The Common Good

Katrina to Venus Williams: How to Improve Your Serve

Sojomail - September 21, 2005

Quote of the Week : Blessed are the rich?
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Katrina to Venus Williams: How to improve your serve
Building a Movement : The Katrina Pledge on the airwaves! | Katrina Pledge taken up by 45 Presbyterian churches in New York
Eyewitness News : The apocalypse next door
On the Ground : Day five at the Hattiesburg shelter
Global Vision : U.N. World Summit misses the mark
Campus Lines : Students seek justice at U.N. Summit
Politically Connect : This weekend, rally to end the war in Iraq
Faith in Action : Nonviolent protesters face six years in prison
Boomerang : Readers write
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"I spoke to one of the other owners on the telephone earlier in the week. I told him how the water had stopped just at the back gate. God watches out for the rich people, I guess."

- Yovi, 42, an Israeli army veteran who wouldn't give his last name, currently working for the private military company ISI to guard Audubon Place, a gated community in a wealthy section of New Orleans.

Source: The Guardian


Katrina to Venus Williams: How to improve your serve
by David Batstone

Venus Williams blasts a terrific tennis serve on the court. Her athleticism makes her one of the most entertaining players on the tour to watch. It's her serve to the community that could use some practice.

Several weeks ago, when media attention on the catastrophe in Louisiana had peaked, Williams sparked a mini-storm of her own. Asked by reporters covering the U.S. Open how she planned to respond to Katrina's devastation, Williams remarked with candor: "I don't really watch the news. I kind of leave it like that because sometimes it's better not to know."

In subsequent interviews, she put her remarks in context. Williams said since the murder two years ago of her sister Yetunde, shot on the streets of Compton, California, she finds it difficult to absorb suffering on the TV news. She added to journalists, "At the end of the day, I wish I could do something [for the victims of Hurricane Katrina]. This is a sad time."

Like Williams, I quickly become emotionally exhausted by TV disaster broadcasting. I am filled with feelings of grief and loss, yet the victims are thousands of miles away and out of my life. Making a gift to the Red Cross surely counts as appropriate, but it feels incomplete. In a nutshell, that defines the problem with TV philanthropy.

I have a friend in San Francisco, Nate Bacon, who demonstrates a quite different approach to Hurricane Katrina relief. A bit of background about Bacon's service is in order before I circle back to Louisiana.

For the past 18 years, Bacon has lived in the Mission District, an urban zone heavily populated by low-income Hispanics. Bacon is a site leader for InnerChange, an international ministry, working with a local Catholic parish to reach out to local gang kids. In many cases, it means accompanying the kids through the court system after an arrest, and being there waiting for them once they emerge from juvenile hall, enabling them to build a fresh life. Eighteen years - that level of community connects Bacon and his team to local problems.

Beyond direct service, Bacon has helped to link the local parish to PICO, a national faith-based organizing network based in Oakland, California, to teach citizens to express their political voice. Most issues that the PICO project in the Mission District focus on are community problems. For instance, at the moment the Mission PICO group is urging city officials to provide high-risk youth with meaningful jobs and surrounding services that give them a hope for the future.

Now back to Louisiana. I noted that PICO is a national network. After Hurricane Katrina, Bacon did not have to rely on the TV news to understand the depth of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the legacy of deprivation that was revealed to most of the country for the first time. Local PICO chapters in New Orleans and surrounding Louisiana communities communicated their needs and concerns to the rest of the network. Once the immediate crisis subsided, those PICO pastors and community organizers made a trip to Washington, D.C., to ask the political powers for a comprehensive relief and recovery package for the region focused on working and poor families. The PICO community leaders also made a strong plea for children and health care. Other PICO chapters across the country supported their call for a universal health care plan for America's children.

I would not expect a professional tennis player to dedicate her time to grassroots community work to the degree that Bacon does. But Williams could better deal with her grief, and improve her serve, by engaging in a tangible way with local organizations in Compton that help youth find alternative paths to gangs and violence. Showing compassion that means something to people's lives, just like smashing a tennis ball consistently over the net, takes years of practice.

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The Katrina Pledge on the airwaves!

Tune in this weekend to your local NPR station to hear Jim Wallis on The Tavis Smiley Show. Taping from St. Louis, Missouri, this week, renowned public radio talk-show host Tavis Smiley hosts a town hall style discussion on the "State of the Union: Post-Katrina." Jim Wallis will join former Missouri Senator Jean Carnahan, columnist Sylvester Brown of The St. Louis Dispatch, and others in a discussion about how the national tragedy of Katrina has opened a national conversation on how as a nation we can finally address the persistent questions of poverty and race. You can also listen via the Internet at after 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23.

Katrina Pledge taken up by 45 Presbyterian churches in New York

»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge today.

Rev. Janet Newman writes from Syracuse, New York:

Thank you for the Katrina Pledge. As someone who works for peace and justice in my presbytery, I have felt the need to bring the issue of poverty in America into the forefront. Therefore when I called my resource team together and tried to draft a document for our presbytery, I brought this pledge forward and it will now be circulated in the 45 Presbyterian Church (USA) churches in the presbytery. We have also taken up the cause of eliminating poverty in America, which was so tragically placed before all of our eyes in the wake of Katrina, as one of our main objectives. Many of us have worked on this issue for some time, but now we pray that we will be joined by the voices of others across this presbytery and the country.

»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge

»Tell a friend about the Katrina Pledge


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The apocalypse next door
by Dean Nelson

When I first got to New Orleans, I thought I was witnessing the end of something. But in that moment it dawned on me that I was seeing the beginning of something, too. I saw suffering and hope as two sides of the same coin, exposed by the kindness of a neighbor who had a boat. I saw the failure of our government - are we really surprised by that anymore? - and the goodness of people.

