Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
This poem, and its companion song in the UU hymn book, could be considered an anthem for people who migrate from one place to another.
The concept of immigration is under scrutiny these days. For various reasons throughout history, nations and states change their immigration policies. In the United States there have been dramatic swings in policy regarding who will and will not be accepted temporarily on visas or permanently as citizens. Of course, underlying all of this is the bitter irony that our government and people have constructed our nation from the ashes of genocidal war waged against the indigenous people who were found here.
That genocide was founded on the idea that the indigenous people deserved to be conquered because... well because. A host of reasons emerged over time. It was felt that the indigenous people did not actually own their land (it is important to understand that most white settlers had been barred from inheriting property in Europe). White Americans needed the land for expansion. They felt that indigenous people did not deserve that land and needed to be civilized. The History channel wrote in an article on March 2, 2018 that “Fundamentally, indigenous people were just too different: their skin was dark. Their languages were foreign. And their world views and spiritual beliefs were beyond most white men’s comprehension... All this stoked racial hatred and paranoia, making it easy to paint indigenous peoples as pagan savages who must be killed in the name of civilization and Christianity.”
Salient among all the reasons, and perhaps the one that made white Americans feel better about what they were doing, was the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny”. According to wikipedia, the phrase was coined by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan in 1845, to express the philosophy that drove 19th-century U.S. territorial expansion. Manifest Destiny held that the United States was destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:
O’Sullivan predicted in an article in 1839 that there was a “divine destiny” for the United States based upon values such as equality, rights of conscience, and personal enfranchisement “to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man”. Talk about cognitive dissonance, after the fact justification, and a load of crap all wrapped up into a giant rhetorical ball.
The central reason for the brutality of displacement and genocide on the part of white settlers, and the American government that supported them, is simple racism. It should not be forgotten that the United States during most of that time was a nation that legalized human slavery. This is important to remember in order to understand the mindset of the white settlers. Even if they, themselves did not own slaves, or even if they did not agree with slavery, that “peculiar institution” was a part of their lives. The West, especially, could be a rough place to live. Public hangings were common place. Institutional brutality based on race was normalized.
The immigration policies the United States government instituted were against this background. It would be nice to believe that international laws governing the treatment of immigrants were always based upon human rights. After all, the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution would certainly lead one to that conclusion. Recognition of the rights of migrants and the need for the promotion and protection of these rights in the exercise of our national sovereignty would seem to have always been a guiding principle.
Did you know that the metaphor of the “melting pot” to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States was in use by the 1780s? It is still a part of our national identity and narrative. The first use in American literature of the concept of immigrants “melting” into the receiving culture are found in the writings of J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur. In his Letters from an American Farmer he wrote, in response to his own question, “What then is the American, this new man?” that the American is one who “becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.” If de Crevecoeur had just left the question and answer right there, a modern reader might be inclined to exclaim, “Wow, that is cool... an enlightened view about the ‘race’ of men in America.”
But, reading further reveals what had always driven American immigration policy:
...whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes... What, then, is the American, this new man? He is either an European or the descendant of an European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.... The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.
So, there you have it... the simple fact is that most people in what is now the United States could not imagine non-Europeans doing any kind of “mixing of blood” on these shores. The reality is that our immigration policies have always been based on three overriding principles: 1) a need for labor, 2) the race of immigrants, and 3) the ethnicity of immigrants. The history of U.S. immigration policies features many twists and turns, but most of them have these three principles at their core. Some of the policies were basically administrative; typical of what you’d expect of a fledgling country that is new on the world stage.
Instead of chronicling all the laws, I will summarize the 35 years after 1890 as being a time of American tribalism. During that time, more than 20 million immigrants came to America. That is a greater number that in any other period before or since. They were often greeted with hostility and derision. In the book entitled “Not Like Us: Immigrants and Minorities in America, 1980-1924” Roger Daniels examined the condition of immigrants, Native Americans, and African Americans. Not Like Us analyzed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and considered it the key legislation that signaled an unfriendly climate toward minorities that would prevail for decades. Daniels continues the story through the first World War, and the “tribal twenties,” when nativism and xenophobia dominated American society.
Remember the three principles of U.S. immigration policies I outlined earlier: labor, race, and ethnicity? Let’s compare those principles against some of the laws enacted after 1924:
To be certain, since 1924, the United States has repealed its most blatantly racist immigration policies. My intention is not to dwell of the history of these policies, but to disabuse you of any ideas you might have that our policies have consistently progressed from one morally righteous legislation to another.
Now I want to return to that “melting pot” I talked about earlier and examine it from another perspective... that of religion. By religion, I mean both the prevailing religion of the “host” country and the various religions practiced by immigrants.
