I know I’ve written on this topic before, and this whole post may feel like a rerun to some of my readers. Today I stepped out of my comfort zone and spoke (up front, out loud) to our local fellowship about our complicity in the matter of Social Justice. I thank them all for allowing me the podium, and I hope all will join me this year in speaking truth to power at our statehouse.
Let’s break it down. Let’s pick one product, say Angel Soft toilet paper. Everybody uses toilet paper, yes? When we buy Angel Soft, Koch Industries makes some money. They, in turn, put money into the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Americans for Prosperity lobbying group. These two groups have created legislation, and helped to guarantee the election of men & women who would pass their legislation that destroys the system of support for the working class. Such as: establishing school vouchers and charter schools that chip away at the foundation of public education for all; blocking Social Security reform that would raise the income limit on contributions to SSI; cutting Medicare & Medicaid benefits; removing environmental regulations and restrictions that protect our natural habitat. Now, if it were just a few dollars from one brand, it would not be such a severe threat. But it’s all the dollars from all of these brands, all pooled together at WalMart and in the Chamber of Commerce that corrupt our system of government, and our purchase makes us instantly complicit.
In 2013, Democracy NOW reported that OxFam gave Nestle, along with several other brands listed above, a failing grade on the issue of food justice.
Yes, we have been duped. As we are chasing the brands that support BoxTops for Education, those brands’ owners are supporting the demolition of our public school system. Yes, as we are chasing the brands that give us a little credit toward a college savings plan, those owners are supporting the raise in college tuitions. Yes, as we purchase soap products that are (supposedly) Free & Clear, those brand owners are supporting deregulation of air & water pollution. Our grandparents & parents surely did not have this vision of concentrated wealth in mind as the middle-class expanded during the post-WWII era; that Time everyone seems so nostalgic for was funded by taxing the wealthy and establishing fair wages.
We the People have not been doing our homework.
I wish it was just silly conspiracy theory, but it’s not. And the more we dismiss it as such, the more successful the oligarchs become.
“We tend to treat changes in the economy as if they were like the weather—natural phenomena governed by forces beyond our control. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have chosen to live in a society with high unemployment and with income distribution that is becoming medieval. A tiny percentage of Americans owns most of the wealth. Meanwhile millions of willing and able people are without work. This did not just happen. We created this situation….
As people of faith who believe in the inherent worth of every person, UUs strive for justice, equity and compassion in our relationships, and work for systemic change in our advocacy.”
—Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Peter Morales
As far back as 1997, Unitarian Universalists have declared that “our work for economic justice include support for government and corporate policies that promote economic investment in the urban core and rural communities.” When we do not raise our voice against injustice, we are complicit to the crimes of greed. We the People are of no threat until we threaten their bottom line and stop the profit flow. Supporting charities through donation is no longer enough to balance the power of wealth. “I gave at the office” has become an excuse to not get involved in the real work that needs to be done. We can donate thousands of dollars worth of food to Harvesters, but if no one is helping distribute that food, it cannot get into the hands of the people that need it, and it goes to waste. If the food items we’re donating are part of the oligarchic chain, we are essentially shooting ourselves in the foot as we try to Do Good. Donating to charity to meet the increasing need in our community does not address the issue that workers need higher wages so that they can afford to feed themselves, instead of needing Harvester’s once a month. We are here in Topeka. We are in closest proximity to the Capital, and therefore we must take it upon ourselves to be the voice of justice, ringing loud! Economic injustice affects everyone. Women make up over 40% of low-wage workers, people of color are 2/3 of the low-income workforce. Business owners cannot thrive if workers cannot earn enough income to use their services. A letter from yesterday’s news also address this topic in our community, David H. states “We reward those who leverage people into poverty and punish those who actually work.”
We can no longer keep chasing our own tails in trying to keep up with the rising need of our community. While we create programs that feed the hungry, and shelter those in need, the oligarchs and plutocrats continue to cut down services and programs intended to help people out of poverty. Education, child-care, income-based housing, mental health services, and veteran’s services are all being slowly whittled away, all with the power that our purchases provide. Yes, we must vote with our wallets. Homework is due now!
“If you don’t turn on to politics, then politics will turn on you.” –Rage Against the Machine
“As Unitarian Universalists, we have a religious and moral obligation to challenge complacency in ourselves and in our communities. We commit to fighting injustice wherever we find it. We acknowledge that this may disturb our own comfort and require us to broaden our interest to include the greater good of an economically just and compassionate community. We will learn much as we do this work.” –UUA Statement of Conscience (2000)
Yes, the odds are overwhelming. Yes, it is easier to simply give in, to go with the flow of mass consumerism. But as my elders used to say, nothing worthwhile was ever easy. Zen wisdom teaches us that “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.” Ambrose Redmoon reminds us that Courage knows something else is more important than fear.
Youth and Millennials, I ask you to forgive me, and those generations before me, for not heeding the warning signs. Hindsight is always 20/20. That means, it is always clear to see what we did wrong (or right) when we look back on the past. It is the future that is murky, that holds unforeseen challenges and variables in the quest for an ultimate goal of peace & unity. Some of those challenges include overcoming fear of police brutality, the risk of imprisonment, and severe sacrifice. These challenges, and others, will require a great mindfulness. Let your New Year resolutions include knowing your Government.
Who will stand up with me?