Keeping Stories

Last week, while cleaning out my files in the office at church, I was remembering so many wonderful stories of the work of this congregation on behalf of social justice.  I found myself wondering, “Who will keep these stories after I am gone?”  After 13 years of ministry here, I have become too much the keeper of institutional memory.  It was hard to recycle or shred old meeting notes and flyers and public witness statements.

Today, though, I am remembering that many of these stories of justice-making found their way into our Annual Reports.  Funny thing, Annual Reports.  I bet for most people, they are glanced at during an annual meeting, and then filed away, or even tossed away.  But they can be a useful tool for keeping stories.  After I had been serving this congregation for about a year, I took a week just to read the annual reports from 1980 up to 2006.  It helped me to understand the journey that the people had traveled, the stories from before I arrived.

So today–probably my last day of cleaning in the office–I am taking some moments to look at old Annual Reports–and share a few tidbits of some of the great activism I have witnessed and participated in here.  In 2005-6, we were part of a “No on One” referendum to prevent a repeal attempt of the state’s new anti-discrimination legislation for GLBTQ people.  Our Social Action committee made 2500 bumper stickers-My Church Believes in Civil Rights for All, and distributed them around the state.  (Thank you, Jim!) Not to mention rallies and forums and so much more–the repeal attempt was defeated!

That year, we also participated in the Giving Winds Campaign, a capital campaign of the Maine Council of Churches for Four Directions Development Corporation, which provides small business and home-owner loans to people on Wabanaki reservations in Maine.  We visited two reservations, hosted Wabanaki representatives during worship, and held a forum on Indian Affairs.  We donated over $2000, and members made loans through the church totalling $12000 that were matched by the UUA and the Federal Government.  Some of that loan money is still being used by FDDC!

In 2006-7, some of our members were on the advisory board for a new Portland Freedom Trail, celebrating the Underground Railroad in Portland, and other sites of importance to African American history in our city.  Other members created a quilt to be used in the unveiling of the first pedestal, and over a dozen people participated as docents for the grand opening event. You can find a self-guided walking tour online.

From 2007-2009, we were involved with work on a campaign for the Freedom to Marry for same-sex couples. We were part of creating the interfaith Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine, (later it became the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination), and many people testified at a huge public hearing.  The bill was successfully passed by our legislature, a first in the country, but then immediately went to a people’s veto referendum.  Sadly, despite the active involvement of so many, the veto campaign prevailed and marriage rights were not achieved.

But people did not give up, and our church was part of the long attempt to pass the Freedom to Marry by referendum.  Our members were among the many volunteers going door-to-door having conversations with undecided voters, they were phone-bank callers, and they created another great bumper sticker.  Finally, victory was achieved on November 6, 2012.

I like to keep my blog posts to about 600 words, so I am running out of room to add more stories. And I haven’t even mentioned the campaign for Health Care for All, which percolated within our doors, and is now a statewide organization, Maine All Care.  I haven’t mentioned our three-year Environmental Focus, our participation in protesting oil from Tar Sands (see the photo below), work on climate change, and our Permaculture Design course.  And what about work on peace issues, homelessness, anti-racism, immigration, and the latest project, Greater Portland Family Promise?

It will be up to the members of Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church to keep their own stories now.  I hope they will peek into old Annual Reports if they need to remember the old stories, and I hope they will make many new stories as well.Tar Sands Rally

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A No-Win Gamble

The other day I read the “Medicare and You” brochure in preparation for my own “graduation” to Medicare this coming summer.  It has been hard since then to shake a sense of foreboding.  My first reaction to all of it is how can our society treat our elders with such lack of care?  I don’t mean that it is bad that we have Medicare–I wish we had something like Medicare for all–single-payer health care–in our country.  But what we have now seems so bereft of full medical care, that participants are encouraged to buy extra care to cover all the gaps in care.

But it is not merely that you can choose to spend a certain amount per month to cover the gaps–a kind of gambling in itself about whether you will save more than you will spend.  It is that you have to decide between a dozen or more types of options, which kind of product to buy–all seemingly based on making a guess about your own unknown future health needs and prescription needs.  The supposed explanations for the different types of plans amount to gobble-di-gook, if you ask me….

Does anyone besides me see this as a particularly insidious way to torture people?  “You can choose!  Read all this information!  Oh, whatever you choose today will affect your future!”  A gambling game based on what?  (Is it anything besides a way to bring further profit to insurance companies?)  Then in today’s paper I read Michelle Singletary’s column The Color of Money, “Medicare trend causes palpitations,” and felt even worse.  She writes:

New analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that out-of-pocket health care costs for Medicare beneficiaries are likely to take up half of their average Social Security income by 2030.

I hesitate to blog about this issue because by doing so I have to reveal elements of my own financial situation–and money is one of the last taboos.  But I am feeling bold today. I will admit that despite the many blessings in my life, when I stop working, I will be one of those senior citizens living on a fixed low income.  We have been very lucky–we have a home, with solar panels (lower electricity costs) and a yard for gardens.  But homes also cost money for upkeep.  I worry that eventually I will be one of those who has to decide between medical care and eating.  And I am so angry that elders are put into that position today!

In the world I dream of, “health insurance” would be something paid for by the healthy, to take care of anyone who becomes sick–which eventually will be most of us, as we age. In that world, no one would risk losing their home because they become ill, no one would have to gamble based on unknown future events, no one would be left to die because of a lack of money.  There is a lot more to say about all this, but I have to stop now and go to the ocean… get some perspective.IMG_4237