About the Author
Kat Liu

Banned Books Week

I was perusing facebook yesterday when I discovered that it is Banned Books Week. Sponsored by the American Library Association and held during the last week of September, the event seeks to celebrate the First Amendment while spotlighting actual and attempted book bans across the U.S. I’m all for reading and against banning books and even expected some of my favorite books to be on the targeted list. I was a little surprised, however, to see my favorite book of all time on the list, the book that has probably influenced me more than any other (aside from Dr. Suess).

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

I read it for the first time in junior high, and then reread it and reread it. I watched the movie at around the same time and ever since then Atticus Finch has been my ideal of what a man is supposed to be – intelligent, rational, compassionate, willing to do the right thing even at risk to oneself.

Let me acknowledge that I am a vocal critic of Hollywood’s “great white savior” stories, movies where white (usually) men go into communities of color and lead them to a success that they apparently could not accomplish on their own – whether it be inner-city school kids or Native Americans or Japanese samurai. And if “To Kill a Mockingbird” were set in modern times with Atticus cast as such a savior, I would be appalled. But the reality of history is that there was a time when there were no or few black lawyers in this country, and the only legal defense they had was via representation by a white lawyer, whether the lawyer cared about justice or not. And in the end, Atticus was no savior. The fact that Atticus proved Tom Robinson’s innocence beyond any reasonable doubt and yet Tom was still convicted by an all-white jury drove home to me the devastating injustice of racism. It was the lynching of another black man carried out via the orderliness of a court proceeding. Writing this now, it sounds so naive. Of course I know that our court system is riddled with systemic racism. But it was “To Kill a Mockingbird” that first made it real to the 10 year old me.

One cannot think of “To Kill a Mockingbird” without thinking of race. Race is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the social justice implications of the book. But the novel deals with many other issues as well. There is Boo Radley, the person in the neighborhood who is “different,” of whom the neighborhood kids tell stories, and who is the subject of childhood pranks and teasing. Scout and Gem are good kids but they spend a fair amount of time engaged in such activities. How amazing is it then when it’s revealed that it is Boo Radley who saves Gem and Scout from harm towards the end? And how interesting it was that the sheriff and Atticus conspire to protect Boo from criminal proceedings, and my 10 yr-old brain agreed with their decision, agreed that the law serves justice, not the other way around.

And of course, the entire story is told from Scout Finch’s point of view, a little girl with whom I could very much identify. Scout runs around in jeans, climbs trees, and is entirely unfazed when she is informed that “You’ll have a very unladylike scar on your wedding-ring finger.” She does not consciously try to rebel against prescribed gender roles; she simply is who she is. Moreover, Scout talks to adults as if they are her equals, not her superiors, with neither disrespect nor rebellion. She simply believes in her own inherent worth and dignity. And Scout being who she was told me that it was ok to be who I am.

In so many ways, I cannot imagine who I would be if I had not read “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a child, if it had been banned. Take a look at the list of classics that have been targeted or successfully banned at various times. Chances are good that some of your favorite, life-shaping stories have been deemed unfit for print. What would the world be like, what would you be like, without them?

Van Jones, Green Jobs, and Health Care

If you are like me, you were angry when Glenn Beck started attacking Van Jones, worried when the White House voiced only tepid support, and horrified when Van offered his resignation over the Labor Day weekend. From my perspective, it all seemed to happen so fast. In reality, Beck had been attacking Jones for nearly a month. However: 1) I don’t watch Glenn Beck and only know what he’s saying when others tell me; and 2) My attention had been distracted by the health care “debate” being waged across the country – from angry crowds to painted swastikas to congressmen hung in effigy to guns being publicly brandished where the president is scheduled to speak.

Right now, I kind of feel like the clueless tourist who gets her pocket picked because I was too busy gawking at a staged diversion that I failed to mind my purse. Let me elaborate on this analogy:

  1. It would be a mistake to view the health care debate and the climate change/clean energy/green jobs debate as two separate issues. They are both part of a larger struggle.
  2. It would also be a mistake to think that our victories cannot be subsequently taken away from us if we do not remain vigilant.

The billions of dollars in funding for green jobs as part of the stimulus package is one such victory. Van Jones coming to DC to oversee how the money is spent was icing on the cake, but the most important thing was and is the green jobs themselves – the audacious plan to combat global climate change while at the same time providing pathways out of poverty for lower-income class families.

Ultimately, that is what we are working for – economic justice, “REdistributing the wealth” back to the middle and lower classes after decades of it being accumulated in only a handful of the wealthiest households – what Van Jones during his Ware lecture called “the Green New Deal.” Although it is not explicitly “green,” health care reform is part and parcel of the Green New Deal, as it would be a similarly significant move towards greater economic justice. And whether it’s the oil industries or the insurance industries or the stock-holders to whom they are accountable, they are united in opposing our success.

