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Elizabeth Dickinson, Program Manager, Justice Leadership Program

Advent for our Social Justice interns began with a powerful two-day training on Undoing Institutional Racism. Justice Leadership Program interns and staff gathered with about fifty folks of all races from Urban Impact, Teen Feed, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, the Seattle police force, community colleges, and more. We explored the many ways racism harms all of us, and shared stories and strategies for change. And we came away with hope and the resolve to work toward liberating the gifts and potential of every individual and community.  It was surely a fitting way to prepare to celebrate the birth of One who embraced the vocation, "to preach good news to the poor...to set at liberty the oppressed."

Our Interns, like all of our host churches have been keeping very busy during this season of Advent, so we can only keep up with them through their blogs!  Here are a few excerpts we want to share with you. 

Margie (Washington Low Income Housing Alliance):  5,000,000. That’s how many low-income families, people with disabilities, and senior citizens are able to live in safe, healthy, and affordable homes thanks to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. 50%. That’s how much funding has been cut from HUD and USDA programs since 2010. 600,000. That’s the number of people experiencing homelessness on any given night across the U.S. By the end of 2014, Washington could see as many as 2,860 fewer housing vouchers due to sequestration. Less housing vouchers means fewer families housed. We cannot let this happen. Call Congress today, and urge them to cancel sequestration in order to protect housing and homelessness programs. Your voice matters.

Briana (Church Council of Greater Seattle):  In the week before ballots were due, I spent an afternoon with a couple other Church Council folks canvassing in SeaTac. In my given “turf,” I went door to door, seeing if I could answer questions about Proposition 1 [the $15 living wage proposition] and share why I, as a member of the faith community, was standing in solidarity with the workers who had organized to place this measure on the ballot... This experience was a fascinating look into the behind the scenes grass-root efforts to speak with every voter and ensure that the often marginalized members of our communities are able to vote. It made me reflect on how at its core, the communal ritual of voting is supposed to give us all an equal opportunity to make our voices heard.

Karin (Earth Ministry): Last week our faith partners [attending]... the UN COP19 Climate Conference shared a message with the larger faith community:  "...on day one, Commissioner Yeb Saño of the Philippines made a heart-felt and impassioned plea on behalf of his people - our Filipino brothers and sisters - devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. As part of his statement he announced that he was beginning a voluntary fast until such time as the global community made significant progress in responding to the global climate crisis. We have begun a fasting chain and are inviting you to join us..."  It is one of the great tragedies of climate change that the people who will suffer most from it are those who had the least to do with causing it.... As we enter the time of year when we give thanks for all of the richness in our lives, we have come face-to-face with the cost of our abundance. Let us fast before we give thanks.

 
 
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Jenn Hagedorn, past UCC Social Justice Intern and current Social Justice Liaison at Plymouth Congregational UCC

The passing of Proposition One in SeaTac is truly an incredible step towards living wages for our community and beyond! For me the issue of worker’s rights in SeaTac is the campaign that has shaped my understanding of the persistence, strength and determination of workers united.

I’ll never forget how little I knew on the day of my first action in SeaTac on the second or third day of orientation for the Justice Leadership Program in September 2012. For a start, I really shouldn’t have worn flats. Sneakers would have been a better choice. Beyond my new footwear wisdom, I learned what it was like to participate in a large action that brought together workers, people of faith, union members and countless community groups with a united voice. Hundreds of us gathered together and marched to the headquarters of Alaska Airlines, calling out for better jobs and respect for all the people who work at our airport. This was only one of the many ways that people had, and would continue to work towards this goal. 

Over the next year, I was standing with workers as they filed complaints with the Department of Labor and Industry, as they stood in front of news cameras and talked about the health and safety violations, and as they talked to their managers about respect and dignity in the workplace. I also stood with them as they spoke out at the Shareholders meeting and as they requested union recognition.

