Si Lo Hizo!: Remembering Richard Chavez

Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Richard Chavez. Keene, California (1980)

The United Farm Workers, one of the great American democracy movements, lost a brother, leader, friend this week. Richard Chavez, brother of Cesar Chavez, died at age 81 in Bakersfield, California.

If you know nothing else about him, remember that he designed the black Aztec eagle on a red field that became a symbol of Chicano and farm worker justice around the world.

In June 2011, Richard Chavez stood on the steps of the California state capitol to encourage those who were fasting for farm workers rights [Watch the video.]

He said: “It’s been almost 50 years ago that I came and marched on these steps for the very same thing that we are here for today. It was an Easter Sunday and Dolores and I marched. We marched to talk to then-Governor Brown–another Governor Brown, the father of this governor. Fasting is nothing new to our movement. We have been fasting for years and years. Continue reading “Si Lo Hizo!: Remembering Richard Chavez”

Cornel West: Obama’s Prophetic Critic

Theologian and activist Cornel West was interviewed recently about Barack Obama’s presidency. It’s 26 minutes of prophetic Christianity engaging both the noble democratic experiment and American empire.

How do we fight social injustice when so many seem to have lost hope? According to provocative intellectual Cornel West the answer is simple – love.  “We are living in catastophic, catatonic, and catalytic times, says West, but we must face them with compassion.

Watch it here.

Homicide Watch D.C.: Marking Death To Claim Life

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I’ve been doing what I can to support Laura Amico Norton and her work as founder of the blog Homicide Watch D.C. Its mission: Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case. As Laura says, “Their deaths needs to be marked if we are living consciously in this city.”

She’s a 28-year-old former newspaper reporter whose web site chronicles every murder in Washington D.C. Laura supports her work out of her own pocket and is hoping to get grant funding.

Recently, BBC reporter Jane O’Brien met Laura at a Bloomingdale neighborhood prayer vigil for Billy Mitchell. Mitchell was murdered when he, allegedly, tried to intervene in a street altercation between a man and a woman. You can listen to O’Brien’s excellent interview with Laura on BBC Outlook (starts at minute 16).

“I think those people who don’t even get a funeral announcement are just as important as the ones who do get the coverage,” says Laura. “Who they were and how they died say as much about our city as the one’s who do get a news write up.”

By being online, the web site provides a place to form community for the family and friends of murder victims. It becomes a place of solace; a place that meets the need for the victim’s community to get concrete information about the legal aspects of the case and as a place to meet others who knew their loved one, but whom the family might not have met.

As one neighbor put it, “She’s putting a face on every victim who is murdered in DC.”

For more on read Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s DC Homicide Blog

Interview with Jennifer Sleeman, Catalyst for Sept 26: “A Sunday Without Women”

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

Jennifer Sleeman’s call for Sept. 26 to be “A Sunday Without Women” on behalf of justice for women in the Catholic church, is picking up steam around the world. Sleeman, an 80-year-old Catholic convert from Clonakilty in Cork, Ireland, is an active member of her Catholic church. She is also the person mainly responsible for Clonakilty becoming the first Fair Trade town in Ireland and has received an award from the Cork Environmental Forum, in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to sustainability in Cork city and county through partnership and participation in the promotion of environmental care.”  I interviewed her last week over email.

Rose: What was the context for you suggesting the Mass-boycott day? What prompted you and why did the media pick it up?

Jennifer: Rose, I’m delighted to answer your questions. It is so exciting seeing the idea traveling world wide! I was aware that a lot of individuals and groups have been campaigning for equal rights in the Catholic Church and the idea of Boycott was to pull it all together. I was greatly encouraged and helped by friend who had a mailing list. It never crossed my mind that Sept.  26th is just after the Pope’s visit to England. I have been wondering a lot why I decided to risk it and why now — is there a spirit at work?

Rose: Other than the media, who has responded to your call?

