Online Edition: July-August 2006     Vol. XVIII, No. 11

sponsored by Peace Life Center, Public invited

  • MODESTO PEACE LIFE CENTER VIGILS: Vigils are held once a month; Friday evenings; call the Center for info: 529-5750.

  • PEACE LIFE CENTER WILL BE OPEN TUESDAY, July 19, Noon to 3 pm. Come by for coffee or tea and just to chat or look at our book and magazine collection. Bring your own bag lunch; there may be films some days. 720 13th St. Call us 529-5750, we'll get back to you with info on vigils and other activities.

  • Click here for other Peace Actions around the Valley and Mother Lode


Put these Peaceful dates on your calendar:

AUG 6 SUN: HIROSHIMA DAY Commemoration Potluck in Legion Park

SEPT 9 SAT: Fundraiser Auction for Stanislaus Connections, at the Broderick’s in Waterford.


San Joaquin Connections--Our Sister Publication to the North--July Issue (pdf)

Peace & Justice

Around the Center: 


Recipes from Connections

A Gathering of Voices--Pat Egenberger

Out and About


Masthead and Back Issues

Opinion and Letters to Connections


Reliable Replacement Warhead" Program Could Cost Billions, Diminish U.S. Security, Result in New Nuclear Weapons Designs Less Safe and Reliable Than the Current Arsenal
link to the report (182 KB pdf), The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program: A Slippery Slope to New Nuclear Weapons

New nuclear bomb in the works: “In the Cold War arms race, scientists rushed to build thousands of warheads to counter the Soviet Union. Today, those scientists are racing once again, but this time to rebuild an aging nuclear stockpile.“ “Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are locked in an intense competition with rivals at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area to design the nation’s first new nuclear bomb in two decades.“
— The Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2006

Why the Stamp Out Sprawl (SOS) Initiative is important


Cities must provide and pay for the services necessary for operating an urban area. For the county it is a little different. While the majority of the infrastructure requirements for cities and counties are similarly paid by the development, the cost of after-development services such as police, are paid by the general fund of the cities or county budget. That’s the rub. Urbanized areas in or out of cities have similar cost demands. However, the cost inside a city is born by the citizens of the particular city. The cost for services paid by the County General Fund is paid by all of the citizens outside and in cities. Thus service demands in urbanized areas outside of cities divert funding for other needed services funded by the County General Fund. It raises the question for city residents, “Why am I paying for police services for someone else while services I need are being cut?”

This is one of the reasons for the Stamp Out Sprawl Initiative. This is why it affects only residential zoning. In addition to providing important protection for the premature conversion of zoned agriculture land to residential, the initiative stops more housing outside cities from making the ongoing subsidy worse. It does not limit the ability of county government from improving their tax revenue with commercial or industrial zoning changes.

ACTION: For more information, call 247-2503, or email

The Moral Axis of Darfur


In history there have been moments whose significance for humanity reaches beyond a single place and time. Golgotha. Gettysburg. Auschwitz. Selma. Looking back, we can recognize pivotal moments when the world shifted upon a moral axis, and our common destiny turned either toward good or evil. Darfur is such a moment. The genocide occurring in Darfur is the destruction of hope for an entire people and a denial of the truth that every group of people has the right to existence. Can a tyrant be allowed to obliterate this right in one place without risking its survival somewhere else? If there is hope for humanity in this moment, it arises from an understanding that our survival depends on the survival of this right.

Humanity is turning upon the moral axis of Darfur. Now, toward the destruction of a people and the right of every people to existence. But soon, we hope, toward a different horizon. The moral axis of Darfur runs through a people torn apart by genocide, and through our own humanity as individuals, connecting Darfur to the rest of the world and to our future. The principle that every group of people has the right to existence is more than a legal concept or a philosophical axiom. It is the foundation for society since no society can survive apart from the diversity of culture. Raphael Lemkin, the father of the international law against genocide, wrote:

Cultural considerations speak for international protection of national, religious and cultural groups. Our whole heritage is a product of the contributions of all nations. We can best understand this when we realize how impoverished our culture would be if the peoples doomed by Germany, such as the Jews, had not been permitted to create the Bible, or to give birth to an Einstein, a Spinoza; if the Poles had not had the opportunity to give to the world a Copernicus, a Chopin, a Curie; the Czechs, a Huss, a Dvorak; the Greeks, a Plato and a Socrates; the Russians, a Tolstoy and a Shostakovich.

