Archive for April, 2019

First Plenary

The theme of this years’ Ecumenical Advocacy was Troubling the Waters for Movement Building. We were reminded that faith communities have been troubling the waters for social justice throughout our histories as well as recently. Last year, Methodists troubled Jeff Sessions about immigrant family separation and Presbyterians advocated against modern day debtors prisons last summer in St. Louis. We were encouraged to continue the work by Inspiring hope in order to transform communities.

Rev. Adam Taylor of Sojourners Magazine spoke to us about creative maladjustment and getting into “good trouble”. He described our work as Five smooth stones to still the waters & heal the world:
1.         Persistence – ongoing relationships and relentless persistence w/ legislators and community
2.         Perseverance
3.         Pragmatic Solidarity – advocate not just for but with others.
4.         Be Pastoral – recognize humanity of politicians. Don’t use tactics that break relationships.
5.         Be Prophetic – don’t shy away from truth or confrontation. Be “the way.”

With persistence it is essential to mobilize people for change by taking control of the public narrative, in essence, weaving stories of our values through the public mind. Those stories must include stories of ourselves and our communities and they must convey a sense of urgency to our audiences.  Guiding the public narrative is both an artform & a science.

Rev. Taylor went on to explain that social movements require providence and intervention. Movements need both legislative advocacy and deep, local leadership development. In addition, there must be headway into institutional structures and mass disruption – civil disobedience must be included. #goodtrouble.

Throughout the conference we were reminded to always be mindful of the intersectionality of movements. We must combine disparate campaigns into the broader movement. Rev. Taylor reminded us to root our organizing in a faith rooted response:
a.         Build a compelling and moral vision
b.         Name the spiritual lie that is at the heart of injustice. Have the                            conviction that we are made in the image of god.
c.         Embrace the redemptive power of suffering.
d.         Take the long view while urging the short term urgency of our campaigns.
e.         Tap into Kairos (how god interprets time). Summon god to work in and                             through us.

Anna Garcia-Ashley of Gamaliel National Network ( implored us to recognize that every moment is an opportunity to organize. That every person can be an activist and we are destined to be activists. Every minute we have an opportunity to change the world. She suggested that we need to do this by building relationships, education and training. Ms. Garcia-Ashley reminded us that our faith needs to be at the center of everything we do. That by being true to our faith & values we will be able to love enough to agitate every individual as a potential activist.

As part of a panel discussion the following Movement Builders shared their stories:
Valery Nodom – Presbyterian Hunger Program.  Started as an attorney in Cameroon. Became an activist with local communities helping them prove their citizenship.
Myrna Oronco – Church World Service, Movement Voter Project, first action was as a dreamer, getting arrested to save the program, got her green card 1 week before the event!
Rev. Robin Tanner, National Faith Team Leader, Poor People’s Campaign
Rebecca Heimbrock, HS Sophomore, Gun Control Activist
Kieran Ooman, Our Children’s Land Trust Lawsuit (climate change lawsuit), Seattle area college student

Below are the responses to the 2 questions asked of each Movement Builder:

What are your most effective tactics?
1.         On twitter/social media particularly for direct action (i.e., sit-in, protest, etc…). Best for youth.
2.         Town Hall discussions for educating adults.
3.         Local, national & international structure. Starting with building power at the local level. Build coalitions, particularly among faith communities.
4.         Direct action, showing up & making sure that they “see you.” Keep the cause alive in the vernacular. Sanctuary movement is huge in the past couple of years. Build coalitions around issue intersections.
5.         “Fusion” – creating communities between those that are “willing & able” and those that are impacted. Help people understand that those impacted (ex., the poor) are all around us, not just those in the ghetto’s or living in car.
6.         Listen to the youth, especially in their confusion and indignation.

What do you do for self-care/self-encouragement?
1.         Watch others and their participation. Look for connections made and families created. Honor the magic. Find hope.
2.         Leaving and entering the movement aren’t really options. Movements are within us. We can rest, process our actions or look outside ourselves, but we should all contribute to society as activists.
3.         Therapy. Give yourself time & space however you need to. Don’t let guilt overwhelm you. Sit with and accept your emotions.
4.         Focus on family.


