Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Forward: Other Winners in the U.S. 2012 Elections

So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012.  But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline.  This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles.  I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:

  1. Women’s Rights won big.  The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA.  BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins  (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.]  All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED.  Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed.  Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights.  New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member.  After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
  2. LGBTQ Rights won several victories.  The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected.  In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts.  In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated.  In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY.  Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections:  Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community.  Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
  3. Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board.  Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated).  CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs.  As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes.  The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades.  In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education.  Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things.  Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
  4. Civil Liberties.  Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment).  They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state.  They rejected legislature control over judges.  Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis.  Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
  5. Diversity and inclusion.  With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress.  Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota.  Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.

Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas.   Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving.  Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.

There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.

November 8, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, economic justice, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, labor, religious liberty, sexual orientation, U.S. politics, women | Leave a comment

The American Public: Calls Itself “Conservative” But Favors FDR-Style Liberalism

The data I’m using comes from a recent poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.  You can read the entire poll here.

  • True or False: Most Americans agree with Congressional Republicans and Beltway pundits that wealthy Americans should not have their taxes raised. FALSE.  81% of Americans believe that the rich pay too little in taxes and should have their taxes raised.  55% are really in favor of this and an additional 26% find this “mostly acceptable.”
  • True or False: Most Americans love Big Oil and favor keeping their tax subsidies so that they continue to provide good jobs and cheap energy to American homes and cars.  FALSE.  74% of Americans want the tax subsidides (giveaways) to the oil industry eliminated. (Yet House Republicans, supposed deficit hawks, just voted unanimously to keep giving this corporate welfare to the most profitable industry in human history–companies whose quarterly profits are larger than the Gross Domestic Product of many nations!)
  • True or False:  Despite the Obama-GOP compromise of the lame duck Congress of November-December 2010, most Americans want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts to families making more than $250,000 per year.  True.  67% of Americans favor ending those tax cuts.  Americans are smart about this, because the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy did more to balloon the federal defict than any other factor, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession of ’08-’10, the TARP banking bailout, the bailout of GM & Chrysler, or the economic stimulus/recovery act.  In fact, the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and the recession account for more than 90% of the deficit–not the recovery measures.
  • True or False: Most Americans would support eliminating Medicare and turning it into a system of coupons or vouchers for seniors to purchase private health insurance.  (This plan is actually proposed by House Budget chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), who gave the GOP response to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address and recently this plan has seemed to get support from Speaker of the House Boehner (R-OH). ) FALSE. 51% of Americans find this plan completely unacceptable.
  • True or False: Americans generally support public employees having a union with collective bargaining rights.  True. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll 52% of Americans found stripping such rights unacceptable.  A USA Today/Gallup poll found 61% of Americans opposing a move to strip collective bargaining from public sector workers in their state.  And a CBS/New York Times poll found 62% of the public supporting collective bargaining rights for public employees.

These are generally positions which have been considered politically “liberal.”  These are more liberal views than anything coming out of either party in Washington, D.C. right now.  It is far more liberal than what the Beltway pundits spew.  Specifically, this is “economic populism,” the kind of political liberalism of the FDR-era New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society–policies that help the poor and middle class more than the wealthy.  The pundits like to call such sentiments “class warfare,” but, if so, it appears that most Americans think such class warfare is a good idea.  Maybe they realize that for 30 years class warfare has been waged by the wealthy against the rest of us (leading to an ever widening gap between the superrich and everyone else) and that the term “class warfare” is only used if the poor and working class fight back.  That gap is huge:  The top 1% of Americans captured 50% half of all the economic growth from 1993-2007!  Income inequality is higher in the United States than in Mubarak’s Egypt!

So, Americans are just as liberal, just as economically populist, as they have ever been, if not more so.  But they don’t identify with the term “liberal,” which has been systematically demonized ever since the Reagan years. Only 24% of Americans call themselves “liberal” politically.  By contrast, 36% call themselves “conservative” and another 38% call themselves “moderate.”

So, when pundits claim that America is a “conservative” or “center-right” nation, they are asking about labels.  But when you ask about policies–Americans are center-left. They are liberal or progressive.  What is strange–other than the disconnect in terminology– is that this economically populist, liberal to progressive sentiment has not been able to be translated into a political force that can achieve policy objectives.  But the attacks on union workers by Republican governors may have just provided the spark to set that dry tinder ablaze.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | economic justice, labor | 6 Comments

Quotes on the Dignity of Labor

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Take not from the mouth of labor, the bread that it has earned.” Thomas Jefferson (who apparently never thought to apply this principle to his slaves!).

“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions.  One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”   Molly Ivins (The % has now declined to 7% union households–and the middle class has shrunk with the decreased purchasing power of non-elite salaries accordingly).

“Every advance in this half-century:  Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education…  one after another- came with the support and leadership of American Labor.”  Jimmy Carter

History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”  Maratin Luther King, Jr.

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join a union of their choice.” Dwight David Eisenhower (last liberal Republican president).

“All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms is treason. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Labor is the great producer of wealth; it moves all other causes.” Daniel Webster

“If I were a worker in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“It is time that Americans realize that the place of labor is side by side with the businessman and the farmer–and not one degree lower.”  Harry S. Truman

“We insist that labor is entitled to as much respect as property. But our workers with hand and brain deserve more than respect for their labor. They deserve practical protection in the opportunity to use their labor at a return adequate to support them at a decent and constantly rising standard of living, and to accumulate a margin of security against the inevitable vicissitudes of life.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Let your watchword be union and progress–and, until then, no surrender.” Samuel Gompers

“Effective labor unions are still by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of the laborer’s rights and the improvement of his or her condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on the part of the public, no increase of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among the workers themselves.” Monsignor John A. Ryan

“In light of this fundamental structure of all work… in light of the fact that, labor and capital are indispensable in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of production in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.” Pope John Paul II

“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor-those who cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized-do a disservice to the cause of democracy.” John F. Kennedy


September 6, 2010 Posted by | economic justice, labor | Leave a comment