Posts Tagged ‘National Seminar’

INTERRUPTING INDIFFERENCE:  Jesus, Justice and Joy

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2016 begins a new quadrennial for United Methodist Women and with that change come new areas of focus for social action. I had the privilege of attending National Seminar in Chicago this past July and through worship, workshops, site visits and local action about 200 United Methodist Women learned about Mass Incarceration, Income Inequality, Climate Justice and Maternal/Child Health. Now I am fired up, ready to learn, inform and advocate.

Mass Incarceration. According to the Sentencing Project, the United States leads the world in incarcerating its citizens with nearly 2 million people currently in prisons or jails. This reflects a 500% increase in inmates over the past thirty years. Privatization of prisons, a failed war on drugs, blatant inequalities in the criminal justice system and brutal immigration policies have all contributed to this horrific trend.

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At National Seminar we heard four perspectives on the issue. Bishop Sally Dyck (Episcopal Area, Northern Illinois Conference, UMC) discussed restorative justice in the context of faith communities. Page May (We Charge Genocide/Village Leadership Academy, Chicago, IL) charged up the conference with discussion about her grassroots organization and their on-the-ground efforts to bring about change and accountability for police brutality. Lissette Carstillo Vizcarra (Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America) informed us of the inhumane effects of our national immigration policies, specifically the incarceration of refugees/immigrants in detention centers. And, Dr. Iva Carruthers, (General Sec’y, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) emphasized that those who are oppressed, criminalized and marginalized among us are worthy of our service, our compassion and our care.

Over the next four years UMW will advocate for a criminal justice system that is accountable to all communities equitably and work to reconcile and restore dignity and hope to those that Dr. Carruthers lifted up.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Dear White America, Tim Wise

Income Inequality. The United States has seen a major shift in the concentration of income and wealth in recent decades, making life harder for the majority of its citizens. While real incomes for the top 1 percent have grown 185 percent over the past 35 years, incomes for the rest of the population have increased an average of only 13 percent. (unitedmethodistwomen.org)

In other words: “Between 1979 and 2012, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 74.9 percent, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 12.1 percent. This sharply contrasts with the 1947-79 period, when all income groups saw similar income gains, with the lowest income group actually seeing the largest gains.” – See more at: http://inequality.org/income-inequality/#sthash.6BLa2oKS.dpuf

At National Seminar we were involved in hands-on activities demonstrating the dramatic shift in income inequality over the last 40 years. The numbers are staggering and the effects are not only predictable but also devastating: millions have lost homes, pensions and jobs. In addition people have less economic security due to low wages, student debt, increased food and housing costs and health care expenses.

This next quadrennial we will be facilitating workshops and seminars and advocating for public policy changes.

Maternal & Child Health. “About 289,000 women died in 2013 of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths can be avoided as the necessary medical interventions exist and are well known. The key obstacle is pregnant women’s lack of access to quality care before, during and after childbirth.” 10 Facts on Maternal Health, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int

At National Seminar, Dr. Richard David discussed his work at Chicago’s John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) and his findings about stress as a contributing factor leading to higher incidences of premature birth, health and development issues, as well as maternal and fetal deaths He emphasized the effects of racism and sexism on women as root causes of poor outcomes for mothers and babies. Dr. David then told us that plans were underway to close the pediatric inpatient unit at his hospital that serves a low-income community of color and therefore the most vulnerable of patients. Dr. David intimated that the closing was a direct move to end public healthcare in Chicago. A vote on the closure was scheduled for the following day and immediately a group of United Methodist Women from the Seminar had mobilized. They protested in front of the hospital garnering national news attention and attended the board meeting to make the case for justice over dollars. Their presence was heard and acknowledged yet there is no decision about the closing as of yet.IMG_0141

Climate Justice. The effects of climate change fall disproportionately on poor people around the world making climate justice about human rights and discrimination. Hurricanes, heat waves, tsunamis, flooding, wildfires, disappearing islands and ice caps – the ravages of climate change effect mortality and health. “Climatic conditions affect diseases transmitted through water, and via vectors such as mosquitoes. Climate-sensitive diseases are among the largest global killers. Diarrhea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition alone caused more than 3.3 million deaths globally in 2002, with 29% of these deaths occurring in the Region of Africa.” Climate and health Fact sheet, July 2005, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/globalchange/news/fsclimandhealth/en/print.html

The plenary session on Climate Justice at National Seminar had us role-play a scenario involving all the players in an Appalachian Mountaintop Removal setting. We met in town hall style meetings to address all those affected in the area. The community organization model that was used was informative, enlightening and at times frustrating. All interests were considered and a plan of action was made. At the conclusion of the activity we were informed that 1.) The scenario was not fictional and had in fact taken place; and 2.) Both state and federal representatives were on the take from the coal companies. Needless to say, it was a fascinating and frustrating exercise.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet In Peril, Moore & Nelson, Editors
  • Finding Higher Ground, Adaption in the Age of Warming, Amy Seidl

While at National Seminar I also attended a workshop on Anti-Oppression where we discussed many pertinent issues. In addition, I toured Chicago’s Little Village with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. This predominantly Hispanic neighborhood was once in the shadows of one of the filthiest coal burning plants in the country and has organized to build a sustainable community. I also participated in a community action event with the Community Renewal Society where we gained commitments from some Southside Aldermen and Commissioners for their Reclaim Campaign and Chicago Police Accountability Platform.

IMG_0949National Seminar was an amazing, energizing and enlightening experience. I was challenged intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. The experience was sometimes hard, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful and sometimes painful. But I made friends, heard the call and will now begin to answer.

Much of the work we will be doing over the next few years deal specifically with issues of anti-oppression, the celebration of diversity and the inclusion of all God’s people (i.e., the full and equal participation of all.) Too often in our churches we are focused on charity and not justice. Addressing people’s personal problems through charity creates an instant band-aide, eases immediate suffering and certainly makes our giving congregations feel good. On the other hand, as United Methodist Women we are called to work to bring structural changes to our communities, our nation and our world. We are addressing inequities in our society, we are challenged to be activists for justice on behalf of women and children, we are called to educate and advocate for social change.

I encourage you to visit the topical webinars that were required of us before Seminar. They can be found at: http://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/national-seminar/webinars

I also ask you follow, like and share our Conference Facebook page: East Ohio Conference UMW – Social Action: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1668907840013283/. And please stay informed by regularly checking the UMW Website at www.unitedmethodistwomen.org.