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Close to 600 Unitarian Universalists (UUs), along with interfaith and community activists, gathered for a Witness for Earth Community with a message to halt global warming and create environmental justice.
Rev. Marilyn Sewell opened the witness event saying:
“I want to speak today of the apocalypse—not of the rapture, the fundamentalist apocalypse, but the liberal apocalypse: the end of time for liberals is the death of the earth. I don’t believe the earth will die, but it’s for sure in big trouble. I don’t know what the future will be like—but I do know this: the future will not determined by forces outside human control—not yet, anyway; human beings have made certain choices which have brought us to this point, and we can make other choices that will shape our future. As a religious people, it is incumbent upon us to do three things. We must face this crisis and no longer live in denial. We must get in touch with our deepest and truest values. We must become citizen activists.”
She was followed by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President William Sinkford who stated:
“Religious communities can bring a moral lens to this issue, a lens which sees that there are critical environmental justice issues involved. Three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills in the U.S. are in predominately Black or Hispanic neighborhoods. And three out of every five Black or Hispanic Americans live in the vicinity of an uncontrolled toxic-waste site. Hurricane Katrina showed us who would be hurt the most by global warming. Not the affluent, who can flee, but the poor, people of color without the resources to avoid the danger, those without an effective voice in the decisions that can change their lives.”
President Sinkford ended his remarks with a prayer he wrote.
Dr. Paul Metzger, of the Multnomah Biblical Seminary, offered an Evangelical Christian perspective on global warming. He said, “I want to apologize for the Evangelical Christian movement's delay in taking seriously environmental stewardship. I'm not apologizing for my tradition's spiritual convictions about the authority of Christian scripture, but for my tradition not taking those spiritual and scriptural convictions seriously enough on such matters as environmental stewardship. We care for the greatest of all when we care for those Jesus refers to as "the least of these." The poor have little voice, and they have very little means to resist climate change and pollution's impact; to care for the least of these is to care for the one my tradition calls the greatest of all—Jesus.” Dr. Metzger shared a story of how his young son had urged him to become active on this issue as a matter of faith.
Fran Pavley, a former state assembly woman and author of California's landmark legislation on carbon emissions said, "State lawmakers can effectively drive legislation to fight global warming on a broad scale. Creating broad coalitions is an important key to getting tough global warming bills passed." Pavley credited the religious community for taking the lead in California and called on the assembled Unitarian Universalists from around the country to join coalitions in their states.
Local activists from Portland talked about the need for environmental justice to inform the environmental movement.
Jeri Sundvall Williams, a Mexican-American Indian activist, explained that she came to understand the meaning of environmental justice when she was exposed to toxic chemicals in her hotel workplace. She described the high asthma rates in the communities that Environmental Justice Action Group (EJAG) works with, communities that are located near the interstate highways. She called on people to stop praying to the God of oil. She said, “In our worship of this false idol we have lied, stolen and even killed for it. What amazes me the most is that we have all the knowledge and wisdom to heal our planet. It's not like we are still searching for the cure. We have it. As people of faith we know that the charge is that we need to implement it.”
Kevin Odell, Executive Director of Organizing People, Activating Leaders Portland (OPAL) and a young African American, spoke of the need to bring environmental justice perspectives into advocacy work. He said that solutions need to be found that are safe and affordable for all people.
The rally closed with Susan Leslie, Director Congregational Advocacy & Witness, asking everyone to call their representatives to advance the bill recently passed in the senate requiring automobile manufacturers to raise fuel economy for cars, pickup trucks and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. She asked everyone to program the Capitol Hill Switchboard phone number (202-225-3121) into their cell phones. Lastly, participants were asked to pick up a UU Ministry for Earth Action Kit at their booth and fill out Earth Day Network postcards to Congress for environmental justice solutions.
During the event dozens of youth carried signs calling for an end to environmental racism and the adoption sustainable practices and policies for living. They interacted with motorists who honked in agreement to signs that read “Honk if you’re driving an electric car,” and with passers-by who stopped to listen.
The term earth community comes from the first Earth Community summit that was held in the days following September 11, 2001, to address the need for a global consciousness for living peacefully and sustainably on our planet.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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Rev. Marilyn Sewell, First Unitarian Church, Portland
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