Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Those Darn Poor People!

"The mortgage crisis began when Democrats forced banks and mortgage companies with the threat of "discrimination" claims to make loans to people who could not qualify or afford homes and as a result mortgage companies were forced to ignore the usual qualifying terms. The Democrats actually "regulated" the free markets and as a result the free market was no longer "free" but "bridled" with a cram down on mortgages to those who could not otherwise qualify. Lets get the facts straight."

That's a quote from someone who replied to Central Dallas Ministries' CEO and President, Larry James' blog post yesterday.

It's something I've seen time after time: national disaster strikes, poor people are threatened or suffer - think Katrina, think the public education crisis, think this current economic crisis. The crisis is going to cost money. Lots of it. It doesn't take long before someone figures out that public policy aimed at helping low income families and the poor is to blame. Or we should blame the poor themselves!

Is this economic collapse the fault of people making $25,000-$30,000 trying to get $500,000-$800,000 homes? Is that the reason we're where we are? Is it really because there was legislation that forced banks to stop 'redlining' poor neighborhoods so that businesses could get loans, car loans could be more accessible?

Do you believe that? Do you believe that reason we are in this situation is because we didn't wait long enough for trickle-down economics to really work?

Please, I would really like to hear from you on this one!

By the way: Congresses' failure to pass the $700 billion rescue package, cost the country $1.2 trillion on Wall Street. Guess that's what we get for sending the poor to D.C.!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Separation of Church and Sense

Let me begin with this disclaimer:
I love the church. By that I mean, not just the African-American church, but the church at large. I believe across the broad spectrum of faith and religious tradition, there is so much to learn from one another, and too often we allow our petty dogmas to get in the way.

That being said, I can't agree with every position of every church. I just believe we can have profound disagreements, regarding the interpretation of scripture, tradition and how we are to fulfill our mandate and still be brothers and sisters.

There are churches that are pushing this to the edge, however. They are churches that are deciding to take on the IRS on the issue of candidate endorsements.

Check out the CNN report:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2008/09/29/carroll.pulpit.politics.cnn

Now I certainly understand the temptation to do this. And I also understand what may be best intentioned motivation. But the slippery slope the church begins to tread when it states a preference in a political candidacy of any kind is something that cannot begin without considerable prayer and...thought!

Do we really want different factions of the church at war with one another around the candidacy of politicians? Oh, don't get me wrong, I know it happens already, but once you blatantly begin going in this direction, your doing more than violating the law regarding 'separation of church and state'.

One Baptist pastor actually says, "...there's no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barak Hussein Obama." Really?! Do we really want to make that the determiner of whether or not one is 'Christian'? And what about non-Christians? Does a vote for the candidate this church endorses constitutes 'salvation'? You see what I mean?

And what about other churches for whom essential values, go beyond abortion, gay marriage, etc. What of those churches that believe social justice, racism, poverty and the environment are more pressing public issues?

Here's another thing: what if, one day, the president doesn't deliver on the issues that a church, or a pastor which served as the basis on which he or she received the endorsement? Oh, yeah... that's already happened a few times, to a number of us, Democratic and Republican! The problem is, we lose moral authority and we risk the capacity for prophetic witness, when the church is too closely aligned with empire - be it political, or commercial. And this is hardly a racial issue - I've heard black and white preachers cross this line.

The fact is, we are a pluralistic society. We compete politically in the public square with the interests of other groups, civic, religious, commercial and otherwise. You don't win, by declaring a holy war on everyone who doesn't believe the way you do. Nor is it wise, in a country founded on 'Judeo-Christian' principles, to declare that the only true 'believers' are the ones who vote the way you do.

Churches, whatever they teach, have the right to provide education on any issue that they feel impacts their community or the nation. Preachers have the responsibility to share their perspective on issues based on their interpretation of the scriptures. Responsible scholarship will should make sure that such interpretation is as accurate as possible. Responsible citizenship requires an informed electorate and that information should be in consonance with the values of the voter - including the values taught by his or her faith tradition. But beyond that, all pastors, ministers and church bodies, should be careful of entanglements that can come with endorsements.

We have recently seen a faction of our church entertain the world as theological contortionists - because in order to softly endorse a candidate, they have to deal with some issues that represent true doctrinal problems. But this is what happens when religion becomes hungry for secular power. Its hardly a new problem, but it is a real problem.

Those of us in the church who aren't spiritual enough to recognize the problem, ought to at least be too smart to keep falling into the same trap.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Celebrating Good Work

Lauded as one of the greatest politicians of our time, lamented because of the unfulfilled potential of his presidency and lambasted because of his personal weaknesses and failures, Bill Clinton's post presidential years may be recorded as the most significant on record.

The recently concluded Clinton Global Initiative has an impressive record of bringing together corporations, philanthropic institutions, individuals and governments to address the issues that threaten quality of life worldwide.

I believe it provides a blueprint for the coordination of the resources of the same types of institutions on a local level. I hope you agree. The link below is the video of a session entitled, 'Overcoming Poverty in Challenging Environtments'. It's about an hour, I think it will be worth your time.


_____________________________________________

Paul Newman

1925-2008

"Cool Hand Luke", "The Sting", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "The Hustler", "The Color of Money", "The Verdict",do I need to go on?

Paul Newman was one of our countries greatest actors. He exhibited a style and a grace that was always pleasing to watch, even in his later years - I even liked him in "The Road to Perdition".

But Newman wasn't just a great actor. When he started 'Newman's Own', I wondered just how much money anyone could raise for charity by selling salad dressing! The answer: $150,000,000! His concern for Civil Rights and his compassion for children through another project called "The Hole in the Wall Gang", shows that celebrity doesn't have to be a self serving end in itself. It can be a tool through which those who are celebrated can make life better for others.

Paul Newman was a wonderfully engaging personality. The world will miss his talent and his heart.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

HOWARD THURMAN


1899 - 1981
Theologian, Educator, Philosopher, Civil Rights Leader

“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

More History Made in the Presidential Race

It's probably understandable that lost amid the current crisis with the economy and the controversy regarding whether or not the first presidential debates will be held (it appears it will), is the historic significance of the venue.

The University of Mississippi, 'Ole Miss', is of singular importance to the Civil Rights Movement. And tonight is yet another example of historic and political irony among so many ironies that our country is witnessing this year.

In 1962, James Meredith an African-American, applied to become the first black student at the school. Having applied on January 31, 1962, Meredith was informed by telegram on February 4 that his admission was denied. Meredith then sought the help of the Justice Department in gaining admission. Eventually a law suit by the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, which would go all the way to the Supreme Court, allowed Meredith to gain admission in September 1962.

On Friday night, the first presidential debate of this election season will be held at Ole Miss and one participant is an African-American.

There are many of us who are acutely aware that America's progress on the issue of race has been made at a snail's pace. Others will argue that this quantum leap took less than 50 years.
But one must remember its a fifty year period at the tail end of nearly 400 years of slavery, bigotry, disenfranchisement and oppression, some of which still takes place.

Either way, I think we ought to mark this moment and celebrate the progress. How far we've actually come will be seen, in some measure on November 4. That determination won't be based on whether or not Barak Obama wins or loses, but why.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Clinton Global Initiative

As incredibly draining as the news has been recently, I think that its time for something refreshing.

Today, the Clinton Global Initiative started. I think its one of the best things happening to bring together human and material resources in order to fight poverty and bring about substantive change throughout the world.

