Saturday, December 04, 2004

Just returned from a meeting of the UULM

(Unitarian-Universalist Legislative Ministry). As a UU of longstanding, I'm nonetheless in a constant state of displacement due to a restlessness that's followed me from church to church since moving away from Mt. Diablo UU church in Walnut Creek many years ago. The denomination has always been tantalizing in the possibilities it presents and in the openness I've always found there.

My social activism was born there, and I've been out "in the world" spinning around in the wake of the years of experiencing whatever it was that got unleashed in that original congregational affiliation. There are still remnants of the passion shared with my UU friends of long ago, and I guess that I'll always measure the boundaries of new alliances against those with whom the joy and pain of growth was shared. Despite all, I tend to operate as a circle of one much of the time.

Was invited by one of those dear friends to attend tonight's meeting in the hope, of course, that I might find it a base from which to do my work. There was much to build upon, but I was (again) one of only two African Americans in the room -- and the other, a gentleman, was silent all evening.

This group is doing great work on the Gay marriage issue where UUs are playing a leadership role, nationally. I'm so proud of that work. There was talk of taking on children's health as a secondary campaign, not by providing leadership as much as by working collaboratively with existing efforts. There will be some groundwork done on the next great world issue -- that of water -- which looms large on the horizon but has not yet bubbled up to the surface of our consciousness. A worthy agenda.
But I was torn.

After spending yesterday in the conference on The African American Male,etc., hosted by Barbara Lee et al, it was difficult to make the leap to these more universal themes. Am still caught up in the urgency of the plight of young black males and the great chasm that lies between the black and white communities as represented by my experiences over these two days. One might well have been on separate planets...the concerns were so different, and finding the places where they intersect is difficult to discern.

I never know quite why, but I find myself close to tears when the dilemma is this striking. I so wanted to be able to tap into the energy of tonight's meeting -- and did voice my concerns -- but as it has been on other occasions, at other times -- those concerns tend to bear little relevance to the subject at hand. There's that huge gulf that I'm aware is there -- and that in the past has been dependent upon how successful one is at playing the "guilt" card. It's not about that. It shouldn't be.

But I find myself wanting to add another category for activism -- a kind of cleaning up of the anomalies in governance, some corner of the room where implementation and accountability is monitored. Example:

There was a time when I first went to work for the state when a huge amount of matching federal dollars had to be returned to the feds because they had not been expended in the time allotted. There was a program involving free health services for all school children who qualified for the free lunch programs. Not nearly enough children were enrolled to justify continuation of the program so it was failing to fulfill its mission. Then it was discovered that the application form was made up of 25 pages of questions to be filled out by the parents. This, in a community with an extremely high rate of illiteracy; a community with a large immigrant spanish-speaking population; and a Laotion refugee community consisting of five language groups most of whom were not literate in their own language. Someone worked hard to design something so draconian.

It takes little imagination see that this was a cynical way of offering much-needed health services without actually granting them to anyone. The chance that the parents from these communities could complete such a form was next to nil, and some healthy cynicism on the part of a few alert bureaucrats eventually caught the problem and change occurred that got things back on track and the services rendered. There are times when even that which is legislated meets with defeat at staff level. Tragic.

Then there's the duplicity of legislation like the current un- and under-funded "No Child Left Behind" bill. One of California Rep. George Miller's greatest disappointments in the last congressional session was seeing the erosion in Head Start and watching the "No Child" bill that he co-authored go unfunded for the most part. As is so often the case, testing without the resources to attain the goals is a cruel hoax played on educators and children who must live by them. Here in West County, the attainment of those test scores frustrates good teachers and dooms a great many children to continuing poverty as a result of low expectations and lack of financial resources. It's heartbreaking to witness, and appears to have placed the final nail in the coffin of our once-great system of public education.

Having well-informed legislative watchpersons catching these anomalies can bring miracles. They can re-shape legislation to actually serve the powerless for whom they were originally intended.

Our system of term limits has created the Third House in the legislature. There's the Senate, The Assembly, and The Lobbyists. And at any one time at least one-third of the legislature is in the hands of newly-elected well-intentioned leaders who must spend their first year in the capitol locating the restrooms and raising funds for their next campaign! A great deal of legislation is being drafted by that Third House and simply delivered for passage. Having the denomination represented in the Third House will help until we can get the electorate to revisit the entire concept of term limits. But that's a debate for another time ... maybe a good reason to join the UULM, right?

Tennyrate, I'm exploring the web site ( with an eye toward at least participating online while I figure out how I might become involved without losing my own focus in the micro.

Been a busy weekend.

Dorian and I attended NIAD's annual art show and reception this afternoon where we bought some beautiful gifts for the holidays. Picked up some cards that she designed from block print patterns. Tomorrow we'll do the same at the Richmond Art Center.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Photo: Dorian's lovely beaded mosaic abstract. It's about 3'x4' and is quite beautiful. Unfortunately I can't afford to buy them all. This one will probably be bought soon by someone familiar with "Outsider Art." There is a growing clientele for this work. The gallery pays 50% of the sale to the artist -- and Dorrie is becoming a saleable artist.

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