VOTE for (Silence)

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As I walk thru the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where we live in DC, I cannot help but notice the virtually every business in our neighborhood is sporting signs that endorse a candidate for office. That is their right. It is also in their interest, as they no doubt want to encourage votes for the candidate whom they feel is most in touch with their neighborhood, or who has ideas that they believe would champion their cause, protect their interests or help their business to thrive.

This is the American way.

In turn, candidates seek them out, and provide detailed plans touting their vision to nurture the climate for businesses to grow because they want to be viewed as pro-business, or supportive of the community…and what better way is there to cement that image than to have the visible support of the local grocer, or restaurateur or dry cleaner. It sends a message—I see you, I understand your issues, and I want to be the Mayor, City Council Member, Congressional Representative, or Governor, etc to represent your interests.

This is the American way.

And so once again, during one of the most politically decisive election cycle of the decade, this time honored tableau is being played out across America, in just about every community….except “ours”.

Nonprofits “can’t” hang signs in our windows or speak about one candidates superior vision or even talk to our volunteers about which candidate would better address the issues we care about….because we aren’t allowed to be partisan.

Why?

Well, in theory, because don’t pay federal income taxes (because we don’t make profit—we reinvest over and over in our community) or property taxes (although businesses are routinely given–or they demand–tax abatement’s as incentives to expand or relocate).

But make no mistake—we do pay taxes; payroll taxes (probably one of the biggest sources of local revenue) and, of course, sales taxes.

So…..you have to ask yourself, at what point should nonprofits stand up and petition for equal access and fully participation in the democratic process?

Will it be after fees or property taxes are imposed?

Will it be after short-sighted budget cuts strip organizations of their ability to keep communities socially viable and economically competitive?

Will it be after demagogues like Rush Limbaugh or point-seeking politicians trade on scurrilous antidotes about our collective work or the causes or constituents we serve to amp up voter anger and roll back social reforms?

Make no mistake, colleagues….these are serious times, and our continued silence in the face of significant economic challenges sets the stage for a long, l-o-n-g walk in the wilderness.

And given the growing lines at the local food banks, I suspect that the trail of crumbs we might leave behind us would be long since eaten by the time we woke up and tried to make our way back home.