Monday, September 24, 2012

Orange Day: Say NO to Violence Against Women

The 25th of every month is Orange Day.* Today, join with others around the world in saying NO to violence against women!  Email yourmembers of Congress to ask, “what are you doing to end violence against women?”

Last week, Sept. 18, we celebrated the 18th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act being signed into law.  Many who worked to make VAWA a reality in 1994 will remember the ceremony on a warm September day in the White House Rose Garden and the sense of relief that followed: we finally had the tools to address the epidemic of domestic violence.

Since that day, VAWA has expanded its protections to victims of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  Since that day, VAWA has saved thousands of lives and brought safety to thousands of homes.  VAWA’s programs have trained law enforcement, prosecution and court personnel to better understand the dynamics that make these four crimes such a burden on U.S. communities.  Over the years, VAWA has created historic protections for immigrant victims and victims on tribal lands.  VAWA has raised awareness about and improved responses to sexual assault and stalking.  VAWA programs have disseminated prevention programs in middle schools and high schools.  The homicide rate for victims of these crimes has dropped significantly.

Yet any child born on that bright day in September 1994, now turning 18 years old, still faces the specter of victimization, because there are so many areas VAWA did not cover in the 18 years since its passage.  So in 2012 the Senate developed a new improved version of VAWA, a reauthorization that fills in so many of those gaps that pose dangers to youth who have never lived in a world without VAWA.  Without the new version of VAWA, an 18 year old victim of sexual assault will not be able to secure safe housing.  Without the new version of VAWA, an 18 year old victim of dating violence will find it difficult to obtain justice on campus.  Without the new version of VAWA, many underserved communities, including the LGBT community, immigrant victims, and Native women, will have no place to go for help.

VAWA has done a stellar job of helping millions of victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking over 18 years.  Let’s celebrate VAWA’s birthday on this Orange Day by making sure all victims of violence can access help and justice.  Congress can best say “Happy Birthday, VAWA!” by completing an inclusive bill and getting it to the President to be signed, as it once was on a bright September day.

Click here to send a message toyour members of Congress – Complete a Violence Against Women reauthorization this year!

* On September 25 – and the 25th of each month – join people around the world in observing an Orange Day to work for an end to violence against women and girls. SayNO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women is a social mobilization platform on ending violence against women and girls related to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women. The campaign invites us to wear orange and take action on the 25th of each month to end violence against women and girls. Learn more and find ideas for action.

** Many thanks to the National Task Force to End Domestic Violence for the content of this action alert.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Office of Public Witness joins with 123 organization calling for humanitarian access in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.

SUDAN: Letter to UN Security Council Members from 123 Organizations Regarding Humanitarian Access

September 21, 2012

Dear Ambassador:

We are deeply alarmed by the ongoing lack of full and unhindered access for international humanitarian aid agencies to all areas within the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as Darfur. Despite a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling on the government of Sudan to immediately allow for such access in the Two areas – and a memorandum of understanding concluded between the UN, the African Union, and the League of Arab States – the so-called "Tripartite Partners" – and the Sudanese government providing for humanitarian aid delivery, one million people continue to suffer from food insecurity as well as the continued threat of indiscriminate bombings and attacks on civilians.

It has been over four months since the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, called on the government of Sudan to immediately accept the Tripartite Partner’s proposal to permit humanitarian access throughout the two states. The resolution followed months of delay on the part of the Sudanese government over the review of a proposal that the Tripartite Partners submitted concerning aid delivery. On August 5, 2012, Khartoum finally signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tripartite Partners that sets out deadlines related to the planning for and distribution of international humanitarian assistance. To date, the government has ignored the deadlines laid out in the memorandum and exhibited no indication that it intends to allow the full and unhindered delivery of aid throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The UN Security Council committed in Resolution 2046 to hold all parties who fail to comply with the Resolution’s terms fully accountable through the imposition of measures under Article 41 of the Charter. It is imperative that it do so. Those parties who fail to meet their obligations should face strong consequences including the imposition of sanctions. In its upcoming review of the compliance of the parties with Resolution 2046, the Government of Sudan’s failure to abide by the provisions related to humanitarian assistance and to comply with the agreement which it signed should be considered a key factor in determining what actions the Council takes. For many in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, this is a matter of life and death.