It was working on this campaign that gave me the framework to learn about power that comes from not only hearing about the statistics that point towards solutions, but the people who are living those statistics every day. In talking to the workers and hearing their stories I was opened up to the way that the workers knew what they needed to change. They were the best ones to identify the ways that changes to policies and attitudes could impact their work environment. They were the best ones to explain how low wages and unsafe conditions were impacting them and their families. They were the best ones to lead the way. And what an incredible place they have brought us to!

I am thrilled that Proposition One has passed and I stand with the workers as it is now being fought out in court.  Beyond the joy that I feel, what I am truly struck by is my deep gratitude for the incredible learning and growing that this campaign allowed me to experience through my internship year and beyond. 

 
 
King County Council Hearing
Briana Frenchmore, UCC Social Justice Intern with The Church Council of Greater Seattle

On Monday, I was present as the King County Council voted in favor of approving the King County Detainer Ordinance [2013-0885]. The passing of this legislation is a significant step in addressing an unjust immigration enforcement system. 

The Detainer Ordinance will address many of the detrimental effects  of ICE’s (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) program, Secure Communities, which allows for the fingerprint data collected in local jails to be checked by a federal immigration database run by ICE. If a match can be found, ICE places a request for a "hold," regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime. As a University of Washington report found that ICE detainer requests target people without serious criminal charges or criminal histories and increase the average jail stay for individuals. The current detainer practices increase the cost to local governments and Secure Communities has been found to erode trust between communities and local law enforcement, lead to racial profiling, increase the length of jail stays, and does not target those who have actually been convicted of a serious crime.

It was exciting to be present in the King County Courthouse and watch on from the balcony seating as King County Councilmembers finished their final deliberations on this measure. In a packed courtroom, the Detainer Ordinance was passed with a 5-4 vote. The ordinance had been in the works for the past 20 months, with over 32 community groups advocating for its passage including groups such as One America, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Casa Latina, and El Centro de la Raza.

As an intern with the Church Council, I attended several Washington New Sanctuary Movement and Washington Immigration Roundtable meetings where I received updates on where the ordinance stood. Just a month ago there was great concern that the ordinance was short 1 vote from passing so community groups went to town to put pressure on one councilmember who was refusing to come out in support of the ordinance, despite previous pledges to support immigrants and their families. Within the capacity of the Church Council I drafted an Action Alert and sent it out to over 1,100 of our members, inviting them to contact their King County Councilmembers and urge them to vote yes on the ordinance. I enjoyed being able to connect people in the faith community with an opportunity for advocacy for a measure that will have a significant positive impact in our region.

As federal comprehensive immigration reform is put on hold by politicians, it is encouraging to see that counties and community groups are continuing to press ahead to find local solutions that will  separate fewer families, begin to restore trust in our communities and make them safe for the many people who call our neighborhoods home.

 
 
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Briana Frenchmore, UCC Social Justice Intern with The Church Council of Greater Seattle

Just south of Seattle, the November ballot asked voters in the city of SeaTac (pop. 27,000) to decide if 6,300 transportation and hospitality workers in and around the airport would see their wages raised to $15 an hour. 

The potential impact of this decision has captured more than just local attention with news sources such as the BBC reporting that, “SeaTac, Washington, is an unremarkable town that's become remarkable.” 

If passed, in addition to a minimum wage increase, Proposition 1 also includes annual raises attached 
to inflation, paid sick leave, tip protection and encourages employers to offer full-time employment to 
current employees before hiring more part-time workers. The measure would affect about 70 airport 
related businesses that include airline service contractors, car-rental agencies with more than 25 
employees, retail businesses with more than 10 employees, and hotels with more than 100 rooms. 

Two weeks after Election Day, the final outcome of the measure is still far from being decided with 
Proposition 1 leading with a mere 46 votes. Both supporters and opponents have said that a recount 
is almost certain. Additionally, Filo Foods along with Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant 
Association have filed a lawsuit against Proposition 1 in the King County Superior Court and are 
also bringing legal action against the Port of Seattle which owns and operates the airport, hoping to 
invalidate the measure.

