Saturday, October 29, 2016

Note from Rev. John Floberg, Episcopal Pastor at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

Rodger --
The people have been calling for warriors to come to join in the protest against the pipeline. In our language, as faith leaders, they are asking for the shepherds of the sheep – the protectors – to come. At this point over 100 clergy are planning to come.

We want to continue the call for non-violent protection action with law enforcement protecting the free speech rights of those who are Standing With Standing Rock.  We know that our freedoms have limitations that are imposed by law and some imposed by our faith.  We intend to stay within the bounds of each.  Civil Disobedience has a well-respected history in this country.  We are not coming to exercise Civil Disobedience this time.  This isn’t because we are afraid, but because this is what the Standing Rock Nation is asking of us. 

We want to be visible.  Please plan to wear clergy shirts, stoles to wear over jackets or other ways that you may have to show that you are a leader in a faith community. For those able to be in on Wednesday night we will be meeting at the Gym in Cannon Ball (if you have to ask where that is, you don’t know Cannon Ball).  Find Cannon Ball on your Google Map and get there, you will find the gym.  We will have supper and training.

We will rally in that Oceti Sakowin Camp on Thursday morning (again, once you are there it is easy to locate, just go on the north side of the Cannon Ball River more than likely coming in from the south). 

We will spend the day in a peaceful, non-violent and prayerful action.  We will have some songs to be singing and prayers to be praying.  Our expectation is that we will be respectful of one another’s faith tradition and participate at the highest level possible.  If you have prayers or songs that need a handout please bring them with you.  As you will be on Dakota Territory we will be learning to sing and possibly speak in the Dakota Language.

The day will end peacefully and we will gather again for supper.  This might be in Oceti Sakowin or at St. James’ Episcopal Church just south of Cannon Ball.  If you have food to throw into the mix feel free to bring it.  Don’t expect anything elaborate for our meals as our energy will be spent elsewhere – but you won’t go hungry.  If you have special/unique dietary needs I would suggest that you make provision for yourself in bringing those kinds of food.  Unless it becomes necessary for follow up work on Friday, the gathering of the Clergy Standing With Standing Rock will end with supper.

We will be responsible for our witness that day.  My experience of the Dakota culture is that it considers itself to be respectful.  When people come into a gathering we greet everyone.  If you have watched pictures or video of the Protest Action in Bismarck at the State Capitol you would have seen the line of protesters shaking hands with the law enforcement.  We understand they have a job to do – part of that job is keeping everyone safe and providing us with respect to carry out our First Amendment Rights – freedoms that include speech, assembly and the right to practice our faith. 

In traditional Dakota way it will be said, “I can only speak for myself.”  My friends, I want to remind you, that as leaders in your faith communities, the way that you represent yourself speaks on behalf of many others.  We are carrying the reputation of our faith communities and of the Standing Rock people. 

Gerrymandering Wyoming Style

(This is the first of a two-column series on reforming the way in which Wyoming elects legislators.)

It’s one of the great movie lines. Dan Akroyd is the ambulance driver in “The Twilight Zone. “Hey... you wanna see something really scary?”

If you wanna see something really scary, look at the map of Wyoming’s legislative districts. Herman Rorschach might say it resembles a battle between groping salamanders.

It wasn’t always this way. Before a 1991 court-ordered reapportionment, county lines actually mattered. Wyoming legislators knew whom they represented. Wyoming voters knew their legislators. That was a time when voters elected legislators to represent the county in which they resided and its people.

Then a “who’s who” of the Democratic Party went to court nobly intent on ending what they called “the entrenched power of Wyoming Republicans.” They won the courtroom battle and lost the political war. Single-member legislative districts substituted “entrenched” Republican power with institutionalized Republican control of the legislature.

The Republican primary is an example of the unintended consequences. A tiny handful of Goshen County voters nominated a Laramie County state senator. Ninety-seven percent of the voters in the Senate District 6 Republican Primary live in Laramie County. Three percent of the voters dictated the outcome. Although David Zwonitzer defeated Anthony Bouchard 1120 votes to 1071 among Laramie County voters, he lost because just 66 Goshen County residents voted for Mr. Bouchard.

You see, county lines matter for everything except choosing legislators. County lines determine tax assessments and collections, who’s elected sheriff, commissioner, county clerk, assessor, and treasurer. But not who represents you in the legislature.

Worse, legislative district designations mean nothing to voters. If a candidate is running in any given district who knows which county or counties that district covers? 

For example, Senate District 14 engulfs parts of Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties. Senate District 20 is carved out of pieces of five counties, Big Horn, Fremont, Hot Springs, Park, and Washakie. Electors from three counties choose a state representative in House Districts 2, 18, and 22. Voters in four counties choose a Representative for HD 28.

Not one member of the legislature actually lives in Niobrara County. No one in the Senate lives in Johnson, Platte, Hot Springs, Sublette, Weston, or Niobrara counties.

It’s called Gerrymandering, i.e. manipulating boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts. Less-partisan legislatures assign the responsibility of determining legislative districts to a bipartisan commission. In Wyoming it’s done every 10 years by Republicans in the Republican-controlled legislature.

In 2012, Casper Star-Tribune writer Joan Barron described how the process works.
“The new Senate district for Goshen County looks like a finger as it hugs the eastern Wyoming border north then twists to the west at the tip. The main purpose of this truly weird configuration is to take in the population of the medium security prison at Torrington to get enough population for the Senate district for Goshen County.”