In the wake of Van Jones’ forced resignation, we can talk about the role of racism, we can talk about how Glenn Beck targeted Jones as revenge for Color of Change’s effective campaign against Beck. We can talk about a lot of personal motivations for what happened and we may be correct. But as much as Unitarian Universalists adore Van Jones and take a personal interest in his well-being (I know I do), we cannot make the mistake of focusing just on Van. The attack on Van Jones was but part of a larger attack on green jobs, and ultimately on the economic reforms which we seek. If you don’t believe me, read for yourself the words of the man responsible for Van’s departure (and I don’t mean Glenn Beck):

“Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions. ” – Phil Kerpen, Fox News, Sept 6th

So what do we do now? There is a danger that the Senate may be so absorbed by health care reform that it will drop climate change/clean energy legislation. Some voices have even suggested that pushing for a climate/energy bill might jeopardize health care, intimating that we must choose one or the other. What we must do now is remember that the distraction going on over there is actually related to the pickpocket over here. We can’t let the spectacle of “astroturfers” or hate-spewing talking heads distract us from the real goal, the struggle for economic justice. For those of you who are as mad as I am about what happened to Van, the sweetest revenge that we can take is to pass meaningful climate change/clean energy legislation that funds green jobs.

Climate Change-Energy Debate Moves to the Senate

On June 26, 2009, while many of us Unitarian Universalists were gathered at General Assembly, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. The projected vote was so close that we felt compelled to interrupt the scheduled business of GA and ask participants to use their cell phones to call their Representatives. ACES (or the Waxman-Markey bill, as it is more commonly called) passed that day, 219 to 212. When news of its passage came there was joy, relief, and regret. Joy for what was a historic achievement, a comprehensive overhaul of our energy policies, and an important first step to addressing the pressing issues of climate change. Relief because the victory had been hard fought. And regret because the bill that passed was in the end much less than we had hoped for.

Shortly before ACES was voted on, I wrote a rather long blog post reflecting on how it had gotten to be that we were supporting a bill that has some admittedly serious flaws, and why it was important to still act. At the time, I already knew that the fossil fuel industries had been spending tens of millions of dollars to weaken and/or derail the bill. I knew that some of the claims (such as skyrocketing energy costs for families) were outright lies preying on fear. But what I didn’t know was that one of their lobbying firms had resorted to even greater levels of deception. Using the names and letterhead of organizations of color, Bonner & Associates sent fraudulent letters to at least three Representatives, urging them to oppose ACES. One of the organizations that they impersonated and misrepresented was a local chapter of the NAACP; the NAACP supports ACES because of the green jobs it will create.

We are up against opponents who will lie and commit fraud in order to maintain their lucrative stranglehold on our nation’s energy sources. But we are also up against our own apathy. The most painful thing that we had to admit on the eve of the historic vote was that, honest or not, our opponents had been out there making their views known to the people who were going to cast the votes and we had not been. I don’t mean to say that our side did nothing. Organizations like 1Sky and others worked hard to not only get the bill passed but to insert key strengthening amendments that made it more just. And UU groups from the UUA to the State Advocacy Networks joined them. But most of our efforts came in the final push. When talking to staffers of various Representatives, what we heard over and over again was that they had not been hearing from us during the process – during the deliberations in committees, while measures were being put in and taken out. They had not heard from people who wanted the bill to be stronger. They had heard from people who wanted it to be weaker or didn’t want it at all. So what we got was a weaker climate-energy bill, and we almost didn’t get one at all.

So why am I reliving these past mistakes now? Because the conversation isn’t over. ACES passed in the House on June 26th. The conversation now moves to the Senate, which has said that it will use ACES as the starting point to draft its own version. And once again the fossil fuel industries are spending tens of millions of dollars to further weaken and/or derail the process (and using dirty tricks). We need to be out there telling our Senators that we want climate change legislation, and we want it to be even stronger and more just than the version that passed in the House. What’s more, we need to be out there explicitly as Unitarian Universalists. Rightly or wrongly, our elected representatives listen more attentively to constituents who identify themselves as people of faith. And for the most part right now, they are hearing from self-identified religious people who oppose climate change legislation. They must hear from us too.

