About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Social justice

Always buy yourself a birthday present

Billie full size

This is, to my mind, a small but important secret to a happy life. You should get yourself a Christmas present too–or one for any and every holiday you believe should be accompanied by a gift you really like.

This way, no matter how many boring gift certificates you get, or flowers that are already wilting, or chocolate that’s bloomed, or clothing in a size from 10 years ago or a size you have never yet worn, you can smile pleasantly and think of the really satisfactory present you’ve already gotten. From you.

This was mine this year–posted per Hannah’s request to see the frame. (You can also see that the world did not lose a great photographer when I decided to write.) I was in San Jose on business around my birthday, and after dinner I wandered into the Bruni Gallery. This print of a Billie Holliday portrait–after a famous photograph–spoke to me. For awhile anyway, despite a difficult and painful life, she raised her voice and used it to call attention to injustice (which seems a weak word for lynching), singing the haunting “Strange Fruit” to cap every Café Society performance.

I see her doing just that every time I walk in my front door–a reminder to raise my voice in service of justice, and everything else that’s truly important.

Billie frame closeup

A great day for justice

Yes take 3

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered. –Justice Anthony Kennedy, on behalf of the Supreme Court of the United States

Just wanted to post something brief and celebratory on this historic day! I’m really thrilled that the Supreme Court did the right thing today, announcing their 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality. I was also happy to learn yesterday that my company filed an amicus brief in this case. Sixty percent of the country agrees with the Court–and I’m certain we are on the right side of history. There’s undoubtedly more work to be done on civil rights in this country, but this is a huge step in the right direction–probably the most important US civil rights milestone in my memory. (Loving v. Virginia, another key marriage equality case, was decided the year I was born.)

If you live in the US and want to show your support for marriage equality and the LGBT community who will be bearing the brunt of any backlash from the unenlightened minority, keychain tags and stickers are available from the Human Rights Campaign. Those who wished for the preservation of the unjust status quo need to understand that this decision reflects the will of the majority.

There’s so much more we need to do … but let’s savor this moment!

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Yes!

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

Say something

Fawn

Last night, following the Ferguson grand jury’s failure to indict, there was a peaceful protest here, quite close to where I ate lunch today. The protesters started their march at police headquarters, and ended it by marching onto a major highway–and then sitting down. The police appear to have done their job well–closing the highway to ensure the safety of the protesters, and remaining calm. Eight protesters were arrested late in the evening.

Due to my news blackout, I didn’t know about the protest, but as is always the case, when something important happens, I do hear about it. Several of my lunch companions were discussing the protest–all in unfavorable terms. They felt that shutting down a highway–a highway!–was taking things a step too far.

I said, Well, it sounds peaceful–was that the case? And they admitted it was, but continued to shake their heads over the highway–the highway! I began to wonder if highways were sacred in some way I had never realized …

Then one woman said, I just don’t get it. What happened in Ferguson had nothing to do with them.

Say what?!

I said, Well, I get it. There’s a huge amount of fear out there, on the part of cops and other people, and black people are ending up dead because of it. That’s just not cool.

And, of course, what’s also just not cool is that over and over, it seems to be consequence-free.

“It has nothing to do with them” is something I’ve heard before from her. It seems she has not yet taken the opportunity to learn that we are all connected–that what hurts one of us hurts all of us. She doesn’t understand why, for example, someone who has no children would be concerned about a children’s issue to the point of being genuinely upset. So I wasn’t surprised to hear this again.

But from my perspective (and I’m sure I’m not alone), if you’re black, it takes about a millisecond to make the connection: Michael Brown could’ve been my son. My grandson. My brother. Or me.

And if you’re not black, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realize, If I were black, Michael Brown could’ve been my son. My grandson. My brother. Or me. And … why is it again that in 2014, 151 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the color of a person’s skin (a temporary condition, as souls have no color) continues to be so important that it can mean the difference between life and death?

For the record, any peaceful protest of injustice, hatred, loss of life, and fear is alright by me. Please, shut down a highway. Do it early, do it often. Do whatever it takes to get people’s attention.

As you go about your business in my country or any country, as you hear people expressing fear of the (supposed) other, hatred, prejudice, harsh judgment, or indifference to suffering–and they will–I hope you’ll say something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. What I said today wasn’t perfect, but I’m glad I said something anyway. I do think it helps to speak from love rather than anger. I believe it helps to say something.

Imagine if hate were always challenged. If lack of empathy were always met with compassion. If misunderstanding were always countered with thoughtfulness. If those labeled “other” were always relabeled “one of us.”

All of that is possible–if you say something. When we say something.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card of my throat chakra totem (a fawn), Opening the gate.

How to make a difference II

Not a loan

The opposite of rich is not poor; it’s free. The more weighed down we are, the harder it is for us to move when the Spirit says move. When were encumbered by baggage such as credit-card debt, we are unable to follow the Spirit’s lead. –Reverend Lynice Pinkard

Taking on debt indentures you to do future work in order to pay for past purchases. –Cynthia Eells

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. … Ye shall not therefore oppress one another … –Leviticus 25: 10, 17

At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother … –Deuteronomy 15:1-2

As soon as I read about the Rolling Jubilee project–I think it was in Yes! magazine‘s poverty issue–I knew I wanted to be part of it. Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, buys “bad” debt that’s in collections and is being sold for pennies on the dollar–and then they forgive it, cancel it, no strings attached. Or, as the Strike Debt folks like to say, they abolish it.

