Archive for February, 2012

Leader’s message, March 2012: Sisters, We Still Have a Long Way to Go!

February 15, 2012

When my daughter was born, I “time-traveled” back to all the consciousness-raising sessions on my college campus, Equal Rights Amendment rallies in Washington, DC, “Take Back the Night” walks in Manhattan, and Planned Parenthood house meetings in Brooklyn. There were myriad marches, petitions, and conferences. I hoped that my daughter would grow up in a world that recognized her equality with her brother, that they could meet life’s challenges with the same opportunities, and, for the most part, my hopes have been realized. Both children earned college degrees; it was the economic downturn, not her gender, that prolonged my daughter’s search for work. But I still worry more about my daughter’s safety than my son’s because I know that her gender makes her more vulnerable. We still haven’t taken back the night for women, and our rights continue to be threatened, especially during this presidential campaign.

Women’s rights are not guaranteed throughout our nation. Because there is no ERA, individual states can pass laws that restrict our freedom. The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, states in section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It was understood to grant equal protection and suffrage to former slaves – African-American men, and – with the word “male” in section 2 – to explicitly exclude women.

Nonetheless, Susan B. Anthony registered to vote in Rochester, NY, and cast her vote in the presidential election of 1872, for which she was arrested and convicted. She refused to pay bail, but a judge released her anyway when another judge set a new bail, and the first one paid it. The United States v. Susan B. Anthony, which she lost, is a milestone case of how the Constitution does not apply to women.

Here’s another milestone case: In 1886, the Supreme Court ruled, in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, that corporations are “persons” under the 14th amendment. It still has not recognized women, not completely. It took the 19th amendment, ratified in 1920, to give women the right to vote, but suffrage was the only right we gained. Corporations enjoy more protections from state laws due to “personhood” than women do. It makes a difference where a woman calls home. And, should a Republican be elected president, her freedom would be threatened throughout the nation, not only in terms of reproductive choice, but also basic health care. Last month’s battle between Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen won’t be the last time that conservative politicians practice misogyny.

And what if a woman decides to start a family? As Dina Bakst, a lawyer and founder/president of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, recently wrote, “Few people realize that getting pregnant can mean losing your job. Imagine a woman who, seven months into her pregnancy, is fired from her position as a cashier because she needed a few extra bathroom breaks. Or imagine another pregnant employee who was fired from her retail job after giving her supervisors a doctor’s note requesting she be allowed to refrain from heavy lifting and climbing ladders during the month and a half before her maternity leave.” And yet that’s just what is happening here in New York State and other states because there is a gap between discrimination laws and disability laws.

This gap could easily be filled by the Equal Rights Amendment or a Supreme Court that would apply the “personhood” of the 14th amendment to women. We comprise the majority of humankind, yet minority rules apply to us. Every hard fought step towards equality is never completely won; we must be vigilant and safeguard it.

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Leader’s message, Feb. 2012: Occupy Faith – and Voices

February 15, 2012

On a blustery day in January, I stood in City Hall Park with interfaith colleagues to mark the two-year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission with protests and a call for an amendment that would reverse the court’s century-long application of the 14th Amendment to corporations, making them “persons” for due process and equal protection. In a 5-to-4 vote in January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations also have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech, clearing the way for corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. 

As snow and sleet pummeled us, and Parks Department plows encircled us, we sang and chanted, holding up signs that read: “Corporations Are Not People,” “Money Is Not Free Speech,” and “This is what a real person looks like.”

Why did we members of Occupy Faith, one of many Occupy Wall Street (OWS) working groups, care so much to expose ourselves to the elements? Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent, expressed it best:

“Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

He was concerned that the majority decision’s approach to the First Amendment would “promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve,” crippling “the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.”

President Obama’s statement read: “The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

Last month the New York City Council joined localities across the country in passing a resolution opposing the Supreme Court’s decision and supporting an amendment to the Constitution to provide that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or rights of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.

We are now witnessing the influence of so-called “super PACs” (political action committees) that can raise unlimited sums of money to mount direct attacks on candidates and advance the outcome of a political issue. In the spirit of an Occupy Wall Street “teach-in,” political satirist Stephen Colbert registered a super PAC called “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” with the Federal Election Commission and is demonstrating how it operates, to the delight of his viewers and the consternation of his detractors.

I have also joined Occupy Voices, a new OWS working group that is reviving protests songs of past struggles and composing new ones. How inspiring it was to lift our voices in song! Here are lyrics, sung to the strains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” that we introduced last month:

Corporations! Corporations!
We’re so happy, we so sunny ’cause we’ve got money.
Corporations! Corporations!
We got our share and we don’t care if it’s not fair.
For the Supreme Court of our great nation
Made us people, made us human, made us persons.
Corporations!
Now we can buy the votes when we need them.
We get our say, we get our way, ’cause we can pay.
Corporations!
The power in the world is become
Connected with the banks and those who fill
The corporate ranks.
And we shall reign forever and ever!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Tax loopholes, political goals, screw those in need,
Bank bailouts and rules to flout,
Top one percent, we’re heaven sent.
And we shall reign forever and ever!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Leader’s message, Jan. 2012 – Making Resolutions Ethical – and Lasting

February 15, 2012

New Year’s resolutions: We all make them in earnest – and break them in shame. It’s a tradition that we can’t seem to shake. Weight loss and exercise are often involved, a consequence of indulgence and sloth over the winter holidays. Driven by perfectionism and humbled by fallibility, we soldier on for a few months until spring releases us from the bonds of resolution into the arms of sunshine and blossoms – and some residual guilt.

