The Common Good

Redemption on Trial in California

Sojomail - December 7, 2005


12.07.2005 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : Dorothy Day: 'It is hard to love.'
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Redemption on trial in California
Iraq Journal : Vigil continues for kidnapped peacemakers
Building a Movement : Vigil for a moral budget | Make ONE big noise for trade justice
Culture Watch : Narnia brought to life
Politically Connect : Bush's proposal fails to repair a broken immigration system
Building a Movement : Help for GI conscientious objectors
Global Vision : AIDS quiz
In Memoriam : El Salvador: Remembering Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean 25 years later
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"It is not love in the abstract that counts. Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman. They have loved the brotherhood, the workers, the poor, the oppressed - but they have not loved [humanity]; they have not loved the least of these. They have not loved "personally." It is hard to love. It is the hardest thing in the world, naturally speaking. Have you ever read Tolstoy's Resurrection? He tells of political prisoners in a long prison train, enduring chains and persecution for the love of their brothers, ignoring those same brothers on the long trek to Siberia. It is never the brothers right next to us, but the brothers in the abstract that are easy to love."

- Dorothy Day, social activist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Nov. 29 was the 25th anniversary of Day's death.

Source: Daily Dig

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BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED ^top

Redemption on trial in California
by David Batstone

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One man, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, faces execution Tuesday, Dec. 13, at San Quentin State Prison in California. With him our belief in human redemption also sits on the gallows, pending a decision in the clemency hearing conducted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Williams, a founder of the notorious Crips gang, is charged with the murder of four people in the Los Angeles area in 1979. At the time of the trial, he proclaimed his innocence, a position he maintains today. A jury convicted him wholly on circumstantial evidence; in other words, no eyewitnesses or incontrovertible material evidence linked him to the murders, according to attorney Verna Wefald’s appeal.

In one of the robberies that led to a murder, an accomplice was given clemency for pointing his finger at Williams for the murder. Beyond the self-interest involved, the accomplice's reputation as a truth-teller was less than stellar. The prosecution produced a shell casing tied to the murder weapon found at the motel where Williams was staying. But the science that matched the casing to the weapon was speculative and its results have not been revisited in the intervening years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

I revisit the facts of the case because Schwarzenegger's decision to grant Williams clemency will depend more on the possibility of his innocence - or at least the uncertainty of his guilt - than it will turn on the contribution that Williams has made to society over the last two decades.

That's tragic, because Williams has become a major figure in the gang peace movement. He has co-authored 10 books from Death Row. The message is clear: Violence is never a solution. He urges young gang kids to get out before it destroys them and the lives of their family members. That's a powerful message from one of the founders of the Crips.

Williams first made a public plea to hundreds of gang members who gathered at a Los Angeles hotel in 1993 for a summit called Hands Across Watts. He did not hide his early role in the Crips, but on a prerecorded videotape filmed for the summit told the young gang members that he lamented his history. Recounting this first public event to the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams said, "I told them I never thought I could change my life, that I thought I would be a Crip forever. But I developed common sense, wisdom and knowledge. I changed."

Williams has gone on to build on this witness. In his 1998 prison autobiography Life in Prison, he directed young people to seek an alternative life beyond violence. Prison, he stressed, was no place to spend a life. Two years later he launched the Internet Project for Street Peace. His memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and the movie, Redemption, came out in 2004.

Williams has a bevy of supporters calling for his clemency. They argue that he has changed thousands of young people's lives, and if allowed to live will continue to be a force for good. His street credibility with gang kids is high, so he can reach them in a way that a teacher or social worker cannot.

In the eyes of the criminal justice system, a redeemed criminal is simply another criminal. I recall my first visit to a federal prison back in seminary when starting a prison chaplain residency. The warden of the prison came to the orientation I shared with other interns. His message was clear to us: "I want you to remember that the prison system today is not about reforming criminals. We are here to punish them."

Redemption, in other words, has no place in our justice system. We do not offer a path for conversion. Once marked for condemnation, an offender's destiny is fixed.

Elsewhere in the world, four Christian Peacemaker Teams members are marked for execution by a radical terrorist group in Iraq. The circumstances are dramatically different, so I hesitate to make the connection. We are appalled by the blind ideology that drives the terrorists and leads them to cheapen the value of human life. In this ideology, the individual is a tool for political expediency.

Don't we want to offer our citizens more in a democracy?

Click below for video feedback on this column from David Batstone:

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Give a gift that makes a difference - partner with Sojourners and see your contribution doubled today!

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IRAQ JOURNAL ^top

Vigil continues for kidnapped peacemakers
by Celeste Kennel-Shank

The Iraqi group who kidnapped four Christian Peacemaker Teams members in Baghdad Nov. 26 has threatened to kill the men if their demand is not met by Saturday....

Numerous Muslim groups in the Middle East - from high political and religious positions, as well as from radical groups - have made public their support of CPT, an international violence reduction organization based in Chicago and Toronto. Many said CPT workers stood with their people under threat of violence.