For over a year, the government of Sudan has refused to allow aid into these two states, resulting in emergency levels of food insecurity (one level below famine) for 150,000-200,000 people in Southern Kordofan and crisis levels for hundreds of thousands of others in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Continued aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces and fighting with rebel groups has displaced or severely affected an estimated 665,000 people inside Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and led 205,000 refugees to flee to South Sudan and Ethiopia, where they continue to face desperate conditions.

We welcomed the conclusion of a memorandum of understanding between the government of Sudan and the Tripartite Partners, but are distressed that the government of Sudan once again continues to delay in its implementation of a key agreement. Similarly, we appreciate the actions of the UN Security Council to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid and to support the initiation of a political dialogue between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-N. However, such
actions will be of little consequence to civilians on the ground if the Council does not make efforts to ensure that the government of Sudan complies with the Council’s approach.
If Sudan continues to ignore its obligations to allow humanitarian access to the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, we urge that the UN Security Council move swiftly to impose consequences for this failure and to consider alternative means for delivering aid.

Signed by:
1. Act for Sudan
2. Aegis Trust
3. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
4. African Soul, American Heart
5. Afro-Canadian Evangelical mission
6. Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan
7. American Friends Service Committee US West Region
8. American Islamic Congress
9. American Islamic Forum for Democracy
10. American Jewish World Service
11. Americans Against the Darfur Genocide
12. Armenian National Committee of America
13. Arry Organization for Human Rights & Development
14. Beja Organization for Human Rights and Development
15. Blue Nile Association
16. Bnai Darfur Organization
17. Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan
18. Center for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation
19. Change the world. It just takes cents.
20. Christian Lifeline International Aid
21. Collectif Urgence Darfour
22. Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action
23. Combat Genocide Association
24. Common Cause
25. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization-CEPO
26. Congregation of St. Joseph
27. Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur
28. Darfur Action Group of South Carolina
29. Darfur and Beyond
30. Darfur Interfaith Network
31. Darfur Leaders Network
32. Darfur People's Association of New York
33. Darfur People's Association of New York Brooklyn
34. Darfur Rehabilitation Project, Inc.
35. Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre
36. Darfur Solidarity In USA
37. Darfur Union, UK & Ireland
38. Dear Sudan, Love Marin
39. Doctors to the World
40. Enough Project
41. Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi
42. Foreign Policy In Focus
43. Genocide No More - Save Darfur
44. Genocide Watch
45. Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide
47. Help Nuba
48. Holocaust Museum Houston
49. Hope With (South) Sudan
50. Human Rights & Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND)
51. Human Rights Org.
52. Human Rights Team - Community of Christ
53. Human Rights Watch
54. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)
55. Humanity Is Us
56. Humanity United
57. Investors against Genocide
58. Iowa Center for Genocide Prevention
59. Italians for Darfur
60. Jewish World Watch
61. Jews Against Genocide
62. Joining Our Voices
SUDAN: Letter to UN Security Council Members from 123 Organizations Regarding Humanitarian Access 63. Kamma Organization for Development Initiatives (South Sudan)
64. Keokuk for Global Awareness & Aid
65. Leadership Conference of Women Religious
66. Live Well South Sudan
67. Long Island Darfur Action Group
68. Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
69. Moro Association of the United States.
70. My Sister's Keeper
72. National Association of Evangelicals
73. National Council of the Churches of Christ
74. Never Again Coalition
75. New York City Genocide Prevention Coalition
76. New York Coalition for Darfur and All Sudan
77. New York Darfur Vigil Group
78. Nuba Christian Family Mission
79. Nuba Mountain Peace Coalition
80. Nuba Mountains Advocacy Group
81. Nuba Mountains International Association
82. Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organization
83. Nuba Vision Coalition, Inc
84. Nubia Project
85. One Million Bones
86. Operation Broken Silence
87. Peace Action
88. Persecution Project Foundation
89. Physicians for Human Rights
90. Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition
91. Presbyterian Church, (USA), Office of Public Witness
92. Rabbinical Assembly
93. San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition
94. Save Darfur North Shore
95. Save Darfur Washington State
96. Shine A Ray of Hope
97. Society for Threatened Peoples
98. South Sudan Institute for Women's Education & Leadership 99. South Sudan Women Christian Mission for Peace
100. Stop Genocide Now
101. Strategic Centre for Social Studies in Blue Nile
102. Sudan Advocacy Action Forum
103. Sudan Democracy First Group
104. Sudan Human Rights Network
105. Sudan Rowan, Inc.
106. Sudan Unlimited
107. Sudanese Australian Human Rights Association
108. Sudanese Front for Change
109. Sudanese Marginalized Forum
110. Temple Ahavat Achim Darfur Social Action Committee
111. The Africa Institute of American Jewish Committee
112. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
113. The Institute on Religion and Democracy
114. TransAfrica
115. Triangles of Truth
116. Ubuntu Women Institute USA Inc.
117. Unitarian Universalist Association
118. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
119. United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
120. United to End Genocide
121. Use Your Voice to Stop Genocide RI
122. Voices for Sudan
123. Waging Peace

