Society

Living in Non-White Whiteness or White Non-Whiteness or ...

Kathleen's 6th Birthday

"What do you like about being white?"

The anti-racism training facilitator chose me to go first. My view of myself as multicultural Latinx, with indigenous heritage and light skinned privilege, was discounted a room full of other participants. Every struggle of not being white enough, or Latina enough flew up to my throat into a knot. I could not get past the word "multicultural," because the facilitator, an African American man, kept interrupting, insisting I was white. I thought my story about my grandparents and great grandparents had explained who I was the day before. The Latina facilitator said in a stage whisper, "She's Latina." The white facilitator said in a stage whisper to the Latina, She's white!" Whispering ensued between them. The facilitator who asked the question more than once said, "Fine, let's move on. We'll get back to you." I sat in shock. The next white individual, somewhat understandably, did not want to claim he was white either.

When I had gone to a people of color retreat last summer, the speaker, Zenju Earthlin Manuel had brought up an example that made sense. In 2013, Black Girl Dangerous blogger, Janani, published, "What's wrong with the term 'person of color?'" In it, they wrote about an exercise about race in an anti-oppression youth camp in the South, in which they, along with two other Asian attendees, were put in the white group rather than the black group. Janani wrote,

I want to return to that moment of racial ambivalence, and why it happened. That moment was unsettling precisely because even if Black and Asian kids had a common experience of being racialized, we didn’t have a common racialized experience.

It seems as if it should be obvious, but upon hearing it the first time, my heart opened with more compassion for we of whom are not of the dominant culture. In our workshop, every single person had been racialized as a consequence of living in the United States. Each one is racialized based on their geography in the country, in addition to the relationships to friends, relatives, loved ones, institutions and society. Not one person's early soul tenderness was battered by racism the same way. I have no claim to the experience of being black, but navigating La Frontera, the borderlands as explained by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, is its own experience. I grew up occupying that liminal space of in between, not pale enough to be white, but without the Spanish language, unable to navigate in the Latinx sphere either. How you were treated could turn on a dime. Especially, if your name changed from European to Hispanic or back. I was punished a whole school year for a surname change and return. My mother experienced it, and my sister, who has fairer skin than mine with dark hair and eyes, experienced it.

As the daughter of a Mexican American mother with the black hair and beautiful brown skin of her father, I was the first of sixteen grandchildren with the black hair and dark brown eyes that favored him. Unfortunately, he died before the year before. As the daughter of my Irish, Scandinavian, Northern European father, I'd never quite fit in. The McGregor family loved me anyway, often pointing out how smart I was, or tall I was, even though my build was more solid, and I tended to be chubby and darker. My heart and self-esteem suffered each time others were disparaged for gaining weight by the weight and look obsessed white women in the family, or how "Mexicans" or worse, "wetbacks" were disparaged by my new German stepfamily, most often by my stepmother.

If I had been asked a different question, the rest of the workshop might have gone differently. Instead, I became the female example of white denial. The trainer said to the group, "We people of color see you as white. You are not fooling us." My shutting down served as another sign of whiteness. In truth, I was in shock. Every misgiving about not being a person of color enough, was laid bare. I did not speak out about myself, nor with anyone else, the rest of the workshop. So, was he right? In a way, yes. And in a way, no.

I have much baggage: growing up in colonialized geography, feeling less than, being a widow of a small, dark, non-gender conforming, Filipina, a raw recent falling out with a relative, being enraged by my late beloved's treatment in the world, the traumatic death and aftermath, being an outcast accused of being unfeeling because I was white, and as such, had no culture, a coopted memorial. To say anything would have sounded like an excuse, or worse, as if I was trying to divert the discomfort, to make the conversation about my feelings, or separate myself from other whites by claiming I had suffered more, or that I had my own oppression, and therefore understood people of color's experience. Diversionary tactics are not new, and I've witnessed each one more than once.

For the evening and the next day, memories of scenes in the hospital, the funeral, and the aftermath haunted me. PTSD is real. When the other facilitator discussed what ends up lost to whites for opting to participate in whiteness the next day, I still could not trust myself to speak. When she blamed herself, her white privilege and ignorance, for the early loss of her own spouse, I just felt ill. I'd just managed to work past the survivor's guilt, stopped finding reasons to blame myself for my beloved's early death.