Can we stop this turning toward destruction? Each day the genocide in Darfur continues means that humanity’s shift upon this moral axis toward evil will become harder to stop. What is being stolen in this moment? A people’s existence? A principle upon which rests the existence of every group of people? If this principle is destroyed, who is safe? If the people of Darfur are lost, where will we find our humanity?

Genocide poses a terrible question: How many days are left for the people of Darfur? Each day carries the risk of a final turn. This turning is felt daily in Darfur. Our future depends on whether the world feels this turning. Once the turning has gone too far, no army on earth will be able to restore our humanity. It will come upon us like a tidal wave or an earthquake, and our ignorance or indifference about Darfur will not save us from the tragic turning toward self-destruction.

One of the greatest secrets is that ordinary people have the power to end the genocide in Darfur. Moral imagination is a revolutionary force. The first step is to turn our gaze toward the suffering and dying people in Darfur. We must face the genocide in Darfur to save ourselves. The government of Sudan is trying to hide its crimes, and the world is trying to decide if it wants these crimes to remain hidden. Once the world pulls back the bloody curtain around Darfur, we will imagine a new future. Our moral imagination will be freed by throwing off the yoke of ignorance and indifference that allows tyrants to destroy an entire people without fear of punishment. We will be free to imagine peace in Darfur. A momentous shift upon the moral axis of Darfur is changing our world. Can you feel it turning? Imagine what would happen if you did.

The author is the founder of Dear Sudan, an ever growing network of communities of faith organized to feed the people of Sudan. Visit to see how you can form your own “Dear Sudan“ effort. He spoke at the recent Peace Camp.

‘An Inconvenient Truth‘


It’s unlikely to make cinematic history alongside Fahrenheit 9/11, The Da Vinci Code or Last Tango in Paris. Its star - remember Al Gore? - sounds out of place with Michael Moore, Tom Hanks and Marlon Brando.

But an early smattering of criticism labels “An Inconvenient Truth” the most important film you’ll see this year. If you get to see it at all.

This warning of environmental disaster is unlikely to play the Brenden, Regal or Galaxy. However, downtown Modesto’s non-profit State Theater will begin showing the film on Friday, June 30 (visit, or call 527-4697).

Fans and critics applauded “the movie Bush doesn’t want you to see,” at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It opened May 24 in a few key cities.

Bob Burnett of the Berkeley Daily Planet wrote:

“It’s impossible to see this 96-minute film about Gore’s fight to educate America and not wonder how different things would be if he had won in 2000.

“It’s hard to forget how ... millions trusted Bush ... and the forces of Karl Rove managed to label Al ‘an enemy of the people.’ Gore’s story parallels the protagonist in one of Ibsen’s most famous plays, who discovers environmental pollution in the municipal baths in a small Norwegian health resort.

“He thinks that if he tells townspeople the truth, they will take remedial action. Instead, fellow citizens brand him ‘an enemy of the people’.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, adds:

“If things are even half as bad as Gore says, ‘Truth’ is the most important movie anyone will make this year. Its significance as a wake-up call overshadows all other virtues. It handles complicated material in a clear and entertaining way, renders cinematic what might have seemed like a static lecture, and yes, Gore is funny and engaging in a way you’ve never seen. But beyond that, it brings a feeling of history: Virtually everyone who sees it will be galvanized to do something about global warming — and everyone should see this movie.

“This film version of a multimedia presentation Gore has delivered since 1989 treats audiences as adults in a detailed, lucid and intelligent explanation of a serious issue. It doesn’t preach to the converted but directly and respectfully addresses questions and concerns of skeptics, methodically piling evidence on evidence, until the truth becomes obvious and unmistakable.