Act Now:

August 10th begins the Senate summer recess – a time when your Senators come home to listen to you (so that you don’t have to go all the way to DC). Get some members of your congregation (and/or team up with neighboring congregations) and welcome your senators home to your beautiful state. Remind them that you are their constituent, and then tell them that it’s crucial that they pass strong and just climate change legislation as soon as they get back to DC. The simplest (and possibly most fun) way to do that is to attend a 1Sky beach party. 1Sky is holding “welcome back” parties for senators across the country on August 10th. If you can’t make that date, you and fellow UUs can schedule an in-district visit later in the month.

Let your senators know that as a Unitarian Universalist, someone who believes that we are part of an interdependent web of creation, it is our moral imperative to pass effective and just climate change-energy legislation now.

Reassure them that a comprehensive climate-energy bill will preserve the environment, free us from dependence on fossil fuels that compromise our national security, and create millions of jobs in a new clean energy economy. It’s win-win.

Tell them that Unitarian Universalists respect science, and the science tells us that we need to cut carbon emissions, at least 20 percent by 2020.

Tell them that the bill must limit offsets to no more than 10 percent of the emissions cap. Anything greater would compromise the effectiveness of the cap and put undue burden on communities of color.

Tell them that UUs stand on the side of economic justice and therefore, they need to maximize the number of allowances used to create clean energy jobs and train workers to fill them. The Senate bill must also maintain (or improve) the transition assistance that the House version has.

Tell them you want stronger a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). Urge them to:

  • Co-sponsor S. 433, Senator Tom Udall’s “25 by 25” RES
  • Support Senator Schumer’s stand-alone EERS Amendment (based on S. 548

If you simply cannot make it to your Senators offices, we understand. Use 1Sky’s online tool to fax your senators. Do what you can and please do it soon.

Resource:

Grist magazine is tracking where your senators stand on climate change.

Lessons Learned from Climate Change Legislation

Almost one year ago at the Ft. Lauderdale General Assembly, Van Jones challenged us in his prophetic Ware Lecture, “Prepare to Govern.” The presidential elections had not yet happened, but Van predicted that change was in the air, and that we who have been outside protesters would suddenly find ourselves as inside leaders. Prepare to govern, instead of protest. What adjustments would we have to make, not just procedurally but also mentally, in order to take up the task of creating a more perfect union, rather than just critiquing what was wrong with the current one?

A case in point could easily be climate change legislation. Last year, when the Lieberman-Warner “America’s Climate Security Act” was coming to the Senate floor, a few in the environmental community were tempted to support the bill. It’s hard to stand against a climate change bill when one is so desperately needed. But the bill did not cut emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently (according to the recommendations of the scientific community) AND it gave billions of dollars worth of pollution credits to industries while providing very little assistance to low to middle income families. With a president in the White House that, up until recently, had denied that global climate change was an issue and the bill having been introduced by senators with no credentials in economic and racial justice, it was easy to be the “protester” and say that we likely could have a better, more just bill after the elections. Instead of supporting the bill, the UUA, along with the UU State Advocacy Networks, decided to put our energy behind a “climate change principles” letter being circulated by Representatives Waxman (CA), Markey (MA), and Inslee (WA). We encouraged representatives to sign on, thereby setting the groundwork for strong and just climate change legislation in the near future.

The Lieberman-Warner bill died in the Senate, victim of a filibuster. In November, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. In December, Representative Waxman staged a “coup” of sorts, replacing Dingle (MI) as chair of committee on energy and commerce. Because Dingle’s constituency is heavily dependent upon the fossil fuel industries, he has historically been hostile to climate change legislation, whereas Waxman has been a proven advocate for both environmental and economic issues. In February, the new president’s stimulus package was passed with billions of dollars going into green jobs. Obama picked Van Jones to be the person in charge of overseeing the funding. Suddenly, we had several government officials who seemed to know that environmentalism must go hand in hand with racial and economic justice. It seemed like a tide had changed and the right people were in key positions in order to make effective and just climate change legislation a reality.

In March, Waxman and Markey introduced their own bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA). It had many good things about it. But there were also things that were less than perfect. At coalition meetings we were told that even though Waxman was now chair of energy and commerce, the committee itself still leaned to the right of the House of Representatives in general in the matter of climate change. So, we were told, the strategy would be to make concessions now in order to get the bill out of committee and then improve the bill later with amendments to strengthen it. The outside protester would have been… protesting, but we were part of the “in” crowd now. It was our allies who were in power and they were sharing their reasoning with us, reasoning that made sense. So.. we praised representatives Waxman and Markey (rightfully so) for an ambitious bill, spread the word that a good comprehensive climate change bill was coming, and waited.

In the mean time, the fossil fuel industries spent tens of millions of dollars to make changes in their favor. When the bill did leave the committee last week, it was even weaker than originally written.

