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Believing In The Political Process

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Believing In The Political Process

Believing In The Political Process

Believing In The Political Process

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Michael Seifert (clockwise from left), Cande Iveson, Robin Mize and Nora Lupi wrote about their beliefs in the democratic process. hide caption

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The elections provide an opportunity to voice our hopes and aspirations. On Election Day 2008, four essayists explore their beliefs in the democratic process:

The Value Of The Middle
Cande Iveson of Columbia, Mo., says she is a "patriot without a flag decal" and explains her belief in the political middle ground.

Finding Our Common Ground
Robin Mize of Washington, D.C., writes about her family's willingness to agree to disagree.

An Act Of Faith In America
Michael Seifert is a priest in Cameron Park, along the Texas-Mexico border. He says his parishioners understand the obligation and privilege of voting.

My Opinions Matter
Nora Lupi, a student at the University of Wisconsin, believes that the voices of young people must be heard and carefully heeded; she says they are the future of the nation.

The Value Of The Middle

Cande Iveson Reads Her 'This I Believe' Essay.

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Cande Iveson has worked in public and government relations, and is a long-time advocate for family-friendly policies. Earlier this year, she ran for state representative but was defeated in the primary. Iveson and her family live in Columbia, Mo. Courtesy Cande Iveson hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Cande Iveson

I was born in the middle, geographically speaking, in the heart of the country: Missouri. In my 6-year-old head, I could play it all out: our house in the middle of town; my town in the middle of the state; my state in the middle of the United States; the United States in the middle of North America; the pattern extending out to the farthest reaches of the starry universe. As a child, being in the middle seemed somehow extraordinary, magical, fabulous — the best place to be.

Growing up, I came to understand that the middle was also a place between two opposing points of view.

And in the last few years this middle ground hasn't been so comfortable. I've even doubted whether there was a real middle, or just an empty space between extremes. There seemed some pervasive expectation that sufficient force would persuade people in the middle to choose, picking one extreme over the other. It felt like an English speaker trying to communicate with a non-English speaker: If they don't understand you the first time, speak louder — as if clarity comes from volume alone.

Add the implication that those in the middle were somehow flawed, weak or indecisive and you have bleak times indeed!

Today, I reject this implication and, confidently, I reaffirm my belief in the intrinsic value of the middle. I can be (and am) a political independent with Democratic and Republican friends, social and professional. I comfortably hold some deep and traditional religious values within the context of my more freethinking faith tradition. In matters of public policy I am soundly liberal (soft-hearted) and fiscally conservative (hard-headed). I am a patriot without a flag decal. I am a true believer in things that I can't see, and I think faith is all about doubt. None of these strike me as contradictory.

Being in the middle is more than not being something else. It is not just a non-extreme, a nonposition, but has its own, legitimate, truth.

I also believe that there are a huge number of other people in the middle. Just like me they have felt jaded, excluded, isolated, helpless. They don't see themselves, their values, reflected in either extreme. They see the focus on extremes as a tug of war offering limited positive outcomes. A taut rope either breaks in the middle or one side prevails, leaving a significant percentage of players in an untenable heap.

I believe it is possible for a strong middle to break this stalemate with strong values, clear insights, resistance to extreme choices and sheer numbers. I believe in a radical, activist middle that will restore our sense of balance, and I am ready to participate. I believe that being in the middle can, once again, seem extraordinary, magical and fabulous — the best place to be.

Finding Our Common Ground

Robin Mize Reads Her 'This I Believe' Essay.

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Marriage and family therapist Robin Mize works with individuals, couples and groups. Before studying counseling, Mize received a Ph.D. in drama from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives with her family in Takoma Park, Md. Courtesy Robin Mize hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Robin Mize

Marriage and family therapist Robin Mize works with individuals, couples and groups. Before studying counseling, Mize received a Ph.D. in drama from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives with her family in Takoma Park, Md.

Courtesy Robin Mize

There was a big peace march in Washington a few years back. I watched as my husband made a sign to carry, and my son painted slogans on a T-shirt. "Sure you don't want to come?" my husband asked me.

He knew that I was sympathetic to the cause. I felt just as strongly as he and all our friends, who were going. But I just couldn't go. I begged off, saying I wasn't comfortable with the crowds.

But the thing that made me uneasy wasn't just the number of people gathered there. It was the mob mentality of a large group of people who feel they are right, even if I agree with them. It was the absolutism lurking in the liberal ideals. To me it felt just as scary as any other kind of intolerance.

On the other hand, I know it takes a kind of fervor and belief to change things. But there is a fine line there, and somehow group protests, while I respect them, walk too close to that line for me. What scares me is the self-congratulatory, undiscriminating nature of the mob. I think of the French Revolution, I picture those Nazi rallies, and I fear the self-complacency of knowing that you are right.

I wonder if it has to do also with the fact that I come from a family where the liberal is a rare bird. Four of my siblings are staunch conservatives, Republicans. I love them dearly, and the fact that these people whom I love are the evil enemy of the peace march gives me pause.

It forces me to accept a contradiction, knowing both things to be true. They are the enemy, but they are also my family. We do not agree, but I have to accept that they are thoughtful and compassionate people who have come to the opposite conclusion about how things should be. I must admit that it's hard for me to disagree so profoundly yet still respect and love them. Sometimes I wish I could agree with my siblings, and not be troubled by these uncomfortable differences of opinion.

