The Common Good

The Katrina Pledge Goes to Congress

Sojomail - September 28, 2005

Quote of the Day : MLK: 'A true revolution of values'
Hearts & Minds : The Katrina Pledge goes to Congress
Building a Movement : When the people lead, the leaders will follow
On the Ground : Leaving the Hattiesburg shelter
Good News : As activists march, World Bank and IMF approve historic debt cancellation
Globe Watch : Don't forget the children of northern Uganda
Soul Works : 'The hardest heart can't resist'
Media Watch : Sojourners in the news
Boomerang : Readers write
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"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."

- Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence"

+ Read the full text of this speech

+ Download mp3 audio


The Katrina Pledge goes to Congress
by Jim Wallis

The Katrina Pledge which circulated in SojoMail and the following letter from Jim Wallis were sent to every senator and representative to tell them of your commitment to go beyond immediate relief and address lasting social change.

September 23, 2005

Dear Senator or Representative:

The stunning images from New Orleans and the battered Gulf Coast revealed that we have failed the poorest in our nation, but we now have an opportunity to recover their trust and recapture part of the American spirit. As one of our nation's political leaders, you have the ability to lead in that effort.

Poverty is no longer out of public sight. We have all seen the pictures of those who were left behind in Hurricane Katrina because they had been left out in America. And we pray for those who may face a similar fate as Hurricane Rita approaches Texas. What was hidden and mostly invisible is now flashing across our television screens. Our collective silence has been broken and the media have begun to talk about poor people and tell their stories more than any time in years. There are no longer any excuses for not knowing or caring.

It is time to move from sound bites to sound vision; from debates to dialogue; from rhetoric to results. For some time now, religious leaders from across the theological and political spectrum have been standing together against poverty. Even before the current disaster, we have been learning to set aside other differences to lift up a vision for compassion and justice for those our nation and world has forgotten, the ones that Jesus called "the least of these." There is now a deep convergence among religious leaders, including conservative evangelicals; Catholic bishops; mainline Protestants; black, Hispanic, and Asian Christians; Jewish rabbis; Muslim imams, and many others. Our voice is growing stronger, but political action by national leaders is now needed to honor our nation's moral convictions.

This is a historic moment and a unique opportunity for our country. Hurricane waters are washing away our national denial of just how many Americans are living in poverty and of the persistent connection between race and poverty in America. Just as we must assist those in dire need and begin the process of recovery, those actions must be accompanied by longer term commitments. But making a difference for poor families will not fit within the usual approaches to poverty. Leaders from all sectors of society must acknowledge that a combination of public and private initiatives will be required to help the less fortunate. It will require changes in culture as much as changes in policy.

There are two obstacles to making real progress against poverty - the lack of priority and the lack of agreement on strategy. The poor have been near the bottom of our priority list, if on the list at all. It will take a moral and even religious imperative to change our priorities but the time has come to do so. But we have also been paralyzed by the debate between liberals and conservatives on solutions, with the right favoring cultural changes and the left endorsing policy changes.

First, the critical needs of poor families must become the top priority of our government. The blatant inequalities of race in America, especially in critical areas of education, jobs, health care, and housing that have come to the surface must now be addressed. How we help families build assets and take responsibility for their futures must be central to the discussion. All this requires a change in political logic. Indeed, a new moral logic must reshape our political habits.

Second, each "side" of our political landscape ignores too many valid concerns of the other side. Poor families don't need us to take sides - they need us to stand in the gap with them. Much could be accomplished with a merging of personal and social responsibility, a commitment to reverse family breakdown, a more honest assessment of both the personal decisions and social systems that trap people in poverty. That involves being more creative than looking solely to charity or only to government for hope. We need to acknowledge that budgets are moral documents and budget priorities can help or hurt the poor - and acknowledge that negative family and cultural values deeply impact low-income people. We must all confront realities of our national, community, and personal priorities, recognizing that there are multiple breakdowns of culture, family, community, and government that are undermining poor families and the very fabric of our nation. Doing so requires that leaders who care about results start to look at the current situation and the future differently.

Indeed we must be disciplined by results when it comes to poverty reduction. It's time to move from the politics of blame to a politics of solutions. Liberals must start talking about the problems of out-of-wedlock births and strengthening both marriage and parenting. Conservatives must start talking about strategic public investments in education, health care, affordable housing, and living family incomes. We must focus on making work really work for low-income families. Those who work hard and full time in America should not have to raise their children in poverty - but many still do. Together, we must end the debate between large and small government and forge a common commitment to good and effective government. I hope you agree that now is the time to do so.

+ Read the full letter

Jim Wallis recently gave an address on "God's Politics" at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

+ Click here for streaming video [requires RealPlayer]

Jim will also be on The Bob Edwards Show on XM Public Radio, Thursday, Sept. 29

+ Click here for listings

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When the people lead, the leaders will follow
by Duane Shank

Three numbers made the news last week: 1,911; 67; and 200,000.

