good neighbor. Being human means living together with other people. Being a good neighbor means imagining what life is like for other people whose income, housing options, and life stories are different from ours.
When God reminds the Israelites that they were strangers in the land of Egypt, it is an invitation to be good neighbors. “Know your own history,” says God. “You needed rescue once, a miracle, a hand up, manna in the wilderness. Now it is your turn to show that mercy to the strangers who are your neighbors.”
Democracy is a form of government based on neighborliness. It requires that we trust each other; it assumes that we can think of the greater good as a city. It is based on the connections formed in neighbourhoods, in schoolyards and in places of worship. My own religious tradition is democratically organized; these opinions are mine and not necessarily those of the church I serve. Democracy relies on us being able to understand our own well-being in the context of the well-being of our city. We thrive when we help create a city and commonwealth that works for all people. The Reverend Sarah C. Stewart is pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester.