$10.10 Wins

When word that Birmingham, Alabama city council had decided to establish a minimum wage of $10.10, people in Tuscaloosa began to wonder can we also establish a minimum wage of $10.10?  The answer is yes.

In a state where the poverty rate is 18.7% and nearly 2.5 times that for single parents with children at 45%, this becomes an easy fix.  35.6% of jobs in the state are low wage jobs. Montgomery, we have a crisis.  It is no wonder that the State is crying broke. Raising the minimum wage would increase the revenues in the state to provide services.

Alabama currently has no set minimum wage and so it is only those positions that are covered by the Federal minimum wage act that are required to pay the current federal wage of $7.25.  But let’s look at that figure for a moment.  In 1968, the federal minimum wage was $1.60.  If this was kept in line with inflation it would today be $10.90.  $7.25 is less than 50% where it should be.

The poverty level for a single parent with two children is $19,700.  If the parent works full time at $8.50 an hour, they only make $17,500 per year.  This means the parent needs to receive assistance from food stamps and other public assistance. No person working full time should live in poverty.

If that parent earns $10.10 an hour they make $21,000 a year and become eligible for health care insurance for $50 a month through the Federal Marketplace.  Every dollar per hour increase equates to $150 per month after taxes to an employee.  An $8 an hour employee will earn $300 more per month at $10.10.  $300 more per month can save a family from relying on pay day loans that charge extortionist interest rates.

Every one of the 29 states and 15 cities where the minimum wage has been raised have been scrutinized and studied and reveals that over 90% of those studies reveal no job loss and no increase in unemployment. In fact a 2014 study by Integrity Florida showed 25 states and 5 cities  had higher job growth than states and cities that did not raise their minimum wage. Raising local wages benefits the local economy as lower wage workers tend to spend their money locally where as corporations take profits out of the local economy to invest all over the world.

But what about Tuscaloosa?  Based on a report by National Employment Law Project (NELP) 73% of nationwide enrollments for public assistance are from working families. 89% of small businesses already pay more than the minimum wage.  60% of businesses support an increase to $12.00.  In Tuscaloosa, 17,570 people are earning less than $10.10 per hour.  The average median wage in the top 25 occupations with the largest number of employees is $8.92 per hour.

Tuscaloosa, just like Birmingham, already has the legal authority to establish a local minimum wage. Alabama has no minimum wage law and has no law prohibiting municipalities from the establishment of said laws, therefore Tuscaloosa has the legal authority under its broad police powers to establish reasonable regulations providing for the general welfare of its citizens. The experiences of other states suggest that such a regulation would survive a legal challenge.

Birmingham’s ordinance makes sense for Tuscaloosa.  It is being phased in over two years, January 2016 the minimum wage raises to $8.50 per hour, which similar to Tuscaloosa, most of Birmingham small businesses already pay wages of about that amount. In January 2017, the minimum wage would raise to $10.10 per hour.  Then every January 1, thereafter, the minimum wage would increase if there is an increase in cost of living.  It is a winning proposition!

It raises people out of poverty.  Removes people from the state welfare assistance rolls because they are able to meet their basic needs. It enables people to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It expands local economies with the additional income being spent locally.

To pass a $10.10 minimum wage ordinance in Tuscaloosa requires a strong coalition.  On Tuesday, September 1, Move to Amend-Tuscaloosa and Work Together Alabama hosted a meeting for interested parties at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tuscaloosa.  There will be another meeting on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at 6 PM to 7:30 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation to further this initiative.  The congregation is located at 6400 New Watermelon Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406.   Please join us!

(Facts in this post are from a fact sheet provided by Engage Alabama, 5184 Caldwell Mill Rd, Suite 204-191, Birmingham, AL 35244)

The Subtext was Racism

Last week, Pastor Thomas Linton of Bethel Baptist Church called for all Christian Clergy to gather in prayer because of the racial tensions in the city and in the nation.   Tuscaloosa News reported the following:

Linton, the Rev. Schmitt Moore and William Scroggins say they fear racial tensions in Tuscaloosa might be on the verge of exploding.

So the three preachers — two black, one white — are asking their fellow clergy and Christians in Tuscaloosa County to pray not once but in a ceaseless and unified prayer for all of Tuscaloosa.

They said they believe through the power of prayer, race relations in Tuscaloosa County will finally be what they should.

“Fifty, 60 years ago, we were facing similar problems as we are today,” said Linton, 83, the pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Lord reminds us, ‘if my people turn from their wicked ways and come to my house to pray, I will heal their land.’ I think too many times we leave him out. He’s depending on his people to unify this division. We’re hoping that the government, the president, Congress, the mayor, or someone does it. But God said if ‘my people come together, I will heal their land.’ ”

Last night, about 50 clergy and lay people gathered to pray at Bethel Baptist Church.  And while I am not Christian Clergy, I decided in the spirit of unity to join them in prayer.  I am not sure they accomplished what they set out to do.  Racial tensions were not mentioned once in the prayers offered from the pulpit.  I am not sure why they feared to address it head on–it seemed to be subtext. There were good things said and to see a group of white and black clergy together in one room praying was huge.  HUGE.  The most segregated hour is still Sunday morning.

Rev. Joel Gorvette of First Wesleyan Methodist spoke and gave a good analogy of the Christian body.  He spoke of the pro-bowl games where the best players play a game.  They each wear the same jersey but their helmets are different.  The helmets reveal their true allegiance to the team that pays their way.  He asked where were our allegiances.  Since this was a Christian crowd, he said the jersey people wore declared they were on team Jesus but the helmets revealed their denominations–First Wesleyan, Bethel Baptist, Church of God, etc.  All with different doctrines and beliefs.  But the jerseys worn declared something else.  Were we going to play with our full heart on this team or were we going to hold back because our allegiance was to our denomination?    I understood this to mean that we had to place our values, our core values, our core faith, above our doctrines if we were to come together and end racism.  This was stated explicitly but the purpose for our gathering and the reason why we needed to focus on Team Jesus was  buried in the subtext.