Going in to anti-racism work the decade before, I needed to be clear in my identity. I considered myself one of the mestizaje, on the border. After much discussion with my minister of color, I took on "person of color" identity as a political statement. That meant the battles are mine. Every single day, I choose not to walk away. My liberation is inextricably woven into the fabric of all people of color. Although there are days I hate the injustice too much to be healthy, I am committed. I'm committed to being open, learning, and to defer to the leadership of those people of color most affected by the intersecting issue at hand. I'm committed for all the multiracial children who do not quite fit into either family, and do not understand why race is such a big deal. I'm committed for gender nonconforming people of color, who are the most vulnerable, the most in danger, in our society. I'm committed for queer people of color, who are nearly as vulnerable. I am especially committed now for queer and gender nonconforming immigrants .

I'm grateful to have recently married, to a partner who works with me and learns with me. Still, I have married back into white privilege. So, what do I like about being white? I like that in passing, I can use the privilege I do have to speak out, protest, agitate, and put my body on the line for those who cannot. I like that in passing, I see and hear white people for who they are with each other. I like that in passing, my privilege can be used for the common good, rather than to get ahead in the capitalist white cultural narrative.

Contradictions and Juxtapositions at Standing Rock

Drawing of the Camp

In early November, I flew to Minnesota to join a delegation of clergy vanpooling from Minneapolist to the Standing Rock Reservation, in North Dakota. The Minnesota Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Action Alliance, or MUUSJA, or Moose Jaw, for those of you who are familiar with the UU's tendency to reduce everything to initials. MUUSJA is the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California, organized and funded a good part of the trip. The local Episcopal priest, Father John Floberg called for clergy to help the Sioux tribe, with members from more than 300 tribes across the Western Hemisphere in solidarity, protest the building of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation. What is at stake is their only source of water at risk of being poisoned by the Black Snake, the Missouri River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi River. *And* this company building the pipeline is notorious for leaks. Drinking water for millions of people are at risk.

My decision to go was a spiritual one. How could I with my presence be helpful to the Native women who are up there, prayerfully fighting for their land, and by extension Mother Earth and all of us. It helps to be aware of one's social location, especially when going into another culture, which in going to the reservation we were told again and again that the culture was different. My own social location as a Mestiza, or mixed European American and Mexican American, including indigenous heritage, queer woman. Part of my lived experience is having lived on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Northern Arizona when I was young, where I went to Head Start rather than kindergarten, and the first grade. I'm a Unitarian Universalist candidate for ministry who practices Zen Buddhism on my spiritual path. I have had a profound love for nature as far back as I can remember. In holding these identities in tension, social location certainly informed my experience while I was there.

Standing Rock is at the center of numerous intersecting issues. Going forward,Unitarian Universalists need to start thinking about issues, beyond single issues, such as environmentalism, rather through the lens of "intersectionality", a word coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw that recognizes and names the fact that there is no single issue. Environmentalism is a popular issue with UUs. What gets overlooked more often by those who have environmentalism as their issue is that communities of color most often deal with toxic dumping, factories, or chemical or petrochemical storage or pipelines with unhealthful tendencies that are put in that area because white communities do not want them and have the power to demand that they are placed elsewhere. Not in my back yard(NIMBY). Plus, you have women who are affected by the chemicals and possibly that affects reproduction. The water is affected so there is external health effects, as well as internal. In this example, environmentalism intersects with racism, feminism, and it is systemic in that those in power in the government are deliberately making laws to limit companies to be near communities of color rather than white predominantly white communities.

This Dakota Pipeline protest is about the Black Snake going through their land and ground water, but it is also about the way that Native Americans continue to be treated by the US government informed by racism, and corporations having explicit, there for systemic backing by the state and US government. It is about the threat to water, our most precious communal resource. It is about power. The pipeline was originally supposed to go near Bismark, but the citizens, white citizens, would not have it. It is about Christianity. The Pope of the Catholic Church issued a bull in 1493, called the Doctrine of Discovery, shortly after the "New" World was discovered. This document declared that all land was to be claimed, and any people on the lands were to be converted to Christianity and enslaved or killed. This bull is the basis for court decisions to this day, regardless of what is written in the numerous treaties. Treaties that have been broken time and again, not by the Native Americans, but the white European Americans that greedily stole land. The protest is a Human Rights issue, the right to water and indigenous sovereignty.

