Pre-4th Fireworks: Stanley Cup, Voting, Marriage, and a President’s Plan for the Climate

(*From Jen: I’m very pleased to share this guest blog by Dr. Aana Marie Vigen reflecting on this week’s events.)

It’s not even Friday and already it’s been an historic week.

Monday:  the Trayvon Martin murder trial began; my hometown hockey team won the coveted cup.

Tuesday:  the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; President Obama gave a powerful address on climate change; Texas State Senator Wendy Davis stood up—literally and figuratively—for over 12 hours to support women’s reproductive rights.

Wednesday:  the Supreme Court struck down the key provision of DOMA and refused to decide the CA Prop 8 case, allowing marriage equality to resume in that state.

I’ve been holding my breath a lot this summer. This week I started to exhale—feel my chest loosen a bit. But as soon as I start to relax so many emotions stir. I’m worried too many of us might relax at a time when active civic participation has never been more needed.

I am happy for my hometown team. But as a white person who grew up in South Dakota, I came to consciousness through confronting the genocide of Native peoples. I cringe every time I see the team name, banner, and symbol (and it is everywhere these days). I am outraged at Texas. But I’m humbled and inspired not only by Davis’ stamina and public conviction, but by Leticia Van de Putte’s pithy bravery.

But that’s just the beginning. Powerful, complex connections demand our attention in this week’s fireworks.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings are bittersweet. To be clear, I feel grateful for the Court’s actions on marriage equality.  Even though Illinois (as a non-marriage state) won’t feel the legal impact of this decision, my family will benefit symbolically. Perhaps, it will be a measure of respect and protection for my 6 year-old son.

Like others, however, I’m aware of how much and how many are left out by expanding marriage (support for single-parent families, for example). I also know marriage equality will tend to improve the lot of the already more privileged (predominately white, middle- and upper-class folks who have jobs with benefits and earn enough to owe taxes).

Even more I worry more about marriage equality turning into a national showcase of “My Fabulously-Big Gay Wedding.” That kind of marriage equality will mostly help gay people be “good Americans” in this way: namely, as consumers!

There’s connection number one: marriage (of the more privileged) and climate change. There are already so many devastating ecological downsides to our overconsumption I’m wary of anything that invites more. More on this below. (And an eye-opening video here.)

Here’s connection number two. While (more privileged) gay and lesbian folk got more breathing room this week, others’ rights were callously constricted when the Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  Now any state that wants to mandate voter identification or engage in gerrymandering can. The voices and votes of people already most vulnerable to draconian labor, social, family, and tax policies (mostly a different set of folks than those helped by marriage equality) are not welcome.

The work of Martin Luther King Jr. is not done. It is being undone.

Meanwhile, this week’s big news wasn’t only from the Court.  We must remember Obama’s landmark speech on climate change. Here’s connection number three.

Obama laid out how high are the stakes and how critical is our active engagement if we are to head off the most dire consequences of a warming planet.  His speech was honest, comprehensive and bold.

Extinction of honey bees, acidic oceans where coral reefs die, increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather, even the possibility that Miami and parts of Manhattan will be uninhabitable by the end of this century.

You don’t have to be a “nature lover” or “tree hugger” to have your sleep disturbed by this.

Do you like to eat? All of these changes mean a loss of food sources, greater food scarcity, and more crowding than modernity has ever known.

Millions who contribute the least to rising CO2 levels (e.g. the working classes, small farmers, the urban and rural poor, those of least financial means) will pay the highest price for the greed or complacency of the rest of us.  Race, socio-economic class, gender, education, religious power dynamics and inequalities—all of these connections are woven throughout climate realities. These complexities will show the ugliest faces yet…if…if we—all of us—let them.

(***From Jen: I’m very pleased to share this guest blog from Dr. Aana Marie Vigen today.)

So, do we think voting rights are important today? They are just as important now as they have been in any period in which visionary leaders showed up to demand participatory democracy.

Time is short.  We have fewer than 10 years to respond before these ecological changes are irreversible.  Climate change is the ultimate game changer.

Being immobilized by the size of the problem is not an option. It’s also not necessary.

So, where to start?

Send Obama a “Thank You” on the White House comments webpage.  Let your legislators know you expect them to support his plan.  Organize around poverty, healthcare inequalities, environmental racism, voting rights. Change the weight of your carbon footprint and advocate policies on changes you can’t enact on your own.  Talk endlessly about these matters with your congregations, students, friends, families, coworkers, neighbors. Dare to be an agent of change.

Above all let’s not leave it to the President.  He can’t lead if we don’t walk with him.  MLK Jr. couldn’t have done what he did, nor would we be honoring and grieving Nelson Mandela now if it were not for the people. People make movements breath and flesh and bone.

We need to find rugged grit and tenacious hope within ourselves.

In 1971, before most of us had given a second thought to the ecological health of our planet, Dr. Suess put it bluntly in a children’s book. At the end of The Lorax, he wrote:  “UNLESS, someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”


Lorax unlessWe are “the somebody.” to which Dr. Suess refers. It is time for us to get busy, not to leave it to the leaders to fix the mess.

Regardless of what we do or fail to do, we are all going to sweat more in the coming years.  So, let’s put the sweat to good use.  The fight for public, participatory democracy is there to be joined.

Game on.

Aana Marie Vigen is an Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Loyola University Chicago. She is passionate about advocacy and education on global climate change and Christian moral agency. She is also passionate about her local congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA). And she loves teaching and living in Rogers Park with her spouse and son. Both this church and her family help her have–and enact–hope in the world. She focuses most of scholarly work on socio-economic and racial-ethnic inequalities in health and healthcare (in the U.S. and globally). She is also is interested in: the relation between ecological health and human health; ethnographic methods in Christian ethics; the intersection of Christian Social Ethics & Bioethics; Protestant Ethics; Feminist Ethics; White Anti-Racism. If you want to know what Aana has written, here are a couple of highlights: She is the author of Women, Ethics, and Inequality in U.S. Healthcare: “To Count among the Living”. In addition, she co-authored (with Christian Scharen) Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics and co-edited (with Patricia Beattie Jung) God, Science, Sex, Gender: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Christian Ethics.

One Response to “Pre-4th Fireworks: Stanley Cup, Voting, Marriage, and a President’s Plan for the Climate”
  1. LaReine-Marie Mosely says:

    Thank you for bringing together some of the important events of last week. All I can say about dismantling part of the Voting Rights Act is: now is the time for everyday people to organize so that we can start programs to help get people formal/government identification. ID cards are our future.

    I don’t know what to say about Zimmerman. When he first saw Trayvon Martin, he radioed in to the police or a supervisor. He was told in no uncertain terms to stand down. He disregarded this directive, but not before commenting on how those “explitives” people always get away.

    Striking down DOMA was/is a significant moment. This is about human rights. How do we help dissenters understand the shifting national sentiment? The students I teach seem rather comfortable in their skin. They have relatives and friends who gay and lesbian. Their thinking is, “What’s the big deal?” Younger generations will not tolerate this prejudice. It makes no sense to them. Congrats to my gay and lesbian friends.

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