Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


My congregation and Tuesday’s Big Day of Giving!

Although religious organizations like UUSS do not participate in the Big Day of Giving on Tuesday, May 5 in the Sacramento region, you can be sure that many individual UUs from our community are participating as donors!

A wide range of local not-for-profit organizations seek special donations on this one special day:  performing arts, education, environmental, domestic violence, food and shelter, community service and children’s organizations and a few other categories.

Personally I serve on the local YMCA advisory board, and I know how important the Y is to kids, families, and seniors, especially those of low incomes.  I attend many concerts and plays in this area. They enrich our community and my own life.  I know many hardworking human service professionals and volunteers who serve important local organizations.  I admire what they do.  All these organizations make this region a great place to live.

Last year our shared Big Day generosity generated $3 million in special gifts!  This year the goal is $5 million.  It matters that we give on this day, as each organization stands to gain special matching funds and prize money (for having the largest number of givers, for example).

This Tuesday is “24 Hours to Give Where Your Heart Is!”

Add a comment below stating two or three of the local organizations close to your heart that are part of the Big Day of Giving lineup.  Learn more at https://bigdayofgiving.org/

Yours with thanks,

Rev. Roger



Occupy the Common Good: How Can We Keep from Singing?..–.. UU Sermon

November 27, 2011

Unitarian Universalist Society, Sacramento, CA

                        * * *

Justice will not be served until

those who are unaffected

are as outraged as those who are.

                        —Benjamin Franklin

                        * * *

Hymns:  We Sing Now Together (67), Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor (123), My Life Flows on in Endless Song (108).   Reading:  “The Limits of Tyrants,” by Frederick Douglass (579).  All in Singing the Living TraditionMusic:  A. Dvorak, Sonatina Op. 100, for violin & piano, 3 movements.

***

Sermon

Our scripture reading today comes from the Constitution of the United States of America.  The First Amendment:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  Here ends the reading.

Last spring a friend of mine began telling everyone of his dismay about the growth of income inequality over the past three decades.  The middle class has shrunk.  Tax rates favor the rich, changes in trade policy and labor laws have taken jobs and made low-wage workers vulnerable.  Hunger and homelessness have grown. Public education is in trouble.   Considering the devastation to communities, families and children, he said, “I don’t understand, why people are not taking to the streets.”   Just a few months later, people did take to the streets.

In the summer, a 69-year-old Canadian man, writing on the web site adbusters.org, proposed “a leaderless people powered movement for democracy.”

Occupy Wall Street started on September 17, but it had a small and slow start.  However, a week later protestors marched from New York’s Zuccotti Park to Union Square, and 87 of them were arrested.  The resulting attention jump-started the movement. It has spread to 900 cities and four continents.  Adbusters’ website, and postings from local Occupy encampments, say the movement’s goal–and its vow–is to “end the monied corruption of our democracy.”

Bear with me for just a few numbers. Since 1982, the share of this country’s income held by the top 1 percent of our population has more than doubled.  This top tier takes in one quarter of all income.  “The top 1 percent of Americans holds 39 percent of the nations’ wealth…. [In the United States], the top 10 percent of the people hold more than 70 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 50 percent hold 2 percent of the wealth.”

In the words of Gary Dorrien, a minister and professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary, “Thirty years of stagnant wages and accelerating inequality offered an opening for a populist movement demanding a full-employment economy and a curtailment of Wall Street’s speculation and gouging.”   Dorrien explains the “99 percent” slogan of Occupy Wall Street.  The point, he says, “is that the top 1 percent plays by a different set of rules and has made fantastic gains while everyone else falls behind.”[i]

As we’ve heard from billionaire investor Warren Buffet, middle-income families often pay a larger share of their personal income as taxes of all kinds than those at the higher tiers of the income ladder.  Tax breaks, capital-gains rates, complex deductions, and a ceiling on Social Security taxes all favor those whose incomes come from investments.  They disadvantage those who get most of their income from working.

In Berkeley, Davis and other cities that are home to state-supported universities, students protest the steep hikes in fees and tuition costs of the past several years.   College costs have risen several times faster than working family incomes have risen.  More and more, college operations are financed by not by tax dollars, but with student debt.