Unitarian Universalists passed a resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery at General Assembly in 2012. The Episcopalians preceded us in 2009. Our Unitarian Universalist Service committee has based one of their programs on the Human Right to Water. The UU Justice Ministry of California has centered work around water. We, as Californians, know or should know how critical water is too life, but are especially aware in a desert that has been stricken by drought. We're not out of the woods yet. Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village Line Zen Buddhists' with concern for the Mother Earth have formed an Earth Holder Sangha, of which I am apart. The One Earth Sangha, a multi-Buddhist environmental group is concerned about Standing Rock.The Christian intentional community of which I am a friend, Urban Village, was concerned enough about Standing Rock that they and friends funded my trip. I went to Standing Rock, as one person, knowing that I represented the solidarity and well wishes of members of all of these communities, as well as the UU communities I am involved with. Those are JUUstice L.A. with whom I had a travel mate, Neighborhood Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship. Around sixty UU clergy traveled to Standing Rock for this particular call.

The group of over 500 church leaders met in the gymnasium the night before the event. I had weird a sense of deja vu having gone to non-sporting events in the gymnasium on the reservation. I began to feel like I was having an out of body experience observing. We learned about the history of the region from one man, and heard one of the women speak of the struggle. Native women are doing the lion's share of organizing and support in this struggle, much like women are doing the organizing for Black Lives Matter. One woman who spoke the night before, told the assembled clergy that the camp looks just like a camp to non-native Americans. She said those of Native American heritage would feel like they were coming home. When we drove over the rise the next morning and saw the camp bathed in the light of a truly spectacular sunrise I was overwhelmed with love and longing. Love for the land and people, and longing for their ill-treatment to be over. Metta prayers.

For the ceremony the next day, the priest offered a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, in it's original Latin, to burn in the sacred fire that continuously burns in the camp. Those representing the tribe chose to burn it in an abalone shell outside the sacred fire. The water warriors did not want to contaminate their sacred fire with the ugliness of the source giving permission for European colonization. I liken it to the profoundly offensive practice when white people dump their loved one's ashes at the source of springs and rivers. These headwaters represent life and people come to that sacred space and pollute it with death. There is a long way to go for a cultural understanding of just how sacred the earth and it's elements are, and/or a respect for nature.

I saw the burned out vehicles, the planes and the helicopters circling overhead. Too, I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life on the day of the protest ceremony. Yet, I also saw a ceremony that was ostensibly interfaith be performed with a profoundly Christian view. As that person who straddles borderlines, I had a hard time reconciling that the religion of the oppressing group, was also the focus as we walked behind a cross to the river. That people with other symbols were "welcome" to process in front as well, felt strange since it other faith's are not about elevating their symbol above all. This is a case where members of the colonializing dominant culture, while apologizing for the past sins of their faith, reasserted that faith in that Native American space.

Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery is a step in the right direction. A young Buddhist asked if he should repudiate it since this was not his religion that issued the bull. I did not hear what the answer was, but my answer is yes. As a U.S. citizen, he is benefitting from the legacy of that papal bull. I, as a US citizen, am benefitting from that legacy. The Standing Rock Dakota Pipeline protest is emblematic of indigenous struggles against state supported corporations, U.S. supported corporations, up and down the American continent. I met a young Tinglet woman from Alaska. She was unlikely to be born when the Exxon Valdez ran aground; yet, she has grown up with the consequences. She came down from Alaska to protest in solidarity so that what happened in Alaska would not happen in North Dakota.

The struggle is just beginning if we, as UUs, are to do something more than symbolically repudiating. Clergy were asked to return and educate. I pledged to return and educate. We do not necessarily need more UUs going up to Standing Rock, unless it's to deliver supplies. We need people to use their skills. Fundraising? Social Media? Political Savvy? Legal? Communications? Too, the water warriors need warm clothes and sleeping beds to endure the winter to come. They are committed to saving the water, by continuing the protest and camp through the often brutal winter.

