Peace & Justice Blog

Stay up to date on peace and justice issues, both locally and internationally, and learn how you can take action.


 

A Perfect Storm

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

The next time I meet Mitch McConnell in the fresh vegetable aisle at my local Kroger store, I will say I am glad we both like healthy food, but I really want to talk about the health of the nation. We are starving for leadership. We are starving for leaders who put the common good before partisan “victories.

On your desk, Senator is a bill from House leadership sent two months ago. This bill will continue to provide $600 a week for those unemployed until January.  Without this money, you will not find them shopping at Kroger. This bill will also help those facing eviction. States and cities running out of financial resources would receive much-needed help.

As we move forward in the “perfect storm” — a monster pandemic, the effects of systemic racism, and economic collapse, we need to face our quicksand reality and “speak up” and “stand up,” using John Lewis’ model.

In this bleak scene, there are 21 million unemployed in the United States, or an estimated 47.2% according to CNBC.  Millions face eviction, and over 155,000 have died from COVID 19.

In response to this crisis, the Republican party leadership has proposed the following bill:

  • No money for food assistance
  • $8 billion in funding for weapons, including $686 million for F-35 fighter jets.
  • No hazard pay or safety standards for workers
  • A sweeping corporate immunity proposal that threatens the lives of workers
  • No extension of the federal moratorium on evictions.
  • Significant reduction of enhanced unemployment benefits
  • No meaningful relief for state and local government.
  • Under-investments in COVID-19 testing and health care— even while there is a push to reopen schools and businesses.
  • Renovations of the West Wing and a new FBI building

According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, between 19 million and 23 million families across the country that pay rent are at risk of losing their homes by September 30.

As more “essential workers” continue to serve a country in crisis, we  need to be “essential citizens” who call or write our senators to urge passage of a bill that leaves no one behind, a bill that focuses on the most vulnerable, a bill that is truly “pro-life.”

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

John Lewis – Presente’

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

As I write this blog, thousands of tributes are recognizing John Lewis as an icon, giant, hero, “the conscience of Congress.”  This son of sharecroppers faced challenges at every turn, with racism as the theme.  He respectfully listened to his mother ask him “not to get in trouble,” but made the goal of his life to “get in good trouble.”

In 1956, he went to his local public library to get a library card and was told, “The library is for whites only, not for coloreds.” This event served as a catalyst for “good trouble,” addressing systemic racism every step on the way.  Sixty years later, John Lewis was awarded the National Book Award in 2016 for MARCH – Book 3.

All of us who are left behind receive patrimony from John Lewis—the gifts of courage, determination, resiliency, and the ability to forgive.

In 1965, Lewis joined hundreds in attempting to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge calling for an end to police brutality.  He suffered a fractured skull, but the blood spilled only fueled his determination to keep going, never give up, never give in.  Later he would be approached by the man who beat him. The man asked for forgiveness, and without hesitation, Lewis gave it. Courage, resilience, forgiveness came easily.

If you were keeping count, John Lewis was arrested 45 times, most recently on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. For all who hold this as an issue demanding our full attention, we have a voice that says, “Stand up, speak up, and never give in.”

In 2016, Lewis led 40 representatives in a sit-in on the House floor, seeking to force Congress to address gun violence following the Orlando massacre.  He called for universal background checks, elimination of military-style assault weapons, and high capacity magazines.  This was met with criticism and ridicule from across the aisle. As Dominicans who have taken a stand on gun control reform, his message to us is, “Keep it up.”  One cannot get in too much “good trouble.”

I was sad when John Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer late last year.  Using an appropriate metaphor, he said, “We have many bridges to cross.  I am going to fight it.”  I thought cancer did not stand a chance with John Lewis.  He won the race of a life well-lived, or as David Brooks termed it, “eulogy virtues” – those characteristics that people remember after you are gone.

We are left with many struggles for justice and peace in our world that sometimes seem insurmountable.  We are gifted with words of encouragement from one who lived those words.  In his memory, I hope we will work for the passage of a voting rights bill, comprehensive immigration legislation, and civil rights at every level.