Rev. Randy Fuller of New Beginning Family Worship Center spoke.  This man.  He started out well, “Where is our [clergy’s] burden?  Where are our tears in what is happening in this city, nation? What has to happen to get us to pray–we don’t cry out anymore–we don’t rend our hearts / our garments.”  I was right with him.

If the clergy are not crying out against racism then how can we expect our congregations to cry our against racism. Again, no mention of racism but it was in the subtext, right?   We have not cried out as a community regarding the atrocities against young black men.  We have not stormed the gates of heaven or city hall for racial justice in our criminal justice system.  A report recently came out that stated black jurors were 82% more likely to be dismissed in Henry and Hale Counties in Alabama when the death penalty was a possible outcome.  We have prisons beyond their maximum capacity and the majority are disproportionately black.   Where are our tears!?  Our burden?  We, whites, are seemingly unaffected so it does not occur to us that families are in deep emotional turmoil over the blatant racism against their members.  There is an air of resignation/ of acceptance that violence is the way of the world. How many times have we heard folks state, “They must have done something wrong otherwise the cops would not have shot them.” How many times our silence gave assent. We must become affected by the plight of others being trampled upon.  We must feel the burden and the raw rubbing against our necks caused by the yokes of white supremacy and privilege. If we do not feel the pain and the heart wrenching that racism has caused in our nation then how can we pray?

But that is not where Randy Fuller was going.  He then stated the unconscionable. He called our trans-children confused and tormented by Satan.  He called them tools of Satan and demon filled.  Tears welled up in my eyes. My heart broke.  Here is my burden.  Children created by a loving God being called demon possessed.  I thought of Jesus’ saying, “Let the Children come unto me.”  I thought,  how do we love the least of these?  How do we create unity when we are quick to tear down and demonize those we choose not to understand?

Rev. Fred Schuckert of Grace Church spoke about the need for repentance.  He echoed that we had to know our burden in real heart rendering ways before we could repent–turn to go in a different way. And since I was focusing on the subtext, the true text that shall not be named aloud in this forum, my thoughts went to Martin Luther King who stated we  become adjusted to the injustices. We must become maladjusted to our religious bigotries.  We must become maladjusted to white supremacy.

Martin Luther King called out to people to stop being adjusted to the civil rights injustices of his day.  We have our injustices today.  And it is easy to be adjusted, to think these are normal acceptable behaviors from our police shooting unarmed black men to the dismissing of black jurors, to the extraordinarily harsh and prolonged sentences in prison.  It is easy to be adjusted.  But we must be maladjusted to these injustices.  We must see how our being adjusted to religious bigotry and hatred is harmful to our beings as well as those we inflict it upon.  We must see how our indifference to the violence committed by our police  system has contributed to increased violence in the streets. We must not adjust to this as the new normal.  We must not seek to silence those who speak up about our being adjusted to this systemic onslaught against Black America.  We must listen to our present day Prophet Amos’s, and Jeremiah’s and Elijah’s who come in the form of Black Lives Matter, Presente, NDLON, SONG. We must listen.

As Rev. Schukert stated in order for us pray from the heart of our beings, we must repent [subtext: of our own complicity to the system]; only then can we truly intercede in prayer to find the solutions in word and deed to heal our city/our nation.  And I believed him.

Comfortability

I admit it.  I was uncomfortable with the Black Lives Matter protest at Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle. I thought their point was made at the Netroots rally a few weeks before.  And I thought Bernie Sanders had taken steps to adjust his campaign to meet Black Lives Matter’s concerns.  And I felt uncomfortable when I began seeing posts that stated I should not be questioning the actions of Black Lives Matter–even if my questions were seeking to understand.  But I moved forward in my being uncomfortable.  I read more posts.  I sought out words from the organizers of that rally and began to understand the context of the protest. Context that is oft times lost in the mainstream media.

One of the goals of Black Lives Matter’s, as I currently understand, is to confront the bastions of privilege and racism where ever it may lodge.  And white liberals, and I am one, can easily hide behind the rhetoric of racism is a reality in this country and then return to business as usual feeling proud that we recognized that the issue exists, but having done nothing to break racism’s hold on the nation.  Black Lives Matter were stating that Seattle’s white progressives have been such people and have done nothing to end the racism that exists in Seattle other than a head nod in their general direction.  Head nods do not make a difference when lives are being lost. Such a stance rests in the protection of privilege. If we were to truly respond by doing something, it might mean losing the privilege.

Bernie Sander’s record on civil rights, better than most of our presidential hopefuls, does not mean anything if white progressives/liberals are not willing to step up to follow people of color’s lead to end racism in this nation.  Respectability politics is no longer the way to go when people are dying daily to racist policies enforced through our police forces, our city councils, our states and federal government.  Black Lives Matter placed white liberals and progressives on notice that knowledge about racism is not what makes an ally.  It is a piece towards the making of an ally, but it, and it alone, does not make an ally.  It never did.  Not today.  And not when Bernie Sanders was marching with Dr. King.  It is action.  It is the willingness to place our lives on the line to prevent one more life from being taken too soon by police or by denied access to Medicaid.