The first is the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq, which exceeded 1,900 at the beginning of the week and by week's end stood at 1,911. Officially reported injuries are nearing 15,000 and conservative estimates of the number of Iraqis killed are at 30,000. The unrelenting violence of bombing continues daily.

The second is the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the president's handling of the war in Iraq, according to the Gallup Poll. Also in the recent poll, 59% say the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, and 63% say the U.S. should begin to withdraw. All three are the highest percentages to date as public opinion is changing rapidly.

The third is the estimated number of Americans who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to demand an end to the war. The Washington Post noted it was "the largest show of anti-war sentiment in the capital since the conflict in Iraq began," and "the first time in a decade that protest groups had a permit to march in front of the [White House]." Tens of thousands more marched in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Rome, and elsewhere.

+ Read the full article



Leaving the Hattiesburg shelter
by Cheri Herrboldt

Tomorrow I'm leaving to return home. I am mentally and physically exhausted. All I can think of is having the opportunity to sleep.

After spending the day at another Red Cross service center, I returned to Hattiesburg to "outprocess." Their question to me was, "Would you be willing to continue to do disaster relief with the Red Cross? Why or Why Not?"

The Katrina relief response has been a massive effort. It takes an incredible number of volunteers and time to travel all over the Gulf area to provide residents with relief assistance. At times it has felt chaotic, unorganized, and crazy. The chaos and craziness comes from the intense need. However, when you see the devastation and hear the stories of this hurricane's survivors, one becomes compelled to help and respond in little and big ways - and it still feels that it's not enough. In serving, I have continued to learn about racial relations, power issues, entitlement, and hierarchy. I have learned once again how fragile our lives are, how to recognize each person's gifts, and how to lovingly serve those who are different from me politically, ethnically, spiritually, and racially.

Yes, I would definitely do this again, if only to experience and understand the depth of love people are capable of giving and receiving.

Cheri Herrboldt is a Red Cross volunteer chaplain from Hyattsville, Maryland, who spent two weeks at shelters in Mississippi.


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As activists march, World Bank and IMF approve historic debt cancellation
by Celeste Kennel-Shank

Anti-war protesters were not the only ones marching and making demands this weekend in Washington, D.C.

As the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began their annual meetings, international economic justice activists gathered last Friday and Saturday in Washington to pressure the institutions to go forward with debt cancellation for 18 of the world's poorest countries - a deal agreed to by the Group of Eight wealthy nations in July.

Washington-based organizations 50 Years is Enough Network, Africa Action, Institute for Policy Studies, Jubilee USA Network, and TransAfrica Forum held a press conference on Friday to make their demand known. The Mobilization for Global Justice, an activist group also based in Washington, led a march to the World Bank and IMF Saturday, while other groups of protesters blocked intersections Sunday to delay the meetings....

On Sunday, Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank president, announced the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) had approved the deal. "The high point of these meetings is the historic endorsement provided by both the Development Committee and the IMFC of the G8 proposal to cancel 100 percent of the debts of some of world's poorest countries," he said, according to a press conference transcript on the bank's Web site.

+ Read the full article


Tell Wal-Mart enough is enough

When Wal-Mart employees in Jacksonville, Texas, tried to form a union in their meat cutting department, Wal-Mart responded by eliminating meat cutting in every single store. Workers at a Wal-Mart store in Jonquière, Quebec, successfully formed a union. But rather than negotiate with the employees for better wages and health care, Wal-Mart shut down the entire store. One after another the scandals emerge revealing Wal-Mart's ruthless campaign to prevent workers from forming unions. When Wal-Mart employees try to form a union, they face threats, propaganda, discrimination, intimidation, and even firings.

Tell Wal-Mart enough is enough:


Don't forget the children of northern Uganda
by Peter Quaranto and Michael Poffenberger

Ivan, in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, asks, "If all must suffer to pay for eternal harmony, what have children to do with it?" This quandary is no more difficult than in northern Uganda, where more than 30,000 children have been brutally abducted and forced to become soldiers and sex slaves.

For the past 19 years, a war has raged in northern Uganda, forgotten by most of the world. Since 1987, a rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army, led by cult leader Joseph Kony, has been operating out of southern Sudan and fighting for power against the government of Uganda.

In this terrible war, children have suffered the most. Kidnapped by the LRA, tens of thousands of children are used as cannon fodder or sex slaves. The LRA typically hunts and preys upon children at night. To cope with this horror, children are nightly forced to leave their home villages to walk by themselves along unsafe roads to towns as far as 10 miles away. There, they sleep in makeshift camps and on street corners, only to wake at dawn to return to their homes and schools. This tragic trend, called "night commuting," has mushroomed and currently as many as 50,000 children walk each evening.

+ Read the full article


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'The hardest heart can't resist'

My heart is transformed by the smile of trust given by some people who are terribly fragile and weak. They call forth new energies from me. They seem to break down barriers and bring me a new freedom.

