Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Post-Election Commitments
distributed 11/7/14 - ©2014

Well, the mid-term elections of 2014 are over, and the results were distressing to those of us who are committed to Earth care and eco-justice. With the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, I expect even more give-aways to fossil fuel industries, and even more resistance to sustainability.

The next couple of years will require strong, sustained and informed political activism from those committed to Earth community and future generations. I'm not excited about that. I confess that legislative issue work is not my passion, so I know that I'll have to push myself to do what needs to be done.

Today, I offer six principles that will guide me, and Eco-Justice Ministries, in this activism. They express, I hope, some of the balance that people of faith should maintain in a time of Earth crisis and political change. I'll be interested to hear from you about the values and commitments that keep you going -- or about what makes it hard for you to do legislative work.

  1. Not all who disagree with me are evil.
    We've just emerged from months of negative political advertising. We've been hammered with messages that politicians are corrupt, sold-out, power-hungry, or ideologically blind to simple truth. And some of them are!

    But there are many people in politics -- on both sides of the aisle -- who really are trying to serve the nation and their community. I disagree with some of them about the appropriate role of government, about the consideration to be given to future generations and nature, and about what constitutes "the good life." Those philosophical differences lead to policy differences.

    Rather than writing off opponents as mad or bad, crazy or evil, I will try to understand the philosophies and values that guide them. I will be a more effective advocate if I can identify the core principles where we disagree, and speak to those factors in my comments. If, for example, a legislator supports the Keystone XL pipeline because of economic reasons, I'll be able to argue my case better if I can refute the "jobs and energy security" case, as well as pushing my environmental principles.

  2. Name falsehood, and refuse to accept it.
    The increasing polarization of US politics has produced a disturbing trend where "facts" are tools of ideology. The denial of compelling climate science is unconscionable. The spouting of totally unsupported evidence plays well with a political base, but it cannot be a basis for public policy.

    Rather than rolling my eyes and grumbling to my friends, I will do what I can to publicly discredit the most egregious cases of distortion, error and falsehood. I heard a hopeful example of such naming on NPR's Morning Edition this Thursday. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, expressing doubt about the causes of climate change, referred to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland a few years ago. She said, "The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years' worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe." NPR then interviewed a leading climate scientist, who said, "What can I say? It's simply untrue. I don't know where she gets that number from." He cited figures showing European emissions dwarf those from all volcanoes. In that style, I will do what I can to knock down arguments that are clearly false.

  3. Be persistent and civil.
    My friend Gail -- a Texas grandmother who never gives up on a cause -- told me of her relationship with a US Senator's staff. There was some long-running issue where she disagreed with the Senator's position, and she voiced her opposition often and in person. It got to the point where staffers would recognize her at the grocery store, and come over to say hello. Gail maintained credibility and connections, and her ongoing efforts to persuade the Senator were enhanced by that style.

    On the issues that are most important, I will try to follow Gail's example -- to engage frequently and individually, with civility. Signing an on-line petition won't do it, and a single phone call just before a final vote isn't good enough. I will get to know my representatives and their key staff, and let them know early and often about my values and my positions. Being polite and respectful is both strategically necessary, and a matter of basic human decency.

  4. Say thanks, and provide encouragement to those who are on the right track.
    Most of us are more easily motivated to call or write politicians by threats than by good news. I get far more emails urging me to fight bad legislation than I do asking me to support good bills. The work of resistance and opposition is important.

    But it is also important to thank the politicians who are advancing policies for climate justice, sustainability and human rights. I will pay attention to my representatives and to the political leaders who share my values and who are supporting positive policies. Expressing my appreciation and support will be helpful to them, and finding some points of gratitude will nurture my own spirit, too.

  5. Work in coalition and collaboration.
    In the next two years, there will be many hard-fought political battles, on a wide range of eco-justice issues -- climate and energy, "free trade," immigration, transportation, public lands, endangered species, etc., etc., etc. I know that I cannot be on top of all of them. There will be no way to stay richly informed about the numerous policy details, or legislative strategies.

    I have always counted on trusted allies to do careful research, to frame the terms of debates, and to sort out strategies on what issues to fight and when. In this next legislative session, I plan to be far more intentional in selecting the advocacy groups that I turn to for leadership and guidance, and in following their lead. I will look for agencies who ground their work in clear values and credible details. I will join in coalition with reputable groups -- religious and secular -- where we share a common cause. Working with trusted colleagues will be essential in avoiding overload and paralysis.

  6. Remember that people (and money) are more persuasive than eloquent logic.
    When the boundaries of one of Colorado's legislative districts were moved in the latest redistricting, the demographics shifted from very conservative to quite mixed. The representative who served that district soon shifted his stance on many issues. I don't think he had a sudden change of heart on political philosophy. He recognized the need to appeal to his new voter base.

    I am prone to offer careful and thoughtful (to me!) arguments in support of my political positions. I cite good evidence, and I appeal to clear moral principles. And I need to remember that my representatives are not going to be very impressed. They will be far more likely to listen if I can show up with a dozen community leaders, or if I can get a phone call from one of their major contributors.

    It is important to me to have well-grounded positions, but I also need to pursue those policies in ways that are politically effective. I will seek to do a better job of political organizing, and developing the power of engaged constituencies.

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None of these principles are all that remarkable. Many of them are common practice for committed activists. But each one of them represents a bit of a stretch for my personal style, and for the way that Eco-Justice Ministries has tended to work. I promise to push myself out of my comfort zone, so that I can be more faithful and effective in this new political situation.

Eco-Justice Notes may deal with legislative issues more frequently. Notes may be a forum that names and discredits falsehood. We'll look at ways to build constituencies and coalitions, alongside our style of theological and ethical reflection.

I hope that you, too, will take this time of political transition as an opportunity to look at your own commitments to activism and engagement. We have lots of hard work coming our way. May we go into it with clarity, decency and passion.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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