Democratic congressional candidate Sharice Davids swayed, clapped, bowed her head and sang “Lord, you’re mighty” along with the rest of the congregation at the (almost) all African American New Bethel Church in Kansas City, Kansas, where she spent several hours on Sunday.
After the service, worshipers there said her struggles were theirs, and their priorities hers in her toss-up of a race challenging Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, who was recently named one of the country’s 10 most vulnerable incumbents this year, in a district that favored Hillary Clinton by just one point in 2016.
What Davids “went through with her mother raising her” on her own while serving in the military, said New Bethel member Juanita Garrison, convinced her that the 38-year-old Johnson County Community College and UMKC alum and Cornell Law grad “is one of us.”
“I adore her,” said Beverly Burton, and “I’m glad we have a young person” of her caliber in politics.
“I was already there,” said Sherry Brown, who supported Davids “before she even came” to her church.
That a candidate who would be the first lesbian Native American to serve in Congress had no trouble fitting in at a Pentecostal service with an altar call certainly shows the corner that’s been turned in public opinion on gay rights.
Instead, the issue for Davids in diverse, underserved Wyandotte County is the one made clear by the pastor, and by the Democrat who introduced her, and by all those who said after the service that they like Davids but don’t usually vote.
“I enjoyed what she said,” one woman said. “She might be the one I would” come out for. Might but probably won’t be, she might as well have said.
That’s the problem Barack Obama called out recently when he said, “The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism — a cynicism that’s led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day.”
The NPR series “On the Sidelines of Democracy” notes that “class is a more accurate predictor of voting behavior than race, ethnicity, gender or any other demographic factor, according to Jan Leighley. Leighley writes in her book ‘Who Votes Now?’ that nearly 80 percent of high-income earners vote, compared to barely 50 percent of low-income Americans.”
In a state where the margin of victory in the recent Republican gubernatorial primary was the closest in Kansas history, does the importance of turning out really have to be spelled out? Sure it does, which is why New Bethel Pastor A. Glenn Brady kept doing so.
“We don’t tell people how to vote,” said Brady, though he did refer to his guest as “Congressperson-to-be Davids” — and during a sermon on forgiveness, joked that Christ’s insistence that we love our enemies reminded him of Michelle Obama’s mantra that “When they go low, we go high.’’ Over and over, he begged those who’d come out to worship on a mild Sunday morning to come out and cast a ballot in November: “The power is in the voting.”
The highest-ranking black lawmaker in Congress, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, came to New Bethel with Davids to put in a good word for her. But before he pitched her candidacy, he tried to sell the crowd on why the midterms matter in the first place. “I know there are people who question whether they’re going to vote, so let me tell you what’s on the ballot,” he said, then named everything from affordable housing and Medicaid expansion to “whether we’re going to have the Affordable Care Act and take care of babies” born with health problems and “whether or not we’re going to have dignity and civility.”
He quoted de Toqueville’s famous observation that “not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
“This campaign this year is about the goodness of America. There’s no better way for America to repair its faults than to elect a Native American to the U.S. Congress. And with that, I yield,” he said, and got a standing ovation.
The only promise that Davids made was that she’d be back, many times. “I have to do the work” of listening and learning and showing up. And “if I’m not, then I don’t deserve” the job of serving them. First, though, they’d have to show up for her.