Hey, Legislature: Raise My Taxes!
- Created on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 19:41
On May 14, 2013 JRLC participated in a rally convened by Invest in Minnesota, a coalition of faith, labor, and nonprofits calling for fair and adequate revenues in Minnesota. JRLC advocate and Edina citizen Melanie McCall called on legislators to raise income taxes on the top two percent of income earners, a group of which her family is part. Her speech was strong and moving! Below, she shares what she had to say.
I’m Melanie McCall and I’m a proud citizen of Edina. I’m here representing those who some folks jokingly call the Cake-eaters. I stand before you as a real live Edina stereotype: the housewife with disposable income. I have a wonderful hardworking husband, two terrific kids who are about to go to college, a nice 2-story house with a big lawn, and even a great dog. My family and I are blessed: through a lot of hard work and good support from people and institutions around us, I am a member of the top 2% of income-earners in the state.
I’m here today to tell the Legislature: Raise. My. Taxes.
I’m here today to say I CAN pay my fair share, and I WANT to pay my fair share, so please… HELP me pay my fair share.
I’m here because it’s important to me to live where my roads and bridges are maintained, where my children and ALL children have schools and colleges we can be proud of and NOT that we feel we have to apologize for, where those among us who are senior citizens, or have disabilities, or who are vulnerable are provided for… are valued… are treated with dignity!
And I am willing to pay for it!
For years I served on the staff of a large church in downtown Mpls. It’s a wonderful, giving place. Every day, people who were at the end of their rope – good people – would come in and call in, asking for help. These are people who have tried to keep it together for themselves and their children, but have fallen through the cracks. Every. Day. Over the last 10 years, the number of people needing help has increased dramatically.
Houses of faith have always been there to help those in need, and they always will, but years and years of not adequately financing our human services sector has created too much of a gap. It’s not right, it’s not moral for us as a state to leave these people behind. And for me, as a person of faith, it Can. Not. Stand.
If we are going to hold up ALL our brothers and sisters, we have to pay for it.
I have a neighbor, just up the street from me, named Brenda. She is one of the nicest, most cheerful women I’ve ever met. Brenda used to have a good job and owned her own home in Minnetonka. And then the economy went south, and Brenda lost all of that. And her parents got sick, and there just wasn’t enough to go around. Brenda has clawed her way back in the last couple of years. She’s renting a nice little place and has a decent job again. She even has a cute little dog. What Brenda does NOT have is disposable income.
I’m asking you to imagine Brenda… and then look at me, one of the most fortunate among us. Picture her situation… and now picture mine.
Here’s the ugly truth: currently Brenda pays more in state taxes, as a percentage of her income, than I do.
Is that right?
Is that moral?
As a person of faith, I am called to care for others. Taxes help us do that. And when we invest in healthy communities and a strong workforce, we ALL benefit. My family has worked hard to have what we have… we are not a bottomless pit. BUT I should pay what I can, and what is fair, and what is right. I call on the legislature to raise my taxes and the income tax on high-income households. Help me pay my fair share. Help us ALL pay our fair share.
Loaves and Fishes and Collective Responsibility
- Created on Friday, 03 May 2013 20:26
This post is adapted from a sermon by JRLC Intern and United Theological Seminary student Jennifer McNally.
A few weeks ago I was part of a very simple food drive. Several youth ministers from Episcopal churches called up a few grocery stores and asked if our kids could set up in front of their store. Each store manager agreed right away, eager to help.
Each church gathered its own volunteers and headed to the grocery stores on a Saturday morning, bringing lists of items the food shelves needed to hand out to shoppers on their way in the door. If you have ever tried to hand out information in public, you know how difficult it can be. People walk right by you, averting their eyes.
Unless you are 4 years old and you give people jazz hands.
“We’re collecting FOOD!” one little girl would announce to everyone who walked into Kowalski’s that morning. Jazz Hands! Her little friend was right behind her: “Some people need SHAMPOO TOO!” Jazz Hands! And what do you know—there were people standing in line to talk to our kids and pick up a food shelf shopping list.
That day, all of us who participated collected a combined total of 3,919 pounds of food for the food shelf.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a story from the Christian tradition. It goes like this: there were approximately 12,000 people gathered together in a remote place, with only five loaves of bread and two fish to eat. Jesus’s disciples were anxious and wanted to send the people into town to get their own food, but Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
How could the disciples do this when it didn’t seem there was even enough for themselves? Yet when the bread and fish were blessed and passed around, somehow everyone ate until they were filled.
Perhaps once bread was broken, once fish was cooked, someone remembered that, oh yes, they did have some dried fruit they could pass around and, oh look, we didn’t realize we had olives…and we packed some cheese…let’s pass it around…
Just like at our food drive, when everyone offered a little, suddenly there was a lot. But the miracle of the loaves and fishes is also this: when everyone sacrificed a little of what they wanted and took only what they needed, and when everyone took responsibility for the needs of each other, suddenly they had enough for everyone.