Two Fridays ago in the middle of campus at the University of California, Davis, several young protestors are sitting in the quad, arms linked together, guarding their Occupy encampment.  Campus police approach in riot gear, with batons and rifles.  The campus chancellor has sent them to dismantle the encampment, “for the health and safety of the whole campus.”[ii]

More students arrive and stand in a large circle, drawn there by phone calls, texts and other electronic messages.  As university police approach with bottles of red-pepper spray, friends call out, “Cover your eyes!  Cover your nose and mouth.”  One person cries out from the crowd, pleading with a protestor to get up and get away.  The larger circle chants, “The whole world is watching!”  It has indeed been watching—thanks to videos on YouTube.  You can hear a middle-aged woman scream to the police, “These are children!  These are children.”  You see the police lieutenant approach.  He walks up and down the line, making big red clouds with his big red bottle.  He sprays the seated students around the head, in the face.  Chants rise up from the growing crowd:  “Shame on you, shame on you!”  It’s horrific, sickening scene.

Afterward, a young man calls out, with a hoarse voice:  “You don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to do this, officer.  I swallowed pepper spray because of you.  I didn’t bring any pepper spray.  I brought no weapons.  We have no weapons.  Shame on you!”  The police arrest 10 of the protestors, and back away in a group, holding their rifles along their chests.

This movement has been sparked by frustration and fear about what kind of nation we are becoming.  Now it is fueled by outrage, growing solidarity, and passion for healing and restoring the common good of our country and our communities.  This is a movement about the moral issues that shape our common life.

William J. McDonough, formerly CEO of a large bank in Chicago, spoke about executive compensation to a group of that city’s business leaders:

“ ‘In 1980, the average large company chief executive officer made 40 times more than the average employee in his or her firm.’ [Twenty years later] the multiple had risen to at least 400 times [the average salary]….  In other words, [in] 20 years the multiple [of] CEO pay went up by 1,000 percent. ‘There is no economic theory, however farfetched, which can justify that increase,’ McDonough.  ‘It is also grotesquely immoral.’”[iii]

Such inequity and immorality is perhaps as old as humanity.  It’s certainly as old as the Bible.  Over seven centuries before Christ, the Hebrew Prophet Amos attacked elite society’s dishonor of God’s law and the oppression of the poor.  From Amos, chapter 2:  “They sell honest people for money, and the needy are sold for the price of sandals.  They smear the poor in the dirt, and push aside those who are helpless.”[iv]

Since the early 1980s, on average, working people’s wages have stagnated, and investment incomes have skyrocketed.  Except for those who invested their savings in the place where they live.  In the past three years, the recession has wiped out eight trillion dollars of home values.  Countless people have lost their homes due to foreclosures.  Even some who rent have been evicted because they didn’t know that their landlords were going through foreclosures, and banks were reclaiming the rental properties.

Some of you, or those you love, have been hit–losing a home, losing a job, feeling confused and uncertain about the future.  In every community, desperation lives just under the surface of our shared interactions.  Many people are “under water,” which means they owe more on a mortgage loan than their house is worth—lots more.

Two couples I know made the painful decision to walk away from the houses they had loved and lived in, and which they had bought at the top of a market, when loans were plentiful and “collateralized debt obligations” seemed only a boring phrase of jargon and not a house of cards.  Of course, some needed to walk away in order to move away to the only place they could get a job.  Others, facing their own guilty feelings and a surely ruined credit score, decided to scale back expenses, get out from under mortgages that would never end, and go into default on their loans.

A necessary part of our money-driven political system is a propaganda machine.  Run by many, and accepted by many more, for the benefit of a few, this machine tries to hide the growing injustice.   It fills political discussions with myths and falsehoods.  Here is the biggest myth:  the idea that our economy is just a self-created, self-generating entity, just a force of nature, which we must learn to live with and obey.  In fact, an economy is a structure that we build, shape and change.  The Greek root for the word economy means household, or household management. 

We shape our common household by the common choices we make about our financial and commodity markets, laws dealing with labor, property and incorporation; and by our business, personal and government spending decisions.  We shape our household by policies dealing with commerce, foreign trade, energy, natural resources, health care financing, transportation, pensions and Social Security, and educational and vocational training institutions.  We structure our economy through regulations of investment and banking systems (or the dismantling of those regulations).

In other words, the mess we are in today didn’t just happen.  Laws, court rulings and policies allowed it to happen.  The progress and prosperity we experienced from the 1940s to the 1970s didn’t just happen.  The emergence of a large middle class didn’t just happen.  People decided to make it happen.