To hear that white progressives are not any better than confederate flag waving white supremacists is a hard pill to swallow.  It is uncomfortable.  It takes us aback.  And we might respond defensively… “but, but…” we begin to say and then add what ever pops into our defensive heads next. ‘I’ve always given money to black causes.’  ‘I’ve always signed petitions.’  ‘I always decry racists whenever I see their confederate flags.’  ‘I’ve got black friends who agree with me.’  Deflections, every one of them.  And when those deflections fail, we dismiss the person who stated such things to us and fall back into our white progressive slumber whereas the person of color must always keep their guard up because they are one traffic signal away from being shot.

When I was in seminary, I attended an anti-racist conference hosted by Meadville Lombard.  The seminary wanted to work towards becoming an anti-racist institution.  At that conference composed of a majority of white people, I stated that we (white folks) needed to develop the skill of comfortability.  I then defined the word as having the ability to be willing to embrace the feeling of being uncomfortable in situations.  In the context of being confronted on racism, it meant not being defensive in response but able to be held accountable to our complicity with white privilege and white supremacy and then using that skill of comfortability to change our behavior.  I was chided for suggesting this.  I was told by grammar elitists that comfortability was not a word.  Several people openly dismissed this notion and shifted the conversation.  Of course, it wasn’t a word, I just made up the portmanteau.

It is indeed a skill that needs to be developed.  Gyasi Ross writes in his editorial about the Bernie Sanders protest:  “Why shouldn’t the folks in the crowd have to talk about race—they consider themselves “progressives” or “liberals,” right? If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race. They should EARNESTLY DESIRE to feel the awkwardness of explaining to our children why our kids have different outcomes than white kids when they interact with law enforcement. [emphasis the author’s]”  He is writing about developing the skill comfortability.  White liberals, all whites regardless of political stripe, need to develop the ability to sit in discomfort and listen to how the system whites created serves to oppress, demean, and destroy Black Lives and other people of color. We need to recognize how we as white people continue to benefit from this system even when we put on the mantle of being progressive liberals with anti-racist rhetoric.  White privilege protects us from these feelings of discomfort.

We need this skill.  We need it yesterday.  Because if we do not develop the ability to listen with humility no matter how uncomfortable the charge of racism is, then our hearts will harden and we will find our selves siding with the supremacists who want ‘those agitators gone’ by any means necessary. Only we will do it in the white liberal progressive way by becoming increasingly silent and complicit when police kill a child for playing with a toy gun, or when a woman is pulled over for a traffic stop and is publicly finger-raped by police for an unsubstantiated drug search. Silence equals death. Complicity yields to consent.  I will no longer remain silent and I will no longer give consent even when I find my skill level in comfortability is lacking.

 

 

 

Alabama Legislature: Doesn’t care about Babies or Grandma

I have now lived in Alabama seven years.  My 7th anniversary serving as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa was August 1st.  In that time period, I have been arrested twice for standing up against Alabama’s injustice to its citizens.  The first was regarding their draconian anti-immigrant law which was gutted of most of its punch by SCOTUS. The second was to call attention to thousands of Alabamians who fall into the gap between Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  We need Medicaid Expansion in this state.  Lives are at stake. Lives have been lost needlessly because they could not access the medical care needed to save their lives.  Medicaid expansion will create jobs in the tens of thousands.  Medicaid expansion will save the lives of loved ones who cannot now receive life saving treatment.

This week the Alabama legislation has been meeting in special session allegedly to fix the budget deficit that will cripple Alabama even further if new revenues are not found. How does Alabama respond?  With a $156 million cut to the state’s Medicaid budget.  This vote will sign the death warrant, not just for hospitals in rural and inner city areas, but for the thousands of people who will be kicked off of Medicaid. The federal government matches state funds for Medicaid at a ratio of 2:1.  This cut will in reality be closer to $460 million.  “If Alabama chooses not to have a Medicaid system, you will see an impact on the health care system you can only begin to imagine in your worst dreams,” said Dr. Don Williamson.  

Alarmist?  No, he is just stating the facts of what a massive cut will do to this state which is already among the highest in poverty and unemployment in the nation.

FIFTY-THREE PERCENT of all births in Alabama are paid by Medicaid.   OF ALL BIRTHS.  Our Legislators, who are adamant in their proclamation of being pro-life for the fetus, are condemning mothers-to-be to early 20th century birthing practices that resulted in high mortality rates for both mother and child.  We are talking about LIVES here.  In this state mid-wives assisting home deliveries are illegal.  Not to mention that the only type of mid-wives allowed are the 20 nurse-midwives in the state and they must practice in a hospital. So what this Medicaid cut is really doing is sending Alabama even further back than early 20th century birthing practices because mid-wives are not allowed.  Imagine the extraordinary cost paid by taxpayers of an emergency room delivery because a mother cannot receive Medicaid to receive the pre-natal and birth services from within the hospital.

SIXTY PERCENT of all seniors in nursing facilities are having their care paid by Medicaid.  The Nursing homes will not survive such cuts to their funding. This is your grandmother and grandfather which the state has voted to throw onto the streets.  Are you able to take them in and provide for their care?  Are you going to be able to quit your job to ensure that Grandma is safe at home?  Their 24/7 needs dictated a safe place where their physical and medical needs are met, which is why you chose a nursing home in the first place.  Now they will not be able to afford this care and where will they go?

There are other people who depend on Medicaid for their health concerns such as people living with developmental disabilities, people living with other physical and mental disabilities.  What will happen when Medicaid is no longer available to sustain their lives at home with home health aides?