According to Aaron Thorpe in an article entitled “Examples of Religious Intolerance in America” : Muslims have long been the targets of discrimination in the U.S., but following the tragedies of 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment and activity have risen sharply.
The persecution of Jews throughout history stands, perhaps, as the epitome of religious intolerance and they've suffered it in the United States as they have almost everywhere else.
Of all the groups that have experienced religious intolerance in what is now the United States, perhaps none have suffered longer than Native Americans. Although the final prohibitions against practicing Native American religions were lifted in 1994, Native religious leaders continue to be surveilled by government agencies and tribes still frequently lose access to sacred sites because of urban and industrial development.
Secular Humanists and other non-theists have not been spared. A 2003 study by the University of Minnesota showed that 39.6 percent said atheists “do not at all agree with my vision of American society.” and 2012 report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union found seven states with constitutional prohibitions against atheists holding office.
Despite its dominance among American faiths, Christians have been the victims of religious intolerance throughout our nation's history and non-Protestant denominations – particularly Catholics and Mormons – have borne the brunt of it.
I have returned to the image of the “melting pot” several times because I believe it is important for us to see it for what it is, what it has never been, and to make an attempt to reimagine it.
The “melting pot”, in reality, has always been a metaphor that describes how white Europeans can successfully migrate to the United States and acceptably make contributions to the gene pool. The “melting pot”, contrary to the hopes of our “better angels”, has never described a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous by virtue of the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with a common culture. Those who have promoted the idea of total cultural assimilation for the sake of national unity seem to me, to be living in dream world where: 1) there are no 747 jetliners, 2) there is such a thing as a “heterogeneous society”, and 3) national unity is somehow not antithetical to the individualism we Americans take such great pride in. Given the current state of the world, I prefer to think of the United States as a “salad bowl”, where different cultures and peoples can live in harmony, yet enjoy distinctions of flavor and texture if they desire to.
Our past immigration laws have attempted to accommodate the first version of the “melting pot”, where it was just great for white Europeans. Then, in an effort to force everyone into a common culture version of the “melting pot”, we produced a legacy of nativistic, xenophobic laws which we wrestle with even today (can you say DACA?). The “salad bowl”, based on firm fundamentals of universal human rights might just do the trick.
Unitarian Universalists like to sing the Rumi song because it is so beautifully, idealistically optimistic. The poem, unfortunately, describes a situation for immigrants that exists in very few places on our planet at the present time. Immigration policies in the United States have always been deeply flawed because they have been based on labor needs, race, and ethnicity.
What if O’Sullivan wrote in 1839 advocating for immigration laws for the United States based upon values such as equality, rights of conscience, and personal enfranchisement? What if all international laws governing the treatment of immigrants were always based upon recognition of their basic human rights. What if we really did base our laws on the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution? If this were done, then everyone on our planet could sing the Rumi song and it would ring true:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
“The Promised Land” is both a place and a state of mind, and many times, it is both things at once. The promised land represents a place or situation in which someone expects to find happiness, or the potential for a better life.
When I say some names they instantly conjure the image of a promised land that is a physical place. In our collective memories these places are iconically linked to some kind of economic promise: New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mumbai, Paris, Shanghai, Frankfurt, Beijing, Delhi, Karachi, Lagos, Guangzhou, Sáo Paulo, Detroit, Seoul, Mexico City, Moscow, and Jakarta. States of mind represented by words are: Hollywood, Wall Street, Broadway, The Castro, Bollywood, Silicon Valley, and The Emerald City.
It is not an accident that most of the places I listed are among the most populous cities on the planet. The world’s population is becoming increasingly urban. The year 2007 was estimated to be the turning point when city dwellers formed the majority of global population for the first time in history. The trend has steadily continued to this day. By the year 2050 it is estimated that urbanization will reach 66% of the population. Cities grow in three ways: migration, whether internally from within a country or by international migration, the natural growth of the population within the city, or by the re-classification of non-urban areas - otherwise known as “urban sprawl”.
I will return to the physical “Promised Land” in a bit. Now I want to tell you about the Emerald City. The following description comes from a wikipedia article. The yellow brick road starts in Munchkin county and ends in the Emerald City. The Emerald City is located at the center of the Land of Oz. In the first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, the walls are green, but the city itself is not. However, when they enter, everyone in the Emerald City is made to wear green-tinted eyeglasses; which is explained as an effort to protect their eyes from the “brightness and glory” of the city, but in effect makes everything appear green when it is, in fact, “no more green than any other city”.