“For some, the tipping point will come with charts showing the rapid increase in global temperatures and accompanying increases in greenhouse gases. For others, it will be polar bears struggling to find ice in the Arctic, glaciers reduced to almost nothing in 30-40 years ... the snows of Kilimanjaro reduced to a light dusting.

“Winston Churchill once said ‘Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted every alternative.’ (Gore says) we’re down to one alternative, unless you count sticking our heads in the sand and waiting for the sand to turn to water. This movie throws down a challenge. We’ll see if Churchill was right.”

Roger Ebert’s thumbs go up with:

“I want to write this review so every reader will begin it and finish it. I am a liberal, but I do not intend (to) reflect any kind of politics. It reflects truth as I understand it, and represents, I believe, agreement among experts. Global warming is real, caused by human activity. Mankind and its governments must begin immediate action to halt and reverse it. If we do nothing, in about 10 years the planet may reach a ‘tipping point’ and slide toward destruction of our civilization and most of the other species on this planet.

“After that point, it would be too late for any action.

“Forget (Gore) ever ran for office. Consider him a concerned man speaking out. ‘There is no controversy about these facts,’ he says. ‘Of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement. Zero.’

“He provides statistics: The 10 warmest years in history (since 1992). Last year South America experienced its first hurricane. Japan and the Pacific are setting records for typhoons. Hurricane Katrina passed over Florida, doubled back over the Gulf, picked up strength from unusually warm Gulf waters, and went from Category 3 to Category 5. There are changes in the Gulf Stream and the jet stream. Cores of polar ice show that carbon dioxide is much, much higher than ever before in a quarter million years. It was once thought such things went in cycles. Gore stands in front of a graph showing the ups and downs of carbon dioxide over the centuries. Yes, there is a cyclical pattern. Then, in recent years, the graph turns up and keeps going up, higher and higher, off the chart.

“The primary man-made cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. We are taking energy stored over hundreds of millions of years in the form of coal, gas and oil, and releasing it suddenly. This causes global warming, and since glaciers and snow reflect sunlight but sea water absorbs it, the more the ice melts, the more of the sun’s energy is retained by the sea.”

“What can we do? Switch to and encourage alternative energy: Solar, wind, tidal, and, yes, nuclear. Move quickly to hybrid and electric cars. Pour money into public transit, subsidize fares. Save energy in houses. When I came home after seeing ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ I went around turning off lights.”

Bush himself? White House lights blaze brightly. Bush has been quoted as saying he’d like to diminish dependence on oil, but doubts he’ll see the movie.

The Wall Street Journal, National Review and National Association of Manufacturers disagree with these, the WSR in two swift-boating editorials - one by former Delaware Governor Pete DuPont (!) quoting an industry-funded study.

It reminds this one-time reviewer of a handout from nuclear energy backers arriving on a Monday to aver that no “China Syndrome” could ever happen here. On Wednesday the film opened. On Friday we had Three-Mile Island.

Myths & Facts About Immigration

(from the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform)

Immigrants don’t pay taxes

• Immigrants pay taxes, in the form of income, property, sales, and taxes at the federal and state level. As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay income taxes as well, as evidenced by the Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” (taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and social security numbers), which grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998. (Source:

Immigrants come here to take welfare

• Immigrants come to work and reunite with family members. Immigrant labor force participation is consistently higher than native-born, and immigrant workers make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (12.4%) than they do the U.S. population (11.5%). Moreover, the ratio between immigrant use of public benefits and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S. In one estimate, immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, and use about $5 billion in public benefits. In another cut of the data, immigrant tax payments total $20 to $30 billion more than the amount of government services they use. (Source: “Questioning Immigration Policy – Can We Afford to Open Our Arms?”, Friends Committee on National Legislation Document #G-606-DOM, January 25, 1996.