His message to us is a message for the ages:

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 15: U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (R) is presented with the 2010 Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during an East Room event at the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal, the highest honor awarded to civilians, to twelve pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“You are light.  Never let anyone or any force dampen, dim or diminish your light!  Release the need to hate, to harbor division and the enticement of revenge.  Release all the bitterness.  Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle to overcome evil has already been won.”

May we continue the legacy of “good trouble.”

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Recovering the Common Good

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

“There is nothing in the world more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”                                                     Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many of us grew up driving and riding in cars with no seat belts. But as cars got faster and more powerful, roads improved, and the number of people driving and miles driven continued to climb, the number of highway deaths became unacceptable.

In 1968, the installation of seat belts in all passenger vehicles became law. Today, 34 states have primary enforcement seat belt laws for at least the front seat driver and passengers.

According to the CDC, seat belts reduce the risk of death for drivers and front-seat passengers by 45%. In 2009 alone, 13,000 lives were saved by seat belts.

While many people complained about the assault to their “personal freedom” that mandatory seat belt laws created, sets belts have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It took 50 years, but today, more than 90% of drivers wear seatbelts. Much of that happened as younger drivers were brought up with the discipline of wearing a seat belt.

Why am I giving you a history lesson on passenger seat restraints?

Today, we find ourselves in a similar, but more dire situation, partly due to actions taken by the Administration.

In 2018, the White House eliminated the Pandemic Office of the National Security Council Directorate.  Beth Cameron, first director of the unit, stated, “This office was set up to be a smoke alarm and warn of a fire.” But that fire is now raging out of control in our nation.   In addition, $1 billion was cut from the Center for Disease Control, with additional decreases in 2019, 2020, and requested for 2021. We have entered into this current pandemic with our ability to respond crippled by our government.

The COVID-19 virus is faster, more powerful, and more deadly than any virus we have seen in our lifetime.  The common flu kills about 2 people per 100,000 in population1; as of July 2020, according to the CDC, COVID-19 mortality is 113 per hundred thousand people2. As in 1968, we are facing an unacceptable loss of life – and we have a way to reduce that by 45%. But many people feel that this solution is an assault to their “personal freedom.’

Across our nation, medical professionals, public health organizations, and government authorities are encouraging the use of face masks as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC has even said that we could bring the spread of the virus under control in 4-8 weeks if everyone who can, would wear a mask. If you need further proof, consider this news story from a few weeks ago: Two Missouri hair stylists who were showing minor symptoms cut the hair of 139 clients. The stylists wore masks, as did their clients. When they were tested, the stylists were horrified to find out that they were positive … but there has not been one case as a result of that exposure.

Unfortunately, a certain portion of the population – and of the government – have made this into a political issue, with public protest, retaliatory actions, and criticism in the press for those who wear or encourage the wearing of masks.

In Texas, Florida, and Arizona and other states, cases have spiked to as high as 75,000 in one day.  The U.S. has lost more than 144,000 citizens, with nearly 4 million more infected. If we could find a way to reduce that infection number by nearly half, a little inconvenience or a lot of political propaganda should not stand in the way.

As citizens, we are called upon to respect the rights of our neighbors – including their right to stay healthy during a pandemic. As Christians, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, which may mean the occasional sacrifice – even a small one like wearing a mask – to benefit those around us.

Crippled by a lack of national leadership, we are facing an unacceptable loss of life. We have a way to slow it down, but we don’t have 50 years to wait. For the good of our country and our neighbors, in accordance with our democracy and our faith, it’s time for EVERYONE, from the White House to the house next door, to put politics aside and do what’s right. WEAR A MASK!