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), issued the following statement today in response to the recent violence in Libya.

September 12, 2012
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is deeply grieved by the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other staff members. Government leaders of both Libya and the United States have appropriately condemned the attack.
 We join people of different faiths and people of good will in recognizing that such violence goes against the historic teachings of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which are based on God’s love and a peaceful regard for all God’s people. We join the calls for all people to turn from violence.
We join people of different faiths and people of good will in rejecting messages of hatred, bigotry, and division based on faith. Such messages, as exemplified by an online video recently circulated by anti-Muslim hate groups, do not represent the best of the United States and of faith communities. We join the calls for all people to respect one another’s faith commitments.
Our hearts and prayers go out for the families and loved ones of Mr. Stevens and the other victims of the attack. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Libya who were affected by the attack.

Our faith affirms that God is a God not of violence but of grace, love, and peace. We stand with people of all faiths and good will to express our sincere opposition to all acts of violence, to witness to the love that binds all things together, and to reaffirm our intention to work for peace for all people. 
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Response to the Census Bureau's Poverty Data

Evidence of Continuing Income Inequality:
A Response to the Census Bureau’s Poverty Data

By J. Herbert Nelson, Director, PC(USA) Office of Public Witness
Sept. 12, 2012

This morning, the U.S. Census Bureau released Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011, the annual report sometimes referred to as the “poverty data.”  In this report, we learn that median household income declined by 1.5 percent, and that poverty in the U.S. remains statistically unchanged between 2010 and 2011, but still unacceptably high at 15 percent. Child poverty also remains unchanged, but to our shame, a little more than one in five children under the age of 18 continue to live in poverty.  Most startling, however, is evidence showing that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.  According to the Census Bureau’s data, while the second, middle, and fourth quintiles of the income scale lost between 1.6 and 1.9 percent of its share of the income growth, the top five percent of earners saw its share of income growth increase by 5.3 percent.  In a time of growing inequality and injustice in the workforce, these numbers are very troubling.

 As we reflect on the evidence of injustice before our eyes, we are reminded of a God that draws in those facing persecution, those who are marginalized, and those who are oppressed simply because of their demographic or racial identity. This same God empowers us with a call to public witness. The overwhelming proclamation of Isaiah 61 is that God has called us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. As Presbyterians, as Christians, we must be aware of our context in which we are proclaiming God's advancing reign on earth.

Right now, we are living in a highly privileged United States of America where an overwhelming percentage of our population ironically has no access to that sense of privilege. As our nation grows in GDP, the gap between the rich and poor also continues to inflate.  The recovery from the Great Recession, while sluggish and tepid, also fails to distribute its modest gains across all segments of the economy, but rather benefits those who already have much, while neglecting those who have too little. Those living at or below the poverty line remain there, while those whose tithes alone amount to greater than the poverty line have ever increasing incomes.

This new data shows that in 2011, 46.2 million people were living in poverty, 15 percent of our population -- almost exactly the same as the year before.[i]  Likewise, 21.9 percent of children are living in poverty, also unchanged from the previous year.  While we rejoice that the rate of growth seems to have been halted this year, the number of people living in poverty has steadily increased since 2007.  This leaves too many people living in poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world.