They focus on debt that has been incurred for basic services like medical care and education. (Most student loan debt is inaccessible to the Rolling Jubilee due to the federal government’s role, but the project has acquired private student debt.) The kinds of things that could be considered–but in the US often are not–basic human rights.

I know what a good feeling it is to retire debt. I’ve been working for several years to abolish my own debt, and starting next month, major chunks of it will be gone–paid the old-fashioned way, I might add–I haven’t gotten creative, in case you’re wondering! Early next year, I’ll owe money only on my house–and the end of my mortgage debt, though not immediate, is in sight as well. I am thrilled, so the thought of bringing freedom from debt to other people who may have despaired of ever having it, is really nothing short of awesome. I unequivocally love the idea.

According to Rolling Jubilee’s website, one in seven people in this country is currently being pursued by a debt collector. I’m comfortable calling it harassment. Just last week, after weeks and weeks of robo-calls for Hyacinth [my last name], a human finally called and I was able to put a stop to it. I’ve also gotten calls for Helen [my last name], and a number of other people who are not me and have never been members of my household. I certainly feel harassed, and it’s not even my debt.

Critics of the Rolling Jubilee have said that its approach doesn’t reduce the debt burden because it’s “bad debt” being discharged. This seems to me a banker’s view, not a people’s view, of the matter. It seems clear to me that those who owe the debt are unable to pay it–but the harassment of the attempts to collect that debt, and the felt burden of that debt, are no less real than if the debt were “good debt”–and probably both are increased.

To date, the Rolling Jubilee has discharged over $18.5 million in debt at a cost of a little over $700,000. They state that “all proceeds go directly to buying and canceling people’s debt.”

Now no doubt many people associated with the Strike Debt and Occupy movements have ideas a bit more radical than my own. I’m fine with that … I think a few radical ideas will be useful in moving our country away from the current tyranny of the 1%. And I love the idea of creating freedom from debt.

The term jubilee comes from the Bible, and as I wrote this, I wanted to refresh my memory on the details. I remembered a cycle of 7 years, and a complete cycle of 7 x 7 (49) years plus the 50th or jubilee year, when all debt is forgiven and all indentured servants go free.

Perhaps part of the reason I couldn’t quite remember the details (my family read the Bible through each year for much of my childhood) is that, like the Creation story, there are multiple different versions of the jubilee rules–one in Leviticus, one in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy presents just the 7-year cycle, with the release happening in the fixed seventh year (the Sabbath year). Leviticus presents the 50-year jubilee cycle I remembered.

I was disturbed to see that it wasn’t quite all debt forgiven, all indentured servants and their children going free (and not empty-handed, either), and all land returning to its original owner. The Old Testament writings draw a distinction between the debt your ‘brother’ owes you, or your ‘brother’ being in servitude to you, and the same being true of a ‘sojourner,’ ‘stranger,’ or ‘heathen.’ According to these laws, such others could be held in servitude or indebtedness in perpetuity. Jesus took care to correct this error with his parable of The Good Samaritan, which makes it clear that all humankind are our neighbors, our brothers.

Isn’t that just the problem … those who wish to enslave us by having us forever in their debt don’t see us as their brothers, their neighbors, their landsmen, but as entities or objects to be used in their own enrichment. I think one of the beautiful things about the Rolling Jubilee debt buys is that they are blocks of debt, the individual debtors completely anonymous and unknown until after the buy is complete. Some of them no doubt would be recognizable to me as ‘brothers’ in Old Testament terms … people who share my ethnicity. And yet there is no doubt that every one of them is my neighbor.

If you’d like to contribute, you can do so here. (The original How to make a difference is here.)

What would Jesus do?

Speak out against hate and injustice whenever and wherever you see it. –Morris Dees, Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center

Tonight I came home to find my alumni magazine had arrived. I flipped it open to the letters, which are always interesting.

A couple issues back, the first news of a same-sex alumni wedding appeared, and the letters for and against commenced. Those in favor, of course, see this as no particular big deal–simply another step as the country evolves and legalizes marriage equality state by state. Those against are more fired up.

In this issue, there were several letters against, none for. As usual, alumni were citing Christian values as a reason not to publish this news.

I decided it was time to fire off a letter of my own …

Thank you for publishing all alumni news, including all wedding news. I would expect nothing less of The University Magazine. I want to know what’s going on in the lives of everyone I knew at University, regardless (need I say) of sexual orientation.

I see that the current University Student Handbook states that “University does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, or covered veteran status, or any basis protected by law, in any phase of its employment process, in any phase of its admission or financial aid programs, or in any other aspect of its educational programs or activities.”

It appears that several other alumni are asking you to violate university policy in the name of Christianity–that is, in the name of Christ. I often think Jesus needs to be divine to bear with equanimity all that is done in his name.

Thank you for following University’s anti-discrimination policy, which I suspect is quite similar to Jesus’s anti-discrimination policy.

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