Immigrants send all their money back to their home countries

• In addition to the consumer spending of immigrant households, immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenue to U.S. federal, state, and local governments. While it is true that immigrants remit billions of dollars a year to their home countries, this is one of the most targeted and effective forms of direct foreign investment. (Source:

Immigrants take jobs and opportunity away from Americans

• The largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs for U.S. and foreign workers, and foreign-born students allow many U.S. graduate programs to keep their doors open. While there has been no comprehensive study done of immigrant-owned businesses, we have countless examples: in Silicon Valley, companies begun by Chinese and Indian immigrants generated more than $19.5 billion in sales and nearly 73,000 jobs in 2000. (Source: Richard Vedder, Lowell Gallaway, and Stephen Moore, Immigration and Unemployment: New Evidence, Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, Arlington, VA (Mar. 1994), p. 13.

Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy

• During the 1990s, half of all new workers were foreign-born, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses, and contribute to a thriving economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. As Alan Greenspan points out, 70% of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we haven’t spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years. (Source: Andrew Sum, Mykhaylo Trubskyy, Ishwar Khatiwada, et al., Immigrant Workers in the New England Labor Market: Implications for Workforce Development Policy, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, Boston, Prepared for the New England Regional Office, the Employment and Training Administration, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Boston, Massachusetts, October 2002. --link)

Immigrants don’t want to learn English or become Americans

• Within ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak English well; moreover, demand for English classes at the adult level far exceeds supply. Greater than 33% of immigrants are naturalized citizens; given increased immigration in the 1990s, this figure will rise as more legal permanent residents become eligible for naturalization in the coming years. The number of immigrants naturalizing spiked sharply after two events: enactment of immigration and welfare reform laws in 1996, and the terrorist attacks in 2001. (Sources: American Immigration Lawyers Association, “Myths & Facts in the Immigration Debate”, 8/14/03.  and Simon Romero and Janet Elder, “Hispanics in the US Report Optimism” New York Times, (Aug. 6, 2003).

Today’s immigrants are different than those of 100 years ago

• The percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5%; in the early 20th century it was approximately 15%. Similar to accusations about today’s immigrants, those of 100 years ago initially often settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and built up newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellow émigrés. They also experienced the same types of discrimination that today’s immigrants face, and integrated within American culture at a similar rate. If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted. (Source: Census Data: and )

Most immigrants cross the border illegally

• Around 75% of today’s immigrants have legal permanent (immigrant) visas; of the 25% that are undocumented, 40% overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas. (Source: Department of Homeland Security

Weak U.S. border enforcement has lead to high undocumented immigration

• From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrol’s budget increased six-fold and the number of agents stationed on our southwest border doubled to 8,500. The Border Patrol also toughened its enforcement strategy, heavily fortifying typical urban entry points and pushing migrants into dangerous desert areas, in hopes of deterring crossings. Instead, the undocumented immigrant population doubled in that timeframe, to 8 million—despite the legalization of nearly 3 million immigrants after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs in need of workers, has significantly contributed to this current conundrum. (Source: Immigration and Naturalization website:

The war on terrorism can be won through immigration restrictions

• No security expert since September 11th, 2001 has said that restrictive immigration measures would have prevented the terrorist attacks— instead, the key is effective use of good intelligence. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were here on legal visas. Since 9/11, the myriad of measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have netted no terrorism prosecutions. In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe, as targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information. (Source: Associated Press/Dow Jones Newswires, “US Senate Subcommittee Hears Immigration Testimony”, Oct. 17, 2001.) (Source: Cato Institute: “Don’t Blame Immigrants for Terrorism”, Daniel Griswold, Assoc. Director of Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies (see:

ACTION:  For more information, see the  No More Deaths Outreach Toolkit,

A “Wall of Hope


A “Wall of Hope” will open in the Modesto Junior College Library on Friday, August 25, 2006.

According to MJC professors Dan Onorato and Sandra Woodside, “The Wall of Hope will be a visual display of the many people and movements that throughout history have worked nonviolently for peace, social justice, and environmental sanity.”