When every vote counts: Canvassing for local change

In the week before ballots were due, I spent an afternoon with a couple other Church Council folks canvassing in SeaTac. In my given “turf,” I went door to door, seeing if I could answer questions about 
Proposition 1 and share why I, as a member of the faith community, was standing in solidarity with the workers who had organized to place this measure on the ballot. My other critical task was to urge voters to get their ballots in ASAP because literally every vote was going to be crucial. In the previous months, the Yes! For SeaTac campaign had registered 900 new voters—an exciting accomplishment in a city with just over 12,000 registered voters. Many of the new voters were non-native English speakers and coming from countries where voting does not serve any democratic purpose. This experience was a fascinating look into the behind the scenes grass-root efforts to speak with every voter and ensure that the often marginalized members of our communities are able to vote. It made me reflect on how at its core, the communal ritual of voting is supposed to give us all an equal opportunity to make our voices heard.


Stronger together: Airport workers and the faith community organize for living wages

In the months leading up to the election I also had the opportunity to attend a couple of Interfaith Airport Community meetings and learn the story of how Proposition 1 came to be. What is remarkable 
is that over a year ago, “$15 an hour” wasn’t on anyone’s radar. However, as workers and faith leaders 
came together, a vision and course of action to address dismal working conditions took shape.  

At one of the meetings held at the Somali Community Center, a baggage handler who had worked at 
SeaTac for over 15 years shared comments that had been collected from other workers about what 
Proposition 1 would mean for them and their families if it passed. Many of the workers expressed that 
an increased wage would help them better afford housing and food, allow them to spend more time 
with their families, and even be able to afford education for themselves or their children. 

According to Puget Sound SAGE’s report, “First-class Airport, Poverty-class Jobs”, the average wage of airline contracted employee is $9.70 an hour ($20,176 a year if they work full time), putting workers just $1,600 above the federal poverty line for a family of three.  Meanwhile, as the “Yes! For SeaTac” campaign publicizes, Alaska Airlines had three years of record profits, including $812 million in revenues. Three percent of its net profits would fund living wages for all its SeaTac contract workers.

At the meeting I met Rev. Jan Bolerjack, the pastor of Riverton Park United Methodist near SeaTac. Rev. Bolerjack, an active leader in the Proposition 1 campaign, shared how she remembers asking why people at her church who were working full time at the airport still needed to stand in line for food

This question of why people who work are living in poverty, cuts right to the heart of the matter concerning the ever-increasing economic disparity in our country. As people who seek to do justice, we must opt for solutions that create change at a systemic level. SeaTac’s Proposition 1 offers a vision of economic justice where every worker can earn a living wage, ultimately recognizing their inherent dignity and worth as fellow human beings.

 
 
Elizabeth Dickinson, Program Manager, Justice Leadership Program

Two months into their commitment with the Justice Leadership Program (JLP), our UCC Social Justice Interns are already deeply involved in our partner agencies and congregations. We share here some highlights of their work, made possible by support from Pacific Northwest Conference churches and the national UCC Young Adult Service Communities (YASC), of which JLP is a part.

Briana, interning at the Church Council of Greater Seattle, is following worker justice campaigns and inviting churches to explore what a "living wage" would mean for families, businesses, and communities. She is also active in local and national immigration roundtables working for a just and comprehensive immigration reform. Serving at Plymouth Congregational Church, she is learning how a large church organizes to actively incorporate both advocacy and direct service in living out their social justice commitment.

Karin, interning at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light,  helps faith communities engage in environmental stewardship. She and other staff recently met with UCC pastors in Ritzville and Pullman about eliminating toxics from children's products, and were graced with a tour of a congregant's wheat farm.  (see www.earthministry.blogspot.com/) Karin has also testified about the impact of coal exports on local and global communities. Serving at Keystone Congregational Church, she is helping to update communications and prepare a Festival of Hope to raise funds for anti-poverty organizations.

