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Eastern Washington Legislative Conference:

Ecumenical advocates set priorities based on faith

Even though it’s hard for many people in churches today to find their voices out of fear of offending, Alice Woldt, director of the Washington Association of Churches (WAC), challenged participants at the recent Eastern Washington Legislative Conference with a reminder from the United Church of Christ slogan:  “God is still speaking.”

Alice Woldt
Alice Woldt, Washington Association
of Churches

We need to find our voices.  Silence is not golden,” she said.  “The challenge is to figure out how to communicate, so we can tap into our shared values and can educate media, policy makers and government workers.

“Messaging,” she said, “involves thinking ahead about the intersection of problems, values, visions and solutions.

“We need to organize our ideas to connect them with our values,” she explained.  “We would think that talking about values would be easiest in the faith community, but sharing ideas may release other ideas and values, moving people to fear talking.”

For example, even to say the word, “government,” may stir negative reactions because of the barrage of negativism directed toward government as an election ploy.

“Government provides social networking and infrastructure,” Alice said.

Another word seen as negative is “taxes.”  Taxes could be seen as means to share in supporting the common good when people believe there is use for government.

“How can we frame our messages today so they communicate our values from a faith perspective?” asked Alice, presenting the 2011 legislative priorities and faith principles of the WAC and the Lutheran Public Policy office of Washington.

They priorities are: 1) reduce hunger, homelessness and poverty; 2) increase affordable and accessible housing and health care; 3) reform the criminal justice system and eliminate the death penalty; 4) care for the environment and promote sustainable agriculture; 5) promote civil and human rights; 6) promote accessible and quality public education; 7) maintain a state-funded safety net, and 8) support comprehensive immigration reform.

Details on the messages are at thewac.org/advocacy/public-policy-priorities.

Alice said these priorities are set based on “faith values we hold in common.”  The best messages to share with policy makers, she suggested, are compelling stories.

“Politics is moral.  Most people are in it to be public servants,” she said. 

Alice suggests emphasizing the collective stakes; contrasting cuts with special tax giveaways, subsidies and loopholes; asking for action. 

The way to move beyond fear is action to promote Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, vision of the “beloved community,” she said.

Paul Benz
Paul Benz

The Rev. Paul Benz of the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington said  the Washington State Legislature began the second Monday of January and lasts 105 days, until Easter.

“This year we are in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s,” he said, reminding participants that legislators will deal with Governor Christine Gregoire’s all-cuts budget, and will propose their own budget.

“The budget cuts program for homeless and low-income people.  It cuts health care, children’s programs and education,” said Paul, who visits Olympia three days a week. As of Jan. 22, the House budget protects and preserves many programs—the disabilities lifeline, basic health care, affordable housing and food assistance.

Because issues change week by week, the WAC and LPPO have an Advocacy Alert Network at thewac.org/advocacy/faith-advocacy-network, which gives updates on bills related to the eight priorities, so citizens can be informed. 

He listed bills affecting funding for several programs: school meals, the Disabilities Lifeline (GAU), Emergency Food Assistance, the State Food Assistance, the Washington Family Fund, the Home Security Fund, the Housing Trust Fund, home foreclosure prevention, the Basic Health Plan, the Apple Health Children’s Insurance, Maternity Support Services, criminal justice reform, clean water legislation, WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs, the Farm to Cafeteria Program, Food Policy Councils, transition of coal-based power production in Washington, human-trafficking prevention, farm-labor standards, adult-family-home reform, Achievement Gap legislation and the State-Funded Safety Net.

The state is limited because initiative 1053 requires a two-thirds majority to pass any tax, increase fees or eliminate tax loopholes or subsidies.  A proposed state income tax (Initiative 1098) failed. A temporary tax on bottled water, pop and candy was dropped.

“What kind of state do we want to live in?” Alice asked.  “We need to keep hoping, speaking, writing letters, sending emails, making phone calls, meeting with legislators and challenging legislators to care.  The faith community is respected for its compassion and caring.”

Paul urges people of faith to attend town hall meetings with legislators in February.

The WAC and LPPO plan other opportunities for involvement:

• The Yakima Legislative Briefing will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 12, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Yakima.

• Homelessness and Affordable Housing Advocacy Day is Monday, Feb. 14, in Olympia.

• Environmental Lobby Day is Tuesday, Feb. 15, in Olympia.

• Hunger Action Day is 10 a.m., Friday, Feb. 25, in Olympia.

• Interfaith Advocacy Day is Thursday, March 17, in Olympia.

Those who cannot go March 17 can gather at their congregations and participate in a virtual advocacy day, phoning or emailing legislators to advocate for priorities and support bills as citizens. LPPO and WAC will help with that.

The state legislative hotline is 800-562-6000.  The legislative website at www.leg.wa.gov gives the daily agenda, the status of bills and background information.

The WAC and LPPO  advocacy tools include Advocacy Network Alerts at thewac.org or lppowa.org.  For information, call 206-625-9790 or 206-390-4133.