The exhibit will include well-known events and people like Mahatma Gandhi, César Chávez and his United Farmworkers Union who organized here in the San Joaquin Valley, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement as well as lesser-known people and movements like Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Ky, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement, and Kathy Kelly with Voices in the Wilderness, who broke U.S law to take medicine and school supplies to the people of Iraq during the sanctions and has spoken out strongly against the U.S. invasion and occupation.

At the heart of the exhibit is the belief that in a world beset with violence, those who have experimented with nonviolence have sown seeds of hope for our future: there is a way to resolve conflict other than through physical force and military might.

The Wall is a result of English 101 and Sociology 101 Learning Community classes researching, reading, and photo collecting. Pictures, brief biographies, and quotations arranged in an aesthetically attractive form will present the essence of each person or movement. These aspects are complemented by large, impressive photographic murals created by the MJC printing department

The goal of the exhibit, besides being a way for Learning Community students to learn about nonviolence and to improve their skills in working together, is to provide an educational history of nonviolence and its heroes and heroines for our MJC students, staff and the community. At a time when inspiring role models seem hard to find, the exhibit will spark thought and reflection on men and women who have embodied imagination, courage, and tenacity in pursuing their vision of the common good.

An interactive aspect of the exhibit will be the creation of a thousand cranes. The students in the Learning Community will make some to start the project. The multi-colored cranes will be hung near the beginning of the panel structure. A basket will be placed nearby with an invitation to visitors to stop and make a crane to add to the hanging fixture of peace cranes. Directions and paper will be provided, and people will be asked to leave their crane in the basket. As we get large increments of cranes, they will be added to the rest until we get 1,000. In the Japanese story Sadako and a Thousand Cranes, the belief is that when number 1,000 is reached, the prayer or intention for peace and an end to violence will come to fruition.

ACTION: See the exhibit! There will be a book to record your thoughts and impressions.



In states across the country (in June), primary elections named candidates for Congress, governorships and other important offices. But the most interesting, and perhaps significant, election did not involve an individual. Rather, it was about an idea.

In Northern California's Humboldt County, voters decided by a 55-45 margin that corporations do not have the same rights -- based on the supposed "personhood" of the combines -- as citizens when it comes to participating in local political campaigns.

Until (the election) in Humboldt County, corporations were able to claim citizenship rights, as they do elsewhere in the United States. In the context of electoral politics, corporations that were not headquartered in the county took advantage of the same rules that allowed individuals who are not residents to make campaign contributions in order to influence local campaigns.

But, with the passage of Measure T, an initiative referendum that was placed on the ballot by Humboldt County residents, voters have signaled that they want out-of-town corporations barred from meddling in local elections.

Measure T was backed by the county's Green and Democratic parties, as well as labor unions and many elected officials in a region where politics are so progressive that the Greens -- whose 2004 presidential candidate, David Cobb, is a resident of the county and a active promoter of the challenges to corporate power mounted by Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County and the national Liberty Tree Foundation -- are a major force in local politics.

The "Yes on T" campaign was rooted in regard for the American experiment, from its slogan "Vote Yes for Local Control of Our Democracy," to the references to Tuesday's election as a modern-day "Boston Tea Party," to the quote from Thomas Jefferson that was highlighted in election materials: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Just as Jefferson and his contemporaries were angered by dominance of the affairs of the American colonies by King George III and the British business combines that exploited the natural and human resources of what would become the United States, so Humboldt County residents were angered by the attempts of outside corporate interests to dominate local politics.

Wal-Mart spent $250,000 on a 1999 attempt to change the city of Eureka's zoning laws in order to clear the way for one of the retail giant's big-box stores. Five years later, MAXXAM Inc., a forest products company, got upset with the efforts of local District Attorney Paul Gallegos to enforce regulations on its operations in the county and spent $300,000 on a faked-up campaign to recall him from office. The same year saw outside corporations that were interested in exploiting the county's abundant natural resources meddling in its local election campaigns.

That was the last straw for a lot of Humboldt County residents. They organized to put Measure T on the ballot, declaring, "Our Founding Fathers never intended corporations to have this kind of power."

