(RNS) — The 118th Congress is now underway. Given its historically chaotic start, the prospects that this Congress will be able to advance policies on the issues most Americans care about — the economy, climate change, migration, safety in our communities and world — certainly seem dim. In fact, the potential for persistent polarization of our politics seems nearly certain. Two years after violent insurrectionists shocked the nation by storming the Capitol, extremism and lies continue to threaten the future of our shared democracy.
It’s no wonder many people want to give up on Congress. The gulf between Democrats and Republicans feels unbridgeable, so why bother engaging with the institution at all? But giving up on our elected leaders, even those we do not like or disagree vehemently with, would only further derail our democracy.
If we hope to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world, we need to reclaim our democracy and the promise it still holds for our country. We need to reassert that our government must be of the people, by the people and for the people; that we expect our legislators to work together and remind them how to do it.
People of faith have a particular role to play in bridging our divides and healing our democracy. We are called to see that of God within each person. As an 80-year-old Quaker lobbying organization based on Capitol Hill, we have sought to apply that practice by engaging in conversations with lawmakers of every political ideology and background. Even when they differ drastically in their beliefs or policy positions, we approach them with an open heart and listening ear, believing in the possibility of our own and their transformation. Building our democracy together is the only way it can be built.
That does not mean we turn a blind eye to evil or injustice, or that we allow lies to flourish without speaking our truth. Individual meetings with those we disagree rarely result in a sudden change of heart or shift in deeply held positions. But when they focus on seeing through the politics and polarization to our common humanity, they can open space for more light and truth to shine through all of us. When constituents repeatedly show up for the issues they care about, it sends a clear message that legislation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It reminds legislators they are accountable to their voters, and people are paying close attention. And it helps us understand one another beyond the positions and sound bites.
Constituent-led lobby visits are just one part of the puzzle. Letters, phone calls, op-eds, town hall questions and, of course, our votes are all useful tools to make our voices heard. They are essential to our democracy. Individually, their impact might feel minimal, but cumulatively, these actions can shift political debates, apply pressure and shine a spotlight on the issues most vital to the future of our country and planet.
Some might call that wishful thinking. I call it participatory democracy. And even though the 118th Congress got off to a disheartening start, I remain convinced the window for real transformative change on Capitol Hill remains open.
Despite what we see on social media, polling consistently shows most Americans still want a functioning, representative, collaborative government that works to address the problems our country and our world are facing. The foundational promise of our democracy — that each person should have a voice and government should serve the needs of the people — remains strong across our diverse but often divided country.
I find hope in the fact that this is the most diverse Congress ever. I find hope in the Congressional Future Caucus, which unites young members across the political divide to forge policy solutions. And most of all, I find hope in the thousands of constituents, in our network and beyond, who remain committed to preventing violence, addressing injustice and preserving our planet.
The only antidote to a failing government is the active engagement of its people. Real problem-solving and effective policymaking in Washington will not be easy in this Congress. That’s why it needs us more than ever.
(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)