This special session is to come up with a sustainable budget with increased revenue to cover the deficit.  There are several possibilities as to where that revenue might be raised.  A cigarette and vapor tax was proposed and defeated.  A lottery.  A 5 cent per gallon gasoline tax.  Revamping the 70 year old tax code to meet the modern day economy.   Raise the income tax.  Eliminate corporate subsidies and tax loop holes. This is where the debate should be in the legislature.  Instead, they are wasting our time and tax dollars introducing new bills that have no relationship on balancing the budget at all.

Alabama is sending a strong message to the citizens of this state: You are throw away people.  If you agree with this statement then do nothing about this stance the Alabama House has taken.  If, however, you believe you have dignity and worth and should be respected to be able to live your life to your fullest potential, then you need to write, protest, get arrested if need be to let Alabama Legislators know that they were elected to do a job.  That job is to do what is best for the people of Alabama.  Eliminating Medicaid is not in our best interest and NOT ACCEPTABLE.  WRITE your legislators, PROTEST at rallies, GET ARRESTED in civil disobedience actions but this treatment of the people of Alabama is unconscionable and offensive to high heaven.

Published in: on August 5, 2015 at 2:12 pm  Comments Off on Alabama Legislature: Doesn’t care about Babies or Grandma  
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A Prayer When Angry

It’s easy to be angry–

and justified in that anger–

Let us turn that anger into righteousness

by using wisdom

by using love

by using forgiveness

to shape our actions

so we can create justice–

a better life for the least of these.

Amen.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm  Comments Off on A Prayer When Angry  
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The Spider who Weaves Her Web

I sometimes wonder about the spider who weaves her web.
She knows it is a fragile net between two blades of grass.
She knows wind, rain or even a passerby may destroy
her work and she will begin all over again to weave,

To toil, to struggle to pull the blades of grass together
as an anchor to hang her masterpiece, her life’s mission.
How often is the work we do as fragile like a web;
the slightest breeze can make our common desire seem for naught.

We seek to create a web of interdependence but
so afraid of vulnerability required to build;
still we begin, then a storm blows shaking the filaments
of community loose and we find the web is unhinged.

But when it comes together; when the spiral weavings match
the light of a joyous day, revealing the rainbows of comfort
the purpose of the web is fulfilled; sustaining, nurturing,
freeing us to more than we can ever be by ourselves.

The spider weaves the best web she can for today’s concerns
and those who come after her will build their webs for their needs
and for their journey’s concerns. And that is as it should be.
We, too, weave the best today. Tomorrow we build anew.
© Fred L Hammond 2015

Published in: on May 19, 2015 at 10:12 am  Comments Off on The Spider who Weaves Her Web  
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Purpose of Attending Church

My personal belief is that the church—regardless of denomination—is meant to be a place where people’s lives are transformed to empower them to reach their highest potential. This can be a place that brings healing into our lives as we journey this path called life together. It can be a place where those who have been marginalized are welcomed and affirmed. It can be a place where those who are healthy today can reach out to those who are hurting and in pain to receive comfort and to bring them into a relationship where healing and health can occur enabling them to reach out to others tomorrow.

Church is in the relational business. It is through relationships that community is built. It is through community that restoration of people’s sense of belonging occurs. It is through belonging that healing occurs.

Published in: on May 19, 2015 at 9:56 am  Comments Off on Purpose of Attending Church  
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What’s a Mother to Do?

Toya Graham, mother of six, sees son on the Baltimore news throwing rocks at police cars, tracks him down, and smacks him several times in the head for his behavior. A bystander videotaped this altercation and it went viral on social media and picked up on national TV.

Many praised her actions as Mother of the year for teaching her son that rioting is wrong. But to hear her say it, the real motivation was “That’s my only son, and at the end of the day, I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray. ”

Freddie Gray is the young man whose spinal cord was severed while being transported by police after an arrest. Gray died a few days later. His death sparked protests and riots in several sections of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods. For a mother to live with fear that her son may end up dead like Freddie Gray at the hands of the police, is a fear that no mother should have to live with in her daily life.

What’s a mother to do? About a year ago, she heard gun shots outside her West Baltimore house and found a person who had been shot and left for dead. Her neighborhood is filled with violence. She reports she tries to keep him home but now that he is 16, she knows she can’t do that as often any longer.

West Baltimore is a poor area of the city. The per capita median income is 35% less than the Baltimore average and 56% less than the state’s average. 24% of the Black population is living in poverty. Unemployment is in the double digits and while it is down this past month to 11.5%, unemployment rate among black youth is at 16.1%, triple the national average. 60% of those over age 25 do not have a highschool diploma or GED. Life expectancy is 20 years less than other neighborhoods in Baltimore. A third of the properties are vacant or abandoned. This is the reality that she and her family face every day. This is the larger context to the Black Lives Matter movement. It isn’t just the police shootings of unarmed black men, it is the whole picture of the social landscape in which they breathe and have their being.

The New York Times has been publishing online a series of short documentaries entitled Conversations. There are two that I want to mention here. The first one I watched was about growing up Black. It focused on Black male youth sharing their experiences of racism. The youngest was 10 the oldest was in their 20s. One youth tells the story of walking down the street with his white friend and seeing a group of black teens walking towards them, the white friend suggests crossing over to the other side of the street. Another youth states that he will cross the street if he notices white people having a terror in their eyes as he approaches them. One wife describes all male teens and adults as potentially being seen by whites as a large scary black man. Her husband interrupts; I am not a large scary black man. One young man spoke about attending his school that was in two buildings and being stopped by police while walking to class from one building to the other. He expressed his shame and embarrassment he felt as his white student peers would walk pass him. This was not a onetime event, but one that happened several times. He was told the police were there to make him feel safe. He asks, “How can I feel safe when I feel like I am being hunted?”