This week, we’ve been told that complex negotiations were made in order to get a version of the bill that had the votes to pass in the House, and the bill’s sponsors (Waxman and Markey) and Speaker of the House (Pelosi) were afraid that any substantive efforts to improve the bill would cause the compromise to collapse. Therefore, no substantive amendments will be allowed on the floor of the House. Moreover, as it stands no representative is willing to attach their name to a substantive amendment AND no members of the progressive caucus are willing to vote against the bill. No one wants to be the person to derail the only climate change bill on the table, so there is no bargaining power to renegotiate. As I met with an interfaith “envirojustice” working group yesterday, almost everyone around the table was stunned. “So…,” I said, “last year I asked UUs to refrain from supporting Lieberman-Warner because it wasn’t effective enough and it wasn’t just. Am I supposed to one year later ask them to support a bill that is not much better (and even worse in some respects)? Just because Waxman and Markey are the sponsors?”

Many around the table were wrestling with similar questions. The facts were that Waxman and Markey said that this was the best bill that they could deliver, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. Last year, we had many reasons to believe that we might be able to get a stronger bill this year. This year, we have no reason to believe that conditions will be more favorable next year. If anything, with midterm elections coming up, there is the danger of the reverse. And every moment of delay means more greenhouse gas pollution being released into the atmosphere. As we continued to discuss, different voices kept coming back to one thing – that representatives had not heard from many constituents telling them they needed to strengthen the bill as it was being considered, so they thought that the bill was ok. (Whereas they were getting plenty of pressure to weaken it.) The conclusion was inevitable: we had failed to mobilize our grass roots.

When Barack Obama won the presidential election last November, we at the Washington Office had told ourselves that while things would definitely be different with someone in the White House whose socio-political views are more closely aligned with ours, there would still be a lot of work to do. Just because we elect a leader whose vision we like doesn’t make it a given that the vision will be realized. But when it came to climate change legislation, many colleagues and I in the environmental justice community – both religious and secular – had made this mistake. Because we had allies in charge of the legislation, we had trusted them to come through for us with strong legislation. But they could not give us strong legislation if we did not have people telling the other representatives that they need to agree. In the absence of that collaborative effort, the bill we have now is the best that they could give us.

Prepare to govern. It was relatively easy to understand that governing meant that we were no longer outside protesters. But in retrospect, it was not so easy to identify what to do in its place. It was not so easy to understand that there was still just as much a need for activism, for grassroots mobilizing, for vigilance in holding our elected leaders accountable. But as Van Jones has said, there needs to be “holding” in holding our leaders accountable. Instead of just telling them what we think is wrong, we need to put forth the vision of what would be right and to make space for it to happen.

In that light, we’re not giving up just yet on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Please contact your representative; acknowledge that a climate change bill is desperately needed this year, but it also needs to be a strong, just bill. Urge them to:

1. Ensure more clean energy by increasing the renewable electricity standard (RES) to 30 percent by 2020.

2. Hold polluters accountable by giving the EPA authority to regulate carbon emmisions.

3. Reduce free pollution permits to fossil fuel industries (worth billions of dollars) and use the revenue gained to create more domestic green jobs in America and help both domestic and international communities adapt to the global climate changes.

The House of Representatives switchboard number is: 202-224-3121. OR you can fax your representative through 1Sky’s website.

Sharing a Family Secret

When Mom passed away recently, her niece, my cousin, flew into town for the funeral. Later that evening as we sat around the dinner table, my cousin asked questions about her aunt. Most of the stories that my dad told in response were ones that I had heard many times before. How Mom’s and Dad’s respective families had fled the communist takeover of mainland China and landed in Taiwan. How some family members on both sides had been left behind as the curtain descended. How they had met each other while working for the Taiwan post office. How they had immigrated to the U.S. as masters students at Brigham Young University. And how I was the first baby born to the community of Chinese students there – quite possibly the first Chinese baby born in Provo, UT.

Almost as an aside, Dad mentioned something that I had never heard before – that he and Mom had once been divorced. My grasp of Mandarin is not the best so at first I figured that I had simply misunderstood him. But as he continued talking, it became undeniable that I had heard correctly. Although married in Taiwan, Mom and Dad had divorced, immigrated to the U.S., and then remarried again. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” my dad explained, “U.S. immigration officials would not grant visas for married couples. They only gave visas to single students.”

I immediately understood why. Prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there was a strict quota based on nationality that discriminated blatantly against Chinese and other immigrants of non-Western European origin. U.S. immigration policy sought to “preserve” the county as a “white” nation. The U.S. would not have granted student visas to a Chinese married couple as they would be much more likely to have a child while in the U.S., who would then pave the way to permanent residency and citizenship. I sat there at the dinner table stunned both by the revelation of a family secret that I had never known and also by the lengths to which my parents were willing to go in order to get into the U.S.