Sponsored by the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), is an innovative strategy highlighting the efforts of individuals, governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) to grapple with the problems of disease, poverty, environment, climate change and economic development worldwide.

Attendees, come to not only learn about what's happening across the world, but are required to make a commitment to join one of those efforts, or to do something themselves during the course of the year.

Some of the commitments have resulted in:

The Nobility Project, in education - commits to utilize the insights of Nobel laureates and other global leaders to engage one million students in the issues that will shape their own futures.

Collaboration Productivity to Reduce Carbon Emissions - Cisco commits to invest $20 million dollars in collaboration technologies which will increase person to person interaction while reducing the need for physical travel.

5 Million Kids " Silver Rights" Initiative, 2008 - Operation HOPE, Inc., Operation HOPE commits to break the back of the high-school drop-out epidemic in America by highlighting the importance of education in future success.

It's pretty easy to take shots at Bill Clinton (I've taken a few myself). But this is a visionary product that provides inspiration and innovation through its challenges.

I'm trying to work on a way to replicate its model on a local level here in Dallas. If you've got any ideas, I'd sure like to hear them!

You can catch what's happening live on the CGI website: http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org

Texas Faith Perspective

For the past few weeks I, and a number of other pastors, theologians and religious thought leaders throughout Texas, have participated in an online forum hosted by the Dallas Morning News. Weekly we are asked to give our perspective on a particular issue as viewed from our faith perspective. Readers have the opportunity to respond to our answers and we, in turn can react to their responses (so far I haven't but some of the 'discussions' are pretty interesting).

The questions are put to us by a group of DMN editorial writers: Bill McKenzie, Jeff Weiss, Wayne Slater and Richard Dreher.

This weeks question comes from Jeff: "What do you find in your faith tradition that helps you deal with or explain the reality of suffering?"

Hope you find the answers interesting and stimulating. If you've got a response, you can post it here and/or at the DMN site. But I'd love to know what you think.

Click on this link to participate view and participate:
http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/09/texas-faith-how-does-religion.html

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Learning What's at Stake

For those of us whose most consistent economic challenge is in making sure we have enough money in our checking account, the current Wall Street crisis is bewildering. Yet, ironically, these are the people for whom the severity of the potential economic disaster will be most acute.


The Dallas Morning News had an excellent article yesterday which can provide some clarity regarding just how dangerous a future we face.


"The Bush administration's bailout plan for a financial crisis rooted in failing mortgages is pretty simple.


"It asks Congress to increase the national dept ceiling to $11.315 trillion to cover $700 billion in new borrowings so the Treasury Department can buy bad loans.


"'We're charging the national credit card. It's more of the same, just in larger numbers,' said deficit hawk David Walker, president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation."


The significance of this is staggering on a global level: If congress raises the debt ceiling, 79% of America's $14 trillion economy will be debt!


Most of us know that China carries a good percentage of the current debt, but list of our other creditors is also scary: Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Russia. Aren't these some of the countries that we've been lecturing about human rights, military aggression and fair trade? How serious a moral voice can we have, when we're talking to the people to whom we owe big, big money.

The current economic situation makes virtually everything, a subject of foreign policy and everything a matter of national security. The lines are now blurred in ways that probably be refocused in the lifetimes of most of us.


There are other reasons that regular Americans ought to be concerned. Ultimately, inaction or the wrong action will cost citizens life savings, retirement savings and eventually jobs. Increasing unemployment leading to further personal economic insecurity makes a rising class of poor people suddenly a very real possibility. And some of those who will be poor, will find out how some of those who are currently poor, weren't lazy, irresponsible, or unchristian - they will understand that more than we currently realize were early casualties of a system that did not work for them.


The other cause for concern can be seen in Congress' refusal to act with the haste with which this administration is calling. Is the collapse of the economic infrastructure of our nation imminent? Does this portend the need for a radical restructuring of our economy as the Secretary of the Treasury is suggesting? If so, how negligent is Congress being in calling for more time?


While there is a part of me that understands enough to see the rationale for hasty action, in light of the past eight years I think Congress' judiciousness, indeed skepticism, is somewhat appropriate.


After 'victory' was declared in the Iraq War; after we discovered no WMD and found out that Niger didn't have yellow cake uranium; when we understood that the rush to pass the Patriot Act also included restrictions on our freedoms, there were cries not to 'blame' anyone. 'We will have plenty of time to point fingers', officials said.


So having given into fear of imminent danger and having never adequately or officially held anyone accountable we are once again faced with another situation in which we are told that if we don't act immediately there will be catastrophic consequences. And frankly, enough political capital and integrity has been squandered for Congress to legitimately say, "Hold on, we need to think about this!"


The problem is now, there may really not be enough time to think!


I guess the upshot of all of this, is that there is a lot at stake, and more than money. There is something of the political fabric of our nation that is frayed, much as it was after Watergate. And while there may be nothing officially criminal going on, distrust of government and economic institutions is not a good atmosphere for a free market system.


Maybe this whole situation just goes to prove something else John Kenneth Galbraith said, "In communism man exploits man; in capitalism you have the opposite."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Financial Crisis

Believe it or not, I rarely say everything I think, but here are some random thoughts of mine.

Bear with me:

Today, the Congressional Banking Committee will hear arguments for the $700 billion bailout plan, giving unprecedented and nearly unfettered power to right the American economy.

The last time we had to rush to a decision was with the Patriot Act. Why are urgent decisions made by Congress lately, involving the restriction of freedoms and handing over unprecedented power to government? I thought we had ushered in the age of 'less' government.

A renown surgeon was teaching her students a very difficult procedure. 'You have less than a minute to tie off this artery or your patient will bleed to death,' she said, '...so hurry up and take your time'.

Will those who believe that charity is the only way to take care of the poor, still believe that when they become poor?

How rich do you have to be to believe that the bailout is not a good idea?

Given the fact that the party in power almost always gets blamed for bad economic times - how far ahead would Barak Obama be in the polls if he were white?

Why have people been saying, 'Now is not the time to assign blame and point fingers'? Are we to honestly believe that no one is to blame? What happened to accountability?

Why doesn't either candidate say - "I know what I've told you my economic strategy is, but these circumstances call for a new game plan and I'm working on one." Have we gotten to the point where thoughtfulness is not a quality we want in a president?

Did our president really have to wait for 'the experts' to tell him that the markets were 'linked' and that 'ordinary people' would be hurt?

When you were in school, how much time did you spend counting in trillions?

The start of the 21st century seems eerily like the start of the 20th century, only with better technology.

What does it tell us when a crisis is so deep that there is only one plan?

What would the country do if we couldn't borrow $700 billion?

When all the experts tell us that the number of people classified as poor is growing by the thousands every year, why has there been no urgent action called for?

How much are our children learning about economics in school?

In times like these who do people who don't trust in God trust?

Monday, September 22, 2008

There are Quite a Few Gamers Out There!

In an effort to make some sense of this electoral season's increasing levels of irony, double standards and outright hypocrisy, the country's current economic calamity has me stymied.

Let me explain:

A couple of years ago one of my former junior high teachers emailed me with a fairly generous offer of help for some of our neighbors (what other organizations call clients). I don't really remember what the offer was and actually it doesn't matter. What caught my attention was the caveat that he included in giving me the information regarding the assistance. "I would like to see this go to someone who really needs the help, not by someone who is gaming the system."
Now this is one of my favorite teachers and coaches. And he and I have had occasion to see one another from time to time across the years. In fact he honored me by asking me to preach the funeral service for his wife.