There are hundreds of books written by and about the famous Wizard of Oz franchise, and there are about as many tales about the meanings, metaphors used, and philosophies present in the books and the famous movie. So, I feel safe shamelessly using it as a perfect metaphor for all promised lands. I’ll try not to belabor the point, as I imagine most of you can instantly understand why I employ the Land of Oz and its Emerald City in this fashion. In the book, Dorothy’s goal is to “go home,” or reach Nirvana, with the help of “the Wizard” (or guru), who holds the key. Of course, in the end, the key to self-actualization is not with the Wizard, but within Dorothy herself. By the way, the name Dorothy literally means “gift of God”.
People don’t just decide to take Oz-like treks just for the fun of it. There is usually some traumatic event or situation that induces them to brave the additional hardships represented by evil witches, flying monkeys, vicious trees, rabid beasts, giant ditches, and soporific poppy fields in the book. There is a way to get to the promised land the Emerald City. The road is difficult, but paved. If you need to put your time in as a waitperson in Hollywood or Bollywood before your face or script gets in front of the right people, you do it. If you must work at a parking lot during the day so you can play bit parts in off-Broadway productions, you do it. If you write programming code for sandwiches and a promise of stock in a startup company, you do do it. All these things are done so that you can attain a better life... so that you can get to your personal, internal promised land.
So strong is the psychic pull of the phrase “Promised Land”, and so charged it is as a meme, it is simply used as linguistic shorthand to represent almost any existential struggle. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” was the last speech Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered, the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. In that speech he declared, “Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.”
King did not need to define to his audience what the Promised Land looks like, or where it is, or what it will feel like when it is finally arrived at. He did not need to. Every person in his audience understood that the path towards it is fraught with uncertainty, difficulty, threat of death, resignation, and the moral certainty of God’s will. For African Americans the Promised Land is both a physical and a mental place that is free from fear and persecution.
There is another aspect of the Promised Land meme that speaks to suffering and tragedy. The language almost always has a prophetic quality that refers to the Biblical book of Deuteronomy. Moses, who leads the people of Israel, is not able to go there because of his transgression towards God. God informs Moses that he will not reach the land himself, but he will see it from a distance.
So, to reach the Promised Land, one must be willing to sacrifice for the good of those who will follow behind them: members of their family, their community, or some other disadvantaged group of people. Sometimes the land is already occupied but the fruits of its potential will not be consumed for generations. Such is, of course, the case for African Americans and Native Americans, but it as also true for almost every kind of immigrant.
Sometimes to reach the Promised Land an actual Diaspora is involved, with a scattered population whose origin lies in a different geological place. The term Diaspora is almost always associated with the involuntary mass dispersions of populations and/or some genocidal event. These physical journeys do not necessarily have to take place across continents or nations, like the expulsion of Jews from Judea, Armenians from their homeland, the Greeks after the fall of Constantinople, Native Americans after they lost their homelands, the Irish during the Irish Famine, the African trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the southern Chinese or Indians during what was called the “coolie trade”.
Being free from fear and persecution is the goal of the traveler to the Promised Land. Both the fear and persecution can be real or imagined... and they can often be manifested in both the place being left and the place where the traveler arrives. But the essential thing is the hope for a better situation in the Promised Land.
In my first year of seminary school I took an eye-opening course called “Promised Lands and Immigrants” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero. The on-line course covered racial/ethnic, gender and religious identity issues of Latina/o migrants to the United States and Japan. We examined the issues around migration and the “Promised Lands” paradigm through the lenses of race, ethnicity, gender identities, and religion. Using a multidisciplinary approach, I came to an understanding of just how difficult it is for both immigrants and their “host” countries to grapple with the needs and expectations of people who are induced, for a wide variety of reasons, to seek a Promised Land.
Imagine what it would like to be gay or lesbian and needing to live in a country that would be hostile towards you. Imagine that you are discriminated against in your host country because you don’t speak the language, you speak too loudly, your mannerisms are considered boorish, you worship differently, your hair is not the right color, and your race is all wrong. This is certainly the case with Latina/o migrants to Japan. Let’s say you are actually of Japanese ancestry but you’ve grown up in a South American country – both your parents are Japanese, you speak Japanese, you were educated in schools that taught in the Japanese language, and you went to live in Japan. You’d think you would be easily assimilated into the culture. You would be tragically wrong!
Although we studied the rather harsh example of Japanese culture, as well as the whacky experience Latina/o migrants have in the United States, the study broadened my intellectual horizons to encompass the experience African Americans and Native Americans have in the United States. Here, the machinations of oppression are the same: you are discriminated against in your host country because you don’t speak the language, you speak too loudly, your mannerisms are considered boorish, you worship differently, your hair is not the right color, and your race is all wrong. Assimilation for these groups, even over many generations, is virtually impossible because of the inherent racism of their “native” country.
