2017 Inaugurations

You Mean There’s More than One?!

L-R: Shannon Kelly Director of Catholic Charities Community Services Hudson Valley Services; Beatriz Diaz Taveras Executive Director of Catholic Charities Community Services; Adriano Espaillat; Myself; Luz Tavarez-Salazar Director of Government and Community Relations

I, along with a few other Catholic Charities staff, went to D.C. last week for the inauguration not of the President that takes place January 20th but of the new 115th Congress on January 3rd.  The media made so little of this swearing in of 52 new members in the legislative branch of government, you almost could have ignored it.  I went because I was invited to two of these swearing in ceremonies – one for a Republican from the Hudson Valley, John Faso, and one for a Democrat from Washington Heights, Adriano Espaillat.   

I delivered one of the invocations at Congressman Espaillat’s swearing in event.  My view on invocations and political events is simple:  Engage often, endorse rarely, and pray always.  When it comes to politicians and elected officials, they and we – their constituents- can always use a prayer for God’s help.  I might add that the more problematic they are and the more we disagree with their policies, the more prayer is needed.  But that is just my opinion.  So when invited to pray I do so.  I’ve done it for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Enough about invocations.

Let me pause for a moment to discuss these two new members of Congress – very different – and yet both committed to represent their people and their concerns.  John Faso has a long history in New York State government from the Republican side of the aisle.  He is well respected for his competence as an elected official. He seems positioned to continue this record of service in D.C.  

Adriano Espaillat is also a long-time elected official – with a very different CV. He is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who came here as a child on a visitor’s visa.  His bio indicates he overstayed that visa, returned to his native land so he could apply for and be readmitted legally with a green card, and is now a U.S. citizen. He represents Upper Manhattan including Washington Heights and Harlem along with a small part of the Bronx. He served in the New York State Assembly and State Senate and now succeeded to the seat held for more than three quarters of a century by two well-know representatives – Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Charlie Rangel.  Rep. Espaillat’s swearing in was a celebration of a “new turn” in representation of this iconic district. 

I have written elsewhere about concerns – to put it mildly – surrounding the recent campaigns and elections.  I was and continue to be concerned as we transition to a new President, a new Congress, and most likely a new Supreme Court. And to be frank, I am not feeling comfortable.  I continue to feel that disrespect and ideological rigidity that trample on obvious facts and reality are grave threats to this great country, our democratic legacy, and the common good.   

But I did see a glimmer of hope.  We took the opportunity to visit a few representatives in their D.C. offices.  Once more I was impressed walking the halls of Congress.  They are long, the ceilings high, and the marble floors produce impressive sounds as ordinary people walk them.  We visited with Republicans and Democrats.  In these meetings with representatives and their staffs there was genuine dialogue and conversation in spaces set apart from cameras and tweets.  There was expressed real concern for the people represented and for the nation.  There was realism that democracy always takes work.  There were no rose-colored glasses. 

And so my take-away is simple, not very new and not flashy.  Participate; raise your voice about your concerns and issues; interact with those elected and their staffs.  Do it directly and civilly – even when there is disagreement.  Just as in any conversation, more is accomplished in directly dealing with those elected than by engaging in public Twitter, Facebook, or protests.  There is a place for this, but it is not half as effective as dealing directly.

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