Meg Riley, the minister of the Church of the Larger Spirit writes, "Hope is born in the communion of struggle." Many struggles are and will continue to be upon`us in the coming days. Bill McKibbon reminds us: "History offers us no chance to completely erase our mistakes. Occasionally, though, we do get a chance to show we learned something."

Hold On to This Feeling

The first time that I visited Washington, DC, it was as a tourist. As I stood in awe of monuments and grand buildings, shuffled past the Declaration of Independence, and tried to take in all that the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian had to offer, I could not imagine that anyone actually lived in this city. To me as a tourist, Washington was like a marble theme park where presidents and Congress members made history of one kind or another.

A couple of months after I had moved to the neighborhood of Columbia Heights, I caught sight of the far off Washington monument down Meridian Hill and remembered how I once could not fathom being what I had become, a DC resident. I, like other staff members of the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy, live in DC. We go to work, go home, buy groceries, go to church, go out… and know a city that is not evident from vacation visits and media coverage. The Washington that tourists see is disproportionately white with a smattering of foreigners, and an emphasis on lawyers and the military, lobbyists and diplomats. The DC that I know as a resident is a mixture of ethnicities – Euro Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and others – living in neighborhoods of varying degrees of integration… policemen and nurses, shop keeps and community organizers. There are neighborhoods of extreme poverty and despair in the same city with the marble facades and luxury hotels. I live in the capital of what is still the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth and yet our school system fails its children, some neighborhoods are plagued with violence, our residents do not have true Congressional representation, and everywhere the divides created by both racism and classism are evident.

I do not mean to give the impression that everyone walks around distrusting each other. Far from it. But just like other large cities in the U.S., there are barriers in our daily lives that are perhaps more visible in DC because of the stark contrasts. But this week we watched those barriers tumble down. On Sunday, I attended the “We Are One” concert with Taquiena Boston and her sister Mishan. We met in the neighborhood of Adams Morgan for brunch and then walked down to the National Mall, an over two mile walk. Along the way, we joined hundreds of others walking there as well. And we smiled at each other and shared stories. At the concert itself, the crowd was even more diverse than the performers on stage. The spirit of unity continued through the weekend, culminating when two million people – from all over the nation including DC, from all walks of life – converged again on the National Mall. When Barack Hussein Obama completed the oath of office, people everywhere hugged the nearest person they could find, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation…. We truly were one. This spirit of good will has continued long past that one moment. People greet each other with smiles at metro stops and chat while waiting in lines.

We live in an age where self-sufficiency is valued over cooperation. Where people intentionally avoid eye-contact when passing each other on busy city streets. Only twice in my life have I experienced the loving good will that is still embracing DC right now. The other time was in New York City after September 11th, 2001. While a lot of anger was unfairly directed at Muslims following the attack, there was also an encompassing feeling of intimcacy amongst usually gruff New Yorkers. People held doors open for each other, used their car horns less, and were generally more patient and kind. In our moment of collective grief, as a nation searched for meaning out of tragedy, we could have listened to the better angels of our nature, instead of the demons of fear and self-centeredness. People were ready to serve a higher purpose, if only we had had the leader to inspire us in that direction. Instead, our president at the time told us to “go shopping” and then took us into two wars.

The inauguration of President Obama cannot erase the harm we have done in the last seven years (and for hundreds of years before that). But at least now we have a chance. May we hold on to this feeling of unity in the trying times to come.

I Voted Today, Did You?

Unlike most of my friends and colleagues, I am not out working in an election-related capacity today. I am not volunteering to work in the polls, as is Alex, to make sure that the process runs smoother. I’m a slacker depending on the volunteer time of others. I am not out getting out the vote, or last-minute canvassing, or other activities that would increase my voice by convincing like-minded people to vote. As such, my voice will be but one of an estimated 153 million possible (registered) voters today. All I did was walk over to my neighborhood polling place, wait in line, cast my ballot, and go to work. My part in this great democratic process is small.

But I left the polling place with a huge smile on my face that has not receded yet. First of all, the atmosphere at the polling place (my neighborhood junior high school) was festive. Colorful banners for different candidates decorated the chain link fence leading into the gymnasium from all sides. People, positioned well away from the actual polling place, handed out fliers and chatted with us as we walked up. Cardboard cutouts of candidates of choice, also well away from the polling place, stood on the sidewalk, as if to shake your hand. The impression that I got was that of a party.