There was a detailed discussion about the challenging realities of climate change and what’s at stake in regard to justice issues:
1.         6th Mass Extinction Phase with a distinct increase in extinction rates
2.         Extreme weather events, most common = floods.
3.         Access to clean water sources
4.         Impacts are greatest on women and people of color.
5.         Changes to the food system.
6.         Changes in human relationships and interactions

The presenters lifted the theory that white, European, male centered theology got us where we are today. A dualistic and binary worldview developed over time and as Sallie McFague argues: “Western culture and religion have a long, painful history of demeaning the female by identifying her with the body and with nature, while elevating the male by identifing him with reason and spirit”. There was lively conversation around such cultural norms as:
b.         Natural Theology – Aristotle & Aquinas
c.         Hierarchy
d.         Colonization – serving the interest of white European men
e.         Enlightenment – built on scientific justifications for structural oppression
f.          Exclusively transcendental view of God (wholly other) & personal salvation.

But, in order to get back to an ecological theology we must advance an ethos of human rights & ecology & right relationships. That ethos is embodied in Ecofeminism which combines social feminism and holistic ecology and Ecowomanism which applies womanist intersectional analysis. Common characteristics of these social structures include:
1.         challenging binary systems
2.         makes connections b/w oppression of women and oppression of earth
3.         knows god through relatedness.
4.         Knowledge rooted in experience.
5.         Reflects real life of local communities
6.         Values bodies and embodied wisdom/experience.
7.         Does not hold a utilitarian view of creation but honors intrinsic value/dignity of every     part of creation
8.         Post-colonial thought and recovery of indigenous wisdom.
9.         Lifts up stories and traditions of women and earth.

But there are characteristics unique to Ecowomanism:
1.         Examines particularities of women of color
2.         Recovers other histories and cosmologies.
3.         Includes the paradox of working the land and holding respect for it.
4.         Brings in a more critical lens.

Further Reading:
The Christian Imagination,Willie Jennings, author, Yale
Ecowomanism, Harris


Jurisdictional Discussion Questions:
1.         What social justice work & issues are we doing?
Angela:  In Seminary, Intern at GBCS working on issues about women & children including domestic violence, health & reproductive health.
Gail: Oil Pipeline/Environmental Justice, Native American rights, voting rights, limited polling on reservations.
Kristina: District UMW Vice President focusing on Interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Also working on gun violence prevention & reproductive choice.
Cody Wiswasser: In Seminary, Intern @ GBC&S – Living Wage, eco-justice
2.         What is the most critical issue that we can work on together?
Human dignity, racial division, economic & environmental.
3.         What resources & capacities can we bring to the work?
Being allies & showing up for each other. UMW website & materials. GCORR Implicit bias workshop. Art, narrative, urging the telling of stories. Keep level of commitment up (the 5 P’s!).

n.b. 6 Conference Peace w/ Justice Coordinators were in attendance


Marcia Johnson- Blanco: Voting Rights Project

I.          DOMESTIC ASK

We were given a very detailed history of the voter restrictions since the adoption of the 15th amendment.
1965 Selma march to register to vote, beatings were televised. The extent of the violence shocked the nation which led to signing of the Voting Rights Act by LBJ.

The Voting Rights Act:

Sec. 2 – mirrors language of 15th amendment. Cannot restrict or dilute vote.
Sec. 5 – looks at jurisdictions w/ history of voting change has to be submitted to congress before enactment. In effect between 1965 – 2013.
Sec. 203 – minority language provision. Requires minority language materials available to voters.
Sec. 208 – requires assistance of choice for disabled (includes foreign language speakers not included in 203.)

2005 challenge to 2006 VRA reauthorization. Dispute over Sec. 5. Founding of National Commission on Voting Rights created 10,000+ page documentation of voting discrimination. VRA reauthorized until Shelby, AL sued (Shelby County v. Holder – 2013). “Equal Sovereignty of the States” used by Supreme Court to justify repeal of Sec. 5. Still looking to Congress to fix the Shelby County Decision.

