JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The hope for a better life for all Missourians — especially those whose circumstances have robbed them of dignity — is systemic change to open the American dream to everyone.
“Claim the dream” repeatedly rang out at Quinn Chapel AME Church as more than 350 members of Jefferson City’s faith community packed the sanctuary on Jan. 23 to stand for economic dignity, racial equality and equal opportunities.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Rep. Jay Barnes spoke, and several legislators and six of the city’s council members also attended the founding convention of Faith Voices of Jefferson City. The event drew leaders and members of several faith traditions or denominations, from Roman Catholic to Baptist to Buddhist, and area social action groups.
Keynote speaker Bishop John R. Gaydos of the Diocese of Jefferson City shared the development of the Catholic position on social justice issues.
An affiliate of Missouri Faith Voices, the Jefferson City interfaith, non-partisan organization works to change political and economic systems for the common good, organizers said.
“Listen for the call of God on your own life,” First Baptist Church Pastor Doyle Sager challenged listeners. “Economic dignity and racial equality are not favors we are seeking but rights we are claiming, rights that belong to each of God’s children.”
The organization is focusing on three areas of primary concern — Medicaid expansion and an early voting initiative statewide and public transportation in Jefferson City.
But to influence systemic change requires heart change in community leaders, Nixon indicated.
Jefferson City resident Joeni Miller shared that health issues restrict the types of jobs she is able to perform. As an uninsured 26-year-old with a son to support, she believes receiving Medicaid will allow her to improve her life. “If I had Medicaid, I could change my life…. I think I’m worth it and I think my son is worth it,” she said.
There are thousands just like Miller across Missouri, Nixon said. The only way to help them is through bipartisan efforts — by putting politics aside and concentrating on values and people, he added.
The governor told the standing-room-only crowd that Missouri needs to move now to take advantage of federal dollars currently available to states that expand the Medicaid program. “Right now, we have the opportunity to do so much good with so little cost,” he said.
“I commit…to do everything in my power to get this done this year,” he concluded, drawing a standing ovation.
Emphasizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for voting rights, Cornell Sudduth claimed some states, including Missouri, want to see voter identification laws passed. If that happens, people of color, the poor and the elderly would be further disenfranchised from their constitutionally protected right to vote.
“We must continue the fight for access to the ballot box…. Our power to compel justice resides in the right to vote,” the pastor of Second Baptist Church declared.
The faith community supports efforts to provide an early voting option in Missouri. Currently, only absentee voters are allowed to cast ballots before Election Day. Petitions are now circulating throughout the state in an effort to get an early voter initiative on the November ballot.
Advocates believe an early voting option would provide more opportunities to those who live in one city but work in another, commuting college students and those who rely on others for transportation to cast a ballot.