Inside the actual polling place, courteous volunteers showed me which line to stand in and where to go next. Everyone was smiling. It was contagious.

As I stood in the booth – just me, my ballot and a number two pencil – the momentousness of the occasion hit me. I don’t mean that regardless of the outcome, this election will have made history. Of course there is that. I don’t mean that the choice between men who want to take this country in very different directions will determine our future. Yes, there is that too. But what I felt in the polling place was simply the awe of getting to make a choice.

Each one of us who is a citizen of this country (and not a felon in some states, but that’s for a different blog post) gets to make this choice. We get to participate in this sacred process of self-determination. On equal footing with each other. Standing in that booth, I felt empowered, and a part of something much bigger than myself.

I left the polling place with a huge smile on my face, and it hasn’t dimmed yet. And so I’m saying to you out there, “I voted today, did you?” I’m not going to lecture you on how it is your duty and responsibility (even though that’s true). I am telling you to get out there and vote, because it will make your day.

Miley Cyrus

The first I heard of the controversy over 15 year old Miley Cyrus posing topless in Vanity Fair was when a colleague blogged about it.  I thought Grace's piece was well written and kinda took it for granted that most people would agree that the picture was indicative of our culture, which sexualizes our youth in order to sell products.  So I was rather surprised when later, I came across a slew of comments in blogs and online news articles where people thought that the picture was "no big deal."  Mothers of daughters wrote in to say that they found nothing wrong with the photo, that girls expose more with their daily fashions, and that those of us who thought the photo was sexually suggestive were either prudes or had sex on the brain. 

After some consideration, I put up the photo in question so that readers can decide for themselves whether it is sexually suggestive or not.  I would argue that it's misleading to focus on the quantity of skin exposed.  Of course there are fashions that show as much skin.  But the combination of the bare back and the tousled hair and what looks like a satin bed sheet all suggest a post-coital moment with what we must remember is a 15 year old girl.

Sexualizing our youth in order to sell products is nothing new.  That doesn't mean it shouldn't be controversial.  Saying that it's been done before or even that it's done all the time doesn't make it right. 

Moreover, I agree with the blogger at Gothamist, who said that the fully clothed pic of Miley with dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, was even more disturbing. (It's rare that I agree with bloggers on the metro "ist" sites as they seem to take pride in their cultural elitism.)  It leads one to wonder whether Mr. Cyrus has his daughter's or his own interests in mind.  It seems he would prefer to project the image of a cool stud with a hot chick hanging on his arm over being a middle-aged father of a teen-aged daughter.

Personally, what bothers me most is that these photos were taken by Annie Liebowitz, someone whom I think has great talent for making social statements through portrait photography.  It would be easy for me to believe that Liebowitz was making a statement here precisely about the sexualization of our youth.  In that respect it is a brilliant photo. 

The problem, however, is that the statement is made at the expense of a 15 year old girl.  If dad is not looking out for Miley.  And if the photographer is not looking out for Miley.  And we know that Vanity Fair and Disney are looking to see product.  Then who is looking out for, guiding and nurturing this young soul as she ventures toward adulthood?

What Else Would One Do On a Sunday Evening?

than watch the Compassion Forum on CNN.  At 8 pm, I tuned in to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama answer questions on faith and how it affects their approach to public policy. (Fyi, the Compassion Forum was organized by Faith in Public Life, for whom my supervisor sits as chair of the board.)  John McCain was invited but declined.

I cringed when Clinton awkwardly talked about how she admired Esther from Jewish scripture, as a girl begging for the story to be read to her again and again.  Her obvious discomfort made it less than believable, and came across as a blatant attempt to pander to Jewish voters while reinforcing her credentials as a feminist.  In contrast, I was very impressed by her response to the question of why God allows suffering.  She talked about her belief that God calls us to act in response to suffering and cited the Jewish prophets and Christ, and asked why this aspect of faith gets ignored so often in public discourse.  It was right on the money, and what's more I believed she meant it.  I also liked how she talked about Grace being not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others.

