Where fools rush in…

Mississippi state legislature is rushing to pass SB 2179, a copy cat law of the controversial SB 1070 that went into effect in Arizona on July 29, 2010.  Rushing to pass legislation is a huge red flag that something is amiss in this proposed law.  Good legislation does not need to be rushed through.  Good legislation can take its time to bear up under the scrutiny of debate and democratic process.

It is only bad legislation that needs to be passed quickly in order to squelch the questions that are raised regarding it.  And this bill has all the earmarks of an unjust law that will cause unnecessary  heartache and economic disaster for Mississippi.   Lt. Governor Bryant has already stated publicly that he wants to “scare Latinos out of Mississippi.”  He has not minced words on how racist his opinion is about Latinos.   This law will indeed scare Latinos.   Latinos who are here legally will be negatively impacted by this law.

And for those who argue that if a person does not break the law,  they have nothing to worry about,  is in denial of Mississippi’s own racist treatment of African Americans in years past.  Law abiding African Americans also should have had nothing to fear in the mid-20th century but they were harassed and falsely arrested and accused at every turn.   Here the proposed law states if it is “reasonably believed”  that the person may have committed an act that would cause their deportation they can be arrested without warrant.  What might constitute reasonable belief?  Speaking Spanish?  Participating in day labor because unemployment rates are high and this is the only paying gig in town?

Arizona’s economy has suffered a serious blow after its passage of SB 1070 and not because of any boycott but that estimate alone is $141 million in just four months after the law passed.  Latino’s have left that state taking with them disposable income that supported apartment complexes, restaurants, mom & pop stores, and a host of other businesses have failed since they passed their racist law.   Arizona’s Latinos purchasing power in 2009 was $30.9 billion annually.  Latino owned businesses in Arizona had sales and receipts totally $4.3 Billion.

Mississippi cannot afford to turn away businesses in the state.  They need the revenue.  They cannot afford to close down businesses that are caught hiring undocumented citizens.  Imagine the devastating economic  impact if the Howard Industries ICE raid were to happen after the passage this bill.

Immigration is a complex issue.  There needs to be rational discussion on how to address it.  To rush in and pass this bill is to repeat the shameful behavior that Mississippi participated in the past.  This bill does not serve the good people of Mississippi well.  It needs to be defeated.

A Dream Deferred

A Dream Deferred

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

16 January 2011 ©  Rev. Fred L Hammond

Langston Hughes poem was first published under the title “Harlem” in 1951.  Sixty years ago.  Oh how things have changed since then and yet, oh, how things have remained the same.   In many ways, the dreams of people in America remain deferred.

When Langston Hughes wrote this poem, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not yet a household name. Brown vs the Board of Education had not yet been ruled on by the US Supreme Court.  His dream for equality was not yet vocalized to the masses.  Voting rights were denied.  Jim Crow laws were in full force in the south and the slick-smile- to-the-face-and-quiet-stab-in–the-back racism was in the north.  Dreams were deferred and they were drying up like a raisin in the sun and they were festering like a sore and they were crusting over like a syrupy sweet and sagging like a heavy load.  They were about to explode.

Martin Luther King came on the scene and for the first time gave real hope and real promise to African Americans not only of freedom but freedom to achieve the American Dream; where their children would have opportunities of education, of employment, of a life that was unimaginable to their parents.   After years of struggle laws were passed that removed the Jim Crow laws, restored voting rights, and desegregated schools.  Affirmative Action was put into place to remove the institutional barriers to opportunities for African Americans and other minorities.

But something happened along the way.  After King’s assassination, a new despair began to seep into our country. We began to see the destruction of many of the programs that lifted us out of the depression of the 1930’s.  And the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest of us at its narrowest in 1968, the year of King’s assassination, doubled in width by 2009.[i]

Yet America’s productivity has grown during that same time period.  The gains of productivity have gone towards corporate earnings and profits instead of the employees who labored.  So who are the people who have suffered during this widening gap?  The top 20% of Americans earn 50% of the income generated in America. The fastest growing income segment are those in the top .01% of Americans with 22% of the income generated in America[ii]. The bottom 20% of Americans earn 3.4% of the income generated.   These individuals who are earning the least amount of income tend to be those without a high school diploma.  They tend to be people who live in rural areas of the country[iii].

Edward Wolff of New York University when looking at net worth of people in America discovered that 20% of Americans own about 85% of the wealth and 40% of Americans own near zero percent and in fact have a negative net wealth[iv].   I don’t know about you, but I certainly fall into that 40% category.

