1,000 Christian Advocates for Children Visit Capitol Hill
by YVETTE MOORE*
Child health insurance, reductions in carbon emissions and shifting federal spending from war to peace efforts topped the agenda when more than 1,000 Christians gathered for the fifth annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice Conference in Washington, D.C., March 9-12.
Forty United Methodist Women leaders, including conference mission coordinators for social action and Green Team members participated in "And How Are the Children?" The event culminated in visits to congressional representatives to advocate for laws on three issues:
- Reauthorization and full funding of the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIPS). The advocates asked lawmakers to expand the program to cover all uninsured children in the United States.
- Change in budget priorities away from war to peace. This includes passage of the Jubilee Act, which commits the nation to support and work for 100 percent cancellation of debts of impoverished countries seeking to meet the U.N. Millennium Goals. The act requires debt cancellation not tied to privatization of water, electricity or other services, and not tied to acceptance of trade agreements that further impoverish the poor while enriching the wealthy.
- Reduction of carbon emissions within the United States by 15-20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
The Rev. John McCullough, executive director of Church World Service, reminded participants of their power by recounting legislative victories from past ecumenical advocacy events.
"In 2005, Ecumenical Advocacy Days called for defeat of President Bush's plan to build Bunker Buster nuclear weapons, and now the Administration and Congress have agreed to oppose development of this weapon," he said. In 2006, Ecumenical Advocacy Days called for Congress to raise the minimum wage. The House and Senate have recently voted to raise the national minimum wage.
"So there is power in our gathering and in collective effort," Mr. Mc Cullough said. "One of the real miracles of grassroots movement of people of faith is the discovery that with our faith comes power."
He urged those present not to be deterred from their legislative goals.
"In a world were there are billionaires, there is no excuse for there to be poor children anywhere in the world," he said.
While the advocates focused on the three priority issues when visiting congressional representatives, the weekend was an opportunity for education on a range of issues. Each participant selected one of eight issues on which to focus during the event. Issue areas included Africa, Asia/Pacific, eco-justice, global security, Jubilee/economic justice, Latin America, Middle East, and United States/domestic.
Nellie Long, mission coordinator for social action for Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference United Methodist Women, chose the United States/domestic track. She was especially interested in information on health issues.
"All of my children, my grandchildren, even my great-grandchildren have asthma but I never attributed it to the environment," Ms. Long said, explaining her children were not born with asthma, but developed it during adolescence. She developed the condition in her 40s.
Ms. Long said she would return home an advocate around environmental issues that are impacting health in her area.
For Pam Wiltshire, mission coordinator for social action for Northwest Texas Conference United Methodist Women, learning history of U.S. involvement in Iran and Iraq was the highlight of workshops she attended on the Middle East.
"I took the Middle East track because I didn't know anything about it, and we're at war in Iraq," she said. "I learned so much. One thing I learned that I didn't know was that our CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) backed an overthrow of a freely elected government in Iran in 1953. They were starting to bring in some democratic ideas to the area then. If the CIA had left them alone, it might be a stable country now."
The workshops also trained participants on how to engage lawmakers.