State Senator Curt Meier sponsored the amendment. He drew the line for his district around the prison. Disenfranchised inmates suddenly counted as his constituents. By counting people who can’t vote, his seat became safe for another decade.

Senator Maier said, “They’ve been counting people who don’t vote for a long time in legislative districts.” However, many states don’t count prison inmates. Others count them where they lived before incarceration.

Before 1991, voters within a single county elected their legislators. County lines determined whom individual legislators represented. Yes, there was a disparity. On average it took fewer votes to elect a legislator in Niobrara County than in Laramie County. 

The courts resolved that problem but opened the door for legislators to create a greater problem. Although there was a pre-1991 mathematical disparity, it gave significance to county lines. People knew their legislators. Legislators represented the people and the interests of a county. Voters knew whom they were voting for and legislators were clear about whom they represented. Now, who knows?

The legislature had other choices. The court said it was permissible for the legislature to give importance to each county having a representative.

Next week’s column discusses potential reforms.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Called to Standing Rock

Next week, I will travel to North Dakota to join clergy men and women from across the United States in standing with the Native Peoples of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in their struggle to stop the construction of a pipeline they believe threatens their water source and their way of life.

Rev. John Floberg is the supervising priest of the Episcopal churches of Standing Rock in North Dakota for 25 years. He expressed alarm by what he calls an increase in “the repressive power of the state.” Rev. Floberg described “armed riot police guarding ongoing pipeline construction, increased arrests and repression of non-violent prayerful action.”

Just as Dr. Martin Luther King issued the call for the nation’s clergy to gather in faith at Selma, Alabama, in 1965, at a critical moment in the civil rights struggle, Rev. Floberg issued a call for clergy to join the Oceti Sakowin water protectors in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline which cuts across Native lands and burial grounds.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has gone on record supporting the Standing Rock Sioux protest. The PCUSA statement reads in part: “The peaceful and wholesome nature of the protestors has been made confrontational as the governor recently issued a declaration of emergency. Roadblocks and detours are guarded by heavily armed law enforcement who have come in from around the state because of the governor’s declaration.”

My trip to North Dakota to join this cause is a response to Rev. Floberg’s call as well as the PCUSA’s support for the people of Standing Rock and to personally witness this struggle. Please keep these men and women of our First Nation in prayer.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Angry white men are getting older and fewer

My grandson’s kindergarten day had just ended one afternoon last spring. Children poured from the schoolhouse to waiting parents. Muslim parents retrieved their child as black and brown, Asian-American, and Caucasian children, each exhibiting a range of abilities and disabilities, warmly greeted their parents.

How different from the school in which we baby-boomers grew up. These kids are coming of age in a time when their schools are integrated. So are their families and even the White House.

My grandson slid into his booster seat. I buckled him and walked around to the driver’s side. As the car pulled away from the parking lot, NPR was in the middle of a story about Barack Obama. The announcer said, “He’s the first African-American President of the United States.”

My oldest grandchild is an interracial child as the President once was. Rhyland tunes into anything Obama. “Grandpa, is that true? Is Barack Obama the first African-American president ever?” Yes, I told him. Rhyland asked simply, “Why?” The question hung in the air.

How do you explain to a five-year-old a nation whose founders made the extraordinary claim that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” when those truths have never been “self-evident.” How do you explain the struggle Americans have had over the decades trying to grow into those lofty words?

Our nation is in the process of explaining itself. My grandson will likely reach at least his 14th birthday, never having known a white male as President of the United States.

“That depends,” you say, “on Hillary Clinton being elected.” Americans won’t elect the narcissistic, racist, misogynist, uninformed, reality TV star. If I’m wrong, my premise falls apart along with my grandchildren’s future.

Whether she wins a second term, doesn’t change the argument. After Mr. Obama’s eight years and Mrs. Clinton’s one or two terms, the odds of a white male following her into the Oval Office diminish each day.

The ethnic make-up of the United States is changing fast. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco of UCLA is a global expert on immigration. Suarez-Orozco reviews the demographic evidence. This is what he sees. “The fast-growing demographic today is now the children of immigrants. Moving forward, the U.S. will become the first major post-industrial society in the world where minorities will be the majority.”

The Census Bureau predicts non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority status and with it their historic hold on American politics, business and banking, academia and more. White privilege will be seen only through the rearview mirror.

One day as Rhyland played “Angry Birds,” I asked jokingly what the birds were so angry about. One day he’ll ask me what those white males were so angry about back in 2016. Truthfully many of them are angry that black people are living in the White House.

They’re angry about changing demographics. Soon there’ll be no white majority, only pluralities of diverse cultures. They are angry about marriage equality, bilingual ballots, biracial and same-sex couples on TV. They’re angry that there are fewer Christian churches and growing numbers of Mosques. In his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance says their anger doesn’t have much to do with skin color as it does with time spent listening to fringe conspiracy theorists. As a result, they believe “the worst about their society.” Vance concludes correctly, “You can’t believe these things and participate meaningfully in society.” And they don’t participate meaningfully. They participate meanly.

Watch TV coverage of a Trump for President rally. Nearly all the heads are male, bald or gray. Fortunately, angry white men are getting older and fewer. By the time my grandson is voting age, they will be so few in numbers as to not warrant news coverage even on FOX, assuming it survives this evolution.

When my grandchildren and kids their age study history, they’ll simply shake their heads in disgust that there was a time when the color of your skin, your religion, gender identity or sexual orientation mattered more than your character.