"Every person has the right to sign petition recalls and to contribute money to political campaigns. Measure T will not affect these individual rights," explained Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a resident of Eureka who was one of the leaders of the Yes on T campaign. "But individuals hold these political rights by virtue of their status as humans in a democracy and, simply put, a corporation is not a person."

Despite the logic of that assessment, the electoral battle in Humboldt County was a heated one, and Measure T's passage will not end it. Now, the corporate campaign will move to the courts. So this is only a start. But what a monumental start it is!

Sopoci-Belknap was absolutely right when she portrayed (the June) vote as nothing less than the beginning of "the process of reclaiming our county" from the "tyranny" of concentrated economic and political power.

Surely Tom Paine would have agreed. It was Paine who suggested to the revolutionaries of 1776, as they dared challenge the most powerful empire on the planet, that: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar to the present hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of the new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months."

It is time to renew the American experiment, to rebuild its battered institutions on the solid foundation of empowered citizens and regulated corporations. Let us hope that the spirit of '76 prevailed Tuesday in Humboldt County will spread until that day when American democracy is guided by the will of the people rather than the campaign contribution checks of the corporations that are the rampaging "empires" of our age.

--The author is the Washington Correspondent for The Nation. Reprinted with permission from the June 7, 2006 online edition of The Nation,

Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right: Network of Spiritual Progressives Conference


Shelly Scribner and I attended the National Conference of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) in Washington, May 17-20, representing our Modesto Chapter. Shelly is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and is co-president of the Modesto Peace/Life Center. I attend the local Lotus Blossom Sangha, a Buddhist meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. We had our work cut out for us! We had to be ready to elucidate the Spiritual Covenant with America proposed by NSP for our Congressional Representative/Senator on Thursday, May 18. Twelve hundred other people were facing the same challenge. We all had one day to prepare, and what a day!

Wednesday, All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington became a beehive of committed workers setting as their target the adoption by the Democrats, Greens, and Republicans (in due course) of a new Spiritual Covenant with America, emphasizing a new bottom line of compassion and caring for each other, other nations, and the world, based on love, respect, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation, spiritual values that underlie everything noble, good, and healing about our world.

Wait! Spiritual? Love? Caring? Since when did those words make any sense in the lexicon of progressive political action? Aren’t we supposed to keep our deepest-held values to ourselves, confining them to our personal and church, synagogue, mosque, temple affiliation, leaving them out of the public arena? That’s what liberals and the left have been taught, and as a consequence the world of “values” in the public sphere has been co-opted by the religious right, which has imposed its own set of values on America as the only ones to talk about.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his new book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, reviewed by Rob Schaeffer in this newspaper’s last issue, sets forth a Spiritual Covenant with America, and examines how the left lost the following of the American people after the 60’s and 70’s by not realizing the deep spiritual hunger that our over-commercialized, globalized economy has generated in Americans of all classes. The Religious Right did recognize this hunger, and very skillfully mobilized to provide its own answers, complete with voting instructions in the pews.

NSP is a project of the Tikkun Community, an inter-religious social action organization modeled on the ideal of “tikkun,” the Hebrew word for healing the world. NSP would like to become the focusing point for the energy of the spiritual/religious left in wooing back from the religious right those spiritual searchers who have embraced the anti-poor, anti-feminist, anti-gay/lesbian, pro-war, pro-corporate upper class policies of the national party in power for the past 8 to 12 years, which have been cleverly allied with the genuine concern of the Religious Right for strengthening families, and offering caring and meaningful relationships in daily work and worship activities.

Wednesday, May 17, in Washington, the Religious Left found its national voice. Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, author, and founder of Benetvision, and a co-founder of NSP, along with Michael Lerner and Cornel West, sounded the charge. Using the Biblical story of Moses and the burning bush as an apt metaphor for our work the next day, Chittister explained that the voice of God (or, as Lerner defines God, the healing and transformative power of the universe) told Moses to go to Pharaoh and convince him to free the Hebrew slaves. Note, the bush burned with fire, but it was Moses who had to take the message back to Pharaoh. All our brilliant, persuasive, fiery speakers were telling the 1200 of us to take this message back to our political representatives on Capitol Hill in less than 24 hours, so we listened hard. (If the Catholic Church dared to unleash its women leaders, it would solve its priest problem overnight.)

After the Keynote plenary address by Lerner, the conference met in eight smaller training groups, each focused on one of the sections of the Spiritual Covenant with America. Since this covenant is the keystone of all the activity at this conference, I will set forth the eight parts, drastically simplified:

  1. Create a society that promotes loving relationships and families.

  2. Take personal responsibility for ethical behavior (including sexual behavior).

  3. Build social responsibility into our economic and political institutions.

  4. Reshape education to teach love, caring, generosity, nonviolent communication, cooperation, compassion, environmental responsibility, awe and wonder, respect and thanksgiving.

  5. Build a broader understanding of health care while also pursuing a single payer national health care plan.

  6. Be stewards of the environment.

  7. A spiritual foreign policy, homeland security and elimination of poverty: Safety through a strategy of generosity and nonviolence.

  8. Separation of church and state and science while bringing our new bottom line into the public sphere.

Thursday was D-Day. At a rousing send off for the workers at the packed Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, Taylor Branch, the historian of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement, urged us on with his penetrating analysis of the energy behind that movement, and how it was similar to the one we were now engaging in. Shelly and I, joined by two other attendees from Stockton, met with Dennis Cardoza and his staff for over an hour, trying to get our message across, that public representatives should act from their highest values. I tackled Covenant No. 7, the new global Marshall Plan which would dedicate 5% of our GNP for 20 years to help eliminate poverty in the world, thereby reducing the conditions leading to violence, extremism, and terrorism, and providing the best security for America and for the world. Cardoza didn’t buy this one, however, since he said we couldn’t afford it, and besides, we have already given the Palestinians billions of dollars and it hasn’t done any good. We have to correct Cardoza’s misconceptions, and Lerner, at a feed-back section the next day, promised to email us some points to present to Cardoza. Shelly had better luck in the environmental area, and the Stockton people found a willing ally in Cardoza regarding health care (Cardoza’s wife is a physician, involved with planning a U.C. Merced Medical). Four hundred separate meetings were held with different Congresspersons/Senators by the conferees.

Our politicking done, we joined all the others for an afternoon pray-in/rally in front of the White House, in Lafayette Park. Lerner tried to keep the tone conciliatory and respectful, praying for Bush and our other leaders, that their hearts might be opened and that they might hear the cries of the oppressed, but Cindy Sheehan raised the intensity with her direct, outspoken challenge to the war machine to turn over policy making to the “Matriots,” not the “Patriots,” because the mothers of this nation will make sure their sons do not die in pre-emptive, bogus foreign wars. We then marched to the White House with a petition containing 40,000 signatures against bombing Iran! We got great press coverage, resulting in prominent stories in The New York Times on Friday and The Washington Post on Saturday about the new religious voice on the left.

Jim Wallis, another evangelical dynamo, Robert Thurman, Arun Gandhi, and Matthew Fox elevated the dialogue even more during the rest of the conference. The conferees were sent away with practical plans of action for bringing the message to local politicians.

What can the NSP offer those who define themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” or “secular humanists”? A major segment of the conference was devoted to answering this question. About half of the attendees considered themselves in this category, those who did not belong to any organized “religious” tradition or attend any formal religious services.

Are secular humanists part of the religious left?

 Lerner answers an emphatic “yes!” The spiritual values enunciated in the Spiritual Covenant with America have long been enshrined in the words and works of all the great secular humanists, including in this country Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Thoreau. So if you find yourself in this category, please do not discount support for or affiliation with NSP. You may be surprised what the term “spiritual” encompasses!

ACTION: The local chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives meets on rotating second Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday of each month at the Church of the Brethren. See the listing in this newspaper.


Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.