It was my great honor to participate yesterday in the profound and important MLK commemoration: “Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality.” On a cold Sunday afternoon, an SRO crowd of 2,000 participants streamed into St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side to reaffirm King’s unfinished work: the dream of economic equality for all Americans.
While few of us would deny the importance of devoting a National Holiday to the life and work of Dr. King, I believe this day too often sanitizes his legacy into meaninglessness. Even worse is the way corporate America has co-opted his name for its own profit and gain. (This morning, I opened the morning paper and was greeted by ads that invoked King to sell everything from cars to Macy’s merchandise.)
It’s worse than ironic, when you consider how often King railed against corporate greed in this country – particularly toward the end of his life. Here’s but one example – a pointed MLK quote that was read aloud at yesterday’s gathering:
You can’t talk about solving the problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying proﬁt must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difﬁcult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
Our keynote speaker, Reverend Dwight Gardner, of Trinity Baptist Church in Gary Indiana, put it very, very well:
Today in this celebration we will not lift up the toothless, scrubbed and anesthetized Dr. King as created by the mainstream media and ruling elite but we will uncover the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his radical vision for economic equality.
In 1963 during the March on Washington, Dr. King gave an address that included a short section about a dream, but in the same speech he also declared that America had written the Negro a bad check that had come back stamped insufficient funds. To paint him with only the hope that we could all just get along does his legacy a disservice and confuses Dr. King with Rodney King.
And so our event, organized by the People’s Lobby and IIRON, brought together a wide range of citizens to reclaim King’s radical and unfinished legacy of economic equality. And more: to commit to creating a new movement to make it so.
Speaker after speaker spotlighted local Chicago and Illinois legislation that addressed issues ranging from corporate financial accountability, a living wage, public sector jobs, the prison industrial complex and environmental protection. One by one we invited elected officials to the stage and asked them tell us if they would support these legislative initiatives. Then we ended with a pledge to continue organizing to make this dream a reality.
One of our speakers, George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action, correctly pointed out that the unprecedented inequities currently facing our nation are the product of a “masterful forty year plan hatched by CEOs and right wing politicians who were clear that they had to aggregate power to expand profit.” Goehl noted that those of us who believe in a more equitable system will now have to develop our own long term plan for the “New Economy” with the following core goals:
- Everyday People Controlling the Economy
- An End to Structural Racism
- Corporations Serving the Common Good
- True Democracy – People in, Money Out
- Ecological Sustainability
The power of these kinds of public meetings resides in their modeling of a system that is generated by people power. Unlike most political events, in which elected leaders or candidates drive the agenda, this gathering was driven forward by the people themselves. The politicians who participated were not allowed to give stump speeches but were rather asked to say aloud to the community whether or not they intended to support these legislative efforts. As King himself taught us, our elected leaders are not change agents – it is rather the popular movements that lay their demands at their door.
I encourage you, this MLK Day, to resist the corporate co-opting of King’s name – and to support efforts in your community to create true economic justice to our nation. Click here to learn about organizing initiatives near you.
Lots of pundits are cautioning Obama and Romney against “playing politics” with the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I disagree. I’d say if there was ever a time to play politics, now is it.
As far as I can tell, neither candidate has broken their “climate silence” in relation to Hurricane Sandy – that is, explicitly connect the dots and say in no uncertain terms that Hurricane Sandy was, as George Lakoff so accurately described it, systemically caused by global warming:
Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.
The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident. But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.
If we do believe that, in the wake of this devastation we must redouble our efforts to prevent future tragedies such as this from occurring, then the most important thing we can do is to play politics. And the first step is to break climate silence. Even if our leaders are unwilling, it is time for us to speak up and face down the deniers.
Please watch and share the clip above to everyone you know. Then help those who are advocating in no uncertain terms for public policies that will curb carbon emissions and promote alternative energies worldwide.
Have you been following the Tar Sands XL Pipeline Sit-In at the White House? This still-ongoing protest is being described as the biggest environmental civil disobedience action in a generation. It began on Saturday, Aug 21 and will continue until September 3. This action has already led to the arrest of almost 600 protesters to date, with crowds increasing every day.
Some background, courtesy of Friends of the Earth:
The Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada hopes to begin building a new oil pipeline that would trek close to 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas. If constructed, the pipeline, known as the Keystone XL, will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. Along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, and would jeopardize public health.
Giant oil corporations invested in Canada’s tar sands are counting on the Keystone XL pipeline to make the expansion of oil extraction operations profitable: The pipeline would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States.
Pollution from tar sands oil greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, doubling our country’s reliance on it and resulting in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than six million new cars to U.S. roads.
Before TransCanada can begin construction, the company needs a presidential permit from the Obama administration (no Congressional approval is needed.) Alas, Secretary of State Clinton is already on record as being “inclined” to approve the project and Obama has been ominously silent on the issue. Hence, this incredible, inspiring mobilization in DC.
All honor to my friend and colleague, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda – one of the leading rabbinical heroes of the environmental movement – who was among those arrested today (see above.) In a subsequent press release, he was quoted thus:
We must turn up the heat in a sustained effort against the scourge of climate change, which harms not just our land and water but people here and now, our human future and all earthly creation.
