This piece is part of the Minnesota installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.
By Sheila Ehrich
As I have grown older and experienced more of life, I have come to realize how truly blessed I have been. For me, advocacy is something I do out of gratitude. I have always known that poverty, hunger and injustice exist. Over the years I have done what I could to address those issues both financially and with my time.
I grew up in an intact middle-class family. The expectation was that my sister and I would go to college. We both did, and my education at Gustavus Adolphus College served me well in a variety of jobs as well as with the many volunteer and advisory positions I have held over the years.
Following college I married and had two healthy children who have now grown up, gone to college, married, and one has a family of his own. There has always been food on my table (and in my pantry). I have always had clothes to wear, a car that ran, and a job that paid decently – usually with good benefits and a guaranteed roof over my head.
Even after being divorced and now in my current unemployment, I have come to know that I am truly blessed. Advocacy is something I do out of gratitude for all that I have been given – “to those to whom much is given, much is expected.” I also do it because people living in poverty are often so downtrodden – maligned in the press and by politicians and others, that they are sometimes unable to advocate for themselves beyond seeking public assistance.
As part of my job search I often check a number of non-profits to see if they have any openings. This spring I saw that the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota was looking for volunteer help. I began a two-month opportunity of a lifetime to work almost fulltime at advocacy, advocating with and for people who live in poverty, who seek not a handout, but a hand up. I had the opportunity this spring to advocate for people in poverty, to stand alongside them and say, “I am not a criminal! I am just down on my luck. Please help me.”
Living in poverty in and of itself is very limiting in terms of energy and time. Facing people who have power is intimidating and often frightening. I do have the energy and time – and while many people are intimidated by those who hold power, I am not, so it is my duty to speak up for those who find it difficult, for whatever reason, to speak for themselves.
I have met and gotten to know a number of people living in poverty, some of them even working fulltime. As the recession hit I also saw members of my congregation struggle to hang onto their homes, sometimes not succeeding. They also struggled to put food on the table and to be able to send their kids on for post-secondary education. Some also came to struggle with addiction.
These were not rich people or people who were irresponsible. They were people like me who worked hard, took care of their families and looked forward to life being okay. We have all seen people living in poverty maligned and dehumanized on the news and in person, but over the last few years they have often been seen as criminals.
God calls upon all of us to act for the well-being of the poor and hungry, and those who face injustice whether they live in our Twin Cities’ neighborhoods, a community in Minnesota, or across the globe. Through advocacy, we have opportunities to help our neighbors reclaim their dignity and restore their lives. I believe we truly cannot separate our faith and the grace we have received from doing this aspect of God’s work.
To join a growing national network of Lutherans advocating for public policy that serves the well-being of our vulnerable neighbors and God’s creation, click here.