Legal Challenges After Shelby:
1.         Texas photo ID – passed before Shelby. Required specific ID including license/ID, concealed carry gun, etc… but not student ID. Knocked down under Sec. 5. Implemented again after Shelby. Kept over 6K voters from voting. In 2017, trump administration reviewed the discrimination claim and found the temporary remedy sufficient.
2.         NC Voter ID – Elimination of registration procedures as well. 4thCircuit determined that the law was enacted w/ “surgical precision” to suppress votes.
3.         GA Exact-Match Law – can have no discrepancies between registration forms & ID’s & SS records. 2018 – 53,000 eligible voters had “pending” registrations because of the law. 2019 GA legislature allowed limbo registrations to cast ballots.
4.         Voter Purge
a.         OH – removal for not voting. Hustead v. APR, allows the law because they are only “in the process” of removal.
5.         Absentee Ballot Match
a.         GA

Procedural Problems:
1.         Polling Place Closures & Consolidations (particularly AZ TX LA MS AL SC NC) – disproportionate impact on communities of color – lines, ability to get transportation
2.         Polling Place Changes & late openings – lack of notification & access inhibits working people from getting to the correct place.
3          Poll Workers & voter assistance – we need workers that are pro-voter, sufficiently trained and compassionate. Also need oversight of polling places & access to provisional ballots.
4.         Voter Apathy
5.         Voter Intimidation
6.         Felony Disenfranchisement laws

Addressing the Problem:
1.         HR-1 – For the People Act – to secure a democracy that is reflexive, responsible & accountable. also includes campaign finance & financial ethics
a.         This is not a partisan issue
2.         HR-4 – Voting Rights Advancement Act
a.         Not partisan, it is in support of democracy
3.         Election Protection Hotline (866/OUR-VOTE) to confirm voting registrations, polling and rights.

Laura Strawmyer – Alliance for Peacebuilding
Global Fragility Act– the idea that a state’s level of fragility relates to its inability to recover from “shocks” (violence, disaster, famine) i.e., a breakdown in the social contract. Does not necessarily translate to economics. Includes global poverty but not exclusive.
1.         Why – There has been no comprehensive policy developed since the Rwandan genocide. Larger programs focus solely on economics as opposed to including national security, natural and man-made disaster.
b.         most migration is caused by flight from violence.
c.         responses are targeted toward immediate humanitarian issues and rarely include conflict resolution programs or address root causes of violent conflicts.
d.         Advancing the values of human dignity.
2.         How:
a.         Establish the Agency
b.         Pilot Programs to mitigate and prevent foreign conflict.
1. Understand root causes & prevention. Change the narrative from (terrorism, gang violence to isolation, marginalization)
c.         Reporting
d.         Authorizing Funds already earmarked. Make sure this program is tied to them.
1.         Prevention is more cost effective.
3.         Misc:
a.         Bi-Partisan support. Have 11 sponsors in Senate and 6 in the House.
b.         Passed the House last session. Hopefully for markup on Tuesday.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this issue. I spoke to some people that saw it as merely US intervention again, where it’s not needed. On the other hand, I spoke with someone whose Guatemalan wife is wholeheartedly in favor of the program for a wide variety of reasons. Because I was not knowledgeable on the subject and because of the amount of controversy surrounding the issue, I chose not to address this with my legislators.

WORKSHOP 3 – DISMANTLING THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX*** This session left me most unsettled. First because it was clear, even before she admitted it, that she was mining the group for information as opposed to actually teaching us or offering information. Second, she was clearly a prison abolitionist but was more focused on what a future system would look like as opposed to the theme of the workshop which was dismantling what we already had.
The human rights issue of our time AND it is a spiritual issue. 1994 Crime Bill added to/solidified our history. US is 5% of the world population but 25% of incarcerations.

Angela Davis – reforming the system itself exacerbates the problem. There are plenty of prison abolitionists.

Prison Policy Initiative: Mass Incarceration “The Whole Pie”,

Spiritual Advocacy:
We need to pull away from revenge as justice and look at the root problems causing crime. We need to address issues of racism & class.

Until We Reckon, Danielle Sered

German prisons are apparently significantly more humane than ours.

African-American victims also have resentment against the State acting in loco parentus (i.e., criminal cases are brought by the state – the state has been harmed.) There is no trust that state actually has the best interests of African Americans in mind.