Responses to the State of the Union Address

Last night, President Bush delivered his final State of the Union address to the nation. The purpose of the address is to allow the President to share his/her vision of our current situations and future directions. Members of the Washington Office watched the address and below are some of our responses as they pertain to our portfolios:

After beginning his remarks on immigration with a call to secure the border, President Bush spoke about the need to create a “sensible and humane solution,” and “a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.” But those compassionate-sounding words are belied by their omission of the need for a path to citizenship for the twelve million undocumented persons living in the United States, the continuance of Operation Endgame, and Bush’s own opposition this Fall to the DREAM Act.

We cringed while President Bush mentioned the 2006 termination of “catch and release” policy. While this is a positive step, describing the treatment of human beings with a phrase usually applied to fish is another way in which undocumented immigrants are dehumanized, similar to use of the phrase “illegal alien.”

Bush also stated, “We reaffirm our pledge to help them [the Gulf Coast] build stronger and better than before.” It is scary to reaffirm a pledge that has not been upheld in the first place. Two and a half years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the area is still plagued with problems. Abysmal disaster response followed by bungled rebuilding, a diaspora, toxic trailers, and exploited workers embody one of the United States government’s most drastic failures of its people in modern times.

– Lisa

Little was said last night in relation to women’s issues or BGLT equality. President Bush chose to focus his energy on what he knows best: terror and security. However, he did make a few key comments. In regard to the discovery of adult skin cells to act as embryonic stem cells he said,

“This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life.”

Later, he then went on to speak about the need to protect Americans and continue funding for security measures,

“To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning.”

We would know what the terrorists were saying if the Pentagon had not fired upwards of 37 Arabic translators for being gay. Yet there was no mention of the harmful effects of the current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

– Grace

On global climate change, it was gratifying to hear President Bush (finally) recognize that human activity is a cause and that human action is necessary to reverse it. However, while Bush claimed that the U.S. would take the lead in addressing global climate change he offered no concrete steps to do so. It is indicative of the president’s fundamentalist faith in corporations that he thinks supply and demand will automatically cause businesses to create painless solutions to our environmental problems. Our office certainly does not question the power of American ingenuity. However, we also recognize that without government regulation of emissions, there is not enough demand to motivate the research and development of much needed solutions. If the president were serious about U.S. leadership in this area, he would propose emissions caps while providing economic assistance to those individuals and families who will be most hard hit by rising costs.

– Kat

As for peacemaking, President Bush made several comments surrounding domestic and international needs. The President asked Congress to reauthorize warrantless wiretapping, which did not did not make the Supreme Court too happy. He asked Congress to reauthorize Federal funding for faith-based initiatives and while that endeavor has its pros and cons, one phrase stood out to me. He called the millions of volunteers, NGO’s and faith-based community improvement projects in the United States the “Armies of Compassion, marching to bring in a new day.” Here is an administration so reliant on militaristic rhetoric that, in Bush’s America, even relief organizations, churches and loving neighbors have been conscripted into his war-on-evil.

With international peacemaking, there was nothing new. His efforts to stay relevant in a world that obviously cannot stand his policies led to more saber rattling toward Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. Comments about progress in Iraq and Afghanistan and promises for more in Pakistan shows his belief that peace and justice come most efficiently from behind the barrel of a gun. While he made empty gestures toward peaceful efforts toward democracy in places like Burma and Belarus, he made a promise to negotiate a two State solution in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

– Alex

In 5,795 words, President Bush did not once utter the words “diplomacy”, “diplomatic”, or “diplomat”. While not surprising, it is still a grim reminder of how far our foreign policy has strayed from any semblance of right relationship. Our support for H.R. 3797, the New Diplomatic Offensive for Iraq Act, reflects our belief that diplomacy is the bedrock of accountable and effective foreign policy. I encourage you to respond to this State of the Union Address by sending a message to your representatives telling them to bring diplomacy back into our foreign policy.

– Adam

Thirty-Five Years of Choice

Blog for Choice Day

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Roe v Wade. Thirty-five years ago today the Supreme Court determined that abortion is legal until the fetus is viable outside the mother’s womb or if necessary to protect the health of the mother.

People across the United States are blogging about the importance of choice, specifically why it is important to vote pro-choice, while others are picketing and decrying the landmark legislation. Here at the UUA we are celebrating. The Unitarian Universalist Association has been a strong proponent of abortion rights since the 1960’s and has stood beside numerous organizations in support of Roe v. Wade. Many of our congregations and members have worked tirelessly to help women obtain safe abortions. Stories will be posted on the UUA website throughout the next few months; make sure to check and read the remarkable stories about UU’s and choice.

