Washington, D.C. — Getting out the vote is an act of faith for many Americans. Across political and ideological spectrums, Americans are motivated by their diverse faiths and backgrounds to encourage people to vote.
For this year’s installment of “Faith Leaders To Watch,” the Center for American Progress has identified 15 of the many faith leaders engaged in nonpartisan voter engagement in 2020. Not only do they represent diverse faith traditions, but they also represent a variety of approaches to this work and are at a variety of stages in their careers.
At a time when our democratic processes and norms are coming under increasing threat from voter suppression and foreign interference, these faith leaders are among the many community leaders playing a critical role in strengthening our common purpose.
The faith leaders to watch are:
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, Florissant, Missouri
The Rev. Traci Blackmon is the associate general minister for justice and local church ministries of the United Church of Christ, which has an ongoing voter mobilization campaign called “Our Faith, Our Vote.” This year, the campaign started a Civic Action Center that offers online voter registration and candidate and policy information, combined with moral and theological reflections. The campaign also provides financial support to congregations and communities in need so that they can engage in voter mobilization efforts that help their community members make their voices heard.
Satjeet Kaur, New York City
Satjeet Kaur is the executive director of the Sikh Coalition, which is mobilizing Sikhs to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 election. Her organization is recruiting and training voter registration volunteers to become get-out-the-vote champions in their local communities. The organization is also providing a free tool for Sikhs to check their voter registration, register to vote, and find out about deadlines and details specific to the elections in their states.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner is the director of the Religious Action Center and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. The Reform Movement’s 2020 civic engagement campaign is called “Every Voice, Every Vote” and seeks to engage hundreds of thousands of voters. It is focused on achieving 100 percent voter participation by reaching congregations, engaging student voters, and combating voter suppression.
The Rev. Billy Michael Honor, College Park, Georgia
The Rev. Billy Michael Honor is the director of faith organizing for the New Georgia Project. The “Still Strong, Go Vote” campaign organizes congregations across Georgia to demonstrate their resilient strength and civic power, despite the challenges of COVID-19, by turning out voters in November. The campaign has a goal of mobilizing 100,000 people of faith in Georgia to pledge to vote in the 2020 elections.
Diane Randall, Washington, D.C.
Diane Randall is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), which is focusing on an initiative to reach young adults in the FCNL network, encouraging them to register to vote and reach out to their friends to register and to make a plan to vote in the upcoming elections. The FCNL has also designed questions for candidates running for Congress. It encourages its members to develop personal relationships with local candidates that will endure following the election.
The Rev. Adam Taylor, Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Adam Taylor is the executive director of Sojourners. His organization has partnered with the National African American Clergy Network to help Black clergy—with the support of other multiracial church allies—combat voter suppression efforts in nine key states. The campaign includes “We are Watching” meetings to hold senior election officials accountable, educate congregations and communities about voting rights, and provide a moral presence outside polling sites alongside lawyers.
Sheila Katz, Washington, D.C.
Sheila Katz is the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which is recruiting volunteers to call friends and people of voting age to register them to vote. The group is mobilizing its followers to ask Congress to prioritize expanding voter access in November. NCJW recently held its first-ever #VoteSafe Digital Lobby Day with 800 participants from 37 states. They urged Congress to provide funds for expanded and safe access to the polls in November.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, New York City
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, as well as the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. Both organizations are engaged in a campaign called “We Must Do M.O.R.E—Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering and Educating.” The campaign aims to build electoral power among the 140 million poor and low-income people in the United States. It is also committed to challenging voter suppression and protecting the right to vote.
Mohamed Gula, Washington, D.C.
Mohamed Gula is the national organizing director for Emgage, which educates and empowers Muslim Americans. Gula runs its nationwide campaign to turn out 1 million Muslim voters in 2020. The Million Muslim Votes campaign is meant to bring together Muslim communities in support of the largest voter mobilization effort in history.
María Teresa Kumar, Washington, D.C.
María Teresa Kumar is the founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, which focuses on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters. Under her leadership, Voto Latino has already directly registered hundreds of thousands of new voters and is in the process of achieving its goal of registering 500,000 voters in the 2020 election cycle. Kumar has spoken about her Catholic values and Catholic communities’ voter turnout.
Amy Sullivan, Chicago
Amy Sullivan is strategy director at Vote Common Good and the founder of This Is My Story, an initiative to empower and equip Christian women to make voting an act of faith. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Sullivan is a veteran journalist who has covered religion and politics for Time, Yahoo!, Washington Monthly, and the National Journal. She is the author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap.
The Rev. Ben McBride (Oakland) and Joseph Tomás McKellar (Los Angeles)
The Rev. Ben McBride and Joseph Tomás McKellar are the co-directors of PICO California. This year PICO California launched “Faith Votes CA,” a grassroots movement to turn out 1 million new and infrequent voters in low-income congregations and communities. They are working with partners in the Million Voters Project. Prior to their leadership of PICO California, the Rev. McBride founded the nonprofit Empower Initiative and McKellar served as the founding director of Faith in New York.
The Rev. Ashley Horan (Minneapolis) and Nicole Pressley (Atlanta)
The Rev. Ashley Horan is the organizing strategy director of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Nicole Pressley is the national organizer for UU The Vote. They work to engage Unitarian Universalist individuals, congregations, and institutions in bringing their values to the public square in the 2020 elections, through deep partnerships with local and national frontline organizations. They both identify as queer people of faith and have a track record of local community organizing.
Read the column: “Faith Leaders To Watch in 2020” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons and Maggie Siddiqi
For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs, or 202-478-6327.