The other short film was about parents having the “conversation” with their Black son. In white families, the ‘conversation’ usually refers to sexual behavior and responsibility but in these families the conversation is about how to act when, emphasis on when, police stop you. A father tells the story of placing and keeping his hands on the steering wheel in order to keep the police from becoming nervous about him and realizing that same action made his children in the back seat nervous and scared. A mother states, “It’s maddening that I have to prepare my kids for something that they are not responsible for.” Another parent instructs her children, “Under no circumstances are you to talk/ask questions to a police officer if stopped.”

To have this conversation be the norm in African American families is a terrifying prospect to fully grasp. It counters the white experience in this nation where whites are taught that the police are your friends and if ever in trouble, a police officer can help. Because whites typically do not have this experience with police, many are incredulous when they hear this reality for Blacks.

This is not a new phenomenon in America. This is not something that only began happening when Michael Brown was shot or Eric Garner was strangled. The Black Lives Matter movement is not reflecting on a new never before heard of act of aggression by police. Unfortunately this is a generational issue that dates back hundreds of years.

The issues faced by the black community in the 1870s after the civil war, in the early 1900s, and the 1960s are the same issues that are being faced today in 2015. In the 1870s and early 1900s, the police and vigilantes used lynchings to send a message to the black community; today we use the police and excessive force to the point of death to do the same. And when they are killed there is an immediate vilification and demonization of the victim to convince the public that somehow this death was justified. That somehow in this instance, the police officer had no choice but to shoot, or to hold the person in a choke hold, or slam the person to the ground and kneeing them in the back preventing them to breathe.

The riots that broke out in Ferguson and Baltimore as heinous as they are in their destruction of property and people’s livelihood; they too have a context in which they develop. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave that context:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

I stated earlier the conditions of Toya Graham’s neighborhood of West Baltimore; the high unemployment rate, the high poverty rate, the violence that is already rampant in the streets. These factors have the effect of keeping people trapped in poverty. It does not help to have a system in place to also keep them there.

Alabama State Senator Smitherman stated recently in a public hearing that Alabama is one shooting away from making Baltimore look like a kindergarten outing. The issue of racism and excessive force by police is not just in cities like Baltimore, New York, and Ferguson but also throughout the south.

Here in the south we have statues and schools commemorating civil war leaders who fought to keep the slave economy intact. The statues around the Capitol building commemorates confederate soldiers. It must be painful to be reminded that this state wanted to keep African Americans in shackles. Imagine being a black youth attending a school named for Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. How must it feel to know that the school you are attending is honoring someone who wanted your family to remain uneducated and in slavery? Or to have the Alabama history lessons still honor Jefferson Davis as a great statesman and to honor his treason with a state holiday?

It does not help that Former President Jimmy Carter, a southerner, along with Congress officially pardoned him and restored him to full citizenship in 1978 posthumously. Davis had the opportunity for a pardon while he was alive if he applied for one, but is quoted to have said, to ask for a pardon would require repentance, and he hadn’t repented. There is no reconciliation for a person who did not see they had done anything wrong or immoral. Slavery is immoral. And to exonerate Jefferson Davis sends the message that it was okay after all.

Using excessive force against an unarmed person, especially when they are being compliant to police requests, is immoral. There was a recent video where the young black man under his own volition is in the process of getting down on the ground and a police officer runs up and kicks him in the face, breaking his jaw. This was not justified behavior, even if the person had run away from the cop moments before, it is not justified nor is it moral.

There were two commemorations happening in Selma this year. Bloody Sunday was 50 years ago at the height of the civil rights movement and the Battle of Selma, 150 years ago with the reenactment of that battle on the heels of the Bloody Sunday commemoration. At the reenactment, the KKK and other white supremacist groups were out in full number. Imagine how the predominantly black community of Selma felt to have the KKK once again at their doorsteps proudly waving their confederate flags for an era that while it must not be forgotten, needs to be placed into a new narrative of creating justice and liberty for all Alabama’s citizens. Instead it glorifies the confederacy and its rebellion against the Federal government.

This is the context in which the black community lives and breathes. To say racism is dead or is diminishing because we have elected to the highest office in the land an African American contrasts the vast unevenness of civil rights in this country.

So what is a mother to do? Julia Ward Howe in 1870 called on mothers around the globe to unite for peace and to help prevent the sending of our children to war. That declaration became the advent of Mother’s Day. Somehow the protest, the anger, and grief over the loss of young lives that gave birth to Mother’s Day has been reformed into a quaint hallmark card and flowers.

However, yesterday Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation was again brought to the forefront. Valerie Bell , who lost her son, Sean, on his wedding day, when police fired 50 shots into his car because they thought the occupants had guns but none of them did, joined Mothers for Justice United; a group of women and family members who have lost young men and women to police violence. She writes:

This year we are taking back the original intention of Mother’s Day: a day founded for mothers to stand up together to make collective demands. After the Civil War and the economic turmoil that followed, American abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, horrified by the wars and devastation of her time, penned a proclamation to mothers everywhere:  “Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause,” she wrote. “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience… From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm!”

Howe called on women to “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”
It’s now a century after the founding of Mother’s Day, and our sons are still being taken from us. Society has not disarmed, but militarized to the teeth. Mothers’ sons everywhere are still killing and being killed. We have had enough.

Yesterday Valerie Bell and other mothers of slain young black men marched in DC to bring attention to their grief and loss. It is not just the few that have made the headlines in recent months that they were protesting. The numbers are staggering.