It is the same with the smile of a child: even the hardest heart can't resist. Contact with people who are weak and who are crying one of the most important nourishments in our lives. When we let ourselves be really touched by the gift of their presence, they leave something precious in our hearts.

As long as we remain at the level of "doing" things for people, we tend to stay behind our barriers of superiority. We ought to welcome the gift of the poor with open hands. Jesus says, "What you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me."

- Jean Vanier

Found on: Daily Dig


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Sojourners in the news

Katrina exposes the home truth of U.S. politics
The Age

Rev. Jim Wallis says hurricane exposed 'social disaster' of poverty
Austin American-Statesman

Students visit Big Apple for prayer vigil
Calvin College Chimes

Prayer, advocacy vigils conclude with calls to U.N. for action
The Christian Post

Getting beyond political slogans
Winona Daily News (Minnesota)


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Readers write

Rev. Carolyn Smith Goings, of Grateful Heart Counseling Services, writes from Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

Not only was it obvious sensationalism for David Batstone to single out Venus Williams as a public figure who confessed to interviewers that she had been avoiding television coverage of the tragedy in Louisiana, but it was even deceptive writing for him to mention that "in subsequent interviews, she put her remarks in context" (referring to her frank admission that since her sister's murder, she finds it difficult to absorb suffering on TV news shows) without also mentioning that she visited with Katrina victims in the Astrodome and the Houston Convention Center to give them her personal support ["Katrina to Venus Williams: How to improve your serve," SojoMail 9/21/2005]. In fact, she has initiated a charity (along with Zina Garrison) to raise money to help Katrina victims rebuild their homes. Their Web site is By the way, avoiding TV news is not a bad idea. I frequently recommend exactly that, particularly to people who are grieving.


Tim Ervolina writes from Greenwood, South Carolina:

I enjoyed your essay on Katrina and Venus Williams. Her comments sent waves of sadness over me, because I used to be just like her, and for the same reasons: our religion. Jehovah's Witnesses are really radical dispensationalists with a twist of heterodoxy thrown in. From infancy they are conditioned not to really "feel" anything about people who are outside their religion, since they are going to be destroyed by God pretty soon anyway. Citing Moses, young Witnesses are told that they should "let not their eye feel sorry" for the deaths of those who are not Witnesses. They often cite the litany of human tragedies that occur around the world as proof that we are in the "last days," but they are strangely unmoved by the deep wounds of the suffering humanity they exploit to promote their twisted religion.


David Lott writes from Washington, D.C.:

It's unfortunate that David Batstone didn't do more research before commenting on Venus Williams' community service. In 2001, both Venus and Serena Williams came to Washington, D.C., to help open the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in the mostly black and low-income neighborhood of Anacostia. I believe they have returned to the center in subsequent years when in the D.C. area. In 2002, Venus and Serena were honored for their community service in a resolution before the House of Representatives, including their conducting tennis clinics for low-income children and raising funds for community development. While I cannot testify as to what other service work she has done in the last few years, nor claim she is the best role model in this area, nevertheless it was condescending and unfair for David Batstone to comment on Venus' record of community service as he did. She deserves an apology.


Erin Schor writes from Lansing, Michigan:

I feel compelled to respond to Dean Nelson, who flippantly asks whether any of us are "really surprised by [the failure of our government] anymore?" ("The apocalypse next door," 9/21/05]. Those who attack "The Government" like to refer to it just that way. Capital T, capital G, the monolith that fails us (at best) or is itself the problem (at worst).

In reality, the government is comprised of thousands of men and women - some elected, more not - who willingly serve their communities every day at the local, state, and federal level. Many of them have passed on more lucrative opportunities in the private sector to respond to a calling to public service. As humans, do they make mistakes? Certainly. Do the decision-makers sometimes hold priorities that conflict with our own? Without question.

But to write the government off as a source of yet another failure? Governments provide a variety of services each and every day, which we all take for granted but would be paralyzed without. Mr. Nelson would be well served by envisioning what a world would look like with no government at all before he adopts such a cynical stance.


April Swonger writes from Nampa, Idaho:

For the last several months, I have seen the indifference displayed by many in government and churches to those who are unable to care for themselves. I look at the poor and those without health care and the many who seem so lost. I have become depressed because no one seems willing to change the systems that run our lives. I am just one person, a poor and disabled person at that, and I cannot change these systems. I believe God wants me to care about the people in my neighborhood and the ones I can help. Besides the Katrina Pledge, I am going to do the following: Visit my nearest neighbors with some information: My name, phone number, and the fact that if they have a need I can meet or find someone to meet, I will do it. I will ask them to pass this on to their neighbors. I do not live in a rich neighborhood - there are poor, working people here, and several who are elderly and disabled. Surely, I can make a difference in their lives, with Jesus' help. Surely, I can show them that God can make a difference in their lives. That may last longer than sending what little I can to Katrina victims.


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