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Support in Numbers

“Over the next several months, on issue after issue, let us do what Americans have always done, and built a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

—President George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Feb. 3, 2005


For the past few years I managed to watch the State of the Union address by cooking-baking therapy. The cookies gave me a built-in chance to get up, leave the room, take a breather and return while the next batch baked.

Baking won’t be an option tonight.

Right now it’s Tuesday afternoon and the truth is, I’m a little nervous. I’ve got “The State of Our Values” Organizer’s Toolkit on my desk in front of me.

Tonight at Grace Lutheran, the church I serve, we’re inviting concerned citizens in to watch the State of the Union address. But before President Bush speaks, we’re going take some time to discuss what we feel are our nation’s most urgent priorities, the priorities we hope to see President Bush address.

We will watch the address together and afterward discuss what did—and what did not—get said.

“The State of Our Values” is the brainchild of Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics, and editor of the progressive faith and political journal, Sojourners. It’s part of a national grassroots campaign to encourage people to gather together to listen to the president and discuss whether or not they feel his administration is addressing the urgent needs of the country.

The cover letter in the Organizer’s Toolkit poses these questions: “Will the President proclaim his vision for reducing or ending poverty in our time? Will he advance moral budget priorities? What about a plan for peace abroad and in our neighborhoods? What about restoring honest government?”

By the time you read this we’ll know whether or not he did. But frankly, I don’t think we can look forward to these as our president’s most pressing action items.

The Organizer’s Toolkit’s cover letter goes on: “As people of faith who believe in justice and compassion, we must ensure that our moral values are represented and our prophetic voices are heard.”

And that’s the whole point of “The State of Our Values.” It’s mutual support for those of us who feel that the president’s priorities and the needs of our nation and our world are at odds.

Those of us who believe that need each other’s support. We need a safe place for conversation, discussion, venting.

Because honestly, these are pretty dark days.

The war, the wiretapping, the grand-standing about “staying the course”—these are old news items. The new ones include Tuesday’s confirmation of Samuel Alito as new Supreme Court justice, replacing Sandra Day O’Connor. It wasn’t surprising news; it just wasn’t good news.

Then there was Sunday’s story about the Bush administration’s alleged gag order on James E. Hansen, longtime director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It seems Hansen, a leading authority on earth’s climate, has been publicly and ardently speaking out about the danger from heat-trapping emissions and toxic by- products from burning fossil fuels. Those scientists whose views fall in with government’s policy on climate issue are not suffering the same kinds of restrictions about public speaking as Hansen.

Plus, the House of Representative is faced with a budget that cuts vital services to children, low-income families, the elderly and disabled.

I’m a little nervous that when I watch the State of the Union as part of our “State of Our Values” event, I’ll want awfully much to be able to go into the kitchen for little baking breaks.

I’ve grown accustomed to being a solo viewer, shuttling between kitchen and living room, feeling helpless, feeling frustrated, feeling sad. Some things even fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies can’t make better, and the Bush administration is one of them.

But this year when I’m watching I will be with a group of concerned and probably like-minded people. That’s got to make some kind of a difference in how this whole experience feels. In fact, that’s got to make some kind of a difference in what follows after the address, as well.

There’s a great little poem—more of a manifesto—by Marge Piercy called “The Low Road” about the power of joined minds and hearts, joined commitments to compassion and justice. In it she says:


Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.


But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army. . .


A dozen make a demonstration,

A hundred fill a hall

A thousand have solidarity and your own

newsletter. . .


And it goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and you know who you mean and each

day you mean one more.

—Jo Page

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