But I was offended by the statement that he wanted us to make sure that assistance went to someone who wasn't 'gaming the system'. I know what he meant, I understood his concern. But, really? I remembered this conversation when Wall Street's problems come to mind - making me more offended!

Wasn't this current mess started by people who were 'gaming the system'?

The emerging trend of some conservatives is to look at legislation signed by Bill Clinton as the start of the problem. It was legislation that expanded the capacity of banks to offer a wide array of investment intruments, if I understand it correctly. While it never fails to amaze me that people find some way to blame Clinton for everything the Crusades to, the Lincoln assassination let's just assume for a minute that signing the legislation created an opportunity for the current near collapse of the United States economy. Did signing that legislation mean that financial institutions now had the opportunity to expand legitimate business opportunity? Or was it intended to make it easier for greedy, robber barons to exploit and nearly wreck the free market? And wasn't that a Republican dominated Congress that passed the legislation and sent it to him for his signature. And by the way, if the bill was so bad, where was the outrage when the legislation was drafted and passed by those who now blame him for signing it?

Also, there is a great deal of talk of how the current problem is the result of poorly regulated or unregulated markets in real estate and finance. Now, of course, we are crying for regulation, because we see that without regulation we have too few checks or balances to place restraints on human greed and exploitation. Interesting. Because the lack of regulation is likely to cost at least a trillion dollars and bump up the nation's deficit to somewhere close to 11 trillion (if I'm off a billion here or a billion there, excuse me, I'm not used to counting that high!).

Here's my point: weren't they the one's who took unfair advantage of the legislation we're blaming Clinton for signing. Weren't they 'gaming the system'? And aren't the cries for 'regulation' now, cries for corporations to live with the same checks and balances that poor people have to live with?

You see, if you are poor, food stamps are not automatic. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), is not a given. Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP are all programs for which you must apply and qualify. The same is true for public housing. All assistance given to the poor is assistance that is in some way 'regulated' to control the prospect of 1% of the federal budget devoted to public assistance being 'gamed', by 5% of the country's population!

If you can find waste, fraud and abuse of 1% of the federal budget which reaches the estimated one trillion dollar bailout/restructure/loan (whatever its currently being called), then I can stop this line of argument and go on to something else.

Or if you can cut costs in public assistance that will balance the trillions of dollars which currently constitute the federal deficit, then again we can go on to something else.

I guess my question is: why are we feeling sympathy for people who 'game the system' because they have money? Especially when their 'gaming' has global consequences? And why is it somehow more moral to tell poor people who make bad decisions, who live irresponsibly and who do not prepare for the unforeseeable that they must 'suffer the consequences of their actions', while at the same time pan handling for bailouts and providing golden parachutes for CEO's who run companies in the ground?

My former coach is right. We do need to keep people from gaming the system. But maybe we ought not be quite as concerned about the people he's talking about.

There are obviously quite a few 'gamers' out there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Evening Musings

Church was edifying and comforting today.

I went to two churches this morning. I attended the early service at the church to which I and my family belong. At 11:00 am, I attended another church to have a conversation with a pastor, whose church is in South Dallas, where Central Dallas Ministries wants to do some work.

My pastor preached a message that spoke to our members' insecurities, given our country's current state of affairs. And, before some of you jump to conclusions, he did so without mentioning government, or blaming the president (in fact, never mentioned him) or either presidential candidate.

He encouraged us to trust in God, radically, although it may look as if we will go down with our faith. He told us that many of us have trusted in the wrong things and if we continue to place our trust in those things, we will go down with them.

There are those in our congregation who are in danger of losing jobs. But in general, the news of this week is unsettling, no matter how vulnerable you know yourself to be.

The United States tax payer has become an involuntary investor in the failing industries of finance and real estate. We have barely averted a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. By their own admission, politicians, economists and business leaders have told the country greed and political expediency are the culprits and we are all in some measure of jeopardy.

In the end, we were told early this morning to trust in the God Who has never failed us.

At the second service, a smaller working class congregation was also exhorted by their pastor to continue to trust in God. The current business in Washington is something we don't control. Pray for the government, the pastor said. Several members came down for prayer. One young lady had a testimony that she had been out of work since February, 2007. She recently found a job in the sector of an industry in which she has always wanted to work. The pastor lauded her for her faithfulness. She always came to church, even though she was out of work.

For anyone wondering, based on what has been said: white people were never mentioned. America was only mentioned in as much as my pastor talked about our misplaced values. And no one was 'blamed' for poverty and no one gloated over what has befallen our nation.

All of this made me wonder, though. These are two African-American congregations. What was being said in churches whose make-up is different? What was being said in pulpits which have extolled America's prosperity and power as evidence of God's blessing? Was anyone saying that this type of 'patriotism' is really self destructive, delusional materialism, wrapped in a thin veneer of religiosity? Did anyone say that we need a new ethic, one that recognizes that our country can't be very 'Christian' if we believe that wealth is to be hoarded by 2% of the population, while 98% of wallow in divisiveness, aquisitiveness or poverty?

There are former church donors who no longer support CDM, because we don't have a lot of opportunities for people to come and 'evangelize' our neighbors. Did any of these churches stop to inquire about the salvation of some of the people in their surrounding neighborhoods who may have lost their net worth because of what's happened this week? Will they be working on a 'mission project' to help members who borrowed money for houses they couldn't afford, or lost life savings and are now desperate?

Was anyone reminded of Psalms 62:10, "...if riches increase, set not your heart on them."?

I hope so. Our country will overcome this adversity. But I hope we learn that there can be circumstances resulting in loss that are not a sign of God's absence. Sometimes they are a sign that God is too present to allow us to take Him for granted.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

John Kenneth Galbraith

1908-2006
Economist, Author, Ambassador, Presidential Advisor

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Distancing by Labeling

'Young and irresponsible', 'illegal aliens', 'crack heads', 'alcoholics', 'unteachable', 'uneducated', 'disruptive', 'lazy', 'welfare queens', 'drop outs'.

These are the pejorative labels we put on the poor in order to distance ourselves from them and evade any thought of what we might do to help those whose quality of life might fall below our own. They are families on the margins whose dream is not to get to level of the super rich, but somewhere close to ours.

I don't know about you, but the Urban Institutes's profile of Low Income Wage Families sounds a lot like my family during times when we really struggled.

As I wrote yesterday, the genius of the dominant culture in recent years has been to get people making $35,000 a year to champion the interests of those who make $350,000,000. Exaggeration? A little. But by identifying with the wealthy allows us to distance ourselves from those whose challenges are so similar to our own. It makes it easier to believe that those of us who have 'made it' (or think we are making it, or can make it) can ignore the fact that when the struggling fall through the cracks, it hurts all of us.

Unless you are worth about $350,000, 000!

What do our struggling neighbors really look like?

While the heads of low-income working families are likely to be younger and less educated than those of middle-income families, the large majority is over age 30 and has at least a high school education. Of the heads of high-work, low-income families, 72 percent have at least a high school education and 76 percent are over age 30.

Compared to middle-income working families, low-income working families are disproportionately nonwhite and immigrant, although most are headed by native-born, white, and non-Hispanic adults. High-work, low-income families are less likely than their middle-income counterparts to be headed by a U.S.-born citizen (69 versus 85 percent). And high-work, low-income families are almost three times more likely than middle-income families to have non citizen heads (27 versus 8 percent).