As the daughter of immigrants, I have always been sensitive to public anti-immigrant sentiment and its racial overtones. It doesn’t matter that public ire is currently directed at immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. I know that blame was once directed at people who looked like me and could easily be so again – all it takes is a spy plane incident or a weak economy to turn us from “model minority” to “yellow peril” – just as it has been directed at successive waves of people who looked and acted differently.

Indeed, as I look at the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S., I can see many similarities with the situation facing immigrants from Latin America today. Chinese immigration started in sizaeble numbers in the mid-19th century because of work available on the railroads and in mines and the lack of economic opportunity in the homeland. Their growing numbers stirred anti-immigrant sentiment even as the railroad and mining industries happily took advantage of their cheap labor. (Does that sound familiar?) The Chinese were accused of being too insular, keeping to themselves, and unable to assimilate into “American” culture. (Does that sound familiar?) Chinese migrant workers were ambushed, beaten and sometimes killed. (Does that sound familiar?)

Anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment culminated in the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act,” the only law passed by Congress that bars immigration and naturalization based on race. By the 1920’s, the Chinese and eventually all Asians except Filipinos (because their homeland had become a U.S. colony) were prohibited from marrying whites, owning property, and/or becoming citizens, and subject to a slew of other degrading and racist laws. While I don’t expect things to get quite that bad ever again, the actions of authorities like Sheriff Arpaio make me wonder.

Most people nowadays would argue that the immigration debate isn’t about race at all, but the rule of law. “Illegal aliens are criminals because they’ve broken the law.” It may be easier for someone whose family has been in country for generations and is not viewed as “foreigners” – most likely a white family – to say that undocumented workers are “breaking the law.” It sounds so objective, unbiased, fair… But that ignores the fact that the law itself is unfair. If the law is written such that it makes it a lot easier for one group to “obey” the law than another, then there is something wrong with the law. My parents did not do anything “illegal” per se but they took drastic steps in order to circumvent the intended purpose of the law at that time… because they knew that the law was discriminatory and unjust. To what extent would someone go who does not have the privilege of applying for student visas?

My parents took the drastic measures that they did so that they could give their future children a better life. And I am not just referring to the divorce. They left their friends and family, their native soil and their culture, all for the sake of their children. Other parents right now are going to even greater extents – braving deserts and vigilantes, breaking the “law” – driven by the same love for their children and a desperation to provide for them what they know they cannot in their homeland. We are all (or nearly all) immigrants or descended from immigrants here, no matter how long your family can trace its roots in the U.S. And all because our ancestors were looking for a better life for their progeny.

Our Last Days with Mom

Two days before I was supposed to fly to San Francisco for my father’s 80th birthday, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcenoma of an unknown primary. (For you non-medical types, that means she had cancer of the epithelial cells that line our throat, stomach, intestines, and reproductive organs; it had spread to multiple locations, but they didn’t know where it had started.) When Mom – who was the opposite of a hypochondriac – had complained of not feeling well, we had of course urged her to see her doctor. That was in late January. She did not get an appointment until early March. By then she had lost weight and was having trouble breathing. Upon seeing Mom’s condition, her primary care physician checked her into UCSF hospital, where they drained several liters of fluid from her abdomen and both lungs. It took another week for the test results to come back with the diagnosis. When I got home on March 19th, Mom’s belly was distended. She could not eat. She could not have a bowel movement. She burped incessantly. Instead of a big birthday celebration it was just Mom, Dad, my brother Victor and myself in a house stiffled by worry. Mom managed to force down one small piece of mango birthday cake.

The prognosis had been 6-9 months, but Mom was always faster than anyone expected. She left us only seven weeks later, one day shy of Mothers Day.

I know that when people are grieving we often look for someone or something to blame. I know that Mom’s cancer was diagnosed very late, and even if the health care system had worked perfectly for us, Mom likely still have passed away from us too soon. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to note the numerous ways in which the health care system made what little time we had left with her that much harder for us. And all the while, I have to remember that we are the “lucky” ones who have health insurance. Mom was covered under an HMO.

First, there was the matter of the referral. Mom’s primary care physician had written a referral for her to see an oncologist. But when I called the number on the slip to make an appointment, I was informed that before we could have one we needed more tests in order to try to pinpoint the primary location of the cancer. “You can’t be serious,” I exclaimed, “She has cancer; she needs to see an oncologist immediately.” The woman on the other end of the phone “explained” that “all the oncologists at UCSF are highly specialized,” some specializing in lung cancer and others in colon cancer, etc. Without knowing the “primary location” of the cancer, she did not know which oncologist to refer Mom to. After a little more back and forth, it became clear that I was not talking to a doctor, but an HMO bureaucrat, one that had the power to decide whether my mom could see a doctor or not.

