Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pro-Choice and Pro-Labor and, Therefore, Truly "Pro-Life"

On this Labor Day Weekend I want to tell people that I am Pro-Choice, Pro-Labor, and Pro-Union.  That makes me in favor of the “right to work.”  I am for life, all life.  So, why am I considered anti-life? Against the right to work?  Oh, I know the convenient rhetoric. It is all in how you frame the argument. But that’s just the problem. I am appalled by the rash of regressive legislative proposals to restrict women’s reproductive health choices. I am a feminist.  Even a radical feminist.  And that makes me radically pro-life.  In fact, on this Labor Day weekend, I recall vividly the 20 hours of labor I went through in giving birth for the first time.

And, while I am remembering, I recall the relatively small, but significant scholarship I received from the local labor union when I graduated from high school years ago.  I wrote a thank-you essay on why a collective approach to workers’ rights is needed—for the whole community.
Therefore I also am appalled by the continuing regressive moves to crush the labor movement and proud of the efforts in Wisconsin and Ohio, and other places (with varying results), to keep it alive.

We have heard speeches and seen placards of those who want to protect the unborn.  We have witnessed abortion providers harassed, even murdered, under the banner of “pro-life.” We continue to experience the hypocrisy of the very people who say they are “pro-life” being quick to go to war and against gun control.
Labor Day has come to mark the end of the summer season (even though many students have already returned to school).  It marks the beginning of the political season (even though that began over a year ago). Thousands of people probably have no idea what Labor Day really signifies. Initially proposed in 1882 to honor the contributions of workers, unclear if by a machinist who was secretary of the Central Labor Union or by a man from the American Federation of Labor, it became a holiday first in the state of Oregon in 1887 and then in 30 states before it became a national holiday. That happened in 1894,  during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, six days after the end of the Pullman Strike during which workers were killed. Health and safety of workers are still issues. I am pro-life in the deepest sense of the term.

While hundreds of thousands of people are trying to get back to work, the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows.  Figures show the shrinking of the middle class.  Those who would cry “class warfare” only try to hide the reality of the disparity between economic classes.  Sometimes we hear that people want to make a “decent” wage.  A strange term. Are those who make a lot of money “decent,” while those with a low income “indecent”?   That stereotype prevails: dirty faces, lazy.   I know from working in varied neighborhoods that it often takes more work to live as a person who is poor than it does to live with a comfortable income.  So I am pro-life, pro a “living” wage.  Pro the gift of holy work and Sabbath rest.  I am in favor of Labor Day honoring the contributions of all kinds of workers. I am in favor of increasing the minimum wage so that  people can live on it. That means pro life-giving work opportunities for all and not blaming the poor for being poor.  That means not telling work-myself-up-by-my-own-bootstrap stories of success as though everyone can become wealthy.
And I am for responsible partnership in planning for new life.  Yes, that means being for “Planned Parenthood,” both for the concept of choices and for the organization.  I am for women and men laboring together to bring life into this world, raising children, nurturing the world’s children, and sustaining life, life on the planet and the life of the planet.  Why is that so hard to grasp?  It seems so reasonable, to responsible, to natural and so communal. That’s a Labor Day worth celebrating together.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Race, Religion, Women, Economic Privilege ARE the Issues, so Let's Talk about Them

The line was long, but it kept moving, and although the sun was warm, the air was finally cooler than it had been for so many hot weeks. Thousands of us were entering the outdoor arena by the Mississippi River to hear the President and the First Lady.  We passed a small group from the opposing political party with their banners.  Well enough.  But one sign bothered me: “Mr. Obama, this is a Christian nation.” You see, I am a Christian, and I was headed in the opposite direction. And the President and First Lady are Christians, as were many of the thousands being protested.

And “I am a Sikh,” I say, since the August 5 shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, where 6 were murdered and 4 more wounded.

Howard Fineman, Editorial Director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, in his blog of August 17, “Why Obama-Romney Debate Will (Continue to) Be Vicious,” gave a list of some of the reasons this has become the most abrasive, personally accusatory presidential campaign in modern times. He said that “Race and religion are sure to surface as corrosive forces.” That is so true!

While campaign strategists daily try to get back “on message,” I find the issues have a very basic core. Whatever surfaces, underneath are systemic, interconnected issues of domination and oppression. We need not label or avoid, but talk about them.  For example, these mid-August days:

A Pennsylvania Judge upholds voter suppression laws: Keep the right to vote in the hands of a few and exclude mostly people of color, the aged, and those with disabilities.

A man is named to be a candidate for vice president with extreme repressive views on women’s rights and women’s bodies: Keep power, or return power, to male leadership (a position held by some segments of Christianity).

Paying taxes to support our common life together in this country is considered only a private matter:  The success of the individual is supreme over the welfare of the community.  

To point out the growing divide between the rich and the poor in this country is chided as racist or class warfare: Withhold political power from people without economic power. Keep “freedom” for those who have benefitted from privilege.

The ones who want to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system ironically accuse the Affordable Health Care Act: Healthcare is the right of those who can afford it; the poor, including the elderly poor, can be forgotten.

In these Mid-August days, children across this land are getting ready to start school again, and in some places already have, but serious budget cuts leave classrooms with fewer teachers and resources:  “I will care about my own children. Your children are not my concern.” Voucher systems can replace public or community schools.

The shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin faded from the news, even before the normal “news cycle” ran out. A national news reporter revealed she had never heard about White Supremacist groups. Meanwhile there have been at least seven cases of vandalism and attacks on Muslim mosques, a home and a school since August 6 across this country from Chicago to Lombard, Il, to Joplin, MO, Oklahoma City and Ontario, CA: This country “should be, Mr. President, a ‘Christian nation’.” Violence against “other” religions is tolerated and hardly newsworthy.  

I am a Sikh.  I am a Muslim.  I am poor. I am rich.  I am a woman. I am my brother. I am my neighbor’s child. I am the person who will lose my voting rights. I am……  I am called to identify with each person in this nation, in this world. I am called as a Christian to free the oppressed. Christ already has.

There was a long line to hear the president speak here in Dubuque on the banks of the Mississippi a few days ago.  He said, as he has said before and will continue to say, “This election is not about two presidential candidates, or two political parties.  It is about two fundamentally different views of this country.”

I passed by the sign which tried to tell me I was not included in that person’s view of “Christian.” But his sign cannot exclude me. My call to be a Christian in this pluralistic society is to identify with the poor, to work to assure that women are regarded as people with full rights regarding their own bodies, to include the excluded, to work for all to have voice (and vote), to educate my neighbor’s children, here and around the world, to assure that people of all races and religions are safe from violence and empowered to live fully in community.  Let’s talk about it.  Let’s work for it.