So, African Americans for example, experienced their own Diaspora that was “internal” to the United States. They fled the deep South, with its brutally discriminatory Jim Crow laws after the American Civil War, to seek the Promised Lands of the North and (later) the West. There, they became quickly aware that their zip code change did not correspond to a change in attitude about their skin color. On the whole, things were better, but the struggle to find Martin Luther King Jr.’s Promised Land is ongoing.
The indigenous people called “Native Americans” in the United States, have fared at least as badly as African Americans, and mostly for the same reasons. They are like Dorothy in the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, who got to the Emerald City but was told that she had to go back into danger to retrieve the wicked witch’s broom before she could go home. After enduring biological warfare, dislocation from their lands, and endless treaty violations, many Native Americans are the in the unique position of being citizens of the United States and also citizens of a federally recognized Indian nation, a nation recognized by the Supreme Court as a domestic, dependent nation.
In a sermon entitled “The Immigrant”, I spoke about the concept of a “melting pot” in the United States. I said: “The ‘melting pot’, in reality, has always been a metaphor that describes how white Europeans can successfully migrate to the United States and acceptably make contributions to the gene pool. The ‘melting pot’, contrary to the hopes of our ‘better angels’, has never described a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous by virtue of the different elements ‘melting together’ into a harmonious whole with a common culture.” In that sermon, I pointed out that United States’ immigration policies have always had a strong racist component.... that the original, and still subconscious preference for immigrants to these shores are people who are European, or of European descent.
The name of the game for anyone wishing to live successfully in a Promised Land is to assimilate into the host culture. That is just a fact of life. Unless you are content to claim some plot of land in Antarctica or a new lava-created island in the Pacific, there are very few places where you can go in the modern era that is not already occupied by someone else. You and your friends might go the Israeli route and conquer lands already occupied by Palestinians... you know, the “we had it first a billion years ago” rationale for acquiring a Promised Land, but generally people frown on that approach.
So, how do you get to your Promised Land? How can you get the people already living there to accept you? How do you change the contours of the land to suit your needs without pissing off the natives?
Unless you’re trapped in that land like the indigenous people in the United States, or your ancestors were enslaved there, like African Americans, you’ve got to choose your Promised Land very carefully. Getting to a Promised Land is a somewhat transactional affair. Generally, it is a good idea to have something to offer the host country, like labor or needed skills. Workers from across the globe have been attracted to the United States for that reason. Unfortunately, the United States has a history of sifting by race and ethnicity after a while. Presently we are in another pendulum swing towards the racist right. The people bearing the brunt of our racist scorn are brown people from anywhere south of our borders and/or anyone who had been enjoying Temporary Protected Status, like those from Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia.
The Gastarbeiter (or Guest Worker) program in what was once West Germany is another example of how transactional arrangements in Promised Lands can go wrong. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, Turkish workers arrived in Germany to fill the demand for cheap labor in a booming post-war economy. Many of them never left, creating a minority community that changed the demographics of Germany forever. According to Wikipedia, “By 2010 there were about 4 million people of Turkish descent in Germany. The generation born in Germany attended German schools, but some had a poor command of either German or Turkish, and thus had either low-skilled jobs or were unemployed. Most are Muslims and are presently reluctant to become German citizens.” I imagine you can already guess what I would say about how Turks are treated in Germany... and you would be correct.
It also helps to have some kind of cultural, religious, racial, or ethnic links to the host country. This can be problematical, though. I already mentioned the problems the Japanese have with Latina/o migrants, who you might think should be welcomed by virtue of their genetic ties. Ethiopian Jews in Israel can tell you a lot about the challenges they’ve faced immigrating there. At first, they were welcomed to Israel, starting in the 1960s. According to Wikipedia “The biggest challenge to the Israeli Ethiopian Beta Israel community probably lies in the very low level of formal education of the immigrants. With few exceptions, when they first arrived to Israel they had no useful training for a developed economy like that of Israel, and in addition to that they did not know Hebrew.” As a consequence, discrimination against the Ethiopian Jews is rampant. In May 2015, The Jewish Daily Forward described the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel as one that has “long complained of discrimination, racism and poverty.” The absorption of Ethiopians in Israeli society represents an ambitious attempt to deny the significance of race.
We’ve just taken a look at some ways to get to a Promised Land. The other questions I posed: “How can you get the people already living there to accept you, and how do you change the contours of the land to suit your needs without pissing off the natives?”, are fraught with their own challenges. In this dimension, things are not a bleak as you might think. It turns out that acceptance of people in the Promised Land is best accomplished with allies. To put it simply, you must find the bleeding heart liberals in your host country and work with them.