Between 2010 and 2012, black teens were 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white teens. In order for white teens to be of equal risk, it would require an additional 185 young white teens to be killed during that same time period or 1 additional death a week. The disparity does not stop there. Drug use among whites and blacks are about the same percentage. However, blacks in 2013 data collected by the FBI were 4 times more likely to be arrested for drug use than whites.

For me to stand here and tell you that the system is broken and needs fixing does not bring justice to this American tragedy. It is safe for me to speak. It is safe for me because I am at a distance from this reality. And many of you are also at a distance from this reality that is the nature of our social placement in society as Unitarian Universalists. We are considered a white liberal faith that can safely protest within our four walls, maybe sign a few petitions, and if we are brave, maybe join a rally to shake our fists in the air. But many of us won’t even do that much, we will shake our heads at this sad state of affairs and when this service is over return to our lives, celebrate Mother’s Day with our wives, mothers, and children and have a nice dinner.

But until we decide to listen and honor the first hand stories of people of color in our congregations and in our communities, our in-house actions are meaningless. Our declaring only to each other that we are white allies is really a vapid experience with no ability to make a difference other than to claim separation from those racists. We need to find a way to have heart awareness, a deep empathy that will call us to action, to speak up when our white co-workers proclaim that Freddie Gray got what he deserved or that Michael Brown was guilty or that young 12 year old Tamir Rice should have known better than to be black and playing with a toy gun on his property. Or when our white co-workers mention Brian Moore and other police officers shot and killed in the line of duty as a defense of police actions, we need to stand up and say the death of an officer does not justify the deaths of unarmed black men. This is not quid pro quo killings.

We must begin applying pressure on the system to create change so the deaths in the process of arresting someone ends. There is no call for police to kick a person in the face breaking his jaw. There is no need to shoot a shopper in Walmart because he picked up a toy gun. We need to have as much passion as Toya Graham who would go out in the middle of a raging riot and grab her son by the neck to pull him to safety. What would a mother do to save her children from harm?

What would you do, if you lived in her shoes?

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa
10 May 2015 © Rev Fred L Hammond

Alabama Lives Matter!

Alabama lives Matter!  But you wouldn’t know this to be true if you consider the actions and behaviors of our state legislators or governor.  It is time for the people of Alabama with a united voice to rise up and tell our state legislators and our governor that their behaviors and actions are placing Alabama lives in harms way.  Case in point is the continual blockage of medicaid expansion by the State’s Senate and House Republicans as well as Governor Bentley, who ironically is a medical doctor who should know his Hippocratic oath.  The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, allows for the expansion of Medicaid to cover those individuals who 1) do not qualify for current medicaid provisions in their state by raising those eligible for Medicaid to 133% of the federal poverty level and 2) covers those individuals who although are working do not meet the eligibility threshold of the Affordable Care Act.  In Alabama that would cover an additional 300k lives.

The Senate recently passed a resolution forbidding Governor Bentley from expanding Medicaid in the state. It is now before the House and it is presumed it will come up for a vote this coming week.  Governor Bentley has opposed Medicaid expansion since the passage of the federal act against the best interests of the people he is elected to serve. However, in recent months he has indicated that he may finally expand Medicaid because doing so would increase revenue into the state and help meet the budgetary shortfall.  Notice however, he is not thinking of doing this because it would save Alabamian lives but rather his administration.

Every year up to 700 lives, that is 3 lives every two days, are lost because they were unable to get timely treatment for medical conditions resulting in their death.  It has been argued by Governor Bentley and others that no one will be denied health care in Alabama. However, Emergency rooms are not treatment centers for devastating diseases like cancer or diabetes.  Women cannot get mammograms in an emergency room visit. Emergency room care is not preventative treatment. And Governor Bentley of all people should know this; his behaviors in response to this life and death crisis is unconscionable.

The cost of providing emergency room services as treatment centers is causing hospitals in poorer economic regions of Alabama to close.  Since 2011, the first year that Governor Bentley could have expanded Medicaid in the state, 10 hospitals have closed.  There are 12 additional hospitals in the state that are expected to close in the next 12-24 months.

Bullock County in Alabama is one location under the threat of losing their only hospital.  This county has 33% of the population below the federal poverty level and the average income for a family of four is $23k.  It has the highest illiteracy rate in the state at 34%. Its unemployment rate is currently at 7.1%, not the highest in the state per county but significantly above the state rate of 5.8%.   The actions of the State Senate reveal their attitude that the individuals and families of Bullock County are throw-away people, regardless of race. Their lives are not worth saving to our elected officials.  This is the same Senate that passed a resolution declaring the personhood of the human fetus (they have been moving towards legislating this theological and religious doctrine into law). We need to tell them their actions regarding Medicaid Expansion are immoral and violate their own self-professed values for the sanctity of life.  With poverty this high, the people living here are not going to be able to travel an hour plus to a hospital in a bordering county for emergency care let alone treatment for life threatening diseases.  Alabama Lives Matter and it is high time that our state legislators not only know it but act accordingly.

Governor Bentley has campaigned on a promise to create jobs in Alabama.  He has spent millions of dollars courting international businesses to set up shops in Alabama and has marginal success but not as much success as Medicaid Expansion would have. According to a study by the University of Alabama, 30,000 new jobs would result from the expansion of Medicaid.  The Federal government would pay 100% of the expansion cost for the first three years and then reduce that support to 90% in 2020 and thereafter. 30,000 new permanent jobs, not temporary jobs with no benefits like Mercedes is offering in Vance, AL but permanent jobs that have a huge impact on our economic viability as a state. It is projected that over a period of six years the states gross domestic product would increase by $17 Billion and workers’ earnings by $10 Billion.  Job creation through Medicaid Expansion literally saves lives but apparently Governor Bentley doesn’t understand because he has refused to expand medicaid.  Alabama Lives Matter!

