Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Rant of a Frustrated Democrat

I have consistently said that Christians’ first loyalty should not be to any nation, political party, or cause, but to God and the Rule of God.  I am a registered member of the Democratic Party by default: my political philosophy is closer to the Greens, but we need real electoral reform before 3rd parties can be effective in the U.S. system.  But I am a frustrated Democrat.  In the past week, I have gone from moments of pride in my Party to moments of profound embarrassment and shame–often on the same day.

Reasons for Democrats to hold our heads high:

  • WE have consistently attended all minority fora and have tried to give more than lip service to racial/ethnic diversity in the party and to working for racial/ethnic equality in the country.  You haven’t seen Univision forced to cancel any Democratic debates before a Latino audience. (Univision had to cancel such a forum for the GOP because only John McCain showed up.) You haven’t seen 4 empty podiums at any Democratic forum at a historic black university as happened this week for the GOP since the 4 GOP frontrunners (Giuilani, Romney, McCain, and Thompson) all had “scheduling conflicts.” Fmr. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) had it right when he said, that he was embarrassed for the nation, his party, and for the 4 no-shows.  Question: If Republican voters nominate one of those no-shows, does this mean they believe they can ignore non-white voters?
  • At the New Hampshire Democratic debate earlier this week, I was thrilled that when Tim Russert gave the standard “ticking time bomb” scenario (so beloved by Jack Bauer fans), NONE of the Eight Democratic Presidential candidates would use that scenario to justify torture.  What a contrast: When that same question was handed to the Republican candidates earlier in the year, only John McCain–once tortured as a POW–refused to justify torture.  What a great contrast!
  • Only 4 House Democrats voted against the expansion of S-CHIP. Every Senate Democrat voted to expand S-CHIP.   This was a bi-partisan bill (indeed, the program was started by Republicans during the Clinton era!), but enough Republicans in the House voted with Bush’s compassionless conservatism to keep it from being vulnerable to Bush’s veto.

Reasons to be embarrassed to be a Democrat:

  • The Democratic leadership in Congress has not used its full muscle to end the war in Iraq.  It could refuse to pass any appropriations bill that doesn’t include a rapid timetable for withdrawal. Without appropriations, one has to bring the troops home anyway.  The Senate could make the GOP really filibuster and thus have to defend their votes against ending the war –as they are caught on camera.  They could impeach Bush and Cheney.  They could subpoena records on all war contracts and investigate and prosecute the war profiteers, beginning with Blackwater and Haliburton.  They could stop this war if they were serious.
  • That the leadership of the Senate and House even allowed the stupid “let’s condemn a newspaper ad” resolutions even get to the floor shows an inability to play hardball on things that matter.
  • Passage of the Kyl-Liebermann amendment, even after it was stripped of its most egregious language, still marches us closer to war with Iran.  Congressional Democrats are not showing much more resistance to this push toward war with Iran than they did to the similar 2002 propaganda blitz that got us into the Iraq quagmire.
  • At the same Democratic presidential debate that showed all 8 candidates stand up to torture, the 3 “top tier” candidates, those with the best chances of winning the nomination and the White House, would not commit to having all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013! What the !@#$% Yes, that’s right: When asked directly, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and even John Edwards failed to promise to have all U.S. troops out in FIVE MORE YEARS! Unless we citizens work to turn this around, Bush’s dream of a perpetual occupation of Iraq no matter who is in the White House will be a reality!  I am writing each of these “frontrunners” and telling them that this is not acceptable.