For Obama's part, his response to questions about the "bitter" controversy were cringe-worthy.  Given the amount this has been brought up, I would have thought he'd be better prepared to answer, and to say that "clinging to religion" is not a bad thing seemed reminiscent of Bill Clinton's parsing of words.  I realized at that moment that the word "cling" was far more damning than his use of the word "bitter."  Bitter is understandable.  The issues he raised like immigration, religion, and gun control were understandable.  But there is no way to take "cling" other than as condescending.  That said, he made a very good point about his community organizing work within churches as evidence that he does not look down on faith.

Obama's high point for me is when he talked about how people on end of the spectrum, mostly on the left, think that any mention of faith with respect to politics is a violation of church and state, while people on the other end of the spectrum, mostly on the right, feel there should be no separation, and how both are wrong.  I particularly appreciated him saying that those who speak in terms of faith need to translate, as King did, in this pluralistic society so that all may relate.

The tv is still on and the analysts on CNN are now going on and on about the "bitter" remark.  Oh bother.

As for me, I am just happy to have an evening where so-called liberals are talking about their faith in public.  Not only is it important to winning votes, as the analysts keep claiming, but it's also important to me personally.

Great Awakenings!

First off, I am glad to see someone else who believes that we are in the middle of another Great Awakening.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "Great Awakening" refers to historic periods of dramatic religious revival.

The first Great Awakening gave rise to the Congregationalists, our forebears. It was a time of scary Calvinist preaching, like Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But it was also a time of great equalizing in religion, where people, especially the working class, felt empowered.

Unitarianism in the U.S. arose at the height of the second Great Awakening. (Which was followed by Mormonism, and eventually Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.) The second Great Awakening was also the time of Charles Grandison Finney, who is considered by many to be the "Grandfather of Evangelical Christianity." By that, they mean the firey preaching style and "conversion" experiences, not the conservatism. Finney was a social progressive, working for the rights of the poor, women, and the abolition of slavery.

The third Great Awakening (when the Christian Scientists were born) was the period of the Social Gospel, again a time when Christians believed that their duty was to address social problems such as poverty, not just tend to personal/individual salvation in an after-life.

Some people say that the surge of conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity, ala Falwell, is the fourth Great Awakening. I like to think it was the Great Falling Asleep. But I do feel (hope?) that we are now in the middle of a Great Awakening, where people are remembering their social obligations to each other. I feel it in what seems (anecdotally at least) to be the resurgence of interest in spirituality and social activism among young adults. UU is growing. And within Evangelical Christianity, a new generation that supports causes like the environment and economic justice is taking over.

Which brings me back to the link above: Revolution in Jesusland. Don't be put off by all the Jesus-talk. These guys are on our side. Honest!

I am adding the Litany of Resistance to wizdUUm's collection of prayers.

Why Hillary Doesn't Get It

I am increasingly unhappy with Clinton's campaign.  First there was the strange Christmas commercial where she is seen wrapping presents addressed with things like "Universal Health Care," "Alternative Energy," and "Bring the Troops Home."  I am as much in favor of these things as much as the next liberal.  But first of all, the Martha Stewart-esque imagery was disturbing.  And secondly and more importantly, these things are not "gifts" from her to us.  Her commercial trivializes these vital necessities.

Next, came the "free fall" commercial that aired at the Super Bowl.  I couldn't believe it.  A man is plummeting to earth, arms flailing, in a free fall while a male voice tells us that the national economy is in ruins.  Only at the last second do you see the parachute open, the implication being that we can save ourselves from imminent disaster if we vote Clinton.  First of all, it was a different man!  Either the Clinton campaign is too cheap to get their symbolism straight or they don't care.  Secondly and more importantly, Clinton is playing into the politics of fear.  Appealing to our basest instincts instead of our nobler side.  

Most recently came the 3 am commercial, which by now has been played so many times there is no need for me to find a link.  Again, she preys upon our fears, showing a woman checking on her kids asleep.  The commercial appeals directly to the suburban soccer moms who have recently voted Republican on the basis of fear - only a Republican can keep their kids safe from the terrorists.  Clinton seems to be claiming she can be that Republican.  (Which begs the question, if we want a Republican why not vote for McCain?)

It seems that Clinton, like Kerry and Gore before her, does not trust the American people.  She cannot put forth a positive message.  What is up with that?  