On Saturday, the Iraq Islamic Party, the primary Sunni party, demanded The Swords of Righteous Brigade release the four men, whom they called "activists in a movement opposing the war in Iraq," according to al Jazeera. They further explained that the kidnapping sends a message that "Iraqis cannot tell the difference between those who support them and those who oppose them."

+ Read the full update

Christian Peacemaker Teams has issued a request for statements of support to be circulated to contacts in the media and the Middle East. Please download and circulate our statement - or your own - to any contacts you may have that could help. And please pray for the release of these activists and for all people - Iraq and foreign, victim and perpetrator - in this conflict.

+ Read Sojourners' statement of support

+ Download in English (Word)

+ Download in Arabic (Word)

+ Sign the freethecpt.org petition

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BUILDING A MOVEMENT ^top

Vigil for a moral budget

This holiday season, Congress will face a decision about whether or not to cut vital services such as food stamps and child care from low-income working familes. We must make sure they do what is right. Here's our vision: We want vigils at every senator's and representative's district office on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Imagine people from diverse faith traditions gathering together to call our leaders to demand a budget that prioritizes the needs of the poorest among us. It will be a collective voice no lawmaker can ignore. Click here to host a vigil, and you can download a free vigil organizer's toolkit.

+ Sign up to host a vigil
+ Find a vigil near you
+ Join us at the U.S. Capitol
+ Budget facts and info

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Make ONE big noise for trade justice

Under current trade rules, poor farmers in the global South are often not able to sell certain crops on the world market, even when they are able to grow them with less money. Rewriting the rules would give people who work hard a hand up so they can take care of themselves.

In December, the world will sit down at trade talks in Hong Kong to consider changing these unfair trade rules. We'll need a global deal to address a global problem, because no one will change these unfair policies unless all rich countries agree, at once. Together, we can change this.

Please sign on to the ONE Big Noise letter today and ask our leaders to make trade fair.

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CULTURE WATCH ^top

Narnia brought to life
by Donovan Jacobs

Ever since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ reaped huge box-office rewards, in great part by bringing in Christian conservatives who don't regularly attend movies, Hollywood studios have been looking for what might be called The Next Big Religious Thing - a film that appeals to Passion's elusive core audience while attracting more families and less controversy than Gibson's film.

Industry observers believe that Next Thing has arrived in the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis' revered children's novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media - which reportedly spent roughly $150 million on the movie and plan to launch a series of movies based on Lewis' seven Narnia books - certainly hope so.

Disney's seeming ambivalence about the movie's religious content (the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly reports that the studio has marketed the film to Christian groups while downplaying Lewis' allegory of sacrifice and resurrection) might give people of faith cause to worry. But perhaps surprisingly, while The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe falls short in several ways cinematically, many of the movie's spiritual themes come alive in a profound and moving fashion.

+ Read the full article

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POLITICALLY CONNECT ^top

Bush's proposal fails to repair a broken immigration system
by Helene Slessarev-Jamir

Last week President Bush made several long-awaited policy statements on immigration, calling for stepped-up border security and a new guest worker program that would require people who are already in the U.S. to return to their home countries in order to apply. If accepted they would receive temporary visas allowing them to work in the U.S. for a maximum of six years. These proposals may satisfy elements of the president's electoral constituency, but they fall woefully short of the comprehensive overhaul of the country's immigration laws that is sorely needed.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were roughly 31.1 million foreign-born residents living in the U.S., making up 11.1% of the population. The vast majority come from poor countries in the global South - roughly 80% are from Latin America, Asia, or Africa - where jobs remain scarce and salaries are very low compared to those in the U.S. For many families in Mexico and Central America, immigration has become a basic survival strategy, with one or two members risking their lives to cross an increasingly treacherous border in order to work low-paying service jobs and send money home. Most immigrants would prefer to stay home if work were available in their home countries.

+ Read the full article

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BUILDING A MOVEMENT ^top

Help for GI conscientious objectors

If you have questions or doubts about your role in the military, for any reason, or in this war, help is available. Contact one of the organizations listed below. They can discuss your situation and concerns, give you information on your legal rights, and help you sort out your possible choices. For questions, or for discharge or other GI rights information, visit:
http://www.girights.org, or call the GI Rights Hotline: (800) FYI-95GI.

Also contact Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) at (510) 465-1617 or (888) 231-2226, see http://www.objector.org, or write info@objector.org.

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GLOBAL VISION ^top

AIDS quiz

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day. As 40 million people live with HIV and as 3 million die from AIDS each year, every day must become World AIDS Day in our hearts, prayers, and actions. While there have been significant strides in battling this deadly virus - the World Health Organization estimates that 350,000 deaths were averted last year due to expanded access to treatment - we are still losing the fight against HIV/AIDS both in the U.S. and around the world. In Washington, D.C., one out of every 20 adults is living with HIV. Worldwide, fewer than one in five people at risk of HIV infection has access to HIV prevention information. HIV poses an urgent test of both our humanity and faith. We believe that God has given us the means to end this health emergency; what's missing is the moral and political will to do so.