Martin Luther King’s dream went beyond the abolishment of racism, he saw the abolishment of poverty.  Towards the end of his life, life, poverty became an important piece of his message. He saw the programs against poverty that were in place in 1968 and their current versions 40 years later as being uncoordinated piecemeal efforts.  Housing programs, educational reform, welfare assistance all being done in piece meal fashion and all fluctuate at the whims of legislative bodies.   We saw what the well intended deregulated housing programs have wrought in 2008. It was thought that home ownership was one of the factors that would lift America out of poverty.  The largest mortgage default in American history that nearly collapsed our economy continues at record rates as we enter the New Year.

Martin Luther King stated the simplest solution to abolish poverty would be a guaranteed income.  He stated there are two groups of people in America who currently have a guaranteed income, the wealthiest with their security portfolios and the poor with their welfare assistance.

King wrote that John Kenneth Galbraith, considered one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, estimated that $20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which Galbraith describes as “not much more than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by ‘experts’ in Vietnam.”  If my calculations adjusting for inflation are correct, $125 Billion a year in 2010 dollars would effect a guaranteed income which is less than 1/3rd what the war in Afghanistan[v] is costing Americans and 16 % of what the alleged post war costs in Iraq are slated for this budget year.

King believed that such a guaranteed income needed to be placed in the median income of Americans, to place it at the floor level would only continue the stagnation that welfare recipients currently experience.  He believed this guaranteed income needed to be dynamic and be adjusted annually with the productivity of the nation’s total income.

King wrote that a “a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his/her life are in his/her own hands, when [s]he has the assurance that [her]his income is stable and certain, and when [s]he knows that [s]he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.[vi]

Today we see marriage in decline in the United States as people struggle to develop economic viability.  The number of married couples dropped to a record low of 52 % in 2009 as compared to 57% in the year 2000.  And this does not include those marriages that are staying together only because they cannot afford to divorce at this time[vii]. King is suggesting that couples esteem would increase if economic woes did not define who we are as human beings.

King writes: “The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.[viii]

In a survey done by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely on income equity in the United States, they found “a large majority of every group … surveyed — from the poorest to the richest, from the most conservative to the most liberal — agreed that the current level of wealth inequality was too high and wanted a more equitable distribution of wealth. In fact, Americans reported wanting to live in a country that looks more like Sweden than the United States.”[ix]

The last time such huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor existed in America was during what was called the Gilded Age, the period towards the end of the 19th century.  It was met with labor unrest and political agitation and it was toppled by the second worst depression in American history.  The current time in our society is being called the second gilded age.

American Conservative magazine suggests: “In the course of the 20th century, there were several eras of growing economic inequality. On a few occasions, they came to an end in a relatively gentle way, with democratic elections and more egalitarian legislation. More often, however, they were ended by a catastrophe, such as the Great Depression, a violent social revolution, or a world war. When the rich went out, it seems, they normally did so with a bang, and not with a whimper. The way things are now going, it is likely to be so in the future[x].”

So here we have King’s dream of a society that has not only abolished racism but also abolished poverty.  He believed it was not only doable but achievable in his lifetime.  Forty years after his death, we appear to be further away from either part of his dream from being fulfilled.  We have the gap between the wealthy and the poor growing to widths that were pre-cursers to some of the most heinous governments in our world’s history.  We have scapegoated our economic woes on the backs of immigrants and Muslims.

I spoke with [a member] on Friday.  I told her I was doing this sermon and wanted to know her thoughts about Martin Luther King.  [She] said something to me that made me stand up and take notice.  She said her mother used to ask why Martin Luther King couldn’t just write his words and not show up for these events.  Her mother was aware of the physical danger King faced every time he made a public appearance somewhere. As we now know, it was his appearance for the sanitation workers strike in Memphis that culminated in his assassination.  Why not just write and not show up.

Could King have had the same effect if he simply wrote his views and not shown up in Selma, not shown up in Birmingham, and not shown up in Montgomery?  Would his “I Have a Dream” speech be remembered if he had not shown up to deliver it at the March on Washington but merely had it published in the Atlantic Monthly?

Dreams do not come true if we choose not to show up in our pursuit of them.  If we stand back, nod our heads in agreement, but do not show up to place our words into living action, then what have we accomplished?  It is easy to do arm chair justice.  We can sign all the petitions on MoveOn.com or rant all we want about injustice on the Tuscaloosa News Forum but if we hide behind the comfort of our screen name, what have we really accomplished?  We remain unseen.  We remain voiceless.  We remain without strength to make a difference.

Now I do not know if King’s economic justice dream of guaranteed income can be easily applied given our current political tension.  There will be shouts of socialism or worse.  It could be seen as reparations for slavery even though it would benefit everyone.  But imagine knowing that regardless of the work you are doing, you would receive at least a base pay of say $40,000.   Additional salary would be based on the performance of the company producing whatever it is they produce.  For some of us that amount of salary would answer many problems.