Health problems are more prevalent among low-income working families. Sixteen percent of full-time workers heading low-income families report fair or poor health, compared with 7 percent of workers in middle-income families. Low-income adults working a moderate amount are even more likely to have health problems, with 25 percent reporting fair or poor health. Health problems may be contributing to their limited hours of work. Low-income families are also more likely than middle-income families to have a child in poor health.

On average, children in low-income households fare worse than children in higher-income households on a host of indicators. Low-income children are more likely than higher-income children to live in stressful home environments and with parents reporting symptoms of poor mental health. Among school-age children and adolescents, those living in low-income families are less likely to be highly engaged in school activities and more likely to exhibit high levels of emotional and behavioral problems.

With the job-market downturn, families are working less and have lower incomes, as Labor markets have slacked considerably since early 2001. Between 2000 and 2003, the number of people in low-income families with children increased from 30 to 32 percent of the population, and the proportion of all households with a full-time, full-year worker fell from 88 to 85 percent. Single-parent households were hit especially hard; they bore 37 percent of the loss in full-time, full-year employment while receiving only 8 percent of the increase in unemployment insurance benefits.

Few low-income working families receive welfare benefits; half receive help with a parent's or child's health insurance. Only 5 percent of all low-income families with a full-time, full-year worker receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Fifty-two percent of these families have public health insurance coverage, reflecting a decline in employer-sponsored coverage, the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and many states' decisions to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Know anyone like this? Or is it just easier to label?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

With Whom do You Identify?

When it comes to poverty, one of the easiest 'arm chair quarterback' exercises, is to judgemental ism about the poor. Most often this judgementalism is the result of our bias, or it is the result of having bought into the fear mongering that has been so prevalent in the last few years. Not only the fear of threat from without, but a shrinking pie that we consider the American economy to be. It has amazed me, and I consider the genius of the dominant culture, that we have somehow made it 'logical' for people who make $35,000 a year, to defend the interest of people who make $350,000,000.

The fact is, most of us are more likely to fall below the poverty level, than make a million!

So who are these people for whom we have so much antipathy, if not indifference?

The Urban Institute has done a study on Low Income Working Families. Perhaps you can find some points of identification with this group:

The vast majority of low-income parents today are working but still struggling to make ends meet: struggling to find and keep a toehold in a changing labor market, to keep up with their bills, to pay the spiraling costs of essentials like health care and housing, and to raise children with a chance of future success. These families have much in common with other American families as they seek to balance work and family life, yet parents and children in low-income families are more financially vulnerable than those in higher-income families.

One-quarter of America's children live in low-income families with a working parent. In 2001, almost 19 million children lived with parents who worked regularly in families that remained low-income (income below twice the official poverty threshold, or about $38,000 for a family of four). Of all low-income families with children, 6 in 10 have at least one parent who worked full-time all year, and another 1 in 10 have a parent who worked at least half-time all year.

Low hourly wages explain why these working families have low incomes. The vast majority of a low-income family's income comes from earnings (89 percent for a low-income family with at least one full-time, full-year worker). Yet, the median hourly wage for the primary worker in these families is about $9. If these workers see their real wages grow 4 percent per year, it will take 11 years to reach the $14 average hourly wage for middle-income families (income between two and three times the poverty threshold).

Low-income working families receive fewer job benefits than middle-income families. Low-income families with at least one full-time worker are much less likely than middle-income families to receive health insurance through an employer (49 versus 77 percent). Almost one in ten of these "high-work" low-income families report postponing needed medical care during a 12-month period for lack of health insurance or money. And, low-income working families are less likely to have paid vacation or sick leave than higher-income families, making it more difficult to juggle work, family health, and well-being.

Low-income working families face greater food and housing hardships. Over one-quarter of low-income families with a full-time worker experience hardships related to food and housing. Forty percent of moderate-work, low-income families (those without a full-time worker but still working a substantial number of hours) report food and housing hardship.

Child care can be a large expense for low-income working families in which the mother works. Sixty-nine percent of children under age 5 with low-income working mothers are cared for regularly by someone other than a parent. Thirty-nine percent of these children are in care for at least 35 hours a week. High-work, low-income families that pay for child care spend $3,135 per year on average, or 12 percent of income.

More to come, but I think its important to know that hard work is not the exclusive province of the well-to-do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Redeveloping Communities: Innovation vs. Insufficient 'Solutions'

The prospects for adding a environmental technology component to the strategy of distressed neighborhood redevelopment calls for a radical intentionality. It cannot be a matter of the poetry of electoral rhetoric. It means that government must provide the public dollars as critical leverage to stimulate the private investment and initiative necessary to make this work.

By public dollars I mean money for adult education and job and job retraining for individuals whose skills need upgrading to match the demands of an emerging market. These are not jobs related to the environment found in pie in the sky, head in the clouds, push the envelope types of ventures. Certification in environmental remediation, includes things like, asbestos, mold and lead clean up, landscaping and certain areas of construction relate either directly or indirectly to an environmental jobs market.

In South Dallas, for instance, there are endless proposals and any number of redevelopment initiatives underway. The importance of knitting the myriad plans for neighborhood renewal together through a focus on the ecological market potential is, in my view, vital. The Trinity River Project, the development of the Trinity River Forest, as well as the Inland Port, not 30 minutes south of one of Dallas' most depressed areas, all offer opportunities for a new economy fueled by the environmental market.

This isn't an entirely new market. According to the national organization Green For All, an organization "...dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty", there's already a huge green economy developing. In 2006 renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies generated 8.5 million new jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue, and more than $100 billion in industry profits.

Employment opportunities focused on the environment help achieve the following:

Rebuild a Strong Middle Class
Provide Pathways Out of Poverty
Require Some New Skills (and some new thinking about old skills)
Tend to be Local Jobs
Strengthen Urban and Rural Communities
Protect Our Health and the Health of the Planet

President Bush's 'Green Jobs Act' which authorizes $125 million dollars to train, at risk youth, displaced workers and the poor for employment in this sector is a step in the right direction. The Senate could complement this by passing renewal of the Energy Policy Act which is currently stalled, in spite of being up for a vote eight times. The Energy Policy Act provides tax credits for those who add qualified solar panels, solar water heating equipment, or a fuel cell power plant to their homes in the United States (http://www.doe.gov/taxbreaks.htm). This will help create an atmosphere attractive to potential entrepreneurs who would provide the jobs in this market.

Again, it will take a healthy mix of public and private capital and initiative to make this work.

While there will always be need to train and provide opportunities in traditional areas of employment, there are some aspects of almost every area of the workforce that will be 'green'. The real question is whether or not our efforts in human capital development and economic development for our most depressed and challenged communities will be entrepreneurial and innovative. Or will we relegate ourselves to insufficient 'solutions'?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bridging the Market and the Ministry

Before his death in 2001 at the age of 78, he spent his years as a retired pastor working to end apartheid in South Africa and working to enrich the economy of the U.S. by strengthening the economy of developing African nations. But long before then, Leon Sullivan was an innovative pioneer in the area of workforce development.

A protege of Harlem pastor and United States Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sullivan became the pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA, in 1950. Working with other African-American pastors, he led a successful boycott of businesses in the black community which would not hire minorities. His mantra: don't buy where you cannot work.

