'Moral revolution': A cry to reframe politics as usual


BOSTON >> Hoping to add a moral dimension to a range of political issues — from charter schools to military spending — clergy and liberal activists on Monday marched around the state capitol and issued a list of pointed questions to Gov. Charlie Baker.

The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, a Bethel African Methodist Episcopal minister, urged people to consider a veteran thinking about suicide, homeless people on Boston Common and people whose low wages require them to spend all their time working.

"These are not political issues. These are moral issues," White-Hammond told the crowd. "People have asked me: Aren't you worried about mixing faith and politics? And I tell them that the reality is that religious leaders have already been influencing politics. Unfortunately many of them are promoting a version of morality that is only focused on abortion or challenging gay marriage."

The Higher Ground Moral Day of Action that convened on the sunbaked bricks along Beacon Street is one of more than 25 similar demonstrations organized in state capitals from Jackson, Mississippi, to Madison, Wisconsin, according to organizers.

The demonstrations are part of "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values," led in part by Rev. William Barber, who gave a fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

"I'm worried by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed," Barber said at the convention, where he endorsed "universal health care" and "LGBTQ rights."

Monday's rally did not feature Massachusetts elected officials. Instead the microphone was passed from a homeless McDonald's worker to religious figures of various faiths and to an immigrant woman from Bedford who works in tech and obtained a green card.

"Although I face Islamophobia every day, I am among those few who benefit disproportionately from the current U.S. immigration policies," said Nazish Riaz. She said, "I am here today because I want every immigrant to be treated justly."

"That American Dream, to me isn't real," said Darius Cephas, who said despite working long hours at McDonald's he has been unable to afford a home.

Worded as pointed questions, the declaration nods to a bevy of liberal policy prescriptions, asking, "Do you support quality, well-funded public education? Do you support the protection and improvement of public schools rather than the unlimited replacement of traditional public schools with charter schools?"

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The charter debate, waged in education policy votes, rallies and on the airwaves, has thus far mostly been about two competing strategies for best educating children.

Massachusetts voters in November will determine the state's future approach to charter schools - which are privately run, state-funded public institutions that operate outside the control of locally elected school committees. Question 2 on the ballot would allow the state's education board to issue additional charter school licenses regardless of existing statutory caps.

Other planks in the platform are broader in scope and fall more squarely under the jurisdiction of federal policymakers, proposing a question for politicians about whether they "denounce war-mongering and efforts to create more conflict and division within and between nations?"

The crowd filling the sidewalk held signs declaring "Water is a Right," "People Over Profits," and others backing the candidacy of Green-Rainbow presidential candidate Jill Stein.

As marchers circled around the State House, a smaller group met with Hodari Cail, Baker's community affairs director, and Joel Barrera, Baker's deputy chief for cabinet affairs, according to Rev. June Cooper, executive director of City Mission, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

Cooper told the News Service she hopes those involved in the movement can "use our influence" as voters head to the polls in November to elect the next president.

Although the group's welcoming stance on immigration, dim view on fossil fuels and boosterism for a $15 minimum wage aligns more with Democrat Hillary Clinton than Republican Donald Trump, Cooper critiqued both campaigns.

"I don't think we've heard a lot of anyone speak about poor people," Cooper said. She said, "I haven't heard anyone say anything about the deplorable things that happen in our criminal justice system, or even in our school system."

The Massachusetts Republican Party denounced the demonstration, which featured people in union vests directing the procession.

"The SEIU is pushing public policies that will hurt workers, because an estimated 101,000 jobs will be lost in Massachusetts under their drastic minimum wage hike proposal," MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said in a statement that also accused the union of not paying those who work on its behalf $15 per hour, citing a Wall Street Journal editorial.


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