But this sort of dream can never come true if people do not show up to advocate for it.  The majority of people in America want some form of equalization of income, so says the survey.  The survey indicates the ideal they want is Sweden.  According to the CIA Fact book, Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labor force.[xi] Sweden does not have a poverty level ranking in the CIA Fact book; it is listed as not applicable.

We are called to show up in the pursuit of our dreams, in the pursuit of a just and equitable world.  Mahatma Gandhi is oft quoted as saying, “be the change you want to see in the world.”  In President Obama’s closing words at the memorial for those who were killed in Tucson last week, he said, “I want us to live up to [Christina Taylor Green’s] expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.[xii]” If we seek to do that we will be fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream for all of us.  Blessed Be.

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/28/income-gap-widens-census-_n_741386.html

[ii] http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06132008/profile2.html

[iii] This information is based on this report: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec10/income_09-28.html

[iv] http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10318/1102841-109.stm

[v] based on military budget figures found at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

[vi] Martin Luther King  “Where do we go from here?”  as found in the text The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington.

[vii] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/21/AR2010032103139.html

[viii] Martin Luther King  “Where do we go from here?”  as found in the text The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington.

[ix] Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10318/1102841-109.stm#ixzz1B8foXmFG

[x] as found at : http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06132008/profile2.html

[xi] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sw.html

[xii] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20028366-503544.html

Published in: on January 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm  Comments Off on A Dream Deferred  
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Find the Cost of Freedom

Find the Cost of Freedom

9 January 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

“Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground

Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.

Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.[1]

This song welled up within me as I listened in horror at the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and eighteen other people including the death of Federal Judge Rolls in Tucson, Arizona.

In my mind, my initial thoughts of yesterday’s event went something like this: Who is behind this attack.  Was it domestic terrorists connected to a right extremist group?  If so, will there be more attempts on others who do not share their ultra-conservative agenda?

I am ashamed to say the news that the assailant was mentally unbalanced brought me a sigh of relief and released some of those fears.  But I am equally afraid that my initial response is more typical than not.  But I am not so sure that I should surrender to framing this event solely as a very tragic but isolated one.

Dianna Butler Bass, on her blog on Beliefnet.com wrote:  “We already know what form the analysis of the assassination attempt will be.  Everyone will say what a tragedy it is.  Then commentators will take sides.  Those on the left will blame the Tea Party’s violent rhetoric and “Second Amendment solutions.”

Those on the right will blame irresponsible individuals and Socialism.  Progressives will call for more gun control; conservatives will say more people should carry guns. Everyone will have some sort of spin that benefits their party, their platform, and their policies.”[2]

And she is correct.  The opening for the left to begin their blaming came when Pima County Sheriff Dupnik in his report stated, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately, Arizona I think has become t…he capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

While I believe that Sheriff Dupnik is correct in his statement, the blame also cannot be fully framed as a result of vitriolic language.
And my framing it as a tragic but isolated event also does not serve us well by pointing the finger at destructive behaviors of mental illness as the scapegoat.

Both are a symptom of something else that is endemic to American Society.  If a caricature of Americans were to be drawn, it would depict us as an inherently violent people.  We talk peace but our actions are violent.  Our history from the earliest days of European settlements all along the eastern seaboard has been one of violence against what we call the other.  My own direct ancestors were responsible for the some of the most brutal massacres against the native people in Manhattan; many of them were given in marriage to the European settlers.  So even when we were connected by blood relations, our nation’s earliest settlers were spreading the seeds of unbridled violence into our nation’s DNA against the other.

In our 235 year history, we have had peace for only 40 of those years.  For 195 years we have been at war with someone that we did not like for some reason; usually because we wanted what they had, namely land that would become incorporated into what is called the United States or oil. We are not known for being a peaceful people.

Truth be told, we European Americans who have been the rulers of this country, do not like people who do not look like us, talk like us, or think like us.  Our history confirms this on every level.  We have consistently treated immigrants inhospitably.  We hated the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, and the Jews. Before any group could be fully integrated into our society they had to first experience, for lack of a better word, a hazing of disdain; complete with violence and oppression.  And that is for people whose skin color is pale like the English, what we did to people whose skin color was darker is beyond any sane person’s imagining.

So this heinous act yesterday is more than just a response to vitriol by radio and TV commentators or politicians; this is a symptom of the American ethos that needs radical treatment if we are to thrive as a healthy nation and fulfill our American creed.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahondas Gandhi, tells a story of such a radical treatment to create a community where people respect, understand, accept and appreciate one another.  He writes, “One day Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, was seen in the ashram kitchen cooking. This was unusual and so Gandhi stopped to inquire. “What are you cooking?” he asked.