In 1962, he led members of Zion to form the Zion Investment Group which led to major developments in real estate , garment manufacturing and Progress Aeorospace Enterprises, the first black aeorospace company.

But Rev. Sullivan's most recognized contribution was to job training. In 1964 he started the Operations Industrial Center (OIC). By 1969, OIC had trained nearly 20,000 minorities for jobs throughout the country. Ultimately, OIC grew to 66 affiliates throughout thirty states and the District of Columbia. OIC trained for jobs, but also taught life skills to thousands of people who had little or no skills taking them from no skills to sustainable productive lives. By 1969, OIC formed centers in other country formed Operation Industrial Centers International (OICI).

With OIC off the ground, Sullivan built Progress Plaza fulfilling his dream of having the first black owned and developed shopping center.

He convinced the city's Redevelopment Authority to donate land for the project and Rev. Sullivan set out to raise the capital needed to build the shopping center. "So I went to the chairman of the bank and I said, I want a construction loan", he recounts. "He said, well Reverend, you need some equity for something like this. Think about it and come back later in two, three or four years, and let's see what we can do." Rev. Sullivan was already prepared for that challenge, however. "Give me the sack", he told Zion's treasurer, William Downes. "I opened it up and $400,000 worth of equities came out", he describes. "The man's eye glasses fell off his eyes. He came around the table and took my hand and said, Reverend, we can work together." Rev. Sullivan's theory about the power of money to deal with persistent racial inequalities was proving to be correct. Sullivan went on to say, "I found that $400,000 makes a difference in race relations in America!"

The work of Leon Sullivan isn't just seen through the continuation of OIC today. There are any number of African-American pastors and churches whose involvement in economic development and social uplift follows a tradition brought to high relief by Sullivan's work in Philadelphia: Allen A.M.E. Cathedral, in Jamaica, New York; Little Flock Baptist Church and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan; Windsor Village United Methodist Church, in Houston, Texas; Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, all model both the spiritual nurture and the commitment to economic and social uplift that is reflected by Dr. Sullivan's model with the Zion Baptist Church.

Sullivan joined the board of directors of General Motors in 1971, eventually becoming its first African-American director. He opened the doors to jobs for minorities and black owned dealerships.

In 1988, Sullivan retired from the Zion Baptist Church, moved to Phoenix, Arizona and began working to build relationships between American businesses and developing African countries. He held summits in Africa to help promote cultural and political ties between African-Americans and Africans.

Dr. Sullivan died on April 25, 2001.

Sullivan inspires those of us who understand that the obstacles which face poor people can be solved if we look creatively at all the opportunities that we have. If we take advantage of those opportunities and see not only the present with fresh eyes, but are thoughtful enough to view the future as something that we can create. It doesn't just have to be something that happens to us.

I bet Leon Sullivan would be all over the 'green jobs' movement. He'd already have figured out how many jobs are in the creation of solar panels and wind power. He'd be training people for it and thousands of people would be looking to the future with hope instead of apprehension.

Dr. Sullivan's no longer with us, but I bet some of us can be inspired by him to focus on that future in the same way.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A New Frontier for Low-Income Communities

Conversations about economic development go off in many directions, but I think they all basically boil down to two things - entrepreneurship and living wage jobs. The more of both you have, the more diverse they are in the industry sector to which they are related, the more anticipatory they are in terms of the market, the greater contribution they make to communities, cities and beyond.

Tom Friedman is spot on, when he advances the notion of the 21st century being the age of E.T., Environmental Technology, in his new book "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why a Green Revolution is Needed - And How it Can Renew America". It can be to this period we live in, the equivalent to what I.T., Information Technology, was in the 90's.
This is particularly important in low-income, depressed areas, where industry has evaporated and for which the digital divide can no longer be relevant by simply trotting behind the rest of the world on the Internet.


I think Friedman's idea is an exciting one. It focuses on the need for energy independence in a way which calls to mind, not only the industrial and IT revolutions, but also the space race. And it calls for a creativity that is well within our grasp.

But I also think that his idea can be tremendously communal in its impact. The potential to create jobs in the inner city, in ways that transform the environment by making it more healthy, and providing skill sets based in the current economy, but with a creativity that propels these workers ahead of the curve by making them entrepreneurial. In effect, it makes them players in the market. And it proves that the market doesn't have to be a predatory construct, but one which with public support as well as private investment can turn lives and neighborhoods around.

Pipe dreaming? I don't think so. In the Bronx, New York, one young lady is already showing the way.

Majora Carter, a MacArthur Fellow and the executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, has created a 'green centered' environmental justice non-profit that is both entrepreneurial and having a profound impact on her community.
Recently, they've worked to help get a 'green roof' tax abatement of $4.50 a square foot. It amounts to an abatement of about 25% of the cost of converting a traditional roof to one sodded with vegetation. What's the benefit?

"The tax abatements make economic sense because horticultural infrastructure saves money.
Green, vegetated roofs keep storm water out of our sewer system - saving energy & operational costs while keeping toxics out of our rivers. Lower Summer Electricity Load: They also cool the city, whereas traditional tar roofs heat the city. Public Health: The plants clean the air too, and because the green part protects the waterproof layer from the elements, green roofs dramatically extend the life span of a roof."

It also has a greater economic impact: "We already know that vegetated roofs can have a measurable economic, ecological, and social benefits for property owners and communities, as Majora Carter and Sustainable South Bronx have demonstrated." -- Bill McDonough
FAIA, Co-Author Cradle to Cradle, Founding Partner, Principal: William McDonough + Partners

The point is whether we're talking about solar panels, windmills, gas, we're talking about jobs, we're talking about economic impact. We're also talking about transformed lives, transformed communities and a much brighter future for our country.

E.T. in the 21st century makes a lot of sense to me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Been Polled?

Have you been polled yet?

The numbers of polls can be mind numbing.

Who appeals to what demographic?

Who is strong on foreign policy?

Who is strong on domestic policy?

Who's best on the economy?

Who can protect you?

Who is ready from to be commander in chief?

Who shares your values?

Who would you most want to have a beer with?!

State-by-state polls. Regional polls. Daily tracking polls.

Anyone call you let?

Maybe like me, you hardly ever answer the phone, unless you recognize the number! Think you've missed your chance?

Remember: no matter what the polls show now - the only poll that counts is the one that's taken on November 4. It's a 12 hour polling window in which every citizen can participate and the only one which actually determines who will lead this nation. Don't miss that call. It's the call for all citizens who really want their voice heard to tell their fellow citizens (and really the world) what's important to them. And its done by casting our ballot.

If you live in Texas and haven't registered yet, you must register by October 6 and you must go to the polls on November 4 to let the nation know what you want.

It's the poll that counts. Don't miss the call!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

The Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
1908 - 1972
Pastor, Abyssinia Baptist Church
Harlem, New York
1935-1972

Member
U.S. House of Representatives
New Yorks 18th District
1945 - 1971

Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor

1961-1967

"Keep the Faith, Baby!"

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Moving Prayer


Arthur F. Burns (1904-1987), the chairman of the United States Federal Reserve System and ambassador to West Germany, was a man of considerable gravity, Medium in height, distinguished, with wavy silver hair and his signature pipe, he was economic counselor to numerous presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. When he spoke, his opinion carried weight and Washington listened.