Margie, interning at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, has taken her first trip to Olympia with advocates deeply affected by the housing crisis, and is beginning to plan Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day (Jan. 28!) and the Conference on Ending Homelessness. Serving at All Pilgrims Christian Church, she delights in the diverse worshipping community and the weekly community dinner for those seeking a healthy meal and friendly conversation.

Together in weekly "spiritual sojourning," they have written mission statements for their year of service and created a covenant for intentional community living. They have appreciated words from Marge Piercy's poem, "To Be Of Use:" "The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real." 

Thank you for this opportunity to do work that is real, and meaningful.
 
 
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Karin Frank, UCC Social Justice Intern, written for Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light


Last weekend our safe chemicals’ team, Jessie Dye and I, took a trip to Eastern Washington. We were on our way to Pullman, along with the Washington Toxics Coalition and Washington State Nurses Association, to talk with communities there about legislation to remove toxic chemicals from furniture and children’s toys. The staff here at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light has loved visiting Eastern Washington in the past, and is committed to connecting with more communities on the dry side of our beautiful state. 

We had the good fortune to visit the Oregon Trail town of Ritzville to meet Rev. Judith Rinehart-Nelson of Zion Philadelphia Congregational UCC. After lunch with Rev. Rinehart-Nelson and one of her gracious congregants, Ron Jirava, Ron gave us a fascinating tour of his wheat farm. It might be God ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz, who brings forth bread from the Earth, but Ron seems to do a lot of the work, too.
 
Driving us through his fields and showing us his equipment, Ron told us about the history of his family that has tilled and passed this land on through the generations. The history of this farm, and the original Congregation Church in the Northwest on his land, goes back to his family’s arrival here six generations ago. People who spend the days working the land with their own hands often remember things other people can forget.


We were moved by his words that echoed Leviticus (25:23): “For the land is mine; for you are sojourners, residents with me.” How could I own this land--Ron wanted to know--it has been here for so many generations before me, it will be here for long after. If we damage it, how are we caring for the people who cared for it before passing it on, or the people who will tend it after us, or the God who made it and lends it to us for a while? 

People who work the land remember just how dependent we are on the generosity, and how vulnerable we are to the whims, of the natural world. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, farming is at the center of religious life. The Bible is filled with prayer for rain for the growing plants and prayers for a safe and abundant harvest that will provide enough food for all. These are the same prayers that today Rev. Rinehart-Nelson says fill her spiritual life and the life of her congregation.

Small scale farming is not a get rich quick, or ever, scheme. Farmers exist in a production-based economy that demands the highest yields, the amount of crop you can harvest from each acre, every year. They feed a large and growing population all over the world that needs healthy food to eat.  In an age when we will pay $200 for an iPhone but $1 is too expensive for an apple, farmers struggle to get by from year to year.  Ron explained that they have very little safety net for the inevitable ups and downs of a livelihood that depends on the good graces of the natural world.

Each season, farmers have to carefully balance how much pesticide and herbicide they need to use to obtain yields high enough to support themselves without poisoning the land they live and work on. They need to decide how much to till – increasing labor, greenhouse gas emissions, erosion, water usage, fuel use, and crop-harming pests, but also increasing the all-important yield that is required to financially stay afloat from year-to-year. In God’s first, most fundamental command to humans, agriculture and environmentalism are intertwined. Humans are to tend – protect and care for – and till – to work and live from – the land. In our economy, environmentalism clashes with finances

What we spend money on reflects what is sacred to us. In the 1960’s, Americans spent about a third of their income on food. In 2009, Americans spent an average of 6% of their income on food, compared with 14% in France, 20% in Poland, and 44% in Belarus – all countries with lower incidences of malnutrition than America. When we devalue our food, we do not value the land that produces our food, and we damage and degrade it. We ignore the sacredness of the process through which the world is fed.

We are grateful to Rev. Judith and Ron for the beautiful day they shared with us on the wheat farm near Ritzville. For our part, we commit to learning from and connecting with our farming neighbors. We hope to bring more people of faith to tour and see this farming community next summer. Right now you can check out the amazing Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU, where you can read all about the interconnectedness of agriculture and the environment.

