The Common Good

Sink or Swim

Sojomail - September 13, 2006

Quote of the Week : 'Urgent action is required'
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Sink or swim
Politically Connect : D.C. rally against Darfur genocide
P.O.V. : What we've forgotten about 9/11
Theologically Connect : Liberal literalists
Building a Movement : National grassroots mobilization training
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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"Make no mistake: At some point we will step in to help victims in Darfur and police an eventual settlement. The question is whether the United States and other nations will act now to prevent a tragedy, or merely express sorrow and act later to deal with its aftermath. Urgent action is required in the coming hours and days."

- Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole in a Washington Post op-ed, "Rescue Darfur Now."

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Sink or Swim
by David Batstone

The debate raging over the health of the U.S. economy is colored, not surprisingly, with ideological shades. Yes, the invisible hand of self-interest stains even economics.

White House economists tell us that our nation is in good standing. Not to worry, not to think twice. They especially trumpet a five-year growth in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the overall size of the economy.

Economic expansion is a good thing indeed if it finds tread for all. Regretfully, GDP expansion in the U.S. has been offset by a 2.9% decrease in median household income since 2000, according to the Census Bureau.

Hence, once inflation is taken into account, most American workers today have been receiving lower wages over the past six years. Add in the fact that employers are asking their employees to bear an increasing share of benefits and we have ourselves a dilemma: Aggregate economic expansion yet less individual earning power.

White House economists argue that an expansion in the economy is de facto good for everyone. As the adage goes: everyone on the boat rises together. In light of the current deck of cards being played in Washington, it's hard to swallow this line of thought wholesale. Especially when the Bush administration promotes tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the upper class.

I would argue an alternative view on the economy: Our boat's equilibrium is out of whack. Faced with rising waters our captain is ordering all hands on deck to build high-rise condos for its first-class passengers.

The editors of The New York Times sounded that alarm this past week in an editorial: "Despite the Bush-era expansion, the number of Americans living in poverty in 2005 - 37 million - was the same as in 2004. This is the first time the number has not risen since 2000. But the share of the population now in poverty - 12.6 percent - is still higher than at the trough of the last recession, when it was 11.7 percent. And among the poor, 43 percent were living below half the poverty line in 2005 - $7,800 for a family of three. That is the highest percentage of people in 'deep poverty' since the government started keeping track of those numbers in 1975."

Standing alone, these backward slides are disturbing. Put into the context of our current political realities they are downright immoral.

When asked the other day - five years after 9/11 - whether Americans are willing to sacrifice for the common good, President Bush responded, "Americans are sacrificing. I mean, we are. You know, we pay a lot of taxes. America sacrificed ... when the economy went into the tank. Americans sacrificed when ... air travel was disrupted. American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover."

In truth, it is those at the margins, the least of these, who are being asked to make the biggest sacrifices. If anything the poor are being thrown overboard to keep the ship afloat.

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    D.C. rally against Darfur genocide
    by Dan Nejfelt

    On Sept. 9, the same day an American journalist was freed from a Sudanese prison, dozens of activists went to jail in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the plight of the people of Darfur. This protest marked the two-year anniversary of the Bush administration's declaration that genocide was under way in the region.

    The protestors, organized by D.C.-based Africa Action, were arrested for obstructing the sidewalk outside the White House while holding signs. This planned act followed a rally in Lafayette Square, where speakers and scores of activists gathered to call attention to the ongoing atrocities in Darfur and demand intervention by U.N. peacekeepers.

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    P.O.V. ^top

    What we've forgotten about 9/11
    by George W. Drance

    Smell is the most evocative of the senses. It can take us back years and across miles to a moment, unremembered since, but now unlocked by the visceral key of the sense of smell.