It would be easier if we could each experience our faith in our own churches and synagogues and mosques, separate and apart, and leave the challenging things about our religious teachings at the door. It would be simpler if we could require everyone to take care of their own needs, as Jesus’s disciples wanted to do. Taking responsibility for each other is much more complicated and much more difficult. And yet it’s what people of faith are called to do: to sacrifice some of our wants for the needs and benefit of the whole. To make sure everyone has enough to eat. A safe place to live. Good schools and medical care and a living wage and equal opportunities.
In the story of loaves and fishes, when the disciples sacrificed some of their wants for the needs of the whole, everyone had enough. Actually, everyone had more than enough: the story tells us there were even baskets of food left over after the feast of five loaves and two fishes! I like to think of these as baskets of justice, baskets of empowerment, baskets of connection, baskets of health and wholeness. Baskets of community. Baskets of possibility.
When we all work together to care for one another, we participate in creating a world full of miracles.
Introduction to Community Organizing: Social Media and Online Tools
- Created on Wednesday, 17 April 2013 20:29
Good organizing is all about building relationships so that you have a network of supporters who will back you up when you need to get something done. There is a huge range of online tools that can help you do this more efficiently and effectively. Though online organizing can never replace in-person connections, it can help you build a much larger audience than you could do in person and is a quick and easy way to get information out to many people at once.
So, social media and other online tools can be important additions to your organizing strategy. It’s important, though, to recognize both their strengths and limitations. As the Midwest Academy Manual puts it, “Building a website is the easy part. Getting people to look at it is much harder.” Ultimately, these tools are simply another means to your end of organizing people to take action for your cause.
In the rest of this post, I’ll profile a few of the most common online tools and identify the situations in which they can be most useful to your organizing.
Social media is a hot topic right now in business and marketing, because it holds incredible power to make a product or message visible to huge numbers of people. This kind of power translates into the organizing context as well--social media tools are a good way to connect with and expand your audience.
To capitalize on the popularity of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest, you need to understand why people use them. Research has shown that people mainly use social media for four reasons: connecting with friends and family, entertainment, productivity, and communicating their identity. If you can use your social media presence to tap into these reasons, you can make a big impact.
It’s important to realize that social media sites are not good platforms for actually getting people to do things. If someone logs in to Facebook to catch up on what their friends were up to last weekend, to watch funny cat videos, or to share a recent news story, they will not be in the right frame of mind to commit to coming to a rally or to donating to a cause. What social media is good at doing is building ongoing relationships with your audience. If you can post things that your supporters will be interested in reading or watching--a news article about something related to the issue you are working on, a picture illustrating the success of your recent event, a funny cat video that is somehow relevant to your cause--they will keep coming back to your page and will feel more connected to you as a result. Then, they will be more likely to commit to taking action when you reach out to them by some other means of communication.
Social media is also powerful because of its multiplication effect; if your supporters share something you have posted, all of their friend networks will see it as well and your message will reach people you never would have known otherwise. To make the most of this potential, try to post things that will get your audience to engage--ask viewers to post comments with their own opinions or to share a post on their own pages.
Other Online Tools
Email: As mentioned above, social media is good for building a relationship with your audience, but when it comes to asking people to take action a more direct form of communication works better. Phone calls or in-person meetings are more personal and may have a higher return rate, but email is a great way to get information or requests out to large numbers of people at once.
To effectively use email for organizing, the main thing is to keep a long and up-to-date list of contacts. Long because it usually takes a lot of emails to get a decent-sized response; depending on your level of relationship with those you’re emailing, you may need a hundred emails to get one committed “yes.” To build up your email list, make sure you are getting the names and contact information of anyone who shows up to events or activities; make it easy for people to sign up for emails on your Facebook page or website; and encourage your supporters to spread the word and get friends involved.
Online Contests or Polls: Contests or polls, especially if prizes are involved, can generate a lot of attention and bring traffic to your website or social media page. It’s pretty easy (and free!) to create your own online survey with tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. This can also double as a way to raise more awareness about your issue--for example, ask people to guess a surprising fact related to your issue. At the end of the survey, make sure you invite people who participated to sign up for your email list if they haven’t already!
Online Petitions: Online petitions have become so common that many are now debating their usefulness in impacting decision-makers. This is certainly true for upper-level decision-makers such as members of Congress. Petitions may be more effective, though, with local legislators who might not have received many petitions before. Signing a petition is also an easy thing to ask people to do, and can help you add more people to your email list and build up your audience for future actions.
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To summarize: Online tools should not constitute your entire organizing strategy, but they are useful tools for reaching large numbers of people quickly and for keeping connected to them in between major events and actions. They are a good way to build up your audience so that you have a network of supporters you can rely on when you need them.
Taxes as a Spiritual Practice
- Created on Thursday, 04 April 2013 19:36
Tax day is right around the corner, and if you're like me, you haven't done them yet.
Each year, we Americans collectively perform the annual ritual that is part of our duty and identity as citizens of the United States of America. Whether we send crucial documents to our accountant or hunch in front of the laptop with papers strewn across our laps, the act of "doing our taxes" is as much a part of our citizenship as is participating in the civic processes of voting and governing.