Recent research into the causes of rising poverty reflects declines in Unemployment Insurance (UI) and a significant reduction in public sector jobs.[ii]  The expiration of the Recovery Act of 2009, coupled with exhausted UI benefits for long-time job seekers, are wind in the sails of systemic poverty, even as we know that the root causes of poverty include systemic racism, sexism, individualism, and greed.

And yet in the short term, data released this morning shows that an effective and targeted safety net can reduce hardship.  The Census Bureau data shows that without Unemployment Insurance, 2.3 million more people would have fallen below the poverty line. And new research, based on an updated and more comprehensive poverty measure, shows that SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) is so valuable, that 3.9 million people would not be considered poor if the benefit’s value were included in income measures. Likewise, the Earned Income Tax Credit provides the same support to 5.7 million people.

As Christians, we are called to respond to the tragedy of economic injustice, in which we are complicit. We cannot sit idly as poor people remain oppressed by systemic poverty and injustice. Children across the nation are living in poverty, without access to health coverage, in need of our soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and receiving SNAP, TANF, and other safety net benefits. While these programs, both private and public, exist for the common good, they are meant to be a safety net, not a long-term solution to growing and persistent inequality and injustice. This morning’s poverty data shows just how much work we have yet to do. Poverty is a pernicious disease that infects the very fabric of our nation.  We must attack it at its root, transforming the system that traps people in cycles of generational poverty, and ensure that every person has access to the opportunities of health and wholeness that God wishes for us all. With a spirit of prayerfulness and mindfulness, we prepare our hearts for the ways in which God is calling all of us to respond to this situation.


[i] Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011, US Census Bureau, accessed Sept. 12, 2012,
[ii] “Declines in Unemployment Benefits and Government Employment Shaped Poverty Trends in 2011, Preliminary Data Suggest,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accessed Sept. 12, 2012,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yesterday, the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment released the following statement on the Trans Pacific Partnership and the onerous investment state provisions.

Contact: Catherine Gordon(Chair, IWG on Trade and Investment)

As religious institutions and faith-based organizations with extensive global relationships, we have deep concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement currently being negotiated.  Specifically, we are very troubled by the investor-state provisions that will harm public health, access to essential services, and the environment.

The leaked TPP investment chapter reveals a radical redefinition of foreign investor rights that would allow multinational corporations to sue governments for millions of dollars in compensation for environmental or public health safeguards by claiming that such protections constitute an infringement of their newfound “rights.”    Foreign investors could target and undermine policies ranging from bans on toxins to natural resource protections, just as they have done under the similar investment provisions of NAFTA and CAFTA.  Nearly $365 million has already been awarded to foreign corporations under NAFTA and CAFTA, to be paid by taxpayers, while over $13 billion remains pending in such investor-state cases.  Recent years have brought a proliferation of these extra-judicial suits—the investor-state caseload of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes has leapt 460% over the last 13 years.  

We see the effects that these investor-state provisions have on our partners around the world.  The indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon suffering from the massive toxic water dumping of an international corporation, the children of La Oroya, Peru enduring extreme lead poisoning from a US investor-owned metallic smelter, and other victims of public health catastrophes have tried to seek justice by suing the corporations responsible.  Remarkably, those corporations have turned around and used the investor-state provisions enshrined in trade rules to evade justice and even to seek “compensation.”

We believe the principle of human dignity, so fundamental to our faith traditions, demands that international trade and investment respect the rights and needs of people above market principles. Moreover, it is our common conviction that if we are to respect the integrity of God’s creation, then the natural world, with all its richness and diversity, must not be sacrificed to shortsighted profit motivations.   Unfortunately, the investor-state provisions under negotiation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership undermine the very principles of human dignity and respect for the integrity of God’s creation which we support. 

In order for trade and investment practices to enhance the well being of people, private enterprise should advance distributive justice, sustainable human development, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation. Trade and investment should assist societies to meet social needs, such as secure livelihoods, health and education.  To this end, all governments engaged in the TPP negotiation process should reject the agreement’s dangerous investor-state provisions. 

The following members of the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment have endorsed this statement:

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Medical Mission Sisters, Alliance for Justice

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate – Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office

NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Office of Public Witness

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

Witness for Peace