Durham CAN

It has been brought to my attention that what I have written about politicians in this summer’s Sunday school quarterly could leave some folks with the impression that I don’t believe it is possible for elected officials to act in the public interest.

I could make the excuse that Amos and Micah both are occupied with oracles against the leaders of Judah and Israel. However, their own words are not intended to be a condemnation of any who would govern. Instead, they objected to how these leaders governed. I had not by any means meant to suggest that “politician” and “public servant” are necessarily mutually exclusive terms. Neither do Amos and Micah seem to support the idea that those who would lead are necessarily unjust and self-serving.

So in the midst of the more readily found stories of malfeasance, I would like to share a hopeful example of what community leadership can be: Durham CAN. (“Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods.”)

Last night, my husband joined folks from all over Durham for a meeting convened by Durham CAN. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss plans to make Durham a better place for everyone. Not vague plans, but concrete policy suggestions – specific proposals for affordable housing (including proposed building sites and blueprints), specific proposals for fair paying jobs, and specific proposals for improving police-community relations. Government officials came to the meeting, having already been briefed by Durham CAN (so that they wouldn’t be blind-sided by any of the proposals). They came prepared to share their own commitments with the assembled body. Among those who spoke were Bill Bell (the mayor), Ellen Reckhow (a County Supervisor) and Steve Schewel and Cora Cole-McFadden (members of the City Council.)

My husband came home from the meeting feeling glad that we live in Durham, and feeling actually excited about certain of our elected officials. Excited on the level of, “I can’t wait to vote for that person again. They really do care about _____.”

There are some politicians who do indeed work for “justice for all.” Some of them do it once in awhile, some of them do it more often than not. Praise God! Let us pray that there would be even more of them.

Public Service Announcement: Presidential Election

I know that most of us have pretty strong ideas about whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama would be the worse leader for this country. It seems to me that a lot of people are casting votes not so much for a candidate as against their opponent.

So for my friends living in swing states: I get it. It is a tough decision. Stick with your gut.

But – for my friends who do not live in swing states: perhaps you would consider voting for Jill Stein (Green Party) or Gary Johnson (Libertarian)?

With the crazy electoral college system, you might not think your vote makes much of a difference unless you live in NC or Ohio or Florida, etc — but 5% of the popular vote for a third party is all it would take to get them equal ballot access and access to federal funding. Not to mention that it would make it harder to justify shutting them out of the presidential debates. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party each have a good shot at hitting that 5% figure this year.
That could make a tremendous difference. No matter who ends up in the Oval Office come January.
For sources, see:
The Free Independent-Sun – “Will the Green and Libertarian Party win 5% of the Popular Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election?”

Bread and Roses, Pets and Pizza

When good friends returned from a family trip to Scotland, they brought back a small stuffed Loch Ness Monster for my five year old daughter, Hannah.  That evening, Hannah climbed into bed and asked me to tell her all about Nessie instead of reading her a bedtime story.  Of course, there isn’t a lot to tell!  I was beginning to run out of things to tell her when I remembered an old story.

“A long time ago there was a holy man named Columba.  He came to Scotland to teach people about Jesus.  When he came to Loch Ness, he found that there was a monster in the lake who had been scaring people.  He talked to the monster, and from then on it left everyone alone.”

“Was it Nessie?”

“I don’t know, Bunny.  Maybe not – it was a very very long time ago.”

“Maybe it was Nessie’s grandma?”

“Maybe.”

“How did he talk to an animal?  People don’t talk to animals!”

“I don’t know, sweetie.  But there are lots of stories about saints who talked to animals.  Like St. Francis.  St. Francis talked to lots of different animals.  He told them all about how much Jesus loved them.  One day, when a wolf was bothering a village, Francis told the wolf to go back into the woods to find food, and to stop scaring the people.  And the wolf did.”

“Did that really happen, Mama?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe it didn’t.  It was a very long time ago, and the story wasn’t written down until later, after Francis had died.  But maybe it did happen!  St. Francis did love animals very much, and he didn’t let his fear bother him, because he knew that God loved him.  Loving God and being loved by God is the most important thing.  And knowing this love made Francis brave.  He shared with people who were poor, he shared everything, he helped people who were very sick…”

This brief hagiography inspired Hannah, and in a burst of benevolence she said, “I want to start a place where we give away money to poor people, so they can get the things they need.  Like a house and food and clothes and a car… and pets!”

“Pets?” I asked, not sure I had heard that correctly.

“Pets! Everyone needs a pet, so they have someone to love, and something that will love them back.”  She was matter of fact about it.  In her mind, pets are an absolute need, not a luxury.

In her conviction that pets are a NEED, not a luxury, I heard something that is all too often lacking in our political debates – the idea that everyone deserves to have everything they need – without a distinction between “my needs” and “their needs.”  If our body of laws are any indication, “I need” free healthcare for life, membership at an exclusive golf club, and at least two houses, while “they need” powdered milk and dried beans.  Instead, Hannah sees pets as an absolute need for herself – and because she believes that everyone who has more than they need should work to fill everyone’s needs, she envisions a world where everyone can have a pet who wants one.  Not to mention food, housing, medical care, transportation, adequate clothing, heating and air conditioning…

In Hannah’s “home, food, pets” formulation, I heard an echo of early 20th century anarchist Emma Goldman’s slogan “Bread and Roses” – asserting that it was not enough for the poor to have bread to eat, but they also need beauty in their lives, just like anyone else. Roses are not a luxury, but a need.  And I think Hannah, who insists on fresh flowers when we visit the farmer’s market, would agree:  Why shouldn’t everyone have flowers on their table?

I pray that Hannah will always believe that – that she will continue to understand that her needs are no more important than anyone else’s needs, that we should do all we can to meet the needs of others, and that love and beauty and companionship are needs as great as food and shelter.