On this historic day, let us not take for granted all that has been accomplished for abortion rights. Year after year Roe v Wade and other abortion legislation is threatened. Both the appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court and the harmful decisions about access to abortion in individual states are real threats to Roe v Wade. We must continue to support abortion rights and let people know why we are pro-choice.

I am pro-choice because I feel a woman has a right to have control over her body. I am pro-choice because I feel women are strong and capable of making good decisions. And most of all I am pro-choice because I believe a child’s life is sacred and that children should be borne into loving and open arms.

Today, share your reasons for being pro-choice and listen to women that have made the tough decision to have an abortion. Reflect on what it means to you and what it means to others.

And remember, today is a day for celebration! Celebrate in support of a woman’s right to have control over her body. Celebrate thirty-five years of struggling to keep this protection in place. Celebrate those that continue to fight for access to abortion and an end to restrictive parental notification laws. Celebrate to give us hope and strength for the next thirty-five years.

Native Americans and Federal Native Policy: A Conversation With the Faith-Based Community

At the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, we believe that the best way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is to continue to work for justice. The following blog post is offered in that spirit.

On Friday afternoon, Kat and I, along with advocates from a dozen different faith groups, met for a forum on Native Americans and Federal Native Policy organized by the FCNL. There we learned about a few of the current grim realities that Native Americans are experiencing as a result of the flawed policies and mismanagement of the United States government.

One injustice that we learned about concerns health–the infant mortality rate is 150% greater for Indians than it is for Caucasians. Indian life expectancy is six years less than that of the rest of the US population. And the suicide rate for Indians is two and a half times higher than the national average.

Tomorrow, the reauthorization of a bill to improve Indian health will be voted on in the Senate. Reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 (S.1200), or IHCIA, would update and enhance the care that Indian Health Services and Tribal Organizations are able to provide. IHCIA would provide resources for the social service and mental health needs of the Indian community, as well as medical needs.

IHCIA will be voted on tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 22) at 5:30 PM. Because we found out about this issue so late, our office did not send out an action alert; however, if you want to give your Senator’s office a call before the 5:30 vote tomorrow (the sooner the better!), then check out the National Indian Health Board’s IHCIA Fact Sheet and Action Alert for talking points.

A woman from the National Congress of American Indians told us that Native Americans are a very dis-empowered community in regards to their voice on national issues. “We had a much stronger voice in the 1970s, and the difference was you guys,” she said, scanning the room. “It was the national church organizations.” The voices of people of faith speaking to their representatives in Congress can lend strength and support to Native American organizations that are seeking justice.

In the future, I’ll try to stay attuned to federal legislation related to Native American justice issues, so that our office can give you plenty of notice for the next Action Alert. In the meantime, check out the National Congress of American Indians for ways to get involved!

Whose fault is it? The Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy scandal

Jamie Lynn Spears, 16 year-old sister of Brittney Spears and star of Nickelodeon’s hit show Zoey 101 is making waves with her announcement Wednesday that she is three months pregnant.

The media and bloggers have been adding their two cents to the issue for the last couple of days. Everyone from to The Washington Post has covered the story. I hadn’t given the news much thought until I found this article in The Washington Post online. The article itself is similar to the others out there but at the end is a poll that asks:

Who is most to blame for Jamie Lynn Spears’s underage pregnancy?

The public is given five choices:
-Jamie Lynn and boyfriend Casey Aldridge, who should have known better.
-Sister Britney for setting a bad example.
-Mom Lynn, who seems to be a two-time loser at this point.
-A society ill-equipped to teach teens about sex.
-Blame? Let’s make a silk purse out of this: ‘Zoey 101: Sex Ed!’

I looked at the choices, laughed a little and casually clicked what I thought was the most logical answer: A society ill-equipped to teach teens about sex.

With the surprised comments from Jamie Lynn and her mom, it seemed obvious to me that there is a serious lack of sex education in the Spears household.

Jamie’s mom, Lynn: “I didn’t believe it because Jamie Lynn’s always been so conscientious. She’s never late for her curfew. I was in shock. I mean, this is my 16-year-old baby.”

Jamie Lynn in OK! magazine: “It was a shock for both of us, so unexpected, I was in complete and total shock and so was he.”

Yes, Lynn, your “baby” can get pregnant without breaking curfew, especially when her boyfriend lives in the house. Yes, Jaime, you can get pregnant if you have unprotected sex.

Maybe it’s because I’m more attuned to the horrors of the sex education in this country, but even so those statements seemed like there was some misinformation.
However, it seems that the majority of Washington Post readers feel that it is Jaime’s fault (51%) and followed by her mothers fault (35%). A mere 5% thought it was the failure of sex education.

