Many Vincentians shy away from advocacy saying they “did not join the Society to be involved with politics”. Some use the separation of church and state excuse, an offshoot taken from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802 as informing them of what the founders intended. If we are to dig deeper into what informed Jefferson on this building “a wall separation” concept or more simply what was he referring to – “freedom of religion” - does that preclude us from working with our elected officials in an effort to educating them about the plight of those we serve?
If we are absent from the policy discussions, then who will speak of the barriers to entry for affordable housing; access to health care or a living wage that we yearn for our neighbors? Are we comfortable with simply speaking of ending poverty through systemic change but not willing to actively commit to the realization of a more just world? We are called to put our faith into action and advocate for those who open their homes to us daily. Our faith asks of us to be the voice of the poor.
Voice of the Poor is the ministry of the Society of Saint Vincent DePaul that advocates for those living in poverty and represents them and their interests with our local, state, and national legislators. This is done through letters, phone calls, emails, and face to face visits with these legislators.
“You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis; you must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of long-term improvement.” (Blessed Frederic Ozanam)
When we limit our work to dealing with the consequences of a problem and not with its causes, the problem is not resolved. (Rule 7.1). When someone goes to a doctor with an infected wound, he knows that the doctor, besides covering the wound with a bandage, will prescribe antibiotics to take care of the infection. Our work should be no different.
When we do advocacy, our positions come from the concerns that we have learned during home visits, not because of our personal opinions or political beliefs, but based on Catholic Social Teachings. We represent people we serve in the societal bargaining process and express what families in need would say about the obstacles they encounter. When possible, we train people to advocate for themselves, but, too often, they cannot. Then, we have to be their voice. The Voice of the Poor! (Rule 7.8 and Voice of the Poor Manual)
Pope Francis said to a teacher, who asked about what kind of role Catholics should play in politics, “Politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good.”(June 7, 2013) The Pope said, "Catholics have an obligation to get involved in politics. We can't play the role of Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of it." He continued that those who complain that politics is “too dirty” should ask themselves why. Perhaps it’s “because Christians haven’t gotten involved with an evangelical spirit.” It’s easy to blame others, he said, but people need to ask themselves: “Me? What am I doing?”
Through our services, we do all we can for people in need; advocacy is asking the broader society to do their part. (Rule 7.6). Do not be shy! How do we learn about the issues? Voice of the Poor offers expertise in analyzing issues, in organizing advocacy and in influencing outcomes. You will be surprised how much you can learn and grow from the experience of being the Voice of the Poor. Effective advocacy depends on many participating. This continues to be an obstacle for SVDP, as many members “feel good” about giving direct service. Advocacy often involves long, grinding, and sometimes unsuccessful effort. But if each of our 97,000 Vincentians is willing to stand up for those they serve, and so many they don’t ever get an opportunity to serve, by learning about issues and responding to Action Alerts, the Society will have a strong voice and make a difference in how our country treats poor and disenfranchised neighbors. “Charity gives, but justice changes.” (Isaiah 58:1-10).
For further information on Voice of the Poor, see National website:
to sign up for voter voice National email legislative alerts:
Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle – face it; ‘tis God’s gift.
Say not, “The days are evil. Who’s to blame?”
And fold the hands and acquiesce – oh shame!
Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God’s name.
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long;
Faint not – fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.