And this brings me to what I believe: I believe we are all doing the best we can. The other side isn't any more ignorant or selfish than we are; they are not Big Business or Big Brother or the International Monetary Fund. They are just like me. I choose to respect their opinions, even as I disagree with them.

I am grateful that my children must accept this diversity, too. They can't just dismiss the other side as evil. They are forced to love the enemy because the enemy is their loved one. The love came first.

It seems to me that here in my family is an essential element of our democracy: We agree to disagree. Our ability not only to accept, but to respect, our differences is our common ground.

An Act Of Faith In America

Michael Seifert Reads His 'This I Believe' Essay.

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Michael Seifert is a priest at San Felipe de Jesus, a Roman Catholic church he helped found in Cameron Park, Texas. In addition to his work along the Texas-Mexico border, Seifert has served in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other inner-city communities. Courtesy Michael Seifert hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Michael Seifert

Michael Seifert is a priest at San Felipe de Jesus, a Roman Catholic church he helped found in Cameron Park, Texas. In addition to his work along the Texas-Mexico border, Seifert has served in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other inner-city communities.

Courtesy Michael Seifert

I am the Catholic priest for Cameron Park, a small town on the Texas-Mexico border.

According to the 2000 census, Cameron Park is the poorest place in the United States. Indeed at first glance, visitors think that they may have slipped across the border into Mexico — the ramshackle homes, the outhouses, the burning garbage and the narrow roads have led folks to call us "America's Third World."

Those who bother to get to know us, however, discover one of the richest communities in America. For while we are economically strapped, we are infused with Latino optimism wedded to solidarity. Our shared struggles as poor people have taught us to measure others by the quality of their hopes for the future, rather than the circumstances of their birth.

When I arrived here in 1997, Cameron Park, for all of its goodness, was a place that lacked the most basic services that the rest of Americans take for granted.

Not a single one of our roads was paved. There were no police, no mail, no schoolbus service. There were no streetlights, no sidewalks and no parks. Our parishioners felt invisible, ignored and left out.

When we asked the county commissioner why the roads weren't paved, he responded, "Why bother? You people don't care. You aren't really Americans. You don't even vote."

People who labor with bent backs know better than to believe in politicians, but we do hold dear our self-respect. When this local politician challenged our identity as Americans, he unwittingly gave us the key to unlock our future: the vote. Still stinging from his rebuke, the community organized itself. We divided up into teams of two and went door to door, asking neighbors to turn out in the next election. And they did. Our voter participation rate skyrocketed. We became one of the highest-voting precincts in south Texas.

The local politicians took notice — and they responded. The roads were paved. A park was built. A sheriff's substation was opened. Streetlights were installed. An old friend noted that now, "Cameron Park looks like America."

Well of course we look like America. We are America. While we may not speak the finest standard English or academic Spanish, we speak from our souls and with our hearts, and when we vote, we are speaking unmistakably as Americans.

Down here, a graduation from college is a moment of celebration and pride. Lately, I have discovered that same pride from those who have voted for the first time. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a parishioner who is studying at MIT in Boston. She said, "Father Mike, I voted in an election for the first time in my life. I was so excited when I mailed my absentee ballot."

A month ago, after the eight o'clock mass on Sunday morning, a woman gave me a big hug. She said, with a huge smile, "My husband was sworn in as a citizen last week. Now he can vote!"

I hugged her back, and smiled at least as largely as she. This woman and her husband understood. They were Americans — and understood the privilege and the obligation of the vote.

I believe in that privilege and obligation. And I believe, today, in my neighbors of Cameron Park, who will go to the polls and who will, by means of their vote, make an act of faith in America. Our America.

My Opinions Matter

Nora Lupi Reads Her 'This I Believe' Essay.

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Nora Lupi is an art history major at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has attended rallies and volunteered for campaigns on campus during this election season. Lupi says she continues to debate politics with her parents, who live in Manhattan. Courtesy Nora Lupi hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Nora Lupi

When I was growing up, I was a teenager no one listened to — and I grew sick of it. So, I'm here to let America know that the future of our country, those kids you've raised and sent through high school, the ones you thought were so easily distracted, are strong and we want to be heard.

Many people throughout my life told me to shut up or mind my own business when I attempted to express my opinions on politics, gay marriage, abortion or the death penalty. What I have come to realize is that I have just as much right as anyone to say how I feel about whatever topic I choose. I no longer believe that I should just blend in with the crowd. I am ready to make a stand and shout out to the whole world what my opinions are.

I believe that teenagers have just as much capacity to speak about the government as anyone else does. I do not think that I am any less informed than the next person, regardless of their age. I know that if I don't speak my mind, I will not be true to my nature.

I was raised in a family where politics were always discussed and debated. Many times my parents and I argued for half the night over the same issues the Supreme Court deals with. It was in this climate that I started to form my own opinions about the government. I learned that my opinions matter.

So why does it constantly seem as if teenagers are insignificant?

Unfortunately I know the answer. I know that the answer is that the government is not looking far enough into the future. I am not recognized as a future president, a future CEO or a future revolutionary. All I am to them is a loud, obnoxious teenager. I think it is time that we are heard for more than what we are perceived as. It is time for me to be recognized for my knowledge, my interest and my ability to lead.

So, America, were you all not in my place once, with no power to speak and be heard? Isn't it time for the future of America to begin voicing our opinions about important issues?

I believe it is. I believe in so much more than freedom of speech. I believe in the power and strength of the future America, and I believe that it is time we all took a stand. I believe in us.

This I Believe invites you to submit your own statement of belief in lieu of commenting on these essays.

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