I wonder: If we could break this cycle of setting unrealistic goals and disappointing ourselves, would we experience ourselves differently? Would we then treat others differently? I learned a mantra from a Children’s Sunday Assembly teacher at the Brooklyn Society years ago: “When I’m kind to myself, it’s easier to be kind to somebody else. When I’m mean to myself, it’s easier to be mean to somebody else.” She sang it softly, with slow hand gestures, and invited the children in her class to add their own words. Silly, angry, loving.

“The mind,” said my friend Hindu monk Pandit when he joined us last month for a session of “Ethical Mindfulness and Inner Peace,” “can be our best friend or our worst enemy. We are quick to judge others, and even quicker to judge ourselves. When we nourish our minds with meditation, we can let go of the past and the future, and bring awareness to the present.” It starts with breathing, filling our bodies with air and releasing it, appreciating the gift of life – unbidden and unearned, ever precious.

This New Year’s Day, I have decided to reflect upon the past, not in terms of goals met or unmet, but in a more expansive, inclusive and loving way. When was I really present to myself and others? What did I experience and learn? How did I influence other people in my life? For resolutions to be ethical and lasting, they must be intentional and life-enhancing. At their best, they address the needs of our mind, body, spirit and relationships; in other words, our whole selves intricately connected to other lives and the world we temporarily inhabit.

Perhaps the most significant fact of our lives is our mortality. Some people live in denial of that fact; others seek comfort in the hope of eternal life other death; still others choose their own time to die. It can inspire hedonism and altruism. It can also offer us an opportunity to create meaning in our lives and to resolve to conduct ourselves ethically.

We may well resolve to lose weight and exercise more. Why? Is the goal to conform to an idealized image of physical beauty? Is it to live more healthfully? Will we make friends at the local Y? We may also wish to learn another language, take dance lessons, or join the Peace Corps. Understanding our intention is critical to making resolutions we can successfully fulfill. It starts with listening, being attentive to our own needs and accessible to those whom we love.

And what is it that we need? To feel needed, to believe that what we do with our lives matters, and to engage in relationships that make other people’s lives better. We can resolve to do just that every day – not just on special occasions – by being present and aware, by connecting to the best in ourselves and seeking the best in others. It takes practice and support. That’s where community comes in. Intentional ethical community offers myriad opportunities to experience ourselves as people of worth choosing to attribute worth to others.

This year resolve to participate more in programs offered by the New York Society. Learn about the issues that challenge our mutual welfare and environment; stand up for democratic values that are threatened by the privileged; and find a home in a community dedicated to ethical ideals.

Leader’s Message, January 2012: Making Resolutions Ethical – and Lasting

February 15, 2012

New Year’s resolutions: We all make them in earnest – and break them in shame. It’s a tradition that we can’t seem to shake. Weight loss and exercise are often involved, a consequence of indulgence and sloth over the winter holidays. Driven by perfectionism and humbled by fallibility, we soldier on for a few months until spring releases us from the bonds of resolution into the arms of sunshine and blossoms – and some residual guilt.

I wonder: If we could break this cycle of setting unrealistic goals and disappointing ourselves, would we experience ourselves differently? Would we then treat others differently? I learned a mantra from a Children’s Sunday Assembly teacher at the Brooklyn Society years ago: “When I’m kind to myself, it’s easier to be kind to somebody else. When I’m mean to myself, it’s easier to be mean to somebody else.” She sang it softly, with slow hand gestures, and invited the children in her class to add their own words. Silly, angry, loving.

“The mind,” said my friend Hindu monk Pandit when he joined us last month for a session of “Ethical Mindfulness and Inner Peace,” “can be our best friend or our worst enemy. We are quick to judge others, and even quicker to judge ourselves. When we nourish our minds with meditation, we can let go of the past and the future, and bring awareness to the present.” It starts with breathing, filling our bodies with air and releasing it, appreciating the gift of life – unbidden and unearned, ever precious.

This New Year’s Day, I have decided to reflect upon the past, not in terms of goals met or unmet, but in a more expansive, inclusive and loving way. When was I really present to myself and others? What did I experience and learn? How did I influence other people in my life? For resolutions to be ethical and lasting, they must be intentional and life-enhancing. At their best, they address the needs of our mind, body, spirit and relationships; in other words, our whole selves intricately connected to other lives and the world we temporarily inhabit.

Perhaps the most significant fact of our lives is our mortality. Some people live in denial of that fact; others seek comfort in the hope of eternal life other death; still others choose their own time to die. It can inspire hedonism and altruism. It can also offer us an opportunity to create meaning in our lives and to resolve to conduct ourselves ethically.

We may well resolve to lose weight and exercise more. Why? Is the goal to conform to an idealized image of physical beauty? Is it to live more healthfully? Will we make friends at the local Y? We may also wish to learn another language, take dance lessons, or join the Peace Corps. Understanding our intention is critical to making resolutions we can successfully fulfill. It starts with listening, being attentive to our own needs and accessible to those whom we love.

And what is it that we need? To feel needed, to believe that what we do with our lives matters, and to engage in relationships that make other people’s lives better. We can resolve to do just that every day – not just on special occasions – by being present and aware, by connecting to the best in ourselves and seeking the best in others. It takes practice and support. That’s where community comes in. Intentional ethical community offers myriad opportunities to experience ourselves as people of worth choosing to attribute worth to others.

This year resolve to participate more in programs offered by the New York Society. Learn about the issues that challenge our mutual welfare and environment; stand up for democratic values that are threatened by the privileged; and find a home in a community dedicated to ethical ideals.