Arthur Burns was also Jewish, so when he began attending an informal White House group for prayer and fellowship in the 1970's he was accorded special respect. No one knew quite how to involve him in the group and, week after week when different people took turns to end the meeting in prayer, Burns was passed by out of a mixture of respect and reticence.

One week, however, the group was led by a newcomer who did not know the unusual status Burns occupied. As the meeting ended, the newcomer turned to Arthur Burns and asked him to close the time with a prayer. Some of the old-timers glanced at each other in surprise and wondered what would happen. But without missing a beat, Burns reached out, held hands with the others in the circle, and prayed this prayer:

"Lord, I pray that you would bring Jews to know Jesus Christ. I pray that you would bring Muslims to know Jesus Christ. Finally, Lord, I pray that you would bring Christians to know Jesus Christ. Amen"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 Memories and Lessons

Out of the flood of reactions to 9/11 there are two that I never forget.

The first of these reactions came several days afterwards. Someone called in to a radio talk show and for the what must have been the one hundredth time, said that the September 11 tragedy helped put our small, insignificant lives in perspective.

A while later, another caller said that we should stop calling referring to our lives 'small and insignificant'. Our lives, no matter how routine, no matter how important or unimportant they may be considered, are the only lives we have and 9/11 teaches us that all of our lives are precious and fragile.

Secondly, a newspaper article which focused on some of the debris which fell from the towers. Amid all the rubble someone found a charred-edge letterhead fragment. It simply read, '...America Inc...'. The reporter said, that this was, in some since a metaphor for how we had begun to think of our country, "America Inc". Some in this country had begun to view our nation as a 'country corporation' of sorts. What we rediscovered on 9/11, was our common humanity, our nation as a community of people.

Every now and then, we have to be reminded of both truths. We only have the lives we live. They may not make history's timeline, nor are the life events of most of us recorded in today's headlines, but they are our lives. They are precious, fragile, ours and they count.

We need to remember that America may 'conduct business', but we are more than 'America Inc.'
We are a community of people, important to one another. Dependent upon one another. Without one another, there is no country.

To whatever degree America is a 'business', it is a 'people business'. To love America is to love more than an ideology, a heritage or a history. To love America is to love its people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"...It's Evil to Remain Ignorant"

An excerpt from 'Restoring Hope' by Cornell West:

Cornell West - We've got a lot of male supremacy and homophobia and class arrogance and ignorance.

Maya Angelou - Ignorance. It's all ignorance. It's the path, it would seem, of least resistance. This is ignorance: I know there's a homeless person over to my right, but I'm going to pretend he's not there. And I just keep walking That's ignorance to pretend they don't exist, as if I am not like them. That's ignorance. Lack of courage, cowardliness. And courage the most importance of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can't be consistently fair or kind or generous or loving. You see?

So when I look at where ignorance lives, it lives in my inability to admit that I am a human being. And that nothing human can be alien to me And it's evil to remain ignorant.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ready on Day One

O.K. here are some facts:

The economy is weakening. Home sales have fallen to the lowest point in 12 years; foreclosures have hit a record high; crude oil prices have topped $100 a barrel; energy prices rose 18.4% in 2007; health care costs are up; consumer confidence is at a five-year low.

As the economy weakens, unemployment is growing. Currently the unemployment rate is 6.1% – up from 4.7 percent in November.

As unemployment rises, so does the number of uninsured. Approximately two-thirds of people who become uninsured have lost employer-sponsored health insurance. Analysts estimate that when the unemployment rate rises by one percentage point, the number of uninsured increases by 1.2 million to 1.5 million people.

We need a president whose experience demonstrate that he or she is 'ready on day one' right? If that is your criteria for electing a president, one small point:

In the past 50 years, we've only had three presidents whose experience suggested that they were 'ready on day one': Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

If one of them were running today, which one would you vote for? Really. Let me hear from you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

In Memoriam: Jason and John

Football season started yesterday, and while doing some work at home and preparing to attend a meeting at the church where we are members, I enjoyed the Dallas Cowboys 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

But this football season in particular will have me pondering memories that are not nearly as enjoyable.

Earlier this year, I found out that John Weber, who provided leadership to Athletes in Action, died last November. John and I were friends, but most importantly we were brothers in Christ and he would declare that with an unabashed enthusiasm.

Now, you may never have heard of John but if you've been to a Cowboys football team, John was there. He roamed the sidelines like a coach, but a far different kind of coach. Weber was the executive director of the local chapter of Athletes in Action, a Christian service organization ministering to professional athletes. He was, more specifically, the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers.

John began inviting me to preach chapel services for the Cowboys and the Rangers several years ago. The last time I preached one, he asked me to do it for the Jacksonville Jaguars, in 2002. Needless to say it was an awesome experience. And John made what could have been a nerve wracking experience one in which you could focus (well almost), and relax, by his friendliness, grace and charm. He would make you feel at home while you stood in front of the likes of Eric Williams (former OT for the Cowboys), Pudge Rodriquez (former catcher for the Rangers), or Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley (former pitchers for the Oakland A's - when you preached chapel for the Rangers, you served both the home and visiting teams!).

But it was also great to have the time to spend with John before and after. We would talk about family, church, the Bible and the players. Protecting their anonymity, he would tell me of their struggles. They, for the most part, were very young men, with enormous wealth and in so many cases, little maturity. He provided guidance and accountability for them and a faith perspective which saw them through bereavement, divorces, injury and impending retirement. He did this for those who were Christian and for those who made no profession of faith.

John Weber was not just concerned about me as a guest speaker, but he even came out to the church and asked me to show him around the neighborhood where it was located. And just as he did with rich professional athletes, he looked at this poor community and with vision that belied not one ounce of judgementalism, he saw potential. He talked about what he would like to do with me in the community, for the youth of our church and the neighborhood. He was a joy to be with and you could not help but be refreshed in his presence. John was more conservative in both politics and theology than I. At least I think so. Our discussions of both, touched on our differences, but focused much more on what we had in common.

Our schedules kept us too busy to do what we had planned. But in 2004, I did get John to come and speak to our men at our quarterly men's fellowship breakfast . Some of them brought their sons and John brought his collection of Super Bowl rings, and two members of the Dallas Desperados (our Arena Football League team). I'll always remember how he encouraged our men.
I'm also remembering John Weber because the last time he invited me to preach a chapel service for the Rangers, I brought my son with me. Jason was about 29-30 years old then and he got a chance to see another side of his old man's work. After the service, John, Jason and I spent about 30 minutes or more chatting it up with John Wettland, the Ranger closer who was injured at the time and not playing that night. Jason and I stayed for the game afterward. It was a wonderful experience.

John and I lost touch, which was not unusual, for a couple of years, until earlier this year when I was trying to find his number to ask him if we could arrange for him to come visit CDM's work and Roseland Home public housing community. That's when I found out he had died in November of last year.
I felt bad about not knowing, until I remembered that for me, 2007 found me grieving the death of Jason, who was killed a year ago this week, and my diagnosis with prostate cancer the week after his funeral.

In a very odd way, I'm glad I didn't know.

Jason and John are in Heaven now. I'm grateful to the Lord for both of them. But it also shows the brevity of life. The joy of family and friendship and how we need to embrace them both.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Community Organizer's 'Responsibilities'

Yesterday's post with the quotation of Saul Alinsky, proved quite provocative!

I, perhaps naively, disregarded or didn't fully understand how visceral the reaction would be by some conservative readers. Nice to know the blog isn't being ignored though.