Richard Kearney wrote: “The entire Bible, it could be said, is made up of struggles between two different ways of responding to the alien... The message seems to be this: the divine, as exile, is in each human other who faces us, defenseless and vulnerable, asking to be received into our midst. My hospitable relationship with the stranger, in sum, gives meaning to my relations with all strangers, proximate or distant, human or divine.” In all societies there are people who are fearful of strangers and there are people who are not fearful. For whatever their reasons: religious, spiritual, cultural curiosity, better traveled and educated, moral, or humanitarian... people who are not afraid of the stranger are embedded in a host culture.
It is the individuals and organizations that welcome people other than themselves that need to be sought out if you wish to find a home in a Promised Land. These are the “unafraid” who understand that basic human rights must be applied for all human beings at all times. They are individuals who believe that people share the same fundamental values and that the principles of fairness, equity, justice, and compassion must be set at the center of all civilizations. They will be fine if you make a contribution to that civilization by changing some of its contours.
The search for a Promised Land takes place on both personal and group levels. The search can be induced for many reasons, and can find its expression in countless ways. Whether welcoming others on the journey means inviting them to lunch where you both work, or insisting that your government places human rights at the heart of its immigration policies, or speaking out against injustices experienced everyday due to racism, bigotry, or prejudice; your actions and voice can make a real difference. Any Promised Land needs two kinds of people... those who make it a beautiful place to live and those who wish to contribute to its beauty.
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
Below is a paper that I completed for the Starr King School for the Ministry on May 12, 2018.
1Barna Group, “Church Attendance Trends Around the Country,” Barna Group, 2017, https://www.barna.com/research/church-attendance-trends-around-country/.
2Christana Wille-McKnight, “The Problem of Retention in Unitarian Universalism – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist,” The problem of retention in Unitarian Universalism – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, July 11, 2011, https://www.danielharper.org/yauu/2011/07/the-problem-of-retention-in-unitarian-universalism/; Daniel Burke, “Can Unitarian Universalists Make It Another 50 Years?,” Huffington Post, August 29, 2011, sec. Religion, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/unitarian-universalists_n_887267.html.
3UUA, “Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources of Inspiration and Spiritual Growth,” UUA.org, February 19, 2015, https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/sources.
4Linda Woodhead, Christopher Partridge, and Hiroko Kawanami, Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (UK: Routledge, 2001). pp 71-2.
Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
If you do a search on Environmental Justice on the internet you are likely to find the following kinds of articles, which illustrate the wide range of issues. Storms hit poorer people harder - from Superstorm Sandy to Hurricane Maria, Urban noise pollution is worst in poor and minority neighborhoods and segregated cities, For many in Puerto Rico, ‘energy dominance’ is just a new name for US colonialism, Heat waves threaten city dwellers, especially minorities and the poor, In planned EPA cuts, US to lose vital connection to at-risk communities, and on and on. This issue, which many people don’t really think much about, is pretty eye-opening.
Championed primarily by African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, the environmental justice movement addresses a statistical fact: people who live, work and play in America's most polluted environments are commonly people of color and the poor.
Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts -- say, a landfill, dirty industrial plant or truck depot. The statistics provide clear evidence of what the movement rightly calls “environmental racism.” Communities of color have been battling this injustice for decades.
What might first come to mind when examining issues of environmental justice, is the Flint water crisis, which began in 2014 when the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan was changed to the Flint River. A recent settlement requires Michigan to give Flint $87 million in state and federal funds so the city can replace lead and other problem water pipes that connect homes to the city's main water line.
The Flint water crises is one of the most recent examples of environmental justice. But it might surprise you that what could be considered the modern political movement for environmental justice began way back in 1982 in poor, rural and overwhelmingly black, Warren County, North Carolina. That was when the state government decided that the county would make a perfect home for 6,000 truckloads of soil laced with toxic PCBs, making the county the focus of national attention.
The dump trucks first rolled into Warren County in mid-September, 1982, headed for a newly constructed hazardous waste landfill in the small community of Afton. But many frustrated residents and their allies, furious that state officials had dismissed concerns over PCBs leaching into drinking water supplies, met the trucks. And they stopped them, lying down on roads leading into the landfill. Six weeks of marches and nonviolent street protests followed, and more than 500 people were arrested -- the first arrests in U.S. history over the siting of a landfill.
The people of Warren County ultimately lost the battle; the toxic waste was eventually deposited in that landfill. But their story -- one of ordinary people driven to desperate measures to protect their homes from a toxic assault -- drew national media attention and fired the imagination of people across the country who had lived through similar injustice. The street protests and legal challenges mounted by the people of Warren County to fight the landfill are considered by many to be the first major milestone in the national movement for environmental justice.
