Sunday, September 23, 2007

A fire for justice...

Gay Episcopalians wondered this weekend whether the bishops of our church gathered in New Orleans would throw us under the bus to preserve the Anglican Communion -- it’s a church kafuffle, if by chance you don't pay attention to this teapot. So it was great to read that they'd gotten an earful about the place they were visiting from Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, an urban visionary, and a long time agitator for justice who can be trusted not gloss over realities. Episcopal News Service reports his talk:

"I have never seen such devastation, and I've been in war zones," Newport told the joint gathering of bishops and spouses about his first few weeks in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. ...

"Every evening, I would just cry, and wonder why there were no mental health experts here to help people get through this. When Columbine happened, that area was saturated with mental health professionals. How can a society like ours not think about mental health professionals, it's just plain racist," he said. ...

He told the gathering that present conditions were created after World War II when, in about 80 percent of the nation's cities, manufacturing and other jobs were outsourced to cheaper labor markets, interstate freeways were constructed and in many cases were built in the heart of black economic districts, effectively killing them and disenfranchising cities. At the same time, he said, real estate developers built suburban shopping malls and most of the white middle class moved away.

"That in a sense removed all the economies from the inner city, all you had left were philanthropy dollars and then they wonder why there's so much crime and violence. It's failed public policy." Newport said. ...

Now, he added: "These cities are time bombs waiting to detonate. In the case of New Orleans, the infrastructure was extremely flawed, there was a poor tax base, the levees hadn't been fixed for years. We wonder sometimes where are our priorities as a society.

"How can we spend trillions of dollars going into war in Iraq at the expense of a country so deteriorated, where our public school system is in such a state of decline?"

Newport has always told it like it is.

I have a vivid memory of Newport from the mid-1980s. President Reagan was funding a guerrilla assault on the elected government of Nicaragua without telling Congress where he was getting the money; in El Salvador, the U.S. was propping up a brutal military and right wing death squads. Bay Area activists in solidarity with popular movements in Central America held a meeting in the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall in Pimentel Hall at UC Berkeley; as a courtesy, the mayor was invited to say a few words.

Newport got up and rocked the house, saying something like this:

I don't understand you white people. The government in D.C. is making war on some the most important movements of poor people on the planet and you are sitting around talking. If I were you, I'd be organizing people to stop this right now. You hand out all these papers; you could have people out there with torches messing up the ATMs at these banks that pay for this stuff. You could be forcing the government to stop. That's what being serious about liberation would look like. Stop them!

Well, we didn't do it and Newport didn't either, but he meant it about seriousness -- and we still need that kind of fire. Glad the bishops got to hear from him.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Jan I missed this. Thanks for posting it. It's an earful, all right. Good for Gus.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Unfortunately, they did get thrown under the bus. I feel for Gene Robinson, I really do. Why "communion" with bigots in Africa and elsewhere is so important that the ECUSA is willing to turn its back on the Holy Spirit is beyond me.

(And yes, I'm an atheist but I was raised Episcopal, and those folks are supposed to believe that's why a man is a bishop. Aren't they?)

But it's always the way: "communion" is more important than progress, and you're always supposed to cater to the ones who won't change.

janinsanfran said...

Actually, this gay person doesn't exactly feel thrown under the bus. I'm enough of a political animal to take the outcome of that meeting as a political victory. For practical purposes, the Bishops came out of there pretty much where the General Convention of 2006 left off -- but with more of them clearly signed on than previously.

Sure, I'd love to see them get over the nonsense, but too many aren't there yet. The homophobes of the Communion will continue to herd the US bishops down the path they are already on, by continuing to behave badly. I do feel terribly for Robinson -- what a painful role to have to play.

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