“Ramdas,” she explained referring to their married son, “is going home to his family this afternoon and I thought I would make some sweets that his children like so much.”

“Do you make sweets for the children of all those who visit the ashram and then leave?” Gandhi asked.

Surprised and bewildered by the question Kasturba turned to face Gandhi and said: “No, of course, not.”

“Why not?” Gandhi asked. “Are they not, like Ramdas, also your children? Should we not learn to treat everyone equally?”

Kasturba thought she knew what Gandhi was leading to by creating the ashram but this was a dimension she had not considered. She quickly saw the wisdom in what he said and decided to make amends by not giving Ramdas the sweets but making more of them and distributing them to all the children in the ashram.

There must never be, Gandhi said, any double standards in our relationships and our attitude towards each other, our families and humanity in general. What applies to one, must apply to all, he said. For most people this may be totally unacceptable. Perhaps, too high a standard to attain. But Gandhi believed this was the only way to understand and respect each other.[3]

This treating others as we would have them treat us is hard work, it seems.  It is far easier to denigrate others, to ostracize others, to refuse to understand the other’s plights.  Yet, we must begin to see that each person is part of who we are as a people.  When one person suffers in our country, we all suffer.  When an injustice is done to one person; injustice is done to all of us.

We might not see its effects immediately, we might not even feel its effects for years after the injustice occurred, yet injustice permeates through the fabric of our lives staining and weakening the very threads of our community.

Our faith calls us to examine our principles in times like these.  They are not just nice sounding words that mean very little.  If we are to claim them as our own and use them to help guide us to live life to the fullest, then we must wrestle with the meanings of these words to uncover how we measure up.  How do we understand inherent worth and dignity of every person?  How do we find justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?  How do we experience acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations?  How do we conduct a free and responsible search for truth and meaning?  These are not easy questions to answer.  Nor are they answered once and then checked off as in a list.

To live our faith is to wrestle the meaning of these principles for our own lives.  To undo the history of our nation’s propensity to violence takes each of us to transform our own hearts towards peace, towards nonviolence in all areas of our lives.  Not just in reducing physical violence against another but also seeking to reduce emotional and spiritual violence towards others.  A harsh word as we have seen can engender physical violence in another.

Events that occur in Tucson stir our hearts with grief; but it is safe to contemplate the horrors of violence in another part of the country.  What about similar events that occur right here in Tuscaloosa?  Could we make a difference in the Jared Loughners that live here in Tuscaloosa so they can chose a different path?

To find the cost of freedom, we need to choose another way. Freedom is not won by violence, though that is commonly believed.  195 years of war in a country that is only 235 years young, is not a free country.  That is a country that bullies others into submission and calls standing with our foot on their neck freedom, when it is a form of our own enslavement.  We do not dare remove our foot.

Yet, if we are to be free, to be truly free, we must not only remove our foot, but help the other back up onto their feet so that they are again at an equal standing with us.  We need to begin to evolve beyond the use of violence; physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence must be put behind us if we are to experience the freedom that we claim we want in this country and abroad.  It means a radical shift in how we relate to one another on every level of our relationships.

Arun Gandhi writes: “An average American family, it is said, moves 13 times during the span of a career. This means there is no time to establish roots or build relationships anywhere. We end up having a nodding acquaintance with people in the neighborhood. Individualism is our culture and this determines the breath and depth of our relationships. Individualism and community building have an inverse relationship. Only one can flourish and that too at the expense of the other.

“In the pioneering days individualism could survive because the objective was to build a homestead and acquire personal property. Now we are faced with the task of building a community and a society, which means interdependence, interconnectedness and integration. Exclusivity must give way to inclusivity if living in peace and harmony are our objectives. The choice before humanity in the next millennium, therefore, is: Learn to respect life or live to regret it.[4]

We have been given yet another wake up call to respect all of life.  Will we push the snooze button in the hopes that another wake up call will stir us to action later?  Or will we awake suddenly and realize that we overslept and find ourselves in a situation of dire circumstances that could have been avoided.  May we awake fully and begin practicing the ways of non-violence within our families, within our relationships, and in our communities, and finally in our nation.  Blessed be.

[1] Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

[2] Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/christianityfortherestofus/2011/01/congresswoman-gabrielle-giffords-speaking-for-the-soul.html#ixzz1AVWuuDgk

[3] Arun Gandhi from the Community of the Future.
[4] Arun Gandhi from the Community of the Future.