The frenzy, the frauds and the convoluted real-estate financing bubble of the past decade or two have led us to the widespread upheaval known as the Great Recession.  It’s an outrage—and it has led people to take to the streets and college campus quadrangles.  Fear of this outrage—fear of this eye-opening, pro-democracy movement—leads authorities in some places to unjust suppression and even violence.  Mass outrage is understandable.  Perhaps it’s a necessary ingredient for our common courage.  Yet we must resist the temptation to demonize or dehumanize police officers, and well-off people, even politicians.  Demonizing undermines the principle that all people have dignity and worth.  It undermines the value–and the reality–that we are all in this together.

A few ministerial colleagues in the East Bay have been to Occupy Oakland, including the march to the Port of Oakland.  In contradiction of the depictions of Occupy Oakland by at least one of the Bay Area’s daily papers, my friends reported a festive atmosphere, with people of all ages, ethnicities, and occupations walking together.  One friend chatted with police officers as they waited in line together to use the porta-potty toilets.

Yesterday, on my noon visit to Occupy Sacramento at Cesar Chavez Park, I spoke to a retired woman standing at the corner of 10th and I streets, by City Hall.  She was holding her home-made sign.  She belongs to an Episcopal church in a suburb.  Beside her was another sign listing this region’s Congressional representatives and U. S. senators, and urging us to contact them and insist on change, insist on justice and fairness.

After that conversation I crossed over to the Occupy encampment and spoke with two women at the information table.  They told me about the General Assembly, open to everyone, every day at 5:30 p.m, except for Tuesdays, when they attend Sacramento City Council meetings.

After wishing them well, and thanking them for being there, I went up to three police officers on bikes in the middle of the park, near the fountain. “How’s it going?”  I asked.  One officer answered:  “Lackluster.”  With only a few of the daytime-only tents and information tables in the background, he said that the big crowds of earlier days are not so regular now in Sacramento.  When there’s a big national event, more people will come out here.  He said that if I go to Facebook and look up Occupy Sacramento, I can keep informed and then come to the park for special events.  Before heading home, I said, “Thank you for being here.”

I can feel the temptation to focus my wrath on particular politicians, or cops or security guards, but when I give into this temptation, I take energy and focus away from the systemic changes we need:  changes in our campaign financing systems and changes on a Supreme Court whose majority has ruled that corporations are people, with the same rights to making campaign contributions as real people.

As I watched videos of the police pepper-spraying on the Davis campus, I couldn’t imagine myself sitting there, staying seated as the assault began.  After the spraying, an officer tried to lift a student by the arms.  The boy went limp.  In that same situation, I feel, I would have struck out at the officer—out of anger and pain.  This student didn’t move.  Surely in agony, those protestors displayed the kind of discipline—and the kind of dignity—that I have seen in news footage from the American Civil Rights movement, the freedom struggle in India, the cause to end Apartheid laws in segregated South Africa, and recent scenes from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and places all over the globe.

Another video takes place after the assault, with students confronting the officers. You can see confusion in the faces and movements of the officers.  I have a tense fear that one will fire his rifle at the yelling crowd.  One man—a Unitarian Universalist young adult and Religious Education volunteer in his church and in our district– calls for a “mike check.”  This term refers to a practice of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  In lieu of using amplification, the crowd repeats each phrase after the speaker says it.

He calls for a mike check, and the crowd quiets.  He shouts, and they repeat:  “We are willing to give you… a brief moment of peace…, so you may take your weapons… and our friends… and turn and leave…  You can go.  Please do not come back.”   The rows of campus officers begin to back away, holding their rifles across their chests.  A few students walk toward them, some yelling with glee.  I worry that the police will react with more violence.  They keep going.  Students cheer at their moral victory.  They chant:  “Whose University?  Our university!  Whose quad?  Our quad!”  This is a tension-filled 10-minute video.

It remains to be seen what kinds of changes Occupy Wall Street will initiate or deliver.  It is a self-proclaimed “leaderless movement.”  It’s not another political campaign or progressive organization—there are plenty of those already.  It is a populist movement that deliberates, makes demands, and engenders new conversations all over the land.

It gives me hope.  I’m glad people are talking about economic democracy again, finally.  I am inspired at the courage of the protestors.  They may be leaderless, but they are disciplined and committed to the principles of democracy and non-violence.  And with such discipline, everyone can be a leader.

Another Davis video was taken the next day, after dark.  It follows campus Chancellor Linda Katehi as she walks from her office to her SUV, with an escort by her side.   Seated on both sides of the walkway are students, all the way down.  You can see them from scattered flashlights, and from press photographers’ flashes.   For three long minutes you hear only the click of the chancellor’s shoes on the concrete, and the snap of cameras.  The students stay silent in their witness of her departure.  A few reporters ask her questions, and she responds, but the students remain silent.  Are you afraid of the students, one asks.   “No,” she says quietly, “no.”