Jennifer: I have had the most fantastic support from both women and men. Letters (proper ones on paper!), cards, emails, phone calls. 99.9% positive.

Rose: What are your plans for Sept. 26? Will you gather with others?

Jennifer: I don’t know what I will do on the 26th.

Rose: Is there any message you’d like to send to Catholic women around the world?

Jennifer: We are the majority. Together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews will be noticed. I would love the focus to go away from me and onto all women and men who see the great need for change in the Church. If people have ideas to gently reinforce the message, go for it.

The movement to “boycott Mass” for justice for women in the Catholic church may not be the perfect instrument. But in the language of social movements it would be considered a “weapon of the weak” — a nonviolent way that a subordinate class wields power over a a dominant power structure that purports absolute control (See James Scott and Karl Gaspar). Sleeman’s call is not only for justice for women but fits in a stream of actions and speeches that are geared to confronting the “restorationist” movement happening within the institutional hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

South African Catholic bishop Kevin Dowling described it this way:

“Restorationism: the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the ‘opening of the windows’ of Vatican II — in order to ‘restore’ a previous, or more controllable model of church through an increasingly centralized power structure; a structure which now controls everything in the life of the church through a network of Vatican congregations led by cardinals who ensure strict compliance with what is deemed by them to be ‘orthodox.’ Those who do not comply face censure and punishment, e.g. theologians who are forbidden to teach in Catholic faculties.

Lest we do not highlight sufficiently this important fact. Vatican II was an ecumenical council, i.e., a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed and implemented by all, from the pope to the peasant farmer in the fields of Honduras.”

Read Bishop Dowling’s entire talk here. And let me know if you are taking action for women on Sept. 26. I’ll add you to the map.

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Donte Manning: ‘Great to Use with Social Justice Classes’

Here’s a very heartening note I got from my Aunt JB today on my book Who Killed Donte Manning?

“Regarding your book, thanks for writing it.  I got 6 copies of it and passed them out to my sisters and a couple of friends. You have given us much to think about.  I will give a copy to the Chair of our Department to read. I think it would be great to use it in our Social Justice Classes. Your study guide in the back of the book is excellent for discussion. So a great big congratulations to you! You should be delighted to be published!”–Aunt JB

Everyone needs a cheering section! And I want to give a special shout out to Joe Ross who wrote the study guide at the back of the book.

If anyone wants to set up a study group, I’d be glad to Skype in for a session or answer e-mail questions from the group.

Richard Killmer: Why Torture is Wrong

blackwater1Torture is an assault on human dignity — both the dignity of the victim and the inflicter. While the Obama administration has worked hard to try to reverse the abhorrent policies of the Bush administration on torture, there’s still a long way to go. The Guantanamo detention camp is still functioning. The “black sites” are still hidden and functioning around the world under shadowy CIA-leadership. Rogue dictators and militias still brutalize the innocent. In other words, the insidious underside of human sin is still dismembering people and their families in hidden cells around the world.

Richard Killmer, former head of the National Council of Churches, was profiled in the digital edition of U.S. News and World Report this week. Killmer now heads up the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a leading coalition of faith groups in the U.S. trying to dismantle the torture policies. Killmer was interviewed by Alex Kingsbury in the article The Morality of Torture. This is a great piece to distribute in your church bulletins. It’s short and to the point. It appeals to political conservatives and liberals – and has Bible. Here’s a quote:

Before 9/11, there was national consensus on the illegitimacy of torture. After all, it was President Reagan who made the country a signatory in 1984 to the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, which both banned the practice and called for universal jurisdiction for its prosecution. But the events of the intervening years have changed the nation to the point where Killmer’s message is now that of a radical. “I don’t know what has gone so wrong,” says Killmer, sitting in his modest office across the street from the Supreme Court. “Whatever the political or security issues are, they don’t change the basic moral fact that some things are always, always, always wrong.”

Read the whole article here.

