For years I have contemplated attending the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) conference in Washington, DC, and this year, I finally made it there. I decided this year was the year to go for a variety of reasons . . . .for one thing, I had a free place to stay (with my son Kyle), which won’t be there next year (he’s moving to Manhattan in August) and for another—I felt strongly that it’s time to learn more about the various policies that come out of Washington so that I can do a better job of thinking for myself about what my faith leads me to believe in relation to public policy. I’m a little ashamed that it has taken me so long to “get serious” about this . . . I’ve been a voting person of faith for almost 30 years—shouldn’t I always have been invested in really understanding the issues?
Diversity of Leadership
Something I noticed right away was how many of the leaders of the conference were NOT white people. It meant a lot to me to be hearing about various issues: immigration, food stamps and other poverty related programs, the impact of racism on public policy, health care, military spending . . . from people who do NOT look like me, whose lives I suspect have been very different from mine. The speakers were challenging in many cases, calling on us to not just give lip service to change; Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the Women’s March back in January, who was the very powerful Keynote speaker on the first night, put it this way:
“When you show up [meaning come out to help change the world and stand with the oppressed], show up for real. I know I am part of the problem and I am willing to change.”
She was both challenging all of us to own our part in the problem (racism, poverty, discrimination, etc.) and acknowledging her own part in the complexities of these things.
“The Beloved Community”
Throughout the conference, many folks referred to “the Beloved Community” which was a phrase coined by Martin Luther King, Jr., to describe a vision of a completely integrated society, a community of love and justice wherein brotherhood [and sisterhood] would be an actuality in all of life, for people of all races, creeds, nations. I’ve always thought of it as another way to describe the “Kingdom of God”—the world at peace as God intends us to be.
Safety Net Funding
I attended a workshop regarding the potential loss of “Safety Net” funding that was much in discussion that week, as legislators were moving toward the first vote on the federal budget (ultimately they passed a spending plan so as to not “shut down” the government). Safety Net funding is an umbrella term for programs like Food Stamps, WIC, Medicaid, and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), and the concern at the time was a proposal to move a very large chunk of funding out of these programs and into military spending. I also attended several workshops related to immigration and refugee issues (one of them was at the Day of Compassion and Justice which was a PCUSA event that preceded EAD).
Although not all of the participants were entirely of one mind on all of the issues, generally speaking it was a “liberal/progressive” crowd, and much of the focus was on the budget, immigration, health care, and many of the changes that have been coming so fast and furious over the past few months.
Meeting with Our Legislators
On Sunday evening I participated in a Peace Vigil at the Pentagon, and spent Monday on Capitol Hill, meeting with staff members from various legislators offices; this day of Lobbying was really what the whole conference was geared toward. Each day of the conference, we met in State and District groups, to plan what we would say in the meetings, and who would say them; of course the meetings with Senators Schumer and Gillibrands’ staff members involved all of us who were from NY, while there were only a few of us there from Congressman Tonko’s district. Most of the meetings I attended were meetings of encouragement and appreciation for the stands our legislators have already made; folks from other states had the harder jobs of speaking with more conservative legislators and seeking to “change their minds.”
The conference was a bit “out of my comfort zone;” although I consider it incredibly important for us as people of faith to understand and critique what is happening in politics, this is not my favorite part of the pastoral/prophetic role . . . . interestingly, as I attended various events, I found that I already knew and understood more than I thought I did, while at the same time learning a great deal, and recognizing that there is always more to learn! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend, and to be carrying what I learned with me as various events in the political realm have continued to unfold. If you’d like to learn more, here is the link to the EAD 2017 page: https://advocacydays.org/2017-confronting-chaos/
Kathy serves as co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, NY. In addition to working as a Teaching Elder, Kathy earned her Master of Social Work from Rockefeller College at SUNY Albany, and is a Licensed Master Social Worker and works part-time as a Domestic Violence Counselor at the YWCA of Schenectady, where her work includes a support group for women at the County Jail. You can reach Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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