None of those protestors is dangerous. They have no weapons.  Well, they are a danger to the way things are, to the status quo and to our complacency about the decline of the common good in this country.  Their courage speaks volumes.  As this kind of courage becomes more common, change becomes visible.  Change becomes visible, and it becomes real.

For me, the message of Occupy Wall Street is that we are all in this together.  We have more in common than we used to think we do.  We have each other in common.  Your wellbeing is tied up in mine.  My wellbeing is tied up in yours.  You are my common good, and I am yours. The 99 percent is my common good, and the 1 percent as well.  100 percent of us.

We the people are the common good.  That’s how the U. S. Constitution begins:  “We the people….” We are all in this together.  Amen.


[i] Gary Dorrien, “The Case Against Wall Street,” in Christian Century, November 15, 2011, p. 22.  Most of the article is available only to subscribers, but you can read an interview with the writer at http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-10/savvy-occupiers

[ii] “The Latest from UC Davis,” on Alas!  A Blog, November 27, 2011.  This posting includes a “frustrated student’s” annotation of/response to the chancellor;s letter after the police action.  It also includes videos of the pepper spraying and the two episodes mentioned at the end of the sermon.  See http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/11/22/the-latest-from-uc-davis/ – more-14503

[iii] John M. Buchanan, “Gross Inequity,” in Christian Century, November 15, 2011, p. 3.

[iv] Amos 2.6-8.  Contemporary English Version. Biblegateway.com.



Occupy Sacramento Visit the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with a stop at the downtown library

At noon, on my way back into town after a Thanksgiving trip, I parked and walked over to Occupy Sacramento.  (I stopped at the Central Library for a book.  The front desk was busy, and the library staff eager, polite and helpful with everyone in line.  Government employees, ready to serve.  I went up to the fourth floor for a book.  A homeless man and homeless woman (or so they seemed) were talking at a table and taking their pick of some winter accessories (gloves, hats, a Santa cap, socks) lying there, new with labels on them.  There are always a lot of homeless folks in the library–resting or reading, staying warm or dry, killing time or looking for work.  By this pair was a short, young woman of color in a black and yellow security guard uniform.  Contracted labor, not receiving civil service protections or benefits.  I met her eyes and said hello, and she responded.  The pair finished and wandered off.

Homeless people also hang out in Cesar Chavez Park downtown.  That’s where Occupy Sacramento takes place.  (By the way:  the large bronze statue of Chavez was made by artist Lisa Reinertsen, daughter of a beloved late member of our church.)

A few tents hugged the sidewalk on one end of the park, across from City Hall.  On the other side of the street, several folding chairs sat on the lawn of city hall, with signs posted around them calling for an end to money’s control on politics and the end of personhood status for corporations.  At the corner of the intersection a gray-haired woman stood with a big home-made sign on posterboard with slogans and a quotation from Barack Obama from those pre-election days. I said hello and asked her how things were going.  She comes out when she can on a part-time basis.  We introduced ourselves.  She’s a member of an Episcopal church in a suburb.  I told her about my ministry and my congregation.  She said, “The police should be out here with us, rather than arresting us.  They are part of us.”  I asked if there had been arrests.  She said yes, but didn’t know what they were charged with.  She said their trial date is Dec. 13, though she had heard the District Attorney was dropping the charges.

She spoke of her concerns about corporate personhood and the big banks.  She knows several families who have lost their homes to foreclosure, including one in-law.  Soon she introduced me to her husband as he walked up with a cup of carry-out coffee.  She asked:  “Did you move your money to a local bank a few days ago?”  I told her I already use a credit union.  Her husband said they do as well, but noted that hundreds of thousands of people did move their bank accounts. She had been part of the march to the downtown Macy’s store yesterday (Black Friday, the biggest and longest shopping day of the year.)  She had said a few words there but had not gone in, but reported that some others had.