Two additional tests were required. When we tried to schedule these tests, we were given appointments three weeks later. Three weeks for the test, another week for the results… a month. And in the meantime the cancer was growing every day.

At this point a family friend who is a doctor explained to us that “in-patients” automatically get priority for procedures over “outpatients,” even if the outpatients have a time-sensitive, life-threatening disease. With that knowledge, we checked Mom into the hospital in order to speed up the process. It wasn’t hard to get her admitted. Mom was now vomitting on a daily basis. But being inside the hospital presented its own challenges. Instead of familiar family surroundings, the hospital was stuffy, cramped and depressing. Mom shared a room with a woman who apparently screamed in her sleep, keeping Mom up at nights. During the day, there was little for her to do other than wait for visitors (of which there were thankfully many). It was not an environment conducive to remaining in good spirits, which is essential to maintaining health.

Over the course of Mom’s five weeks in the hospital, we saw numerous doctors – so many that we could not keep track. Different doctors looked after different parts of her. A team of oncologists conferred regarding her cancer, but would not start chemo while Mom was still in the hospital. A surgeon and his students stopped by briefly each day to check on the status of her blocked bowel, but claimed that they could not operate so they did nothing other than stop by. Every procedure, whether ultrasound or CT scan, was handled by a different department. And Mom was gurneyed from one location to another by attendees who left as soon as they reached their destination, whether the receiving end was ready or not, sometimes leaving Mom out in the hall as if she were a package. One doctor was supposed to watch over her overall health, tying it all together. But that position was filled by a different doctor each week, so that each time we started over again with someone unfamiliar with her case.

To be fair, some of the nurses and doctors were wonderful, displaying real compassion and attentiveness. But far too many were not. There was the oncologist who, when my brother mentioned that he had been researching Mom’s cancer online, shook his head in disapproval. When my brother said we were seeking a second opinion, his response was, “Yeah, good luck with that.” There was the doctor who drugged Mom into a three day delirium, prescribing one anti-nausea medication after another instead of considering that the approach wasn’t working. When we voiced alarm, we were told that it was “common for senior citizens to show some delirium,” ignoring the fact that we knew OUR mother had been mentally sharp until only a few days before. There was the doctor who, when I questioned some decisions that had been made, beligerantly suggested that I was making random acusations. There was the nurse who decided to “test” Mom’s condition by waiting to see if she could stand without assistance, despite my informing him to the contrary and despite Mom’s cries of distress.

Above all, the most frustrating thing was that once in the hospital, we were caught in a catch-22. The cancer had created numerous secondary ailments – a bowel obstruction that resulted in vomitting, ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen and lungs) which caused painful distention and hampered her breathing, and edema (swelling of the lower limbs due to poor nutrition). As long as we were in the hospital, Mom could not receive chemotherapy because chemo was for outpatients only. Nor were we allowed to try alternative treatments such as acupuncture or homeopathy because of the liability issues it presented. But without the chemo or any other treatment, Mom’s cancer multiplied unchecked, causing the symptoms that were keeping her in the hospital. As long as she was vomitting, they kept her as an “inpatient,” pumping her full of anti-nausea medications that impaired her mind and were only addressing the symptoms. It was madness.

Little by little, yet all too fast, Mom grew so weak that chemo was no longer an option, even if her bowel obstruction had spontaneously recovered. In her last days, her kidneys started to fail and in her last hours her lungs filled again with fluid. She died of respiratory failure at 6:50 am, May 9th, 2009. After talking with the doctor on call we gathered up Mom’s belongings and left at about 8:30 am. An hour later at home, the hospital was on the phone telling me that we had to come back in order to sign the release for the body. “Why,” I asked incredulously, “didn’t you tell us this during the hour and a half that we were still there?” It was indicative of every frustration that we had experienced during the last seven weeks. Only this time, they had nothing to hold over us. I refused to return. Another hour later, they called again, this time saying that we didn’t have to sign at the hospital after all and could do so with the funeral home.

I won’t go into the details of Mom’s funeral, except to say that in almost every way our experience with the funeral home was far more pleasant than with the hospital. The employees were kinder. Every person that we worked with seemed to know Mom’s case. Instead of telling us what we couldn’t do, they went out of their way to meet requests. Obviously, funeral homes are businesses and depend on satisfied customers. But shouldn’t a hospital want satisfied customers as well? As I said, I am at terms with the fact that Mom’s time here was up, but our last days with her could have been so much less unpleasant than they were. From my family’s perspective, there is little that is healing about the health care system.

