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I and my congregation are active in faith-based community organizing through Peninsula Interfaith Action, a member of the PICO network. I went to Sacramento this spring as part of a PICO CA meeting of faith leaders with Governor Jerry Brown. He really wants to pass Prop 30, without which automatic cuts kick in that will be even more crippling than our current state of affairs. After much study about which of the three original revenue-raising initiatives we should support, PICO had promised him that we’d do voter registration and get-out-the-vote among new and less-than-likely voters, bringing thousands of people into the process who are likely to vote for Prop 30. We had already helped with the negotiations that took one of the competing proposals off the ballot. Unfortunately, the sponsor of the third, Molly Munger, flatly refused to compromise or take her initiative off the ballot, which reduces the chances of either it or Prop 30 to something of a long shot.

So Governor Brown really, really needs our organizing. And it was a buoyant meeting. We asked some tough questions, and he answered them with grit and ended with a passionate call to action. He spoke our language, literally–we all know he went to seminary, just like us, and he spoke to us about being the state’s prophetic voices. I knew he was a skilled politician who knew how to tailor his message to the audience, but I also felt a warm sense of connection. I was fired up to help get out those votes.

So when I learned today that he’d vetoed another piece of legislation strongly supported by PICO, the TRUST Act, I felt betrayed. The thought of working for Prop 30 made me feel like a sucker. He let us down and he’s still going to count on us to hold up our end? He probably calculates that we’ll work our butts off for Prop 30 anyway because our communities need it. The hell with him. Let him get it passed without me.

Then I realized I was thinking in terms of friendship instead of alliance. My US history teacher in school loved to quote whomever-it-was and say, “Nations have no friends, only allies.” Organizing, also, for all it is about relationship-building, is also clear-eyed about self-interest. People and politicians are guided by their perceptions of their own interests, and when they unite, it’s because they think it will further those interests. PICO isn’t working for the governor’s ballot initiative because we’re pals with the governor; the relationship we have with him is an alliance. Aside from wanting the initiative to pass because it’s necessary, we have made a promise to the governor because if we make this promise, and we deliver on it, and it makes a difference, then we will have more influence the next time we try to get something through. (We’ll also have more voters on the rolls who are affected by draconian immigration policies.) The trust we are building is not the trust between friends, but the trust between allies: you help me reach my goals and I’ll help you reach yours. To make the alliance stick, we need to show that we’re powerful enough to be of real help.

So I’m going to pull myself out of my snit and work harder to pass Prop 30. I’m just not going to feel as warm and fuzzy about it. That’s probably just as well, as the warm fuzzies were always an illusion. And if we register lots of voters who not only help pass Prop 30, but are exactly the people who wanted the TRUST Act to pass, then next time, maybe we’ll have the clout to say, ” . . . and if you don’t back this other piece of legislation that we want, the deal is off.”


But first: Why should we do anything about SB 1070?

Something missing from quite a lot of the UU conversation on the topic, as we rush to sort out our urgent move-General-Assembly-or-not question, is what exactly is wrong with this law. We shouldn’t take it for granted that UUs are unanimous, or anything close to it, in their opposition to SB 1070; we have to make the argument. There are actual Republican UUs, beleaguered minority though they are, bless their persevering souls, and I’m willing to bet that a lot of UUs who are liberal on most matters are conservative on immigration. I also don’t think the man we overheard after a sympathetic-to-illegal-immigrants service at the San Miguel UU fellowship was all that unusual. “These people don’t pay taxes,” he grumbled. (Sure they don’t. When they go to Costco, the checkout worker squints at them, says “You look Latino,” and rings up their items without sales tax.)

We UUs have our share of Libertarians too, and I’ve already heard from a few self-described Libertarians (some UU, some not) who don’t see any problem with SB 1070. The fact that someone can call themselves Libertarian, and yet approve of something so close to pass laws, speaks to the intellectual bankruptcy of the libertarian movement, whose concern for freedom seems to have dwindled to an obsession with “property rights” and minimal taxation–but I’m impressed to see that at least the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party has written a blog entry opposing it.

So what is wrong with a law that is, after all, essentially saying “We don’t think the federal government is doing enough to enforce its laws, and we’re going to do more to enforce them”? For starters, three things. Read the rest of this entry »

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