Casey Schoeneberger, Faith in Public Life’s Media Relations Assistant, came to FPL from NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby’s Associate Program after studying economics at Saint Joseph’s University. She blogs about tax and budget issues on Bold Faith Type.
Standing in solidarity with thousands of young people from around the country, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) donned a hoodie on the House floor today in honor of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and called attention to the dangerous consequences of racial profiling and lax gun regulations.
Rep. Rush, whose own son “was shot down in the streets”, said the real “hoodlums in this nation” are not young people, but those “who tread on our laws wearing official or quasi-official clothes.”
Before being escorted off the House floor for violating dress code rules, Rep. Rush called for an end to racial profiling and said that Luke 4:18 teaches us that “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
In an interview with The Washington Post shortly following Rep. Rush’s protest, Trayvon Martin’s parents commended him for bringing attention to their case and questioned why Rep. Rush was not permitted to further address racial profiling on the House floor.
Sponsored by a broad coalition of Christian organizations, nearly 800 people of faith gathered for the 10th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days this weekend to reflect upon and lobby for “a national budget that break the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment throughout the world.”
The conference’s powerful and timely theme, entitled “Is this the Fast I seek?”, brought preachers, religious leaders and policy experts together to educate participants on everything from the dangers of wealth and income inequality to how to engage with local media on federal budget issues.
The dynamic conference culminated yesterday with participants spreading out across Capitol Hill to educate and lobby lawmakers on the need for a federal budget that protects the safety and dignity of all people and prioritizes programs that protect children and families over tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
While Religious Right groups like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition attract a disproportionately large amount of media attention despite poor attendance at their Washington conferences, progressive Christians working for more just budget priorities get almost no attention.
Though news outlets ignored the gathering this weekend, advocacy and media trainings like those at EAD will equip progressive people of faith to continually rebut the Religious Right’s distorted budget priorities and more effectively inform both lawmakers and the media that Religious Right pundits don’t represent the priorities of all people of faith.
Long before a resigning mid-level executive wrote a scathing op-ed confirming Goldman Sachs’s toxic culture of greed, the religious community was confronting the firm’s immoral culture.
In 2010 and 2011, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility successfully petitioned for the right to bring questions about the firm’s outrageous executive compensation structure to a vote at Goldman Sachs shareholders’ meeting.
But despite ICCR’s past successes and the recent spotlight on Goldman Sachs “greed is good” philosophy, the Security and Exchange Commission denied ICCR’s 2012 request to bring questions on executive pay to a vote at the next shareholders’ meeting. From Reuters:
This year, the group, including the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, again sought to have its proposal voted on by shareholders. But for the first time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sided with Goldman, which argued it had already complied with the request. An official at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a Jewish group that is the lead filer of the proposal, said she was somewhat surprised that the agency rejected its request given that the op-ed touched on exactly the issues it had hoped to address. The 2012 proposal would have asked for an independent board to review the risks, including reputational risks, associated with high executive compensation levels and disclose the findings to shareholders.
The firm may have stopped religious groups from bringing this issue to a shareholder vote in 2012, but there’s no doubt people of faith (and some very tenacious nuns) will continue to shine a light on the irresponsible, immoral practices of banks like Goldman Sachs.
Fr. Thomas Kelly, a retired Catholic Priest and constituent of Rep. Paul Ryan who spoke out against last year’s draconian budget proposal, said “…the GOP budget violates our fundamental religious violates that teaches to care for one another and decimates safety-net programs like foods stamps and unemployment insurance, and those are critical investments that keep millions out of poverty every year.”
Rep. Lowey added that the proposed budget “…preserves unnecessary tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires and large corporations at the expense of domestic investments and help for vulnerable individuals.” She strongly encouraged GOP leaders to start over “Republican leadership to go back to the drawing board” and devise a more just budget that serves the needs of all people, not just the wealthiest Americans.
Half-in-Ten Director Melissa Boteach also highlighted the Ryan budget’s fiscal inadequacy, saying it produces a “deficit at the end of ten years, because rather than a deficit reduction plan, this is a budget that has low- and middle-income families financing enormous tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans through cuts to healthcare, nutrition assistance, and investments to create jobs and grow the middle-class.”
Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, said Rep. Paul Ryan “Has a religion problem, and it’s a big one. The Christian tradition and most other religious traditions for that matter call for people of faith to stand up and defend the poor and vulnerable…Congressman Ryan’s budget is the opposite. It slashes effective programs for low-income people and increases their tax burden at the same time it cuts taxes further for the wealthy and increases military spending without justification. “ As Harper unapologetically stated, the Ryan plan is not an act of bravery (as some on the right have claimed) but merely an act of “moral cowardice”.
A full recording of this morning’s call is available here.
Beginning in 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (comprised mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants in low-wage jobs) launched the Campaign for Fair Food, an initiative to encourage food retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more for each pound of tomatoes they pick.
Publix, a Florida-based retail food chain, is staunchly refusing to join the Campaign for Fair Food and end its exploitative business practices.
In an effort to alert Publix’s customers to this alarming decision and pressure the food retailer to join the campaign, the CIW, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, Florida Presbyterians and numerous other groups joined together at Publix’s Corporate Headquarters to begin a 6-day fast, “…insisting that Publix – Florida’s largest corporation – finally recognize the humanity of the workers who pick its tomatoes…”
Michael Livingston, a participant in the fast and Director of the NCC Poverty Initiative reflects on the solidarity between farmworkers and people of faith:
It’s day one of six days of fasting with farmworkers and their supporters at the corporate headquarters of Publix in Lakeland, FL. I’m already impressed with the quiet dignity of workers with whom I cannot communicate using the English I speak or the Spanish they speak. Yet we stand together under the same bright sun and our very presence alongside a busy thoroughfare, announces a firm commitment to seek justice for a workforce whose humanity has been ignored by a system of labor that is fundamentally unjust.
While retailers such as Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and McDonald’s have joined the Fair Food Campaign, Publix’s refusal to join the campaign amounts to nothing short of a full endorsement of the inhumane wages workers are paid for their labor.
Bill Maxwell of the Tampa Bay Times criticizes Publix’s blatant exploitation of farm workers:
…each time I buy tomatoes at a Publix, I am mindful of the back-breaking toil of the laborers who picked them and lugged them to a truck. I also am aware that for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, a worker gets on average 50 cents, a rate unchanged since 1980. Most workers earn roughly $10,000 a year. Besides low wages, they have no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation and no right to organize to change these conditions.
With CIW’s successful history of pressuring retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more per pound, it only remains to be seen how long Publix will choose to embarrass itself and denigrate its public image by abetting the exploitation of working people.
To stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the “Fast for Fair Food”, check out these resources.