Here is the main link between these two stories, separated by decades and many miles... both communities are poor and primarily populated by people of color. According to local officials in Flint, about 40% of residents are below the poverty rate. Fifteen percent of homes are boarded up and abandoned. The city of 100,000 people doesn't even have a grocery store.
In mid-February of this year, a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency found that people of color are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. This report, which concludes that environmental racism is real, was published, even as the EPA and the Trump administration continued a plan to dismantle many of the institutions built to address those disproportionate risks.
According to The Atlantic “Under the guidance of President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA has begun to walk back already anemic federal environmental-justice work, putting a stop to some civil-rights investigations and replacing or firing many of the scientists with deep technical knowledge of the subject. Last year, facing cuts to the environmental-justice program that seem likely to continue, former assistant associate administrator Mustafa Santiago Ali resigned. Further changes to move the offices of environmental justice into a policy office staffed by Pruitt hires promise to further reduce the autonomy of life-long environmental-justice staffers and reduce the effectiveness of their work.”
By contrast to the illustrious president of these United States, and his enlightened views on racism... In February 2016, during her campaign for president, Hillary Clinton demonstrated that she understood the intersection between race and the environment. She said, “There are a lot more Flints out there – overwhelmingly low-income communities of color where pollution, toxic chemicals and staggering neglect adds to families’ burdens.” She, famously said “Clean air and clean water are basic human rights – and our rights shouldn’t change between ZIP codes.”
Hillary Clinton made the link between environmental justice and basic human rights that transcends mere local, regional, and national politics. So the question that arises is what would it cost to avoid a climate disaster that would affect poor countries the most? According to leading environmental think tanks, for the United States, the bill comes to $634 billion owed to developing nations. The U.S. also would need to cut carbon emissions 55 percent to 65 percent. Worldwide, developed nations would have to pay more than $1.1 trillion annually to developing nations on top of massive emission reductions to keep climate change in check.
This question about the cost of environmental justice caused me to examine just what costs, in terms of money, are associated with the most salient reasons for environmental injustice. For the moment, I’ll set aside the emotional, psychological, and spiritual costs of not addressing environmental justice to focus on the economics. Of course, I understand that getting anywhere near this subject will cause your eyes to roll into the back of your heads. The alarms will ring off “Oh no... he’s going to talk about statistics”. Those virtual flaps on your earlobes will expand and you simply may not be able to hear the following sections of my sermon today. Please relax, my intention is to look at this in very relativistic terms.
So, the key issues in environmental justice are these, and they are basically addressed by the quote from Ban Ki-moon in your order of service:
Paying to Reduce and Reverse Climate Damage
Providing for Healthcare
Providing for Education
I just talked about the $634 billion cost owed to developing nations to cut carbon emissions and the $1 Trillion per year to developing nations to keep climate change in check.[8:16]
As for poverty, the Census Bureau showed that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is at 15 percent, which amounts to 46 million Americans. The sheer scale of poverty in the U.S. is so massive that it can seem as if eliminating or dramatically reducing it would be nearly impossible. After all, 46 million people is a lot of people. But in reality, if we stick to the official poverty line, the amount of money standing in the way of poverty eradication is much lower than people realize.
In its annual poverty report, the Census included a table that few take note of which actually details by how much families are below the poverty line. A little multiplication and addition later, and the magic number pops out. The number is about $175.3 billion. That is how many dollars it would take to bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line. That number is just 1.08% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
It might be helpful to put that magic number in perspective. This is just a about 1/5th of the $611 billion the federal government will spend on the military. When you start hunting through the submerged spending we do through the tax code, it takes you no time to find enough tax expenditures geared toward the affluent to get to that number as well. And this hardly puts a dent into the benefits garnered through the latest tax cut bill that passed recently.
Eradicating or dramatically cutting poverty is not the deeply complicated intractable problem people make it out to be. The dollars we are talking about are minuscule up against the size of our economy. We have poverty because we choose to have it. We choose to design our distributive institutions in ways that generate poverty when we could design them in ways that don’t. Poverty’s continued existence is totally indefensible and it is our nation’s greatest shame.
While we’re on defense spending, we might as well take a look at that. No country worldwide comes even close to matching the United States in military expenditure. The United States remained at the top of the military spending league last year with $611 billion. That's 36 percent of the global total and over three times the amount spent by second-placed China. Russia upped its outlay 5.9 percent to $69.2 billion, third overall.
