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.

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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

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.

[Snip]

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

_____

Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

A Brief History of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

We turn to the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).  As with groups in our previous installments (F.O.R. and WILPF), the AFSC began as a specific response to World War I.  The Religious Society of Friends (nicknamed the Quakers) began as a Christian movement out of radical Puritanism in the mid to late 17th C.  Although it’s founder, George Fox, seems to have been a pacifist since his conversion, the Friends as a whole did not adopt the Peace Testimony as a defining characteristic until 1660.  Since that time, Friends have been a powerful force for peace and justice–making an impact well beyond their numbers. (There are less than 1 million Friends/Quakers worldwide–the majority in Africa.)

Especially in the U.S., the 19th C. was a troubling one for Friends–leading to several schisms between various Yearly Meetings.  This fragmented the peace witness after the Civil War, but numerous Friends played key roles in the development of the international peace movement in the late 19th and early 20th C.  When the U.S. decided to enter World War I, Quaker Meetings formed the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in order to give young Quaker men an alternative form of national service to war. During AFSC’s very first year of existence, it sent women and men to France (along with British Friends) where they worked and cared for children who were refugees because of the war. They also founded a maternity hospital, repaired and rebuilt homes destroyed by the war, and provided returning refugees with the necessities to rebuild their lives.

Over the years, AFSC has been open to hiring non-Quakers, but everyone associated with AFSC must share the Quaker belief in nonviolence and peacemaking rooted deep Quaker convictions about the dignity and worth of all persons (Quaker evangelists–called Publishers of Truth–were instructed to answer “that of God in every person”), in the power of love, service, and nonviolence, and in the ability of the Light (a biblical symbol of God) to speak to all people.  Quakers see their responsibility in opposing war, militarism, and other systems of domination as a calling to “Speak Truth to Power.”

The AFSC continued its work after the end of WWI.  Some major highlights from the early years (1917-1938) include:

  • Feeding 1 million starving children in Germany and Austria in 1919.
  • Feeding and reconstruction work in Poland, including buying 1000 horses from the Polish army to lend to farmers for plowing in 1920.
  • Distributed food, milk, and clothing in famine relief in Russia in 1920-1921. (This work in famine relief saw the rise in leadership of a Friend in business named Herbert Hoover who went on to become U.S. president–and then see his famine relief experience prove fruitless during the Great Depression–though he remained convinced that the New Deal’s programs were the wrong answer.)
  • 1925-1934, helped with poverty relief among Native Americans, African-Americans and immigrants in the inner cities, and poor whites in Appalachia.
  • 1937, provided relief to both sides of the Spanish civil war.
  • 1938, sent a delegation to Germany to rebuke the new Nazi government for its treatment of Jews and worked to get it to allow Jews to leave the country.

As WWII loomed near, Friends, along with Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, managed to get Congress to pass exemptions to the draft for conscientious objectors to war (although the law limited this to those whose pacifism was “based on religious instruction”) and for COs to perform “alternative service of national importance” in work camps run by the peace churches.  Many other WWII -era Conscientious Objectors, religious and otherwise, went to prison, instead.  During these years, the AFSC worked to try to maintain a consistent peace witness around the world in the midst of war.

  • 1941, provided medical help to civilians on both sides of China’s civil war.
  • 1942, provided alternative service for conscientious objectors to war in mental hospitals, conservation programs, and training schools.  Provided relocation help for Japanese-Americans and worked to protect the property of Japanese-Americans interred for the duration of the war.
  • 1943, sent food to relieve severe famine in India.
  • 1944, led the reconstruction efforts in post-war Europe and Asia.

In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to both the AFSC and the British Friends Service Council on behalf of Quakers everywhere.

  • As the Cold War began, the AFSC published Speak Truth to Power(1955) as a pacifist alternative to the arms race.
  • 1961, sent volunteers to work in developing countries.  This began earlier and, along with similar programs run by Brethren and Mennonites, was the inspiration for John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps program.
  • Following the 1962 ceasefire between France and Algeria, AFSC worked in Algeria to develop garden and poultry projects, milk stations, and clinics to fight poverty-related diseases.
  • 1965 –worked to place 7, 000 African-American children in previously all-white Southern public schools and pushed to keep school desegregation a front burner issue. (Friends had pioneered here.  Even during the days of slavery, Friends schools were open to everyone. When segregation laws in many Southern states forbade teaching white and black children together, Friends founded numerous private schools for African-Americans because of the horrible quality of the state-run “Negro schools.”  Rosa Parks attended such a Quaker primary school.)
  • 1966, provided free medical aid to civilians in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and areas held by the NLF. (This led to official investigations of the AFSC by the House Un-American Activities Committee which, thankfully, no longer exists.)

And on and on it goes.

Today, the AFSC has programs seeking economic justice both globally and in the USA, programs on immigration rights, equality for LGBT persons, the Wage Peace campaign to end the war in Iraq and rebuild Iraq justly, a program to combat the militarization of American Youth (including counter-recruitment), work for fairer patterns of international trade, programs to end weapons build ups and the international weapons trade (especially work to end nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and work against weapons that mostly harm civilians, such as landmines), programs for debt cancellation and debt relief in Africa, a program for a just two-state peace in Israel-Palestine, reforming the U.S. criminal justice system (including abolishing the death penalty and ending police abuse).

A glance at these many programs shows that the AFSC’s peace witness is not just a negative peace (the absence of war or armed conflict), but a positive peace built on the presence of justice and human reconciliation.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | AFSC, blog series, Friends (Quakers), heroes, human rights, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers, religious liberty | 2 Comments

Honoring the Legacy of Obadiah Holmes

On 06 September 1651 , 359 years ago tomorrow, Obadiah Holmes, a Baptist layperson who’d been arrested for preaching without a license, was given 30 lashes with a bullwhip in public.  During the beating, Holmes was so enraptured with God’s love that he swore he was being “struck by roses.”  His witness not only helped undermine the theocratic laws of Massachussetts Bay Colony, it also led to the founding of First Baptist Church of Boston. Holmes’ witness also led to the conversion of Henry Dunster, first president of Harvard College, to Baptist views (which led to his forced resignation when he refused to have his infant son baptized).

Nonviolent witness to the truth of one’s convictions can lead to greater religious liberty for all, but it is shameful that today many Baptists are working to deny Muslims the religious liberty for which they once suffered and struggled.  (In Holmes’ day, Baptists argued for religious liberty even for “Turks” which was the common term for Muslims in that day.)

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographical entries, church history, religious liberty | Leave a comment