Voter Initiative a ‘Moral Campaign’

East Hampton clergy aim to educate, organize, mobilize in election lead-up
Onida Coward Mayers, Gregorio Mayers, the Rev. Walter Silva Thompson, Louis Myrick, and Diana Walker
Onida Coward Mayers, Gregorio Mayers, the Rev. Walter Silva Thompson, Louis Myrick, and Diana Walker announced VoteHamptonNY, a nonpartisan initiative, at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton last Thursday. Christopher Walsh

With pledges of impartiality and appeals to the better angels of our nature, the East Hampton Clericus announced an interfaith initiative dedicated to voter registration, engagement, and turnout last Thursday at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton. 

In a meeting at the church, the Rev. Walter Silva Thompson Jr., senior pastor of the Calvary church and a member of the Clericus, introduced VoteHamptonNY, which he described as a nonpartisan, clergy-based plan to encourage voters to fulfill their civic duty. 

VoteHamptonNY, Mr. Thompson said, is “a moral campaign” to ensure that residents understand the value of civic engagement through voter registration and the exercise of their right. “The sociopolitical and economic climate in our country calls for our communities to communicate with one another,” he said, “to work together and build accountable plans to educate, engage, organize, and mobilize its citizens along with working to keep its elected officials morally and politically accountable.” 

Along with voter registration and mobilization, the initiative calls for a monthly series in which speakers from both major parties at the state and national level will address the community. “This initiative seeks to hold them accountable to what they say and what they do,” Mr. Thompson said. “It is incumbent upon us to do research” so participants “can ask the right questions.” Congregations will also designate a member or members to educate people on registration and the importance of participation in the electoral process, he said. 

A primary goal is to inform the community about the primary elections scheduled for June 26 and Sept. 13 as well as the midterm election on Nov. 6. 

Reading a statement from the Clericus, Mr. Thompson said that, “As religious leaders in the community, we must underscore the ethical and moral impetus for peaceful discussions and consideration of the needs of all of us who live together according to a serene process.” As leaders of differing beliefs, “we can personally attest to the ease and existential utility of gathering together, discussing all concerns, and always keeping an eye on the future as we work to live peacefully and successfully in this community.” 

For all its affluence, many East Hampton residents face poverty and hunger, said Gregorio Mayers, a founding participant of VoteHamptonNY and a former senior policy adviser with New York City’s Office of the Mayor. He is now a professor at the City University of New York and a part-time resident of East Hampton. “It is our moral responsibility as a community and member of the clergy to galvanize, educate, and get a centered, nonpartisan approach to help people throughout the process when you’re feeling these types of pains and concerns,” he said. 

“I want to be able to have friendships that are acknowledged with people who might see the world differently from me,” said Diana Walker, who advocates for immigrants’ rights, “but I want an opportunity to be able to meet and have a discussion and debate.” Ms. Walker said Tuesday that she is “an extremely enthusiastic supporter of bipartisan dialog, which has been all too sadly missing.” 

Along with Mr. Mayers and Ms. Walker, founding participants of VoteHamptonNY include Mr. Mayers’s wife, Onida Coward Mayers, the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s director of voter assistance; Louis Myrick, the founder of Current Citizens Group Inc., which seeks to address issues including affordable housing and police guidelines, and Zachary Cohen, chairman of the town’s nature preserve committee and a former candidate for supervisor. 

Ms. Walker and Mr. Thompson referred to the philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr and his book, “Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics,” concluding that religious leaders are obliged to be involved in the political realm in order to ensure justice. Silence becomes betrayal, Mr. Thompson said. “There is the need for a transcendent voice in light of the confusion and the conflict and the bickering and the infighting that’s taking place in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party,” he said. “I believe there is a need for a collaboration of voices within the community to really come together and try to make some sense of the confusion that most people are inundated with over the news. . . . They feel the political process has lost its moral guidance and significance for helping understand what the issues are within our community. I think this is the time for the transcendent voice to be lifted so we can raise the consciousness of people.” 

Reg Cornelia, who until recently was chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, noted the moral underpinning of the initiative. The Revolutionary War and the antislavery element leading up to the Civil War “were preached from the pulpit,” he said. Likening the present, hyper-partisan climate to the schism between North and South that led to the Civil War, the VoteHamptonNY initiative is timely, he said. 

The meeting ended with Mr. Cornelia quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. “We must not be enemies,” Lincoln said. “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”