To start with just a few weeks ago, U.S. forces spent at least $210 million on what was basically a show of force attacking Syrian chemical installations. Let’s go on a little bit further. An M1-A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank costs $6 million each. The US Army has over 9000 of them, at a cost of $5.4B. The still developing F-35’s fighter jet’s true cost is actually unknown, but it is, by far, the Pentagon's costliest weapon system. As it stands now, the unit price for an F-35 — including aircraft, engine and fees — is $122 million. Let me say that another way... each individual F-35 airplane costs $122M. The total F-35 program is estimated to be $1.5T through 2070.
The United States also maintains the largest number of military bases on foreign soil across the world. There are now around 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries. Military spending makes up nearly 16% percent of entire federal spending and approximately half of discretionary spending. In a general sense discretionary spending (defense and non-defense spending) makes up one-third of the annual federal budget.
Allow me put this into perspective. The $400 billion program to create a fleet of F-35s, which, is seven years behind schedule and chronically plagued with misfortunes and incompetence... and which is just one weapon system program in the United States defense budget... could have housed every one of the 554,000 homeless people in the U.S. in a $600,000 house.
There’s a way to look at what it would cost to house the homeless, after looking at how we could easily get everyone in the country to at least the poverty line.
Okay, so now let’s take look at health care. In 2012 US health care spending totaled $2.8 trillion dollars and accounted for 17.2% of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). You’ll notice that’ s close to the 16% of defense spending. The average annual cost of health care for the typical US family of four is now over $20,000. According to a study from Consumer Reports, paying for health care is the top financial problem for US households.
Health care is the largest private-sector industry in the United States accounting for about 13% of the total US workforce. The World Health Organization ranked the US health care system at #37 out of 191 countries in its 2000 report, between Costa Rica and Slovenia. In 2014, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States last in overall health care behind (in order) United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, France, and Canada.
Obviously we’re not getting good value for all the money we spend on health care.
Now to education costs. The New America Foundation says that the federal government spent a whole $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding. And that doesn't even include loans. Here’s the ugly truth... if we were to scrap our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside for its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today. But rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars. Don’t even let me get started on Secretary Monique deVries!
If the story about education sounds awfully similar to the problems the U.S. faces with healthcare costs, well, that's because it is similar. Here’s my main point... Americans have an allergy to straightforward policy solutions involving the public sector. And for that, we pay a terrible price.
On an economic level, it is these inefficiencies in our systems of distributing wealth and resources that cause environmental injustice. US citizens, who account for 4.28% of the total world population consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as 379 Ethiopians. Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day - that's roughly 200 billion more than needed - enough to feed 80 million people.
So, the problems we have, at least in the United States, about environmental justice are not economically based. I won’t go through the numbers with you here, but I believe you now understand, as I do... that we could eliminate homelessness and poverty, we could ensure a college education for all citizens in the United States, and we could begin to check climate change on the global level if we simply cut military spending by a few percentage points and if we could somehow come up with a sane approach to reducing health care spending. Unfortunately, our present form of government has an allergy to straightforward policy solutions involving the public sector. So, we are not going to be crafting solutions to these problems as long as this government is in power.
It should be clear that the environmental justice problem is not economically based... it is heart based. We have a skewed sense of priorities. That sense is, frankly, the result of fear-based politics that cannot see that all human beings are inextricably tied to one another, and to our planet. The politics of race is the politics of fear. The politics of hate and indifference is the politics of fear. The politics of injustice is the politics of fear.
Put in a brutally simplistic way, our national priority is to kill people rather than to feed and house them. We prefer corporate profits to ensuring that we pass on a less damaged world to our children. That is the moral and spiritual reality of our time.
As Unitarian Universalists we are called to something far higher. I say, it is time for us to heed that call!
George - It’s ok to say anyone who voted for Trump is racist. We have heard this from liberals.
Clovice - Trump is a racist. That does not mean that people who voted for Trump are racists. It is possible to dance to music without listening to the words.
George - Clovice that’s your opinion .
Clovice - George Yes, it is my opinion that Trump is a racist. I'd love to know your opinion. Here's the definition: a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
George - My opinion is Trump is not a racist. Trump wants AMERICANS to be successful. Don’t blame him for trying to fix our immigration problem. And it’s a problem. Obama fits the definition of racist better than Trump.
Clovice - George Racism is what is said and done to promote one race over another, to show or feel discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or demonstrate a belief, that a particular race is superior to another. I base my accusation of Trump as a racist on fact. Calling someone a racist is a serious thing, and I assure you, it is not a term I use without justification. Without proof, it is a slanderous thing to utter against another human being. I would like you to explain your slander against president Obama about how he fits the definition of racist better than Trump. Here is my evidence against Trump:
June 16, 2015 - Trump announced his campaign for president. On that day he said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems.…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” Although fraught with insults, the main operator here is the phrase “They’re not sending you”. The racism exposed is the prejudice against people of other races by saying that non-Mexicans are not consuming drugs, are not criminals, and are not rapists.