 
 
Karin Frank, UCC Social Justice Intern, written for Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light

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f you would rather skip despair and just do something, scroll to the bottom of this post.

In the Jewish tradition, God created the world and calls it good, placing humans to “till and to tend” it (Genesis 2:15). Humans are the beneficiaries of creation, fully dependent upon it for their own well-being. They are also, however, placed as caretakers of a world that is not their own and that is called “good” by the creator in its own right. The Rabbis tell the story that when God led Adam around the Garden of Eden, God said, "Look at my works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.13) One of the first things God told us was “this is good – do not mess it up!”

It will not be news to you that we are really, really messing it up. Nothing more needs to be said on the undeniability of the facts on global climate change and the accompanying catastrophic ecological destruction. Climate change is far beyond an economic issue, or a social justice issue. It is the most basic moral issue humans have ever been faced with. It is, quite simply, destruction of a magnitude that would take the earth many thousands of years to recover from.

Last year, Governor Inslee signed into law the Climate Action Bill, saying “I believe we ought to be optimistic about our ability to defeat climate change.”* I am not so optimistic. I am young. I do not know what kind of world awaits my potential children twenty years from now. How much will it still resemble the world that God called good?

Just this morning the New York Times is reporting that a group of scientists have come out with new models predicting that within the next few decades even our coldest years will be warmer than the hottest ones on record today. If we do nothing to curb our greenhouse pollutants, the planet could easily see a rise of over 7°C. MIT’s Center for Global Climate Change predicts that such a rise could lead to the deaths of billions of people worldwide and will cause global economic and ecological collapse. We would be looking at 50% species extinction, similar to the mass extinction that marked the end of the dinosaurs.

But Governor Inslee is right that we have “no other option but action.” Living in a rapidly industrializing England, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

If we can radically reduce our carbon emissions by the year 2020 and continue doing so through the following decades, the rise in temperature might top off beneath 4°C. We would still be looking at 30-50% species extinction, but CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may be able to begin to stabilize and warming may level off by the end of the century. I cannot, and you cannot, and Washington Interfaith Power and Light cannot achieve this, but it is not a pipe dream. Approximately 150 of 550 of the coal plants in the US have been closed in the last five years. This is good news for our climate.

But the truth is that we have a rough century ahead of us now and it is a long, tedious slog that can’t be fixed by catchy words or numbers - only by the genuine effort of each one of us. This is an issue that all faiths are in solidarity on. The earth is sacred and of infinite value and we cannot morally stand back while harm is done to it. This is the time we are given: climate change is the most important issue that humans have ever faced, and the preservation of our sacred world depends on our actions today.

One thing we are doing right now that you should do too:

In Washington State we are looking at how we can regulate greenhouse pollution, to ensure achievement of state carbon emissions levels set by the legislature in 2007. This is your chance to speak directly to Governor Jay Inslee and the other members of the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) in support of strong climate action.

CLEW was established through an environmental and Governor’s priority bill passed in the 2013 legislative session. It is tasked to recommend policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the state’s emissions limits. Over the next four months we have a chance to make our voices heard in support of large, meaningful actions on climate that will revitalize our economy with green energy jobs and join other west coast states in leading the way in reducing global warming pollution.

You can help by coming to one of the hearings and talking with Governor Inslee and the Climate Workgroup and by submitting written comments. The hearing in Seattle is October 23rd from 4-8pm and there are also hearings in Spokane and Olympia.

For more information on CLEW, the hearings, and other ways you can help click here.

*You can hear Governor Jay Inslee’s speech here.
 
 
Margie Quinn, UCC Social Justice Intern

It was a week of restfulness, of deep conversations and of self-exploration. We met up in an airport, four from Seattle and four from Philadelphia. Karin, Briana, and I (Margie) had just met the day before we hopped on a plane with our Spiritual Mentor, Elizabeth, to fly to Pilgrim Pines Camp in Yucaipa, California. As we descended the escalator in the California airport upon arriving, we saw who we knew had to be Margaret, Kayla, and Julie, along with the Philadelphia Spiritual Mentor, Rich. The eight of us plus Mary, our fearless YASC Mama Bear, scrambled into a van and drove to the campground.