    I was on my way to work on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, walking to the corner of 6th Avenue to board the F train at the 14th Street subway station. "Oh my God! I saw it!" screamed a woman in the bicycle lane across the street from me. The noise of her voice continued, but my own thoughts drowned her words. "Oh no? A car accident? A mugging? Is someone hurt, or dying or dead?" I looked at her and the small crowd that collected around her, all staring downtown. I thought maybe someone needed the last rites, so I crossed the street instead of entering the subway from my own corner.

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    Liberal literalists
    by Jason Byassee

    Occasionally it's the liberals who are the literalists.

    Elvira Arellano is an undocumented worker whom the Department of Homeland Security is eager to deport. That's not uncommon in a country with 10-12 million such immigrants and a rising political tide for their removal. The unusual aspect of this case is Elvira's status as an activist who works on behalf of immigrant families threatened with deportation. She has also taken refuge in an unusual place: her church.

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    National grassroots mobilization training

    Looking to gain grassroots organizing skills? Join the Center for Progressive Leadership for a free house party training near you!

    As we work to move the Covenant for a New America to the top of the national political agenda, Sojourners/Call to Renewal plan to connect you to a range of training opportunities to deepen your advocacy, organizing, and media skills. The first is a National grassroots mobilization training taking place in house parties all over the country on Thursday, Sept. 21.

    With the help of groups such as Wellstone Action, America Votes, Sierra Club, True Majority, and others, hundreds of passionate progressives from different organizations are coming together for these trainings.

    Click here to join a house party training in your area.

    The two-hour training will focus on:

    • What grassroots organizing is and why it is important
    • How we can effectively engage people to drive our campaigns, issues, and efforts
    • Effective tools for recruiting volunteers and talking to voters.
    • Connecting progressive organizers from different communities

    This is a tremendous opportunity to gain additional skills and network with other progressive organizers in your community.

    You can also help build momentum for the event by spreading the word about it to your local community, progressive organizations that you know, and individuals who you think might want to get involved.

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    This week's media round-up

    Top story:

    Evangelical Author Puts Progressive Spin On Traditional Faith The Washington Post
    Along with such other progressive evangelicals as Washington-based anti-poverty activist Jim Wallis and educator Tony Campolo, [Brian] McLaren is openly critical of the conservative political agenda favored by many evangelicals.

    More Sojourners in the news:

    Christian progressives fight for their faith Colorado Springs Independent

    Author examines U.S. partisanship, religion during convocation The Graphic

    "Faithful" Democrats Tackle Their God Problem Mother Jones

    An Uneven Look at Religious Right's Wrongs Boston Globe

    The Problem with Prophets Christianity Today

    More Republican than religious Palm Beach Post

    Some Democrats go online to click with religious voters USA Today

    U.S. Public Deplores too Secular Liberals and too Dominant Religious Right Ekklesia

    Norman Kember Joins Pop singers and Poets at the Greenbelt Festival The Church of England Paper

    U.S. Church Fair-Wage Activists Pressure McDonald's Ekklesia

    "Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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    Amnesty International invites YOUR faith community to participate in the National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty, Oct. 20-22, 2006. Resource materials and a FREE DVD provided upon registering. Visit today!

    18th Annual CCDA National Conference Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2006. Philadelphia Marriott. Whether you are a student or a seasoned Christian Community Developer, you will treasure the CCDA conference experience. Visit for details.

    Make a pilgrimage to the Two-Thirds World with Ministry of Money: Israel/Palestine in November '06; India in '06; and Kenya in March '07. Listen, learn, and be a presence to the poor. Your life, and theirs, may never be the same. Visit

    The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage, by Mark Klempner. "Hope becomes personal, concrete, and believable in these marvelous stories." - Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

    Uncle Grumps - a Web site of Books, Music and Ideas. Who is the hypocrite - Albert Schweitzer, Thomas Jefferson, or Bono? Read the "Laying Down Your Life(style)" series and find out.

    WHAT AILS THEE? TRANSFORMATION AND THE MYTH OF THE HOLY GRAIL. Oct. 6 - 8, 2006. A residential workshop for women activists. Grail Retreat Center, Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Contact: Women's Institute for Social Transformation,, 845-534-2031.

