The Common Good

Picture This

Sojomail - August 18, 2011


"It was one of those surreal things, like seeing a UFO. When you are a person who already thought that maybe you should be dead because life was so bad to you, I thought this could be a premonition."

- Laura Brooks, of Spotsylvania, Virginia, who discovered she had become one of about 14,000 people a year mistakenly declared dead when she stopped receiving her disability checks, and her rent and student loan payments unexpectedly bounced.
(Source: Chicago Tribune)

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Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children plod across barren cracked earth. Dead cows and human corpses litter the roads, revealing to us evidence of two things: 1) the hottest summer on record in Somalia, which caused the worst drought and famine in 60 years; and 2) twenty years of a truly failed Somali government swallowed up in cycles of violence.

Picture this: Posturing politicians claim to stand up for the rights of Americans, even as they hijack the proverbial steering wheel of America. They hold a proverbial gun to the heads of every American, and say outright that they'd have no problem driving us all off a proverbial cliff if millionaires and billionaires don't remain protected from raised taxes, and if we don't cut more programs that protect working and poor people.

Picture this: One Somali family walks across cracked earth and carcasses for two months in search of food. They outsmart bandits, thugs, and rapists. They sleep wherever they can find safe shelter. They arrive at a refugee camp in eastern Kenya only to find cholera and measles sweeping through the malnourished and immune-suppressed camp.

Picture this: The U.S. House of Representatives votes on a proposed budget for FY2012 that would cut emergency food aid by seventy-five percent compared to FY2008 levels.

Last week, I interviewed Ambassador Tony P. Hall just after he had returned from a trip to the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya. He told me about his encounter with a family that had walked for two months in order to find food. "I can't get them out of my mind," Ambassador Hall said.

Now picture this: A woman walks into her neighborhood church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one of the richest zip codes in the United States. She leans in close to the person working the front desk and whispers, "I have no food."

In an article titled, "Five Myths about Hunger in America," The Washington Post reported the results of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent study on hunger in America. The first myth was, "No one goes hungry in America." As of November 2010, more than 14.7 million American families struggled to put food on the table. This is approximately 15 percent of all U.S. households.

Picture this: When President Obama proposes that Congress close tax loopholes for corporate jet owners, House politicians position themselves as the defenders of corporations, jets, and loopholes.

I strongly believe that neither political party is inherently good or bad, moral or immoral. After all, the Republican Party freed my ancestors and passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, in quick succession in 1865, 1866, and 1869. But what followed was a century long shift in party politics, from the late 1860's to 1965's passage of the Voting Rights Act. Today, we see the evidence of this shift in bass relief.

An LA Times analysis of the debt ceiling deal put this in plain language and stated: "High stakes negotiations force people to reveal what they really care about." The analysis said flatly, Republicans revealed they care most about "preventing any tax increases to upper income families." The Democrats, the article stated, revealed that they care most about "ensuring no cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and a handful of other programs that aid the elderly and the poor."

It doesn't have to be this way. Polls are pleading with politicians to see the stark truth: Both Democrats and Republicans favor tax hikes for the wealthy over cuts in services for the poor. There are far more Americans (both Democrat and Republican) who care more about America's ability to help families, such as the one Ambassador Hall encountered, than about tax breaks for corporate jets. There are far more Americans (both Democrat and Republican) who care more about their hungry neighbors and family members than about protecting Bush era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

It is time for all of us to make our voices heard within both parties. Stand up! Now is the time. If your party won't listen to your words, then speak with your votes.

People around the world are watching the rancor rise as we wade into what promises to be a brutal election season, and they feel helpless… even hopeless. But we are not without hope. We are not without help.

Now picture this: Jesus said, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [the Lord] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18) Jesus followers in both parties, it's time to follow our leader.

Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing at Sojourners and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

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  Inside Sojourners Magazine

Peace Be Upon Them

Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order. A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read.

That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world.

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