UUs Advocate for Gulf Coast Civic Works Program
In January, over 130 organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), signed a letter to President Obama asking him to create a Gulf Coast Civic Works program through executive order during his first 100 hours as President.
A Gulf Coast Civic Works Program would create 100,000 living wage jobs and training opportunities for local and displaced Gulf Coast workers focused on restoring infrastructure and the coastal environment with green building technologies. Advocates believe that, if passed, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act will empower workers, revitalize the region's workforce, and restore faith in the government's will to respond to the needs of its citizens.
Although President Obama did not issue an executive order, it seemed that a Gulf Coast Civic Works program might be included in an economic stimulus package which was formulated a few weeks later. After that possibility failed to materialize, advocates set their sights on Congress, where the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-D) on May 6.
Once the bill was introduced, an action alert was sent out to constituency email lists (supported by the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The proposed bill also has the support of a large non-partisan coalition of community, environmental, labor, student, and human rights organizations advocating for the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, including ACORN, ColorOfChange.org, Oxfam, Tikkun, World Vision, and others.
For Unitarian Universalists who travel to the Gulf Coast to volunteer, signs of hope are mixed with frustrating and grim realities. Twenty members of All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC, recently spent a week helping repair a community center in Treme and constructing a community garden in the Lower Ninth Ward. For the past three years, members of the congregation have traveled to New Orleans to volunteer with local organizations, including the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center housed in the First UU Church of New Orleans.
“My crew painted a community center kitchen, and although our counterpart representing the local organization working on the center was pleased with our work, I couldn’t help but notice the mold and peeling, water damaged walls that would not be remedied by a coat of paint,” wrote Washington, DC, resident Orelia Busch. Now members of the congregation are finding ways to bring the passion they discover for Gulf Coast recovery back to their home communities.
On Sunday, May 17, All Souls members who had volunteered in New Orleans held an event to engage others in ongoing activities to support rebuilding. After participants from the April trip and an earlier February trip shared stories and photos of their experiences, they discussed ways that congregation members could support Gulf Coast recovery from their own city. Suggestions included taking part in legislative advocacy, educational programming, planning for more trips, fundraising and support, and building a partnership between congregational youth and students attending a school in the Lower Ninth Ward.
The evening ended with a session of letter writing in support of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, H.R. 2269. Currently, the bill has fourteen co-sponsors—just over half the number who were co-sponsoring the bill at the close of last Congress. You can add your voice to the cause by sending an email message to your representative urging them to become a co-sponsor, or thanking them for their support. To collect signatures from members of your congregation in support of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, see the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy’s 2-page Call to Action (PDF) and sign up for UU Gulf Coast Updates to stay up-to-date with future action alerts and resources.