Mrs Clinton:

This is an election.  People are supposed to be able to make informed decisions.  Do not bribe us or prey on our fears.  Tell us your beliefs and capabilities and then trust us to decide.  If it turns out that the people vote for someone else, well at least then you'll know that we didn't agree with your policies, and that it was not personal.  And if it turns out that the people vote for you, you'll know we're behind your policies.  You'll be empowered to act.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, why don't you play up the fact that you've been elected to the Senate TWICE.  This indicates that the people of New York were happy enough with your performance as Senator to REelect you.  Why don't you put that in a commercial?

Faithful America

When Rabbi Lerner (of Tikkun fame) brought his Network of Spiritual Progressives to DC two years ago, what drew me most to the movement he was starting was his giving a voice to the Religious Left. For too long the "battle lines" for the "soul" of America had been drawn along the Religious Right and the Secular Left. (For the purposes of exposition here, "Secular" refers to those who are hostile to religion. The writer recognizes that there are other meanings.) The Religious Right claimed it was moral. In other words, if you didn't agree with their conservative views you were immoral. The Secular Left claimed it was intelligent. In other words, if you believed in God and/or belonged to organized religion you were stupid.

What was a liberal and rather highly-educated God-loving church lady like me supposed to to do?

The truth is that neither of these groups are big enough to represent half of the U.S. According to the latest Pew report, those who identify as atheist/agnostic/secular unaffiliated still make up little more than 10% of the population. And to quote a button that I used to wear, the "Moral Majority" is neither. While I concede their ingenious bit of branding, Falwell's "Moral Majority" was highly vocal and politically organized but never a majority of the U.S. population.

So then, if the Religious Right and the Secular Left make up but part of our population... If the U.S. in reality is far more varied, with Secular Conservatives and Religious Liberals and all sorts of people in between... why do we perceive the "battle lines" drawn this way? Partly because these are the two most vocal groups. Partly because the Religious Right chose the Secular Left as its target, exaggerating their significance. And partly because the media likes to frame things that way.

Enter Faithful America. Operated by Faith in Public Life (of which my boss is a board member), Faithful America tells us that tv network exit polls are reinforcing the idea that only conservatives are religious. The presidential primary polls are asking Republican voters more questions on religion than Democratic voters, and in some cases ignoring Democrats' religion entirely. (I imagine the Kennedy family would be surprised to learn that their faith doesn't count.)

In science we had a saying, "You tend to find what you're looking for." If the media starts with the assumption that only conservatives are religious and pursues its questions along that line, it will find answers that support its assumption. And so on.

We, the Religious Left, have been quiet for too long. We need to make some noise and represent.

News from the Pews

First, the Pew Center on the States tells us that for the first time in U.S. history, more than 1 in 100 American adults is prison or jail. Per capita, that is more than any other country in the world. At the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were incarcerated. And "while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole." The report goes on to say that our 50 states combined spent a total of over $49 billion dollars on incarceration last year.

More than 1 in every 100 adult Americans are in jail. Shocking.

My officemate, Taquiena, once told me that a nearby state tracks how many prisons it's going to build in the future by how many low-income kids of color are enrolled in grade school right now. That means the state has already written these kids off as jail-bound before they've ever committed an offense. That means the state would rather spend money on prisons than on better education or economic development. Perhaps the free/forced labor within prisons is a motivating factor.

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Second, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says that we Americans are a "fluid and diverse" bunch when it comes to religion. More than 1 in 4 American adults (28%) have switched from the faith of their birth or lost faith entirely. If one counts changes within the different Protestant denominations, that number jumps to about 44%.

Atheism is on the rise and Catholicism has dropped sharply. It would have dropped even more if not for immigration. Immigrants also make up most of the increases in Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also says that there is a great deal of diversity within each category.

(Unitarian "and other liberal faiths" got characterized under "Other Religions," along with New Age and Native American traditions.)

Pew tells us what we already knew. There is lots of diversity, with various denominations splintering into ever smaller groups. There is lots of fluidity. Heck, all one has to do is spend some time on an online religious forum and you run into people who are Buddhist one week and Pagan the next and then born-again Christian.

The report appropriately describes the country as "a very competitive marketplace." James Madison would be proud, as that is essentially what he wanted.

We are a country of religious consumers. Ok, maybe Madison wouldn't be so proud, because I can't imagine that he wanted that.

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