I thanked her for being out there and said goodbye, then crossed the street to the tents and tables on the edge of the park.  Behind this area stood a number of young adults, chatting.  A couple of electricity generating motors chugged along.  Two middle-aged women sat at the information table with fliers, a pumpkin-shaped piggy bank for donations, a petition.  I added my signature to the 500-600 already there.  She gave me a flier about the Facebook, Twitter and Livestream media sites for Occupy Sacramento.  She pointed out the U-Haul truck, which is being subsidized by at least on donor.  She told me they need sleeping bags, tents, food, water, first-aid supplies, and cash donations.  I told her where I was from, that several church members had been out here and at occupations in other towns and cities, and that I planned to give a sermon about the movement.  She was polite but was not bowled over by this news.  I suspect she has seen plenty of faith-community leaders and members in the past few months.  She gave me a flyer announcing the General Assembly, “5:30 p.m. Every Day in Cesar Chavez Park.   She told me it happens every day except Tuesday afternoon, when folks attend the City Council meeting.    I thanked her and her friend for being here and wandered past the other tents and displays.

I walked toward the center of the park.  Next to the fountain in the center three male Sacramento Police officers were mounted on their bikes, but stationary.  I said: “Good morning, officers.  How’s it going.”  All said hello, but only one spoke at length with me.  The others didn’t contradict him or add to what he said.  The occupation had become lackluster, mostly a “homeless encampment.”he said.  When a national event would take place, a larger crowd will come, but the local group is not very good at organizing.  We talked at length.  I learned that staying overnight at parks is not allowed, and Occupy volunteers take down the tents every night and set up camp again every morning.  (Hence the U-Haul.)  The sit-in across the street, on City Hall’s lawn was not allowed at any time, he said, but the city is allowing it.  Indeed, tents are not allowed in a park at any time, “but we’re letting them do it.  They’ve been good to us, and we’ve been good to them.”  He said,  “The organizers have been good” in dealing with the police.

He said, “Too bad you came down here for nothing [to see.]” He told me to  “follow it on Facebook under Occupy Sacramento,” and I could find out when special events will take place and more protesters are likely to show up.  I said, looking at all of them, “Thank you for being here” and they said goodbye, and I went on my way.

The flyer says General Assembly is

  • A time for the public to meet and share opinions in their own words.
  • A place to spread the message of how e plan to discover how society can function better… the problems we all face and the solutions we may find.
  • A chance to share what Occupy has experienced in the previous 24 hours and to inform everyone about what is being planned in the near future.
  • After these discussions we hear proposals on specific things people would like to make happen and take a vote to democratically decide what will be our next actions.
  • All are welcome to listen, speak and vote.
  • Anyone my propose bi-laws [spelling original] and have them passed, regardless of it if is their first General assembly or their 36th.  Bi-laws determine how future General Assemblies will function.
  • There is much to be learned when we share personal stories, events of other places and individual ideas in an open and respectful meeting.  This problem is complex:  We need perspectives.  YOURS! 
  • Join us was we pursue the healing culture of feeling free to express our beliefs.

 

 



UPDATE/Change for Sunday services, Nov. 27– “Occupy the Common Good” plus Dvorak sonatina, 3 movements!

Sunday, Nov. 27—sermon title change:

Occupy the Common Good:

How Can We Keep from Singing?

Rev. Roger Jones, Family Minister

The Occupy movement spans from Wall Street to the nearby Cesar Chavez Park.  Demonstrators of all ages have shown energy, anger and also joy in their persistent protesting for economic fairness, yet the government seems too fearful to hear the message–or at least to heed it.

The UC-Davis campus and many cities have shown both fear and cruelty in police attacks on non-violent protestors, to our horror and heartbreak.

What’s the religious good news out of all this turmoil, tumult and strife?

Special Music x 3 —  Sonatina Op. 100 movements 1, 3, and 3, by Antonín Dvořák.  Violin: Mary Blanchette.  Piano: Rachel Kang.  They have been rehearsing this work on the last few Sundays for the prelude, special music and postlude.  Please plan to keep conversation to a minimum so others can enjoy the prelude.  (The rooster’s crow will announce when it’s time for the prelude.)

My apologies to those who anticipated the sermon “Thanksgiving for Atheists.”  (Recent events call for a sermonic response!) As an alternative, may I suggest the January Adult RE course on Atheist Spirituality?  Sign up at Connection Central.

I heard on the radio that Loaves and Fishes was hosting an open-invitation turkey dinner Tuesday for about 1,000.  I also heard their executive director report that overall services are up 10% over last year.

So it makes a difference that we share half of our Sunday morning offering with Loaves and Fishes, which  “feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless. … an oasis of welcome, safety, and cleanliness for homeless men, women and children seeking survival services.” Thank you!



Unitarian Universalists and the Occupy Movement

Peter Bowden’s UU Growth Blog covers this very well, so start there!