Pilgrim Pines Camp is undoubtedly a sacred place, a holy ground. As we drove up, we saw a wooden sign that read, “The mountains shall bring peace to the people.” Indeed, as we took strolls, had long talks and ate wonderful food, we experienced that deep sense of peace and restoration that only the mountains can bring.

The first night at camp should have been somewhat awkward given that we were all new to each other. Instead, we jumped right into picking each other’s brains. Briana, Julie, and I went on a long hike that ended at a helicopter pad overlooking Yucaipa. We talked about the beauty of Native American culture, what it would be like to live on such a small budget, and why we loved the natural environment so much. We laughed and explored. It was a great way to start the week. As we hiked back down, we found Margaret playing basketball by herself. She has a pretty good shot, I will admit. We joined Margaret on the court and played around until dinner. At dinner,  we pushed tables together to eat as one big family, a telling sign of what we would surely become over the next few days. Meal time for the next few days became a time for us to unleash any and all thoughts we had around hot topics. From sexual education in the church to the definition of God to army ants, we were not shy to approach the tough stuff.

There were so many highlights of the week. One day we went to an apple orchard and each bought a different flavor of root beer. We sat under a tree eating apple-spice donut holes and drinking our assortment of sodas. One night we walked a labyrinth, watching the sun set as we wove around each other in circles of thoughtful contemplation. One night we filmed a video for the program that proved hard to do because of our constant laughter. On our last morning together, Mary gave each of us an acorn. She asked us to affirm someone in the group out loud and then hand them our acorn. This was one of my favorite moments of the week. I nodded my head in enthusiasm to the affirmations that I heard about my new friends. Briana’s eagerness to know more, Kayla’s insightful nature, Karin’s wit and knowledge, Margaret’s deep self-inspection, Julie’s unmatched enthusiasm…

My sister once told me that she believes different landscapes bring out certain attributes of people. I have found that camp brings out a need to seek, to explore, and to grow. Without internet or cellphone service, we were forced to confront each other and ourselves. We made covenants in our respective groups of how we wanted to live together this year. We took time thinking about our own strengths and motivations for doing the program. It was an invigorating way to begin what has already been an incredible year of learning.

I will miss the night we roasted s’mores and sang songs, the night we played cards and celebrated Briana’s birthday with miniature cupcakes, the day we saw peacocks and ate apples. I am, though, grateful for the time at Pilgrim Pines camp and I think I can speak for all of the other Interns when I say that we wouldn’t have wanted to begin the year any other way.

What a blessed retreat on God’s holy ground.
 
 
It has only been a week since all three interns moved into their new apartment on Broadway, and they have been BUSY, which is a great preview to what their upcoming year is going to be like.  They moved in Labor Day weekend and were able to grab a quick glimpse of their new neighborhood before jetting off on an airplane to California for their national Young Adult Service Community (YASC) orientation.  They met up with their fellow YASC interns from Philadelphia at Pilgrim Pines, a United Church of Christ (UCC) camp in Yucaipa, CA.

At their national orientation, they learned about intentional community – something they will all be diving into deeper this year.  They also began discussing their individual and shared values as a community.  Together with the Philadelphia Interns, they made a movie, which we are very excited to see. The interns are also planning on keeping a blog together – we will make sure to cross post here, so that we can follow what they are up to.

This week, they are beginning their orientation here in Seattle and starting to understand what lies ahead for the next year in terms of their sites, and church placements. As one of the interns said, “I can’t wait to find out about my site, because while I feel prepared for the program, I don’t know anything about my site yet!” That is what the Seattle orientation is all about – visiting their sites, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Earth Ministry & The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and better understanding the social & economic realities of Seattle & King County. It won’t be all work though; we’ll be visiting Pike Place Market, Theo’s Chocolate, the Fremont Troll, and some other fun sites along the way!