December 7, 2015 - At a South Carolina rally five days after the San Bernardino terrorist attack
Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. To deny entry to the United States of all Muslims is discriminatory and unjust, especially when considering that the attack came from outside the United States. The action was discriminatory because it is predicated on the the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
February 28, 2016 - After disavowing the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Trump equivocated when he was asked in a nationally televised interview whether he would say flatly that he did not want the vote of Duke or other white supremacists. Most people would rightly conclude that because Trump did not instantly and unequivocally state his opposition to the endorsement, that he is comfortable with the views of the KKK.
June 3, 2016 - Pointing to a black man surrounded by white Trump supporters at a campaign rally in Redding Trump singled out the man and said: “Look at my African American over here. Look at him.” Self-evident.
June 5, 2016 - In a CBS interview Trump said the Mexican ancestry of a federal judge born in Indiana should disqualify him from presiding over a fraud lawsuit against Trump because of his proposed border wall. This statement is clearly prejudicial, and based upon the race of the judge.
June 2017 - At an Oval Office meeting, according to a New York Times report quoting unnamed officials. A White House spokeswoman denied the report. Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” and Nigerian immigrants will never “go back to their huts” in Africa. Self-evident, pure racism.
August 15, 2017 - Days after a woman was killed and dozens injured in Charlottesville, VA, Trump said “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.…Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” Aside from the insensitivity and sociopathy in his statements, the fact that Trump sympathized with white supremacists, and their views clearly demonstrated his racism.
September 22, 2017 - Trump called Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”. Not only is that an intended insult, it is a racist slur.
January 12, 2018 - Trump decries immigrants from “shithole countries” coming to the United States. He also asked why we want people from Haiti and more Africans in the US and added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway. Self-evident racism.
George Mumaw, my opinion about Trump being a racist is based upon his actions and words. Your opinion is baseless, meaningless, and puerile.
George - Wow, your Opinion is right and mine is wrong. Then you back it up with false
Clovice - That is a laughably lame retort George. What's the context of this photo? Was it taken while Obama was president? Was it in an open meeting? What did Obama say about the photograph? What has Obama said or done that is racist? I do know the answers to those questions, and can't wait for your next attempt at a response. Yes, my opinion about Trump being a racist is correct because it is based upon proven fact. Your opinion is wrong... and puerile... as evidenced by this pitiful posting. Oh, George, you're just too much fun!
George - Lame? Truth hurts. Good luck with your brilliant mind, I love my President and what he represents. 6 more years baby!!!
George - Clovice , I truly wish you the best in life. ✌️
Clovice - Why do you love this racist president so much? Could it really be that his racism reflects your values? You wrote that my posting proving that Trump is racist was backed up "with false", but you did not finish the statement. What is false about the facts that I presented? What has president Obama said or done that is racist? Indeed, how does Obama fit the definition of racist better than Trump?
It is fascinating to me that you make statements without actually defending them. I understand the "my team" allure, but really, don't you think we all deserve a truthful political discourse?
George - Oh it’s not fascinating at all to you.You call Trump a racist and say your opinions are fact. I defend him and you disagree. I give my opinion on Obama and consider my opinions as lame, your words. Good luck buddy, I m very comfortable in my own skin, I hope you are as well, sincerely.
Clovice - I call Trump a racist and prove the accusation, which you cannot, and do not refute with anything approaching a counter argument. In fact, you have not defended Trump in any way, except to state your unsupported opinion. Your opinion about Obama is noted, but you still have not been able to support that opinion with fact. What is clear is that, like the racist president that you claim to love, you do not consider facts to be an important component of your political position.
That is what is fascinating to me... and that you are comfortable that way. Unlike you, I am not. It makes me uncomfortable that fellow citizens do not care about facts, that they are perfectly willing to sling wild accusations around without proving them, and that they participate in transmitting untruthful graphic memes without context or analysis.
It is also interesting to me that, when given the opportunity to enter into a reasoned discourse with someone of an opposite position, you are unable to do so. You have not been able to discern Trump's racism, which you apparently support. If you are comfortable with that "skin", at least be honest about that.
George - What I find fascinating is that we disagree on opinions. The facts are debatable as to truth. Still your opinion is the only one that matters. The fact you can’t accept that says a lot. Best of luck.
Clovice - George We are not disagreeing about opinions. There is nothing "debatable" about Trump's statements. They are truly what he said. Your statement "The facts are debatable as to truth" is astonishing. That you cannot understand the difference between fact and opinion is what says a lot.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!