Of course Jamie and her boyfriend should have been responsible, but if no one ever educated them about how to be responsible, they can’t bear the brunt of the blame. The same goes for her mother, it would be nice to think that she would know by now, but her comment clearly shows her lack of understanding of teenagers.

National Polls have shown that most parents are in favor of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, yet (unless Post readers are significantly different from the rest of the nation, which I doubt) the poll results indicate that there is a disconnect between support for sex education and understanding why it’s needed.

Instead of putting blame on Jamie or mom, why not take this time to highlight the need for comprehensive sexuality education? Parents and children alike should be educated in human sexuality and understand their bodies and be able to have a consensual and safe relationship. Thankfully, many news outlets have highlighted the issue in segments about how to talk to your children about sex. The Today Show had author and psychologist Dr. Gail Saltz on the show to give advice to parents on how to talk to their kids. Unfortunately, the Today Show anchors countered that with their worry about talking to young children and the possibility that maybe you don’t have to.

This story is undoubtedly going to reach the children that watch Zoey 101. Message boards discussing the event have many posts from parents and teachers that say kids as young as eight are talking about the news. Let’s hope that parents take the time and advice from Dr. Gail Saltz and others to give their children age appropriate information about sex instead of just condemning Jamie Lynn.

Have We Won Yet?

My original intention was to name this blog post, We Have Won The War: Now, Let’s Finish The Job. But I know it is dangerous to be declaring “Mission Accomplished” too soon. And what I really mean is this: the anti-war movement has done an amazing job. And we might as well call this one a success.

But…wait! What do I mean by calling the movement a success? The war is still raging. Troops are still on the ground. The budget for the battles is skyrocketing. The death toll is high. And there is no end in sight. How could it be that we have succeeded?

And you are right on all those points. Time wise, we have put our troops in harm’s way somewhere between the active combat eras of World War II and Viet Nam. We still have troops in Korea, stationed on the Demilitarized Zone—that place between North and South Korea where American Troops keep patrol, fifty years later. Talk of another “Surge” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is frightening because, just like Korea, there seems to be no way out.

People turn to me and ask: What is wrong with Your generation? Why aren’t they out in the streets like Viet Nam?

Massive rallies and protests like we saw in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are important and crucial tactics necessary to the success of a movement. But they are not the movement. Being wed to a tactic is counterintuitive and counterproductive to the growth of a movement. Without lobbying, creating new alternatives for social structures and international relations, gathering research and support, or working with changing landscapes, a movement will become mired in a crisis mode. No sustainable growth can come out of that.

Being stuck in one strategy creates room for dangerous tactics. Movements begin to find themselves panicking with the fear that nothing is happening. That the cause is dying and that we need one last radical—and often violent—grasp at success. But destructive tactics often alienate and burn out people who are loyal to the movement, thus causing more harm than good. Power holders know this and know how to capitalize on opponents’ radical tactics to help discredit the people’s movement.

While it is extremely important to keep focused on all our goals, ignoring our success in this struggle is deadly for the success of the movement. People’s movements take time. They work to create the small changes that make up the big changes. We cannot expect a few protests and rallies to change things overnight. As Mr. Rogers once said, “All things that are worthwhile surely do take a while.”

What if a five-year-old just completes Hop on Pop by herself for the first time? Do you hand her Proust next? What if your seven-year-old takes the training wheels off his bike? Do you send him to the Tour Du France? Sustainable social change takes time.

Rather, at this time when it looks like movement is coming to an end, we must reject nihilistic strategies and count our successes. Giving up due to an apparent “failure” will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But counting our successes gives us the spiritual recharge necessary to counteract the feelings of burnout.

So what exactly have we done in less than five years? The successes are many. They include but are not limited to:

Participation rates of national protests may have slipped but local, grassroots efforts have increased. Organizations like Iraq Veterans Against War, Women Against Military Madness, and Military Families Speak Out have started. And older organizations like War Resistors League, American Friends Service Committee, and The School of Americas Watch have all seen increased participation. All of these organizations are working hard to create sustainable, lasting social change. This war has left an extremely bitter taste in our mouths. Real change to prevent future wars is done by institutions and individuals utilizing a plethora of techniques and tactics.

Do not be disappointed by the lack of success the movement has seen. Be proud of all the things we have done! As a movement, we have repeatedly countered the tactics of the power holders. We have stood up for real American values. We have put pressure on our government to end this war and bring every one home safely. And while there is much to do, so much has already been completed. Be proud of your anti-war movement; have faith in it.

UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season has arrived! And with it has come the annual shopping frenzy. One way to rise above what can feel like a glut of consumerism is to give and ask for mindful gifts. We at the UUA Washington Office have compiled a list of some of our favorite holiday gifts that support social justice and environmental causes. Happy shopping!


Lisa – I was born without a thumb and some fingers. Luckily, my parents were wealthy enough to pay for reconstructive surgery. So my favorite organization this winter is Love Without Boundaries, which lets you sponsor surgeries for children in China who are unable to afford surgery for birth defects.

Alex – Clothes dryers are the most wasteful and expensive home appliance. A clothes drying rack (made from reclaimed wood) can save over $1500 a year in energy costs. Also, consider a composter for your favorite gardener. But do your research—consider how much space and energy you can put into your compost pile before you plop down the money.

GraceEarth Mama, Angel Baby has a variety of all-natural products for both mother and child. Their lovely gift baskets are perfect for an expecting or new mother.

Adam – Give a subscription to GOOD Magazine, and read about people and businesses that are changing the world. 100% of the subscription fee goes to the charitable organization of your choice.

Shopping For Others – For that loved one who already has everything, why not give a gift in his or her name? Gift It Up lists organizations that let you cover the cost of shipping antibiotics to 100 patients in Gaza, or pay for one night of shelter for a BGLT survivor of domestic violence. You can give ducks, honeybees, or cows through Heifer International. You can even use Heifer International to register for weddings and anniversaries

Sponsor An Animal – A great gift for children and animal lovers! When you “adopt” a sea animal through Oceana, not only will you help protect its habitat, but you’ll also receive an animal-shaped cookie cutter and sugar cookie recipe for the holidays. With Defenders of Wildlife, sponsors receive an animal photo as well as a plush toy.

Fair Trade and Sweatshop-Free – Just want to give a pair of socks or a sweater? Check out the International Labor Forum’s handy-dandy 2008 Shop With a Conscience Consumer Guide. The Fair Trade Federation maintains an awesome search engine to help you find fair trade and/or women-owned businesses in your area.

Good Eats – Give a share in a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture. Local farms sell subscriptions for a year or a growing season, and will deliver boxes of fresh, locally grown vegetables right to your door.

World AIDS Day 2007: Truth Telling

Last Saturday marked my second World AIDS Day with the UUA. Last year, Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the UUA, came to DC and we held a “For Whom the Bell Tolls, Resounding Vigil”, he also spoke at a UNAIDS event, and conducted a couple of lobby visits. This year, Rev. Sinkford met with the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC), rallied outside of OGAC, and spoke at a Rally in front of the White House.

Both this year and last, Rev. Sinkford has come to D.C. and taken every opportunity presented to him to practice truth telling. He speaks with conviction about our moral obligation to confront the spread of HIV/AIDS with honesty and with sound science. His unwavering support for using evidence-based, comprehensive information about sexuality to save lives is crucially important when confronting a political establishment too easily swayed by ideological insistence on the use of ineffective abstinence-until-marriage programs.

While Unitarian Universalism has never purported to have the “truth”, we are committed to use our best reasoning abilities to help us sort through the mysteries of life. We do not rely on revelation to find our truth. World AIDS Day is a day when an undesirable and downright shameful truth must be told: so many are suffering needlessly. My work has been driven by the truth that HIV/AIDS is 100% preventable. My work has been targeted at the truth that the United States’ steps towards preventing HIV/AIDS have fallen far short of that truth.

It has been an honor to work for the UUA and to see Rev. Sinkford lead this journey towards truth. While there are many religious advocates for health care workers, health infrastructure, and anti-retroviral drugs, few have tackled the complexities of sexuality and spoken the truth as Rev. Sinkford has. Hopefully this courageous moral leadership will inspire others to passionately confront the reality that abstinence-until-marriage programs fail to protect vulnerable people around the world, and they bring us no closer to the end of HIV/AIDS.

Next year the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is due for reauthorization. The UUA Washington Office for Advocacy will be working to ensure that the harmful abstinence-until-marriage funding restrictions currently attached to PEPFAR will be removed. Please join us in advocating for this crucial change in U.S. policy.

Hello World

Welcome to Inspired Faith, Effective Action, the official blog of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness staff group. This includes:

The purpose of this blog is to extend our ability to communicate with Unitarian Universalists by complementing our existing web pages and email alerts. This blog will allow us to explore some issues more personally and in more detail.

If you have an RSS reader, you will also be able to subscribe to posts pertaining specifically to your areas of interest. Look for the [Atom] links to your left. We look forward to sharing our faith and hopefully inspiring actions.