Update on Climate Change Legislation – Call Now!

The following is an update on the status of the Waxman-Markey bill, written by Pam Sparr. Pam is a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, and consultant to several religious organizations on matters of climate change and environmental justice.

Representatives Waxman and Markey formally introduced H.R. 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, on May 15, 2009. This is the long awaited official introduction of comprehensive climate change legislation in this session of Congress. The House Energy & Commerce Committee is in the middle of marking-up the bill and the committee chair (Waxman) is hoping to get a vote before they adjourn for Memorial Day.

Many concessions have been made based on what was initially proposed in the bill’s discussion draft in order to cobble together the support needed among Democrats. While the religious community as a whole is eager for the bill to make it out to the floor and be passed, there are calls to strengthen the language in various provisions. Some are concerned that too strong a press to improve the language could tank the bill entirely.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Greenhouse gas emissions targets:
2020 – 17% below 2005; 2050 – 83% below 2005
These targets are not as ambitious as many would like. They are even weaker than what they appear as they use 2005 as a baseline rather than 1990, which is the baseline for international negotiations.

Cap and trade system:
The vast majority of allowances will not be auctioned; freebies phase out over time.
Giving a large % of allowances away in early years diminishes the amount of money available for distributing, including for international adaptation spending. Problems with insufficient regulation of carbon markets can create international financial problems down the road – which can be a justice issue in and of itself. Drafters of the bill have crafted language in a way that they expect free allowances to the utility sector will shield consumers from higher prices.

Ability to buy off-sets:
The draft bill enabled corporations to avoid major emissions reductions through purchasing a sizeable amount of off-sets. This problem does not appear to have been fixed in the actual legislation. The way forest off-sets are handled is a particular concern for human rights activists and environmental groups because of the history of indigenous people and forest communities. Developing countries do not want developed nations such as the U.S. to avoid making their own sizeable emissions cuts by buying their way out of things through overseas off-sets.

International adaptation funding:
2012-2021, 2% of allowances goes to international adaptation and clean tech (1% each); 4% for 2022-2026; 8% from 2027.
These proposed amounts are extremely low in the early years compared to estimates of the U.S. fair-share of adaptation spending, which would be about $7 billion annually (or more than 7% of total allowance value as the bill is currently constructed). The U. S. is legally obligated to provide this funding under international law and the faith community and other groups are arguing that the U.S. has a strong moral obligation to provide compensation for damages developing countries have already incurred as a result of climate change. Crafters of the bill have formulated a system for providing adaptation fund that end-runs the appropriation process. Writers of the bill seem to have found a way to make the stream of international adaptation funding regular and reliable over time rather than subject to the annual vagaries of the appropriations process – which had been a big concern.

Domestic adaptation & worker transition assistance:
The bill provides 2% of allowance values for domestic adaptation needs with half going to address natural resource concerns and half to adaptation purposes, for humans, including public health. Another 0.5% will go to help workers in affected industries.
It will be important to assure that low-income and other vulnerable communities receive priority attention in the use of domestic adaptation funding. The inclusion of worker transition assistance is a big win.

ACTION REQUIRED
If your Representative sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, contact her/him immediately. The House switchboard is: 202.224.3121. Both Democrats and Republicans need to hear that their constituents support strong climate change legislation. Congratulate them on getting this far on the bill and urge them to:

  • Improve the short-term emissions targets. These are below what the international community expects and what scientists feel is necessary.
  • Increase international adaptation spending. Begin with at least $3.5 billion annually.
  • Assure that low-income and other types of communities that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the U.S. are prioritized for adaptation funds.

April’s Action of the Month and a Call to Action for Environmental Justice

When the Advocacy and Witness staff group was planning out our Actions of the Month – deciding which issue we would focus on each month – it was a given that April would be devoted to environmental justice. Earth Day is second probably only to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as the highest of holy days in our UU liturgical calendar.

It was also a no-brainer that we would partner with UU Ministry for Earth and UU Service Committee on this action, as all three organizations are working to do environmental work through the lens of social justice – acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impact that environmental issues have on women, the poor, and communities of color. Often times, such issues get forgotten in the struggle to preserve the environment. As people of faith, it is up to us to keep in mind that the interdependant web of existence does indeed include humans and their/our needs as well.

So, the UUA, UUMFE, and UUSC have partnered to bring you April’s Action of the Month: Environmental Justice. If you follow the link provided, it will take you to a page full of resources for learning, reflecting, and taking action on environmental issues in ways that are mindful of the impact on the most marginalized among us. And of course there are worship materials for Earth Day Sunday, the Sunday closest to Earth Day, provided by the UUMFE. Please feel free to use the resources provided during April and beyond.