Governor Bentley does not need the approval of the State Senate or the State House to expand or deny Medicaid Expansion.  He could begin saving lives today by signing the executive order to expand Medicaid.   He could do the right thing even if the motive is ensuring his party’s continued control of the legislature and not  for the least of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He is going to need encouragement to do so and needs to know that Alabama Lives Matter regardless of their religious convictions.

What can you do?  If you are able come to the State house on Tuesday, April 28.  Moral Monday is having a rally outside the State House at 12 Noon and SOS is having a press conference and prayer vigil on the 3rd floor at 12:30 PM.  We need you to voice your desire to save lives in Alabama by expanding medicaid. People are dying because our state legislature prefers playing political games rather than addressing the needs of the people of this state. This needs to stop now.  Our silence on this issue is condemning lives to death.

Bring this issue to social media. Social media today has become a viable means to create news stories in the mainstream press.  This is a life and death issue that needs to be on the minds of every Alabamian.  Repost this blog on your Facebook pages and Twitter. Post other stories about medicaid expansion on Facebook and Twitter as well. If you or a loved one are among the 300K in Alabama falling in the gap without medical insurance tell your story of emergency room visits not being a mode of treating illnesses like cancer and diabetes.

Tweets can be sent to @GovernorBentley with the #AlabamaLivesMatter and #ExpandMedicaid  and #alpolitics .  The #AlabamaLivesMatter will track how many  the tweets this campaign sends out.  The hashtags ExpandMedicaid and alpolitics will place these tweets before those who are following this issue in Alabama and elsewhere.  Here are few examples:

@GovernorBentley save 700 lives this year by signing on to #ExpandMedicaid #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

@GovernorBentley Create 30K jobs #ExpandMedicaid #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

@GovernorBentley #ExpandMedicaid and save 12 rural hospitals from closing #AlabamaLivesMatter #alpolitics

You can also tweet House Speaker Rep. Hubbard  @SpeakerHubbard using these same hashtags and encourage him to  do the right thing regarding medicaid expansion and not pass the Senate resolution to block Medicaid.  Look and see if your state senator or representative is on Twitter or Facebook and let them know that Alabama Lives Matter.

Lives are at stake. We need to send the message loud and strong that Alabama Lives Matter and we will not be silent any longer.

 

The Theological Doctrines of the Alabama State Legislators

We live in a country that was founded on the notion of religious freedom in the broadest sense.  Unlike the Diet of Torda in 1500s Transylvania, religious freedom was extended not just to the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians but to all expressions of faith and non-faith. This country early on determined that there was to be a wall of separation between the government and the people in regards to the practice of religion.  The government was not in any way to endorse or promote a specific religious belief above all others.

Welcome to Alabama.  Where our elected officials flout their religious doctrines as supreme above all others.  Chief Justice Roy Moore has made it a quest to make Alabama and the United States a Christian nation branded with his version of Christianity.  He has not once but twice in his terms as Chief Justice promoted his brand of Christianity in the State.  The first time was his insistence to have a statue of the Ten Commandments in the State Court House.  He was removed from office for that battle.  He is now, once again at odds, with the federal courts regarding his refusal to honor a Federal Court order to commence same sex marriages in the state.  Based on his past flagrant disregard for Federal Court Rulings, I predict he will continue his ban on same sex marriage in the state if the Supreme Court rules that the ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional in June of this year.

He has support for his actions in the State House.  The Republican controlled house has submitted bills and resolutions that suggest that the Alabama State Legislators are operating on a Theological doctrine of how they view not only their role as legislators but also how they view the people of Alabama.  Last year the Health Committee passed a resolution that they believed that Life began at Conception and therefore the bills they were going to pass would reflect that belief.

This is a theological statement.  It is a religious doctrine of a specific sect of Christianity.  It is not a universal belief across Christianity nor across other religions. Jews, for example, teach that life begins at birth, the moment that the child draws their first breath akin to the breath of God that was breathed into Adam.  So here we have one example of the State House imposing their religious doctrine unto the citizens of the state.  Recently a public hearing was heard on House Bill 405, a bill that last year passed the house but did not make it through to law, makes it a criminal Class C Felony if a doctor performs an abortion without determining if the fetus has a heartbeat or if the doctor performs an abortion of a fetus that has a heartbeat.  When does a fetus develop a detectable heart beat?  Around 6 to 7 weeks.  When do most women learn they are pregnant?  Around 6 weeks.  The fetus is still in embryonic stage meaning it still looks more amphibian like rather than human.  Given that most women receive confirmation that they are indeed pregnant around 6 weeks, their decision to abort the pregnancy is one of urgency under this bill.  This means that if the woman was raped and becomes pregnant, she may have to live with the painful reminders of that rape for a long time. And in Alabama, the rapist has the right to demand custody and visitation rights.  This bill would negate anyone’s religious belief that life begins when the fetus can be viable outside of the uterus. In fact it declares their religious belief as a false doctrine.

There was another public hearing on House Bill 491 which authorizes health care providers to refuse to perform services that violate their conscience.  This means that a health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion but it also means that if they have an aversion to Transgenders receiving treatment enabling them to live in a body congruent with their gender, they can refuse to serve them as well.  This bill allows for shaming and discrimination against women and transgenders who claim the inalienable right to have control over their bodies. Rights that are taken for granted by cisgender males in our society. Again, it is a very narrow slice of Christianity that sees women’s bodies as not their own but their husband’s as the head of household.

