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National polls, local problems

Remembering our neighbors as the midterm elections heat up

National polls, local problems

Buddy Osborn (left) shows kids how to box at a Rock Ministries neighborhood event in Philadelphia (Handout)

I had a mild case of déjà vu when news broke on Thursday that the Republican National Committee (RNC) would hold its 2020 presidential convention here in my hometown of Charlotte, N.C.

That’s because the Democratic National Committee held its 2012 political convention here. Each morning for one week that summer, I trekked from the suburbs with my colleagues Emily Belz and Lee Pitts to downtown Charlotte, where we’d stay until late into the night, reporting on the happenings in the 2012 race.

We’d just come from the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., where the swirling evangelical angst was over whether to vote for a Mormon. Most evangelicals did, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney still lost to President Barack Obama in November.

By 2016, evangelical angst had exploded, with a searing debate among many over whether to vote for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Most did, and Hillary Clinton lost the presidency she likely once thought she was assured. 

But if angst is the defining mark of national elections, I can’t help but think about the local angles that often define the problems and solutions. 

Here in Charlotte in 2012, as Democrats decried a lack of opportunities for the poor, I visited Jim Noble, a Christian, chef, and owner of a handful of local restaurants—including the King’s Kitchen, a nonprofit, Southern eatery that trains and employs men and women considered unemployable by many. 

It’s not a sweeping solution to poverty, but it’s an example of how a local businessman could make a local difference concerning a real problem that’s often highly politicized.

Four years earlier, in 2008, a roomful of progressive evangelicals at the Democratic National Convention in Denver accused conservative Christians of being little concerned about babies after they’re born. Afterward, I spent a morning at the nearby Colorado Pregnancy Care Center, where pro-life workers helped 60 to 65 mothers a month with a range of post-birth services.

Again, it wasn’t a solution to all the perplexing problems single mothers and other families face, but it was a concrete example of daily, unsung service to vulnerable mothers and children.

When I contemplate a decade of political campaign coverage, I don’t reminisce much about the nightly televised speeches from politicians and celebrities in comfortable, well-secured, downtown arenas. I think about men and women I’ve met from every end of the political spectrum who seem desperate for hope, even if they disagree about what that means or how to achieve it. 

When the busloads of delegates leave town, and the traffic blockades come down, and the hotels and restaurants empty out, what’s left are local people with local problems. 

Those problems often have national implications, but the heroin addicts and prostitutes and single moms and at-risk kids I encountered in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood in 2016 seemed oblivious to the elaborate political convention unfolding a few miles away. 

But some perked up when they saw Buddy Osborn, a Christian who runs a local ministry teaching kids how to box and how to follow Christ. (The ministry also holds an outreach to local prostitutes who find compassion and a few safe minutes off the streets.) Here was a guy who wouldn’t let them get away with much—but who genuinely cared about them.

As the midterm elections approach, and we rightly consider the national implications of the voting outcomes, let’s not forget the local opportunities all around us that don’t hinge on a ballot box. Zack Eswine, a pastor and author I’ve quoted before, reminds Christians: “Human life was given for the love of God and the love of our neighbors in a local place for God’s glory and the common good.” 

And if you have a local angle on midterm elections you think is worth following along those lines, please drop me note at jdean@wng.org.