    Got a blog? Or use MySpace, Digg or Delicious? We're looking for Internet-savvy SojoMail readers to help spread the word about our new congregational network, Faith & Justice Churches. For details, e-mail

    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    George Addison writes from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada:

    Like you, I am frustrated at the failure of the international community to respond to the crisis in Sudan ["Voices to stop genocide," SojoMail 9/6/2006]. However, I worry that calls for a "robust" international force could provide cover for another Iraq-like occupation, bringing not justice but a grab for oil. Surely we do not need another Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, or Iraq! In my view, the steps toward justice in Sudan must be negotiated among Africans, without the threat of armed intervention. After centuries of colonialism, those of us in the North need to make clear that we advocate aid and change without war. Thank you for your consistent voice for peace and justice


    Dr. Pam Hartman writes from Corona, New Mexico:

    An unfortunate response that Christians make to efforts to make peace and intervene on behalf of the suffering is that violence becomes necessary because of the magnitude of the problem, whether it be genocide in the Sudan or the threat of terrorism. For many of us, prayer and action become reactive rather than proactive. If we truly believe in the Savior who told us that faith could move mountains, then we should be living with the expectation that the God who can do anything can hear our prayers even before millions of people die and war becomes the "only" solution to international injustice. Keeping the welfare of others first in our Christian walk should issue a call to action for us to speak and act early, before the bin Ladens and the Hitlers and the rebel conflicts have a chance to take root.


    Sarah Diligenti-Pickup writes from Bethesda, Maryland:

    As long as we shop at these giant retailers, nothing will change ["Target vs. Wal-Mart," SojoMail 9/6/2006]. On the one hand, because the gap between low incomes and high incomes is growing, and with the disappearance of the middle class, these giant retail stores are the last resources for those of us whose wages cannot afford to buy higher-priced American and union-made items. It is indeed a vicious circle. We also need to change our attitude toward shopping: do we really need all the stuff that is being marketed? Target has the smartest TV ads around and these "little movies" know how to push the right button of the average consumer. Let's repeat, "And lead us not into temptation," every time a Target ad appears on the small screen!


    Chris Peltier writes from Amherst, Massachusetts:

    I found myself feeling very sad after reading Jim Wallis' recent post "Changing the Conversation" [SojoMail 8/31/2006]. While the article justly celebrates some of the accomplishments of Wallis and the Sojourners movement over the last couple of years, I couldn't avoid the feeling that all the national attention with the attendant "access" and "influence" is turning Sojourners into the very thing you are protesting against.

    The post was basically a self-aggrandizing fundraising letter, complete with blanket demonization of the opposition under the rubric of "the Religious Right." With a few terminology changes, the letter could have come as easily from Falwell and the Moral Majority with "liberals" and their minions as the hobgoblins of choice. In the quest to generate the kind of influence your opponents have enjoyed, you are adopting their tactics and marketing tools, losing in the process the prophetic legitimacy that has made Sojourners unique over the years.


    Sandra Garrett writes from Elizabethton, Tennessee:

    Earlier this year, I had the great joy of seeing Maya Angelou speak at a local university. One of her stories involved a young woman who came up to Miss Angelou, introduced herself, and said "I am a Christian." Miss Angelou's response was "Already?!" She went on to say she had been striving for more than 70 years to live as a Christian, and admitted she had a good ways to go. I loved that answer.

    Unfortunately, and like so many other things, such as the American flag, patriotism, and conservativism, the far right has successfully co-opted the word for their own use. I appreciate Sojourners for their open and honest work in bringing about change and justice. I will be honest: I am not a Christian, yet I do not want to see the good work of people who live the word of Jesus be adulterated any more by those who would only serve themselves. Thanks to Sojourners, I feel I have a way to stay connected to people who really care about peace and justice, not just about getting me in their church pew to listen to scripture.


    Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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