Last January I addressed the serious ecological dangers of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) as a method for extracting natural gas from underground shale. At the end of the post, I noted with some alarm that a Louisiana energy company is currently seeking to lease hundreds of acres of farmland for fracking in Edwards County, IL.
Advocacy time. A important new piece of legislation is now being proposed by Faith in Place, an Illinois interfaith environmental coalition. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Frerichs, it is called SB 664 (or the “Fracturing Chemical Disclosure Act.”) and is modeled after a ruling by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Bottom line, SB 664 would:
• Require companies extracting natural gas from shale in Illinois to disclose their chemical formula to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and to the public.
• Prohibit the injection of volatile organic BTEX compounds into groundwater.
• Outline safeguards for storing and disposing of wastewater.
In other words, SB 664 would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the drilling process. This way, if any polluted water or natural gas finds its way to a faucet, we will know exactly who put it there. And we can hold them accountable.
Faith in Place is looking for more legislative sponsors—and citizen support—to pass SB 664. If you live in Illinois, please click here to learn what you can do.
Those who care deeply for the welfare of the earth have been watching with alarm at the growth of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) throughout the US.
Fracking (yes, fracking) is a means of extracting natural gas that involves drilling deep into the earth, through the aquifer into hard shale deposits. During the process, a pressurized mixture of water and chemicals is injected into the rock, causing a kind of mini-earthquake. Natural gas is then released through the cracks, eventually making its way to the surface, where it is piped to compressor stations.
During the compression process, toxic chemicals are burned off into the air while the used chemical fluid is either sent away or stored in on-site pits where it evaporates. The rest of the chemical fluid, however, remains deep underground.
As you might guess, communities where fracking takes place have reported increasing incidents of water contamination, environmental degradation and serious health problems. State and federal agencies have received thousands of complaints from people all over the country whose lives, homes and communities have been literally poisoned by fracking operations.
Here’s a pretty awesome global statement arriving just ahead of UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico: the first global art show on climate change has just opened, launching several huge art projects seen from space designed to highlight the hazards of global warming.
The massive scale of the project is fairly breathtaking. Organized by activist Bill McKibben and his 350 Earth environmental advocacy group, thousands of volunteers ranging from New Mexico to China, Egypt, India and Spain, have gathered for a week long photo-performance project – using human bodies as the main media.
Click here for some amazing pix of the projects. The picture up top was taken of the effort in Santa Fe, in which over one thousand residents held blue posters in a dry riverbed to depict what it would (should) look like if there was actually water flowing through it.
In his email to 350 Earth supporters, McKibben wrote:
We’re not going to solve the climate crisis with art. We know that–we’re deeply based in science and politics. But we’re not going to solve the climate crisis without a movement. And art is one of the ways that movements express themselves, one of the things that reach human beings in powerful and deep ways. So by next week, when the UN climate conference in Cancun opens, we’ll be focused on a new set of ideas and tactics, asking your help for all sorts of practical and political things.
But today–today just know you’re part of the largest art project the world has ever seen.
I’m proud to announce that my hometown of Evanston has just passed an extraordinary environmental ordinance requiring new commercial buildings over 10,00 square feet to meet the LEED Silver standard. This makes our fair city one of a small handful of municipalities in the nation that have mandated LEED building standards for privately-funded commercial buildings.
Evanston has long made environmental concern a top civic priority. In October 2006, the city unanimously voted to sign the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. The city has also partnered with the Network for Evanston’s Future, a local coalition of citizens’ groups, to jointly develop a climate action plan through a citizen-based process.
Mazel Tov, Evanston – we’re proud our city is leading the way!
Check out this nice video piece produced by Faith in Place - a coalition of over 400 faith communities throughout Illinois committed to the sacred practice of environmental and economic sustainability. I’m proud to say that JRC (who is featured in the clip) is a longtime member.
From the FIP website:
Our mission is to help people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice. At Faith in Place we believe in housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. But even if we do all those things, and love our brothers and sisters with our whole heart, it will not matter if we neglect the ecological conditions of our beautiful and fragile planet.
As temperatures rise and fossil fuel supplies fall, the burden of climate change and scarcity will land primarily on the poor, and eventually will come home to us all. We must practice love and justice in the way we use the ecological commons of air, water and soil. We must be willing to make sacrifices for a sustainable economy.
My sermon for Rosh Hanshanah Day 5769 was something of a sequel to the one I delivered the night before. I’ve reworked it here, based on a version I gave today at Lake St. Church’s World Community Sabbath. (Those of you who read the previous sermon will notice I carried some passages over into this one).
Click below to read:
From this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Behar:
“But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.” – Leviticus 25:23
In the middle of a litany of laws dealing with how to treat the resident alien (in Hebrew: “ger toshav“) we find this remarkable verse that suggests that at the end of the day, we are all really resident aliens after all.
This short verse has a myriad of spiritually radical implications. Just think of what our national priorities might look like if we truly took this idea to heart. Consider its impact on environmental policy, on immigration, on foreign policy, on trade…
As I mentioned in my last post, I believe this concept is absolutely intrinsic to the Jewish world view. The earth does not belong to us – it belongs to a greater and more transcendent Good. In the end, redemption will only come to the land when we truly come to realize the extent to which we are all but strangers upon it.