In the state of Alabama, we do not yet have a personhood law that states that the fetus has all the rights and protections that other citizens have but this is the direction the State House is headed and it is a matter of time for such a law to be presented and passed.  HB 405 is the closest to making this claim and it would restrict further the ability for a woman to receive a medically supervised abortion in the state of Alabama. Personhood laws in other states have resulted in manslaughter charges if the woman is addicted to drugs and miscarriages or is unable to access prenatal care and miscarriages.

The doctrinal belief of the Alabama State House based on the bills they have passed and are proposing regarding human life is as follows:  Life begins at conception. Regardless if the conception was through an act of love or through violence, it must be protected at all cost. Any attempt to choose an abortion, regardless of the reason–life threatening to the woman, life threatening birth defect, rape, economic viability–is inconsequential to the shaming and shunning bestowed on the woman by medical providers because their personal religious beliefs trump the woman’s circumstances.  Any attempt by providers to perform an abortion that does not adhere to this doctrine are to be punished with a Class C Felony branding the provider as a criminal to be shunned and faces loss of career.  While not all of these reasons are currently codified as forbidden by law, this is the direction the State house is going and with each passing session they move closer to their goal of enforcing their doctrinal beliefs on the rest of the state. This is akin to the coercive moves the Taliban and Isis have taken where they are in control, though done at a much slower pace so as to be imperceptible to the populous until it is too late. Alabama State House is not afraid to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money to defend their doctrinal stances, in fact they are poised to do so at every turn and then cry poverty after wasting taxpayers money.

To be clear, religious practice is a very personal and intimate expression of faith that each person has the right to hold but it is not in the purview of any government, federal, state, or local to tell people how they are to practice their faith.  And for the State legislator by passing laws that favor a specific religious doctrine over others is to violate the sacred trust that this country was founded on. In this country where religious freedom is highly valued, no one should have the right to impose their religious beliefs on another.  Not an individual, and especially not any governmental entity or any representative of that government.

It would be one thing if the State House were consistent in their doctrinal beliefs in all of their creation of laws but their doctrine of protecting the fetus at all costs unfortunately ends at birth. Once the child is born, the theological doctrine I have just described is no longer on the table. The actions of the State House are antithetical to the ability of a person to pursue life, liberty, and happiness once the child is born.

On April 21 of this year, the Senate passed a  resolution forbidding the expansion of Medicaid, sentencing up to 700 individuals to death this year because they along with 300K Alabamians fall into the gap between Medicaid and the provisions covered in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Refusal of expanding medicaid will result the closure of some dozen hospitals, many of them located in rural and inner city areas where the majority of Alabama’s poor live.

How our state administers Food Stamps also reflects a conflicting doctrine to their doctrine regarding the sacredness of life.  Federal guidelines include employment requirements such as being registered for work but Alabama places added twists to this requirement. Striking employees, even if the strike is justified for better wages that would lift the family out of poverty, disqualifies the household unless the strike occurs after the household applies for food assistance. Food Stamps are not eligible to undocumented citizens.  This stipulation follows the federal but there is a caveat in Alabama–the income the undocumented citizen brings into the household is counted towards eligibility. Alabama legislators have already spent millions defending its hatred of immigrants. Here is their hypocritical stance, Alabama Legislators hate foreigners unless their presence helps keep citizens off the public dole.   And here is something of a catch-22; Social Security Numbers (SSN) are requested for each member of the household in order to receive food stamps.  The provision of SSN is stated as purely voluntary but not providing them disqualifies that member of the household.  If a SSN is a requirement for qualification, then providing it is not a voluntary act; it is coerced.

Apparently, the doctrinal belief of the State House is that each life is precious until it becomes a burden and then it can be ignored or thrown away or incarcerated for slave labor. Alabama has passed more laws restricting the freedoms of its citizens  Their approach to the welfare of the citizens of this state is one of total disregard of their inherent worth and dignity.

And then we have the infamously named HB 56--in its latest incarnation as a Religious Freedom Act.  This bill was created in response to the striking down of the same sex marriage ban by federal court and the upcoming SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage.  The proponents state this is not in any way an anti-gay legislation because it merely states that clergy and judges (the current people authorized in the state) can refuse to marry anyone for personal religious convictions and not face litigation for doing so.  They claim this is a save people from litigation bill not a codification of religious discrimination against the LGBTQ community.  Clergy have always had the right to refuse to marry any couple for any number of reasons–domestic violence, couple not of their faith tradition, and yes, doctrinal beliefs regarding what constitutes a marriage.  This bill is really aimed at giving judges the legal right to discriminate against those who do not hold their religious convictions regarding marriage.

There is a difference here– marriages performed before a judge or justice of the peace is not a religious ceremony.  It is a civil union.  Regardless of what a judge may personally believe about religious marriage ceremonies, a wedding officiated by her is not under the auspices nor  blessing of her church. It is not a religious ceremony.  It is merely a legal recognition by the state and federal government of a contract between two people. In the eyes of the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic god, the same sex couple married by the state is not married. In the eyes of the Presbyterian (USA), United Church of Christ, American Baptist god, the same sex couple is married.

So what is this law really about?  It is about a subset of Christianity imposing their doctrinal belief of marriage onto the citizens of the state. It is declaring their doctrinal belief as supreme trumping all others.  Judges have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state and federal government and regardless if their personal religious convictions place them at odds with those laws be it officiating a same sex marriage or enforcing the death penalty, they are required to do so. They do not have the right to impose their religious doctrine onto the people as an act of shaming and discrimination.

But this is Alabama– where theocracy is well rooted into the archaic 1901 state constitution.

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