But I'm also certain that much of the reaction has been due to Gov. Sarah Palin's disparaging remarks regarding Barak Obama's career as a community organizer. Former mayor, Rudy Giuliani also mocked that past as did former New Jersey Governor George Pataki.

If you read the post, my reaction and the back and forth on it, it is probably not too hard to tell that I am pretty offended by what was said and may even be considered a little defensive about the issue, by some.

I apologize for the defensive tone - but not for the vigorous defense, or support of community organizing and its value to our society.

You see I remember how, in Dallas and other areas, citizens in poor and neglected areas were totally ignored by public and elected officials - even the one's they had voted for! When we organized Dallas Area Interfaith, an Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate, and we began calling to make appointments with city council members to discuss issues that were important to us, those responses were often met with, 'Now who are you? Why do you want to meet with the Council member? Have you attended the town hall meetings?' These were questions which, for the most part, neither business leaders, nor our fellow citizens living in more affluent areas of the city had to answer. We know, we proved it. Those more middle class leaders in the organization hardly ever had the same problem. We also were aware that the political culture of our city pit communities against one another - so that middle class white Dallasites, didn't understand that blacks and hispanics wanted the same things for their communites as they did.

Community organizers helped us put together an organization that crossed color, politically ideology and geographic lines in which leaders would develop an agenda of issues based on shared democratic values and the interests of our families and communities. We made a commitment to a relationship in which we could discuss, debate and argue, but remain committed to one another around this agenda of issues.

We did not ask for the government system to be 'overturned', nor were we asking for a socialist form of government. We were asking for things like, recreation centers in our communities, we were asking for effective code enforcement. We were asking for our school district to provide funding for after school programs which would match the investment of the city of Dallas' parks and recreation department. We were asking for the school district to work with us in organizing after school programs that would include the substantive involvement of parents, who would work with teachers in the planning, design and implementation of those programs.

This organization would take no public money, but would be funded by the churches, each of which internally made the decision to be a part of the organization.

Pretty revolutionary stuff, huh?

Eventually we did get a little more sophisticated in our 'asks': public funding for job training, mortgage subsidy to stimulate the redevelopment of poor neighborhoods with housing. We worked for local campus school reform, funded by the state for increased teacher and parent training, which would eventually put our children on track for college.

What was the result of this work? The area in which we advocated for mortgage subsidy is now undergoing a significant redevelopment the cost of which far outstrips the initial funding requests. And the 50 vacant lots which now have homes on them are now tax producing entities.
Not only were we able to pilot the after school programs, but eventually this led to after school programs in nearly every elementary school in Dallas. And the school district eventually adopted our concept of parent academies to teach parents what parents have to do to understand what's happening in their school and get their children on a path to college.

In job training, a joint study by the county judge and the mayor recommended the type of jobs driven, jobs training program that our program initiated. A program, by the way, that was designed in partnership with a professor at the University of Texas and an advisory board that was made up of our members and chaired by the Roger Enrico, at that time head of Pepsico. The program placed 200 unemployed and underemployed in living wage jobs.

When our county hospital board of managers was threatening to severely curtail indigent health care by scapegoating undocumented immigrants as the cause of its budget shortfall, our organization got involved and showed that it really wasn't the undocumented immigrants, but our more affluent counties who had no county hospital and whose citizens, were coming to Parkland and not paying. Along with that, we got the board of managers, who held their meetings in the afternoons, when working citizens could not attend, to have an evening session in the community to listen to how their plans for budget cuts would impact their families.

Subversive?

Throughout these processes, we had community organizers who taught us how to view a position strategically, taught us how to have the individual meetings, meetings with public officials, business leaders, church leaders, academics that would make this work effective.

They helped us do research, reading budgets and analyzing them so that we would know where the money could be found. In almost every case, it was never a case of more money, but the reallocation of dollars that were being spent ineffectively or money that was not being spent at all and was in danger of being returned to Washington.

The community organizers worked long hours, in most cases 60+ hours, to help us put together the constituencies and identify the allies with whom we would work.

These community organizers made sure that our judgement was informed, not just by reading books and magazine articles, but by meeting with the authors: Nicholas Leeman, Cornell West, William Julius Wilson, David Tracey, Dick Levy, Richard Murnane and Glen Loury. We had seminars with politicians, professors from M.I.T., Harvard University and other leaders from other affiliate organizations who were doing the same work with great effectiveness.

Most recently, when the Federal government failed Katrina survivors, these organizations helped to organize the evacuees to navigate the maze of confusion in which FEMA was, more often that, not complicit.

"Being mayor of a small town is sorta like being a community organizer - only with real responsibilities."

The work of community organizers was the work which helped citizens shape the work of major metropolitan mayors so that the cities they led would no longer ignore the real agenda of real citizens. The community organizers I worked with worked with citizens to tell government what they really wanted, instead of having government tell citizens what they ought to want.

For that reason, politicians did not always fall in love with us. There were some who could not stand us, but they could not ignore us because they understood that they were going to have to respect organized people in the same way they respected organized money.

This, by the way, was the same training that Barak Obama received. Ed Chambers, who succeeded Saul Alinsky and Ernie Cortez were the two who trained him and they also trained me.

This was the first test of Gov. Palin as a Vice-Presidential candidate: not just the ability to make a public speech, but in that speech to show how she respected the lives of all of citizens, not just her 'base'. While many are extolling the her speech as 'hitting it out of the park', I think that with one sentence she showed herself, snide, disrespectful, dismissive and remarkably ill-informed. I don't want to believe that this is what she is, and I don't believe that is what she was trying to show.

I do know that in trying to influence the choice of those of us who must vote for a president and a running mate deserve much better.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Saul Alinsky

1909 - 1972
Founder of the
Industrial Areas Foundation
a national community organizing network

"We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thirty-six?!



Jeremy D. Mayer says in his book, 'Running on Race', "The razor-thin margin of [George H.W.]Bush's victory will force Republican strategists in 2004 to compete for black votes as they have not since 1960."

It must not have worked out for them. They've obviously given up on the black vote in 2008. Have you REALLY watched the Republican Convention. It was the most overwhelming display of political homogeneity since the Republicans nominated Goldwater in '64, and almost no one has said anyone about it. Actually that's what's even more amazing!

Of the more than 2300 delegates at the Republican National Convention 36 were African-American. Thirty-six. There were 167 African-American delegates in 2004! "It's hard to look around and not get frustrated," said Michael S. Steele, a black Republican and former lieutenant governor of Maryland (who would have made an excellent Vice-President candidate by the way). "You almost have to think, 'Wait. How did it come to this?' "

Why should it matter? Maybe it shouldn't, but think for a minute: we are electing the next president of the United States of America. Of ALL of the United States of America. The two major political parties in our country are officially nominating their candidates and the Republicans nominated them with only 1.5% of their delegates to represent the interests of 12-13% of the population.

"The good news, Republicans said, is that they think Sen. John McCain can still win this election with the kind of demographics on display in St. Paul. In an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors Tuesday morning, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis outlined a strategy in which his candidate targets women and white working-class voters and essentially cedes the black vote.

"Obama's "strategy is, 'If I can just deliver the votes that I know exist, whether it's in the minority community or the youth,' or whatever the coalition is that he's got . . . 'then I can win this election,' " Davis said. "We can run our campaign the way we want to run it and not be in direct conflict with a lot of voter groups he is trying to get."