So, you see why I am frustrated.  The only Democratic candidates who are really for peace, Kucinich and Richardson, seem to have no chance of getting elected.  The “electable” 3 promise change in one sentence and give us more of the same old !@#%% in the next.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Military types like to talk about “battles for the hearts and minds” of a civilian populace.  In the same way, I have talked about the struggles within the Church(es) for the heart and soul of faith–between fundamentalism and prophetic faith.  In the U.S., there is also a struggle for the soul of our nation (nation does not equal either government or state)–about what kind of people we will be.  The same is true within both of the major political parties.  We who are Democrats are struggling over our very identity:  Are we cynics–corporate “pragmatists” who are sold out to big business globalism, lobbyists, and militarists– who struggle only for a “kinder, gentler” corporatism? I submit that is the vision of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the people who brought us the first Clinton admin.–the James Carvilles, George Stephonopolises, Rahm Emmanuels, Thomas Friedmans, Joe Bidens, and, of course, both Clintons. These are the triangulators.  The alternative vision, long in eclipse in the Democratic Party, but struggling to be resurgent is the vision of social equality and community, of power harnessed only for the common good.  This is the vision that incorporates the best of the New Deal, the evolving Bobby Kennedy at the time of his assassination , Jimmy Carter’s serious commitment to human rights and Al Gore’s to stopping catastrophic climate change.  This is the vision of a Democratic Party that wants to wipe out poverty. 

I want to belong to this second vision, but it is frustrating because the struggle goes on within Party leaders as well as between them–One sees both in both Obama and Edwards, for instance, and one never knows which will gain the upper hand. Is the secret of Hillary Clinton’s double digit lead in the polls that we already know what we get with her (the DLC, corporate clone Democrat), so we can’t be disappointed? (Depressing thought.) The second vision will succeed only if it lives most among the people–and we push whatever leaders we get to be more progressive, less corporate controlled, than they would be without that pressure.

We are the people for whom we’ve been waiting. It’s up to us.


September 28, 2007 Posted by | U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Defending the Poor–And the Prisoner

That’s the title of an excellent article by Aidsand Wright-Riggins, Exec. Director of National Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA.  It focuses on the rampant racial injustice still in the U.S. legal system–well beyond the case of the Jena 6.

September 28, 2007 Posted by | human rights., poverty, race | Comments Off on Defending the Poor–And the Prisoner

Standing with the People of Burma (Myanmar)

There are thousands of struggles for justice and peace around the world.  One cannot focus on all of them, all of the time.  But I have always had a strong sense of connection to the struggles of the people of Burma.  Maybe it’s because I am Baptist.  Baptists have been in Burma since pioneer missionaries Adonirom and Ann Judson arrived in 1814.  Because of this history, the hill peoples of Burma, the Karins and Kachins, are mostly Christian whereas the Burmese of the lowlands are mostly Buddhist–except for a Muslim minority near the border with Bangladesh. 

That Baptist-Burma connection is evident currently in the efforts of the American Baptist Churches, USA to resettle Burmese refugees.  To learn more or even participate, click here.

The current military junta, with the Orwellian name of SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Committee), has been in control since 1988 when it cancelled the results of a democratic election and proceeded to kill and jail thousands.  The symbol of the struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong Sawn Sue Chee), has not been killed because she is the daughter of Burma’s equivalent of George Washington, the national hero Aung San who led the revolution for Burma’s independence after WWII. Educated in Britain and once having worked with the U.N., Suu Kyi’s character has been shaped by her father’s fierce belief in a free, democratic Burma, and by the nonviolence of Gandhi. (She got to know Gandhi’s story intimately when her mother was Burmese ambassador to India.)

The current crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations demands solidarity.  It will be difficult for governments to put pressure on the military unless China can be persuaded to threaten to cut off their lucrative natural gas contracts with Burma. (Since it was the military government which renamed the country, Myanmar, I continue to use the older name.) One way they could do that would be if the U.S. and the E.U. both threatened to pull out of the Olympic Games–which would cost China billions–unless China pressured Burma to stop the killings and jailings.

But what can we do as ordinary people do to help the Burmese?  The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (the OTHER BPF, not the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America) has a list of vigils one can attend here.  Or you can organize your own.  Find the embassy of Myanmar in your country and organize vigils or protests there.

Sign the petition of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.  Pray for the Burmese people.  Urge your government officials to pressure Burma with diplomatic and economic tools.  Especially encourage your government to make it illegal for any company operating in your nation to sell weapons or ammunitions to Burma.  Create citizens’ boycotts of Burmese goods.  Let the military government of Burma know in every way that the whole world is watching. They cannot repress democracy forever and we will not treat their actions as “purely an internal matter.”

September 28, 2007 Posted by | nonviolence | 6 Comments