Our partner World Vision has created an AIDS quiz in order to test our knowledge and raise awareness about this crisis. Please join us in taking this quiz and forwarding it on to your friends, colleagues, and loved ones so that we can mobilize even greater commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

+ Take the World Vision AIDS quiz

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IN MEMORIAM ^top

El Salvador: Remembering Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean 25 years later
by Marie Dennis

Maryknoll Sisters Maddy Dorsey and Terry Alexander remembered kneeling in the dirt to reverence the bodies of Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean when they were hauled out of a makeshift grave on Dec. 4, 1980. The bodies were found in a remote area near Santiago Nonualco, miles from where they were abducted by members of the Salvadoran National Guard under orders from a yet-to-be-prosecuted intellectual author....

Hundreds of us whose lives were changed by the martyrdom of the women returned to the country they loved and to the sacred places where they lived with and learned from the poor. When corpses littered the streets and the number of disappeared was rapidly escalating - when bishops, generals, and government officials demanded neutrality from the church - these four women chose to accompany a people made profoundly vulnerable by war and by repression. They lived the virtue of solidarity, not neutrality. Poor people, they believed, were one place of God's revelation in history - an opening where the God of hope and possibility was discovered in the midst of suffering and fear.

+ Read the full article

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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS ^top

Top story:

Old Warnings Against Righteous Nationalism
by Jim Wallis in The Wall Street Journal
One would be hard pressed to call Solzhenitsyn and Niebuhr moral equivocators or utopians, but it is their humility before God that was our model.

More Sojourners in the news:

Christians move toward creating peace, good will The Huntsville Times

Fighting for God’s poor people Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

National Faith Heads Create New Agenda on Poverty The Christian Post

Progressive Church Leaders Warn Bush, Congress on Budget Cuts The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy

Faith Leaders Blast House Vote on Budget Cuts The Christian Post

Dozens of religious leaders unite in expression of faith Austin American-Statesman

Everyone Loves Obama NewsBusters

Obama's National Apeal Rallies an Army of Backers Chicago Tribune

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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Carol Ahrens writes from Portage, Wisconsin:

I just read the article on "Remaining awake through a great revolution" [SojoMail 12/2/2005]. Thank you, thank you for printing it. I feel that so often Advent becomes a silent holiday, overshadowed by our desire to buy and party our way through Christmas. This Advent article helped me to focus on the waiting time of Advent. I have sent it along to many others who I hope will also share it with their friends and family.

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Ray Huber writes:

I applaud your concern for the poor and needy. Christians must be salt, light, and yes, even a prophetic voice in our culture. However, I take exception to your quote of Isaiah 10:1-2 in the SojoMail of Nov. 30 in reference to our Congress ["Come to Washington to pray for a moral budget"]. You take the verses out of the context of God's direct judgment against Assyria. The verses you quote are followed by "To whom will you flee for help? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain.... His anger does not turn away." Are you pronouncing a biblical "woe" against our elected officials? How is this any different than Pat Robertson telling Dover, Pennsylvania, that the result of their decision is abandonment by God? Our dear brother Pat stepped over the line again, and now so have you. By partially quoting Isaiah you have attempted to attach divine gravity to your position. For a biblically illiterate church you have muddied the distinction between interpretation and application. Woes are for God to pronounce and apply by way of his Holy Spirit. I caution you in your zeal.

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Walt Brewer writes from Grand Blanc, Michigan:

I am concerned by the overall tone that your objections to the Bush tax cuts have taken. You sound like every other left-wing group that feels that having money and keeping some of your own money is a sin. Tax revenues with the tax cuts are up. Job creation in November was 215,000 jobs. Many were the type of jobs that poorer people would use as entry-level jobs: food service and retail. It seems like you feel morality is giving people food and clothing; Bush wants to give them a job. Which is more moral?

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Roseann Hernandez writes from the U.K.:

I am very thankful to your campaign regarding the tragedy that is our recently passed federal budget -- my young single mom raised me and my younger siblings and we lived on food stamps and stayed in subsidised housing all through our childhood. We did not take pride in having to live that way, but it was necessary and it saddens me that people like us will be stripped of that very fragile security net. It is not like you can get rich on food stamps! I went on to go to a top five university with, of course, substantial federal and state government assistance through low-interest loans and federal aid. The fact that it will be more difficult for low-income kids to go to university saddens me as well.

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Laraine Sands writes from Istanbul, Turkey:

Your most recent communication moved me to send the following e-mail to almost everyone I know ["All I Want for Christmas is a Moral Budget," Action Alert 12/2/2005]. Of course I will be unable to participate in a vigil on Dec. 14, but be assured I will be with you in spirit. I will also be contacting both of my senators and my representative before then.

Morality is much discussed in American politics, with varying ideas about the meaning of the word. Indeed, it was cited as one of the deciding factors in the 2004 presidential elections. I passionately agree with Sojourners that the U.S. budget is a MORAL document and the deepest expression of our beliefs and values. I urge all of you to take action to express your feelings about this issue as you see fit, and to encourage others to do the same.

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Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Because of the volume of letters we receive, concise responses that include a name, hometown, and state/province/country are the most likely to be published. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. E-mail: boomerang@sojo.net

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