Maybe its a strategy that will work. But what message does that send to the America? And what does it say about who Republicans really think put "Country First"? And who is this mantra painting as unpatriotic? Who had a voice in putting together the platform on which the candidates run? Who constitutes this 'base' that we keep hearing about? And if there is a McCain-Palin victory, what assurances do we have that the cabinet he assembles will be anymore representative of the country than the delegates at the convention?

Thirty-six?!

The Washington Post quoted Michael Williams, a black Republican who chairs the Texas Railroad Commission who spoke Wednesday night, "If we don't get better at reaching out, we're in big trouble," agreed and "It doesn't take much to see that this is not what America looks like. . . . We're trying, but we're not there yet."

No kidding!

Where was Colin Powell?

Where was Condoleeza Rice?

The New York Times reported, "Both the content of the messages and the color of the faces reflect a clear political reality. In 2000 and 2004, Mr. Bush and one of his top lieutenants, Ken Mehlman, worked explicitly to win more black and Hispanic votes. This year the Republicans are aggressively reaching out to the base of their party — white, male, conservative — while making a new appeal to women with the addition of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to the ticket."

Does outreach to one, exclude the other?

Thirty-six delegates?!

Obviously, Barak Obama has the majority of the black vote going into the election. But believe me, not every black person is going to vote for him. And to not have a semblance of interest, in loyal black Republicans who speak out for their party with vigor and conviction even when it makes them unpopular just seems a little insulting.


I understand that McCain's campaign doesn't have the money Obama's has. I understand he doesn't have the staff. I understand that the record of the past eight years hasn't been the best for the country. But there are African-American Republicans who swear by the brand and with their party's primary wrapped up long before the Democrats - across this whole country they could only find 36 African-American delegates?

What happened to Lynn Swann?

The Washington Post continued, "Over the weekend, McCain traveled with his newly announced running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to a rally in Washington County, Pa., whose population is 95 percent white.

"There's no doubt that Senator Obama's popularity is going to stymie our efforts to some extent with minorities, and I understand that," said Williams, the railroad commission chairman. "I know about resources and time and money, and you have to make choices. The heavy resources for us are not going to African American voters. But that's different than making no effort all."

Thirty-six African-American delegates?

What happened to Alan Keyes?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Rendering the Poor Invisible

Whether you think there is a societal responsibility to provide assistance to the poor or not, the fact is the poor among us are growing in number. More about this later.

If there really is a growing antipathy toward the poor, labeling them makes it easy for us to hold essentially hateful attitudes toward them and speak hatefully about them.

It helps us to render them invisible.

We tend to think about poor people (some of them) according to the circumstances which we consider repulsive. Even if we know them, we regard them and refer to them according to their condition, not their name, not their story.

They are lazy, they are immigrant (documented or undocumented), they are homeless, they are uneducated, they are addicted, they are minority, they are ethnic.

When we hold to those stereotypes, it helps us not to see the poor that don't fit those categories. Those who work low wage jobs, those who are poor because of health problems and the inability to access expensive health care. In other words we create ways to keep the poor invisible by slotting them in categories that make us feel comfortable, if not superior.

Pulitzer Prize winning author David Shipler addressed this in his book called, "The Working Poor: Invisible in America". One story in this book tells just what I mean:

"Tim Brookes, a commentator on National Public Radio, once did a witty screed against overpriced popcorn in movie theaters. Indignant at having been charged $5.00 for a small bag (this was in 2000), he conducted research on the actual expenses. He calculated that the 5 1/4 ounces of popcorn he received cost 23.7185 cents in a supermarket but only 16.5 cents at prices theater managers paid for fifty-pound sacks. He generously figured 5 cents in electricity to cook the popcorn and 1 cent for the bag. Total cost: 22.5 cents. Subtracting sales tax, that left a profit of $4.075, or 1,811%.

"Evidently, the theater had the remarkable sens not to hire any workers, for Brookes gave no hint of having noticed any people behind the counter. Their paltry wage, which wouldn't have undermined the excessive profits, were absent from his calculation. The folks who popped the corn, filled the bag, handed the bag to him, and took his money must have been shrouded in an indivisibility cloak. No NPR editor seemed to notice."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Do we Hate the Poor?

Do we hate the poor?

I understand people who have made personal determinations regarding whether or not they will support charitable organizations. I can understand whether or not people will support legislation which will provide aid to the poor. But why such vitriol when it comes to the homeless and the poor?

Read our CEO, Larry James' blog this morning. I think there are comments reflected there that are nothing less than shameful. And while I know its not representative of all people, why have people stereotyped poor people as 'dregs on society', or people 'who have children they can't afford'? When did some people get such a heightened sense of moral superiority?

Of course I've known people, homeless and poor, who have taken advantage of charities, the church and good natured individuals. I've been taken advantage of more than a few times. But I've also known rich people of every hue and stripe, who were predatory, opportunistic and insensitive materialists. The problem is we tend to think of the former as drags on society and we think of the later as those who 'contribute' to the welfare of our society.

I think its a sad commentary on our values.

When it comes to the whether or not the support for the poor ought to be a part of our social compact with one another: wasn't that question answered by 'the New Deal', 'the New Frontier', 'the Great Society'.

If those were wrong, why hasn't 'trickle down economics' worked?

There are 6 million more poor people in our country than there were 10 years ago. During a 10 year people did we 'acquire' a group of people who chose to be unable to afford health care? Who chose to get older? Who selected mental health problems as a way of life? Who asked to be laid off of jobs that have been off shored and outsourced? Who selected economic insecurity after the death of a spouse, or depression after the death of a loved one?

Or is it easier to simply characterize them as 'immigrant', 'black', 'lazy', 'welfare cheats', 'undeserving', 'criminal', 'uneducated', 'drop outs'? One thing about doing that: it makes them easier to ignore and simply wish them to simply disappear. And it makes it a lot easier to ignore the fact that unless we do something besides hate, those whose economic circumstances are not what up to our standards, should be, the quality of all of our lives is diminished. And not because of the public or private money that we don't invest - its because of what it reveals about the spirit of our society.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day?

I'm not an economist, but I know a few and they tell me that the economy in Texas is 'counter cyclical', meaning that, for the most part, Texas' economy can run somewhat counter to what is happening in the rest of the country. To the degree that such an analysis is true (its obviously not an absolute), there seems to be good news for North Texas.

The Dallas Morning News report last week that the DFW leads the country's major metropolitan areas in job growth.

While the nation lost 174,000 jobs, the Dallas-Fort Worth area add 68,000 non-farm jobs, growing 2.3 percent and reflecting the highest growth rate among the country's 12 largest metropolitan areas. Until July of this year, Houston led Dallas in job growth.

The largest gains came in education, health services, government, natural resources, mining and construction.

The picture is not entirely rosy, but appears to be somewhat more positive than the rest of the country, according to Southwest Economy a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank. "Texas entered 2008 with its economy on the wane, largely because of the drags from the nation's slowing business activity. During the first half of the year, more signs of weakness have emerged in Texas and the U.S., but the state is still doing better than the nation."

A bit of good news on Labor Day. Or is it? Central Dallas Ministries is committed to training for living wage jobs through its program called WorkPaths, a job driven, workforce development strategy.

I'd like to know your experience in the job market, in DFW or beyond.

Also see http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/090108dnmethotjobs.41bd3f4.html