Why Perriello Makes Us Proud
It’s rare to find a politician these days who doesn’t lose his convictions and ability to inspire when he arrives in Washington. Rep. Tom Perriello, who was defeated on Tuesday night in a wave of voter dissatisfaction with the economy, is that rare breed. He leaves Congress holding his head high. A leader who has roots in the progressive faith community, Perriello co-founded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (where I worked for three years), helped launch Faithful America, co-founded Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and was a key player in starting Avaaz.org, an online advocacy community working on issues like global poverty, climate change and Middle East peace. Tom’s work with child soldiers and pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone played a major role in the peace and reconciliation process that ended twelve years of violence in that country. He did all this before winning a House seat at the age of 34 in a district with decidedly conservative leanings. Now, if that doesn’t make you feel like a slacker, I’m not sure what does!
A lot of politicians pay lip service to values. Tom’s campaigns, and his brief tenure in Congress, reflected faith and values in action. He pledged 10 percent of his campaign staff time to tithing. Volunteer stops in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional district included visits to soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, senior centers and Habitat for Humanity projects. Perriello’s Common Good Summer initiative mobilized hundreds of college students working on his campaigns to perform service in the community. Living out the social justice teachings of his Catholic faith, Tom believes political leadership is about right and wrong, not left or right. You can always tell more about a person in defeat than in victory. In an e-mail to supporters after the election, Tom showed the mix of grace and grit that won over so many:
I promised you I would have your back against the powerful interests in Washington, and last night, you had mine. Even though we fell short of reelection, we defied the pundits in the roughest of political years. Because I come out of faith-based justice work instead of politics, I can see last night as a victory for conviction and hard work for the idea that when you fight for the people, the people win…Because of our work together, we turned near-economic collapse into nine straight months of private sector job growth. Because of our work together, 1,800 homes in our district have been weatherized, putting people to work making $20 an hour. Because of our work together, over 20,000 young people in our district are getting more aid to afford college. Over 120 small business owners got the loans to live their American dream. And being a woman is no longer considered a pre-existing condition in this country…As I told the crowd last night, my father made me promise when I entered politics that I would always consider Judgement Day more important than election day, because doing what’s right is more important than winning elections. I believe he is smiling on us today, and that he is thankful for all of you who sacrificed so much to offer a better kind of politics in America.
You haven’t heard the last of Tom Perriello. Those of us who believe that faith, values and a commitment to the common good can restore a sense of higher purpose in politics will be watching his future closely. There is every reason to believe his best days await.