As I said in the beginning, April is the time when UU congregations are often most thinking about environmental issues. So it is a pleasant synergy that there just happens to be a great piece of environmental legislation on which to take action. Introduced on March 31st by Representatives Waxman and Markey, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” while not perfect, is the most comprehensive and strongest bill to date. It will create millions of jobs, increase energy efficiency, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, restrict greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change, and could eventually lead our country to an economy that is both more green and more equitable. But only if we can get it passed, and passed as a version that has not been watered down.

Now is our best change to enact climate change legislation that is both effective and just. A good bill has been introduced to the House by two strong allies. President Obama has indicated that he wants to be able to sign climate change legislation into law this year. And next year’s midterm elections could potentially make legislators more cautious and susceptible to industry lobbyists. Urge your representative to support the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

Wanna multiply your voice? Download the PDF version of this action, print it out and take it to church with you. Get your fellow congregants to sign the form. And then enter their information on the action page provided above. The site will automatically send emails to your congregation’s Representative on behalf of the signatories. And of course, let us know about it! (environment@uua.org)

Van Jones is Our Nation’s "Green Jobs Czar"

When the President’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed last month, $500 million was allocated to funding the 2007 Green Jobs Act (an increase of 400% over the original allocation). Since the creation of green jobs was one of the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress, we were thrilled. But we also knew that getting the money was only a small part of what needs to be done. Just as important is how the money would be spent. Who would be in charge.

With that in mind, we could not possibly be happier to hear that Van Jones has been confirmed to be the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (Green Jobs Czar has a ring to it, but that’s not his actual job title nor is it accurate.)

In our opinion, no one could be more qualified than Van Jones. Van is the founder of Green For All, an organization devoted to environmental justice with whom the UUA works in partnership. Van is author the the best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How one solution can solve our two biggest problems,” which the UUA has helped to promote. And UUs are still talking about Van’s Ware Lecture at General Assembly last year. Entitled Prepare to Govern, Van talked about a “Green New Deal” and challenged UUs to shift from protesters to leaders. To say that his presentation was well-received would be an understatement. The audience erupted into a standing ovation and Van ran into the crowd exchanging high-fives until he was finally engulfed in a group hug from young adult UUs.

Largely in response to Van’s lecture, Advocacy & Witness (of which the Washington Office is a part) made funding for the creation of green jobs a legislative priority for the 111th Congress. At the time when we set these priorities, we didn’t necessarily think it would be easy to accomplish, but we knew it had to be done, for the sake of the planet and for economic justice. Then Barack Obama was elected president, and the economy showed that it desperately needed restructuring… and all of the sudden, almost everyone is talking about a green economy, including the White House. When the Obama administration talked about lifting families out of poverty through green jobs, we all knew who had the new president’s ear and were grateful for it.

Now that it’s official, all we have to say is: Congratulations, Mr. Van Jones! Thanks for everything you’ve done so far. And we look forward to working with you as our nation continues transitioning towards an economy that is more just, more equitable, and more green.

Is Unitarian Universalism a Prophetic Church?

Any Facebook friends who’ve paid attention to my “status” will know that the recent Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministries has been on my mind for the last two weeks. Last week, my status worried that I might not make it to a session due to winter ice. This week, I’ve spent more time pondering what came out of the discussions, such as wondering “whether Unitarian Universalism can preach to both the comfortable and the afflicted in the same congregation(s).” From talking with others who attended, I know that I am not alone in being deeply impacted by the experience. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, the president of Starr King School for Ministry and a presenter at the Convocation, even mentions the Convocation (and our blog) in her e-newsletter to the seminary.

At a meeting of the First UU Church of Second Life last night, I asked fellow UUs there whether they consider Unitarian Universalism to be a “prophetic church.” This question, of course, raised other questions: what does it mean to be a prophetic church? After making clear that I did not mean a church that predicts the future, but rather a church that speaks the truth of justice to unjust power structures, we moved on to other questions. Have we been a prophetic church in the past? Are we now? Will we be in the future?

Due to logistics, the Convocation was not open to everyone, but these discussions are not meant to be limited to attendees. Essays were submitted, presentations were filmed, and a book and a DVD will come out of this for others to have the same chance for reflection. In addition, this will be taken up at the social justice track of UU University at General Assembly in Salt Lake City.

But in the mean time, I am asking our readers what I asked the UUs of Second Life: Is Unitarian Universalism a prophetic church? Do you want it to be, and if so in what way?