 

 

 

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/flu.htm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Words (and names) Matter

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Dan Snyder is a man of strong opinions and an inflexible resolve to stand his ground when things are not going his way.  For many years Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has made it clear that he does not intend to change the name of his team, telling USA Today in 2013, “We’ll never change the name! …It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

Enter Fed Ex, Nike and Pepsi.  Shareholders in these corporations recently voted to withdraw support for the Washington Redskins if a name change does not happen.  Now CEOs are scrambling to “get on the right side of history.”  In 1998, Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, paid $205 million for naming rights for the stadium.  Without a name change, Fed Ex will withdraw financial support.  Nike has removed Redskins’ athletic attire from its e-commerce web site, and Pepsi will withdraw its financial support.  Now Smith is saying “The word “Redskins” remains a dehumanizing word, characterizing people by skin color and as a racial slur, with hateful connotations.”  Really?  For many years activists and Native Americans have called for change.

The corporate heads of Fed Ex, Nike and Pepsi did not have an Epiphany, nor did Dan Snyder.  There have been many “Come to Jesus” virtual conversations.   It appears that money matters more than principle.

Now that culturally respectful language is front and center in the sports world, it’s time for a “sweep” to show respect for all people of color, of rejecting racist stereotypes.  Now the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins need to make a decision to whether to continue using racist mascot names or embrace respect for all cultures, races, and nationalities.  How would it feel to read, “Chicago Caucasians 14 – Washington Redskins 7 in the sports section?  Words matter.  Words hurt and words heal.  Can those with power move on from decisions based on money to decisions based on principle?

This conversation about names needs to happen in colleges, high schools, pro and semi-pro teams.  In 2013, 2,129 teams in these schools had Native American names, with 13 choosing “savages” as their team name.

What impact has demeaning sports mascot language had on Native Americans?  Michael Haney, Seminole activist, told the Chicago Tribune, “As long as white America feels that Native Americans are not quite human, that we can be construed as mascots, caricatures or cartoon figures, then they will never deal with the issues of education and economic development for our people.”

This is a time for revolution of cultural values, attitudes and norms.  And this is not a spectator sport.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

“All communities and persons across the nation should live in a safe and healthy environment…To the greatest extent practical and permitted by law…each federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental efforts programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States.”

                                                                           President William J. Clinton
1994, Executive Order

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

How do climate change, COVID-19 and racism come together?  Cities around the country are asking that question.  If we eliminate COVID-19 from consideration, we find that in cities with large numbers of African Americans and Hispanic, those people of color live in highly polluted areas of those cities.

In west Louisville, the American Synthetic Rubber Company exceeded legal emissions of a particular toxic chemical, which increased the risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness for disadvantaged communities with a large African American population.  Over the three-year period of 2017-2019, the company put nearly 4,000 pounds of 1,3-butadiene, a chemical compound used in making synthetic rubber that is associated with an increased incidence of leukemia. The company lost the resulting lawsuit and was forced to pay $135,375 to the city of Louisville.

Given that 80% of this toxic air pollution was released to west Louisville, often called “Rubbertown,” how will this support the citizens who were directly affected when the money was paid to the Air Pollution Control District of Louisville?

Systemic racism has enabled industries with toxic chemicals to locate in areas of cities with a predominance of people of color.  Cities in need of financial support court and incentivize these industries and often ignore environmental regulation, so methane-producing power plants are allowed to become part of the landscape, and methane part of the air that citizens breathe.

Neighborhoods near industries such as these are twice as likely to have either asthma or high blood pressure and four times as likely to have COPD.  Those living in an industrial area have higher rates of miscarriages, dementia, and lower birth rates.  Lower-income African Americans and Hispanic Americans have fewer choices in housing. Remember redlining? 

Environmental racism is inseparable from racial segregation, which is itself a result of individual and systemic racism, including public policy at every level of government.  For industry, non-white neighborhoods are cheaper to acquire.

Toxic air, water and soil are a fact of life in cities around the country.  In the last few years, weakened environmental laws have worsened the reality.  Many African American and Hispanic citizens find themselves in segregated neighborhoods, often located near plants expelling highly toxic chemicals.  This reality, coupled with high instances of heart, kidney and respiratory illness make African Americans a prime target of COVID-19.

In an era of multiple crises, we now face multiple layers of discrimination.  One solution available to us is to hold those in power accountable – VOTE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog