Capital Hill

photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

This week, my husband and I went to Washington DC to rejoin America's Journey for Justice in it's final mile.  We marched, attended the rallies, attended the teach-in and beautiful interfaith service, and we advocated on Capital Hill for continued support of important justice issues that effect Bergen County, NJ, USA and the world.  Here are a few photos from the week, with comments.

photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

photo courtesy of HRC President, Chad Griffin

This is a photo of us marching across the Arlington Memorial Bridge towards the Lincoln Memorial.  That is me, in the tan hat with the American flag tucked in.  We were 500-600 strong as we marched - people of all walks of life and beliefs - all marching together in support of an end to racial profiling as part of a reformed criminal justice system, restored and improved voter's rights, economic justice including a living wage and equal pay, education for all, and environmental justice.

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The Torah that was carried from Selma AL to Washington DC is the Word of God marching with us.  To hold the Torah, whether you hold it on your left shoulder or the right shoulder, it rests on your heart.  The Word of God was in our hearts this day and throughout the 40+ days of the march - reflecting back to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

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As we approached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial we saw Senator Bernie Sanders holding our banner and marching with us.  This very public support of a presidential candidate brought much needed press coverage.

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The news coverage these past 40 days has been limited to local venues, which is a shame on the industry.  This march was peaceful and opened many minds and hearts to how injustice effects all of us - black, white, any color and any creed or non-faith, Republican, Democrat, Independent, rich, poor, middle class, young, old - all Americans.

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After the march, my husband and I visited Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects to those who sacrificed more than their lives so that we may be free.

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Tuesday evening, September 15th, after the marching has ended, we celebrated an interfaith service at the Washington Hebrew Congregation temple.  Pastors, Rabbis, Imans, and Speakers each read scripture, sang songs, and shared their prayers for a just future.  NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks gave a powerful sermon that touched all of our hearts and inspired us for the next day's advocacy.

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The service included a tearful tribute to Middle Passage.  I was especially touched by the Rabbi's reflections on his encounter with Middle Passage at the start of the march.  I was struck how similar the Rabbi's experience was to my own brief time spent with Middle Passage.  I knew then what I always knew in my heart - Middle Passage was the same joyful, friendly, hopeful, and graceful man to everyone he met.  He made me feel special when he spoke with me - and he made everyone he met feel equally special.  This is a God-Gift!  He was a man who lived his faith fully and with the utmost integrity.  I am so very grateful to have personally spent a few hours with this man, back in August, on that night when I was so afraid of my own limitations and he talked with me, sitting on a cot in LaGrange GA, helping me to relax and feel welcome and safe in my convictions.  God Bless Middle Passage (he is so blessed!) and God be with his family who are grieving his loss.  http://www.chieftain.com/news/3938603-120/march-passage-middle-naacp

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Wednesday, September 16th, we met at Senate Park for a rally before entering Capital Hill and meeting with our legislative representatives in government to advocate for justice on the issues of voting rights, education, fair living wages, and criminal justice reform.

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Our first stop after the rally was to the United Methodist Building, which is located next to the Supreme Court building.  UMC hosted the NAACP team with a conference room where we could pick up copies of legislation and return our summaries of our advocacy meetings.

We were impressed with the humble offices of the United Methodist Church offices on Capital Hill.  We visited with members of the General Board of Church and Society, who guide us as Public Theology Advocates - and we were warmly greeted.  A lasting connection was made.

Joined by two advocates from the Temple Emanu-El of West Essex, Cantor Josh Finkel and Susan Cosden - we met with Senator Bob Menendez staff counsel, Andrew Geibel.  Andrew was an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation we proposed, listened actively to our stories and concerns, and shared stories of his own.  It was a great meeting to start our time on Capital Hill.  For the record, Sen. Menendez has a 98% positive voting record on these issues.

Our next meeting was with Rep. Scott Garrett's legislative assistant, Nick Iacovella.  After such a warm and interactive meeting with Sen. Menendez's staff, we were disappointed by the lack of understanding of how these issues matter to us in Bergen County.  I will be writing to Rep. Garrett to seek a second meeting with him, in person, to advocate further and seek his support.  For the record, he has a 20% positive voting record for these issues, so we have some work to do to help him understand why these issues matter to us who live in his district.

Our final meeting on Capital Hill was with Sen. Cory Booker's senior counsel, Roscoe Jones, Jr.  Our fellow advocates from Livingston were very happy to meet him because Sen. Booker has a strong relationship with their synagogue.  Unfortunately, we from Hillsdale UMC were not that happy with the lack of interest in hearing how these issues relate to our neighborhoods.  Yes, Sen. Booker is a co-sponsor on some of the important legislative proposals, and is an advocate for criminal system reform, but when we spoke of how Sen. Booker can help us effect change in our area, we were cut off mid-sentence and told to reach out to the NJ office in Newark. We were told the work was divided - in DC for federal legislation, and in NJ for NJ-specific legislation.  I said, "but Sen. Booker works for NJ and that this federal legislation effects NJ," but we were then dismissed with a repeat of we needed to see the Newark office to discuss these issues.  Yes - we will be requesting a follow-up meeting with Sen. Booker himself to advocate for our area.  For the record, Sen. Booker does have a positive voting record for these issues, but the data is incomplete in the NAACP scorecard because he joined the senate in October 2013.

This piece of art hanging in the hall of the General Board of Church & Society inspired us as we headed to the first of our many advocacy meetings in the Senate and House of Representatives.  You can learn more about GBC&S at http://umc-gbcs.org/

Our work is not done.  This is not the end but a beginning of the next phase of advocacy for justice.  We will be working with the Congregations for a Better Bergen to conduct a local listening campaign and create an action plan to address the justice issues that are most deeply effecting our area - including voting rights, education reform, environmental concerns, criminal justice reform, and an end to economical disparity - but we will also be looking for answers to our growing heroin problem and the alarming increase in suicides and the stigma left on the families.  We've much much work to do - and we will continue to reach back to the General Board of Church & Society and to our Senators and Congresspersons for their support and assistance.

I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for justice.  Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.

Lisa

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Hillsdale UMC

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