The DREAM Walkers: Undocumented and Unafraid

I am undocumentedThere were 250,000 people on the National Mall on Sunday to demand comprehensive immigration reform for the United States. One story that touched me deeply was that of the DREAM Walkers: Juan, Carlos, Felipe and Gaby. Four undocumented students who walked nearly 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C. to stand up for undocumented people.

“Throughout our journey, we have listened to the same repeated stories: mothers being afraid of driving their kids to school because of the ever-present fear of getting detained and/or deported, and high school seniors feeling completely hopeless on graduation date because they can’t continue their studies in higher education. We think about how millions of people undergo the same fear everyday because of their undocumented status and this has to stop. That’s way we’re walking to DC; that’s why thousands gather in DC on Sunday and millions celebrate this historic day throughout the nation.”

During their journey, nearly 25,000 people signed on (you can sign on too) to support their call for leaders to fix our failed immigration system. They also faced down the Klan in south Georgia and collected stories of uninvestigated hate crimes against undocumented workers.

These brave kids–from Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia–were brought to the U.S. by their families when they were young, have excelled in school, worked hard, and contributed to their communities. They all face the threat of being deported. They have no access to funding for going to college. So they walk in support of the DREAM Act (“Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2009”). Juan, Carlos, Gaby and Felipe chose to walk because they have run out of options. There are currently no legal pathways for them to gain citizenship, which is why they are calling on President Obama and other leaders to do everything in their power to pass real reform this year.

Here’s a 2 minute video of their trip.

More Healthcare: Leading U.S. Catholic Newspaper Stands With Sisters on Healthcare

hcr-is-pro-lifeIn more late-breaking news, the nation’s leading Catholic newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, released an editorial backing the passage of the current health-care reform bill before Congress. “Congress, and its Catholics, should say yes to health care reform,” states NCR.

This move aligns NCR with thousands of Catholic sisters and millions of lay Catholics (see Catholic Nuns Pick Up Where Bishops Fall Down) , but puts it at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops, who said earlier this week that they could not support the current bill.

We do not reach this conclusion as easily as one might think, given the fact that we have supported universal health care for decades, as have the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and other official and non-official organs of the Catholic church. There are, to be sure, grave problems with the bill the House will consider in the next few days. It maintains the squirrelly system of employer-based health care coverage that impedes cost reduction. Its treatment of undocumented workers is shameful. It is unnecessarily complicated, even Byzantine, in some of its provisions. It falls short of providing true universal coverage.

Nevertheless, NCR sees passing healthcare reform as a giant step forward in correcting a failed system and putting the country on the right track for continued improvements. NCR acknowledges that much of the heated debate as we get closer to victory will be around the abortion issue.

All sides agreed to abide by the spirit of the Hyde Amendment, which for more than 30 years has banned federal funding of abortion. But the Hyde Amendment applies to government programs only, and trying to fit its stipulations to a private insurance marketplace is a bit like putting a potato skin on an apple. Pro-choice advocates could not understand why a government that currently subsidizes abortion coverage through the tax code should balk at subsidizing private plans that cover abortion in the insurance exchanges the bill establishes. They have a point. Pro-life groups understandably worry that opening the door to federal funding of abortion, even indirectly, risks further encroachments on Hyde. They have a point, too.

NCR also addresses the diverging opinions this week between the pro-passage stance taken by Catholic Health Association and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby representing more than 59,000 Catholic sisters and the anti-passage stance taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I appreciated NCR delineating the different roles each sector plays.

[The Catholic Health Association] actually knows how health care is provided at the ground level. The USCCB’s inside-the-beltway analysis is focused on possible scenarios, many of them worst-case scenarios. The U.S. bishops’ conference is right to worry about such things and the sisters are right to put those worries in perspective.

In the final analysis, NCR reiterates that the current legislation is not “pro-abortion,” and there is “no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill.”

What is being debated is not the morality of abortion but the politics of abortion, concludes NCR, and there is plenty of room for honest and respectful disagreement among Catholics about politics. Amen to that!