It's a revolutionary idea, really -- that we pool together a portion of available resources to provide common services like roads, clean water, education, health care, parks, and public infrastructure. When I sit down and think -- really think -- about what government provides, and at what cost, the positive impact on our lives is staggering.
This year, I've been doing some thinking about the ritual of paying one's taxes, and the spiritual impact it has on our lives. Truly, the act of paying our taxes is one of the few occasions when our commitment to the common good is so preeminent in all of our lives. Alone, I have few resources to offer to someone living in poverty. Sure, I might be able to spare a few dollars, but how does that begin to tackle the root problems of poverty, such as job opportunities, education and training, mental health issues, or food scarcity? Even put together with my faith community or with my neighborhood association, our resources and capabilities are limited.
And so it is that paying my taxes actually gives me hope. Through this one yearly act, I know that I am contributing to massive resource programs like the Minnesota Family Investment Program or MinnesotaCare, like the Child Care Assistance Program, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the successor program to Food Stamps). While these programs aren't perfect, and while sometimes I wish I could personally designate which parts of the state and federal budget I would prefer to support more or less, I feel good knowing that they are there. I also feel that my citizenship and state residency acquire a deeper meaning and integrity because I am both contributing dollars to the public resource pool, and, through my advocacy, influencing the democratic processes that appropriate funds to public efforts. It feels productive knowing that significant resources will be used to provide a safety net for my neighbors, and even for myself, should I ever need such resources.
Truth be told, I wonder what our political process might look like if we all approached the process of tax day more in a spirit of gratitude. I will be the first to admit that seeing just how much of my income is siphoned off each year feels a bit like a punch to the gut. But when I approach my taxes with a spirituality of gratitude, suddenly I am thinking instead about the resources these dollars provide -- both to me personally, and to all of our neighbors in need.
God, I am thankful.
Thankful for the resources I have, in order that I am able to give.
Thankful for the all resources I daily receive.
Thankful for our collective commitment to common good.
I am thankful. Amen.
Rev. Alison Killeen
Director of Organizing and Practical Theology
Gun Safety and Jesus's Nonviolence
- Created on Thursday, 28 March 2013 21:35
On March 19th, I attended a hearing of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. The committee chair, Rep. Michael Paymar, was presenting his bill to require universal background checks for gun sales in Minnesota. Under current law, it is possible to purchase a firearm at a gun show, online, or from another person without undergoing a background check. Rep. Paymar’s bill would have ensured that all gun sales included a background check, granting exceptions in the case of hunting rifles and family member-to-family member transactions.
The bulk of the hearing was devoted to testimony in favor of and in opposition to the universal background check bill. Among those backing Rep. Paymar’s bill were law enforcement officials, relatives of victims of gun violence, pastors, and members of Shir Tikvah Congregation’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
Jason Adkins, Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference and JRLC Executive Board member, testified on behalf of JRLC in support of universal background checks. In addition to advocating reasonable limitations on citizens’ Second Amendment rights to prevent gun injuries and death, he reminded the committee of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims who pray for peace in their houses of worship across Minnesota.
The hearing then took an unexpected turn. One of the committee members, the most prominent opponent of Rep. Paymar’s bill, identified himself as a Missouri Synod Lutheran and asked our board member what Jesus had meant in the Gospel of Luke when he said, “Sell your cloak and buy a sword.” This caused a stir in the hearing chamber, but Mr. Adkins merely reiterated that the faith communities making up JRLC stood for peace and concluded his testimony. Ultimately, Rep. Paymar's bill did not pass the committee, and a narrower expansion of background checks is being put forward.
A few days later, on Palm Sunday, I heard the entire narrative of Jesus’s Passion from Luke read at the church I attend. The verse the representative had asked Jason Adkins to interpret appears in this passage; Jesus uttered those words at the Last Supper in Luke’s Gospel. As I listened to the entire narrative, two moments stood out to me. First, just after Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword, they present him with two swords, and he tells them, “It is enough.” Second, a few verses later when the authorities come to arrest Jesus, a disciple cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave with a sword. Immediately, Jesus tells his followers, “No more of this!” and heals the man’s ear. Even when surrounded by an armed crowd, even when facing the certainty of his execution, Jesus rejected violence and instead took a stand for nonviolence.
I do not offer this reflection on Luke’s Gospel to dispute that legislator’s use of a particular Bible verse. JRLC’s work is founded on the principle that faith can guide policymaking, and we deploy quotations from scripture to justify our positions in the same way that those who oppose our positions do. However, when we turn to our sacred texts, I do think it is important to consider what the whole story is saying, even if we hone in on a single verse. At JRLC, we believe the overarching message of our faiths is one of peace, and this motivates our support for policies that protect Minnesotans from gun violence.
We are in the midst of the solemn days in which Christians prepare for Easter. As I think about how to address the violence in our society, I will remember one man who, on the eve of his own violent death, refused the path of violence.