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Elections 2013: Of the people, by the people, for the people

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 OpEd

This election season is shaping up as a season of sour dissatisfaction. Only "the three percent" love Bloomberg's idea of NYC as "the Luxury City," but the rest of us worry that flushing out the elitist mentality will flush out a lot of the good policies too. Elitism or populism? Which way will we turn?

There has been a disturbing belief in the air that only centrally located elites change society. We in New York City are particularly subject to this bit of self-inflating mythology. Even while the threat of layoffs terrorizes many New Yorkers, we keep shucking and jiving for the rich hoping that the shekels keep trickling down. The problem is that the shekels are mostly moving upwards, defying the law of economic gravity. How do we bring the common person back to a more equal status with the rich and powerful?

President Abraham Lincoln faced a similar problem of how to bring the Black common man into power without destroying the republic.

Lincoln, perhaps drawing upon the abolitionist pastor Theodore Parker, summarized at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863 what the American Republic was about: "the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

The slave masters had misconstrued the American philosophy as being "of the white race, by the white race, for the white race." Lincoln maintained that American democracy was fundamentally of, by and for all the people, not some specific group like whites, or rich or powerful or even the religious, though Lincoln's speech was deeply Biblical.

The order of phrases was important. "Of the people" and "by the people" come before "for the people." Lincoln reminded his listeners that the source of authority in the United States was the people prayerfully voting on policies "for the people." It was not enough to be "for the Black man" as the slavocrats sometimes claimed that they were. Slavocrats wrote large tomes about how slavery was "for" the common good. Lincoln's speech implied that policies "for" the Black people needed to be derived from the participation and vote of the Black people. Slavery was a contradiction to the simple democratic principle, "one man or woman, one vote." (It took a while longer for "the woman" to be included in democracy.)

Elites sometimes are tempted to misconstrue philanthropy as "for people," leaving out the crucial phrases "of the people and by the people." These anti-democratic elites in government and out of government can be very benevolent--as long as they are in control. They are very tempted to use, often without the slightest qualms, their money "to help people" by helping themselves to control of the people's organizations.

There is now one of those periodic disquiets over the influence of money over American life and churches. We may get Bill "Tax the Rich" De Blasio as mayor, mainly as a reaction against Bloomberg's attitude that NYC is a Luxury City for those who can afford it.

Democracy every once in a while scourges out elite influence in favor of "of the people, by the people." Public relations cannot forever cover up the hidden hand of corrupting money. Of course, what we know is that too often the "for the people" programs end up a mess of economic disaster, corruption, and self-serving when "the people" get in power.

A Journey is reporting on some of the faith-based common people who for the first time have entered into campaigns for political office.

At least eight pastors and several lay leaders in ministries are running for the city council.

Manhattan:

Richard Del Rio for District 2 (Lower East Side, East Village, Gramercy Park, Murray Hill). Pastor of Abounding Grace Ministries

Bronx:

Fernando Cabrera for District 14 (Fordham, Kingsbridge, University Heights). Pastor of New Life Outreach International.

Joel R. Rivera for District 15 (Fordham). Son of Rev. Ray Rivera, Latino Pastoral Action Center.

Joe Bauza for District 15 (Fordham). Senior Pastor at Cavalry Church

Queens:

David Kayode for District 28 (Richmond Hill, Rockdale Village, South Ozone Park, Jamaica).

Brooklyn:

Robert Waterman and Kirsten Foy for District 36 (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights). Waterman is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church.

Al Jackson for Distrct 41 (Brownsville, East Flatbush, Stuyvesant Heights). Pastor of Greater Highways and Hedges Church.

Connis Mobley for District 47 (Coney Island, Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach). Pastor of United Community Baptist Church

There two candidates with pastoral backgrounds running for mayor, and Kenneth Thompson, who is mentored by Rev A.R. Bernard, is running in a tight race for Brooklyn District Attorney. There are also other faith-based candidates running for city offices.

Most are immigrants or children of immigrants. Pastor Rick Del Rio, who is running for city council in Manhattan, has a mantra that he is "a political outsider but a community insider." This description has captured the flavor of the various campaigns. The efforts don't seem to promise a reign of terror on the rich. Rather, their efforts at this point are focused on getting all the classes onto the same democratic platform: "by the people, of the people, and for the people." A good Journey slogan too-thank-you, Abe!

We know that there is relatively high audience interest in this new phenomenon because these features have had 646,000 views since we started running them on August 5. We have also tweeted and facebooked updates.  Take a look at some of our coverage:

Are faith-based community gardeners a sign of changes in NYC politics?;

Running for City Council as a Pastor's Kid;

Hurricane Sandy births a pastor's campaign for NYC mayor;

The Lower East Side: a seedbed for the democratic good; and

A Lion in The Bronx Rises. Fernando Cabrera on the path from pastor to city leader.

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