I heard the same stories you heard about the terrible actions of some - people whose hearts seem set on harming others. But I also encountered people whose inner compasses point to helping others. Many came from all over the country or provided services at their own expense, because the images they saw evoked questions out of their own hearts: "What can I do? How can I help?"

I saw resilience, compassion, courage, hope, the desire to help: new beginnings.

Two scripture passages came to mind during my time there. One was Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Who will rescue me?" This was the lament of the poor in the Gulf Coast. In some cases, no one came to rescue them.

The other was the exchange between Moses and God in Exodus 3 and 4. "I have seen the misery of my people," God says. And after a discussion/argument, God asks Moses a question that I believe he asks all of us: "What do you have in your hand?" Moses had a staff for leading sheep. God told him that whatever he had in his hand at that moment would be usable enough for Moses to lead people out of their suffering.

+ Read the full article


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Day five at the Hattiesburg shelter
by Cheri Herrboldt

In the 95-degree heat more than 1,000 people stood in line for hours to receive Red Cross assistance for hurricane damage done to their homes. Today some waited as long as 10 hours....

While handing out cold water, I spotted a thin elderly woman looking very worn out, sitting on a chair. I asked her how she was feeling and she said, "I'm 92 years old and never stood in line for any handout in my life. I wish I didn't have to do this." I immediately escorted her into the air-conditioned building to get her through the monetary assistance process quickly. While we were inside, she gave me the honor of telling me about herself and her family.

Yesterday I met a man who had one leg due to amputation. He had to stand in line for eight hours to receive his monetary assistance. He was so grateful for the help he received that he came back today to help others who needed assistance, handing out cold water and snacks to adults and children. When I saw him, I yelled out, "Hey, what are you doing here today?" He joyously replied, "I felt so blessed by the assistance I received, I came back to help others today."

+ Read the full article


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U.N. World Summit misses the mark
by Adam Taylor

While world leaders gathered in New York for the U.N. World Summit, Sojourners, along with other partner organizations, held three days of prayer, fasting, and political witness outside the United Nations complex. We called for bold leadership around global poverty and the Millennium Development Goals. Hundreds of people traveled across the country and across town to join us for the three-day vigil at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. A committed group of students from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and North Park University in Chicago, Illinois, drove to New York to attend the events. Other participants came from California, West Virginia, and Maine.

The World Summit was originally planned to shine a spotlight on the Millennium Development Goals. But the prospect of achieving these goals is jeopardized by a lack of political will. Instead of reaching new breakthroughs at the meetings, world leaders simply restated many of the commitments around aid and debt that were made at the G8 Summit. If the world continues at its current pace of progress, millions of people will continue to live in grinding poverty.

In his speech to the General Assembly, President Bush explicitly endorsed the MDGs. Just before the Summit, however, Ambassador John Bolton sought to expunge mention of the MDGs from the meetings. Sadly, this diverted attention away from the urgent questions about how the goals will be reached in light of many alarming trends.

+ Read the full article


Students seek justice at U.N. Summit
by Janelle Vandergrift

When presented with the opportunity to take three days off school and go to New York, many college students might jump at the chance to skip studying and see the city. But we - a group of Calvin College students - went to New York to seek the restoration of a broken creation, and to further our education as part of the global community and the body of Christ.

We went to raise our voices against poverty that destroys families, kills children, and poisons creation. We know that our voices must also be raised against our selfish sinful nature that reinforces inequality. We went to New York recognizing the desperation of many and their need for liberation from oppression. For this, we lamented, fasted, and prayed for God to intervene through the U.N. Summit, knowing that the Spirit is capable of the restoration we long for.

+ Read the full article


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This weekend, rally to end the war in Iraq

A majority of Americans now believe the U.S. should begin to withdraw from Iraq. More than 1,900 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. The cost to the U.S. now exceeds $200 billion, money desperately needed here at home. This weekend, a march, rally, festival, and religious service are being held in Washington, D.C., to show President Bush and Congress that it's time to end the war.

The major organizer of the weekend's events is the United for Peace and Justice coalition. We anticipate UFPJ's speakers and message will be consistent with the social and political vision Sojourners seeks to promote. We are encouraged that UFPJ is now including "faith-based organizing" as a part of its work. There are other organizations involved in the march and rally with whom Sojourners has serious political disagreements, and there will be some speakers whose messages we do not support. But we believe it is a time when Americans must come together for the broader purpose of showing our government that this war must end.

As people of faith we are prepared to work with those with whom we disagree in order to witness to the gospel. As Americans, we can agree that it is time to demand that the Bush administration and Congress: 1) produce a viable exit strategy and bring our soldiers home; 2) reduce military spending and develop a budget that prioritizes economic security for all here at home; and, 3) address issues of terrorism and instability in Islamist countries through the development of a fair and balanced Middle East peace process that provides security and economic viability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

+ Get links to events and schedules

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Nonviolent protesters face six years in prison

On St. Patrick's Day 2003, two days before the invasion of Iraq, four Catholic activists entered a military recruiting center in Ithaca, New York, read a statement, and symbolically spilled vials of their own blood. In an op-ed in The Ithaca Journal, they explained their actions:

"Blood is a sign of life, which we hold to be precious, and a sign of redemption and conversion, which we seek as people of this nation. The young men and women who join the military, via that recruiting station, are people whose lives are precious. We are obligated, as citizens of a democracy, to sound an alarm when we see our young people being sent into harm's way for a cause that is wholly unjust and criminal.

"Blood is a potent symbol of life and death. Blood is the sacred substance of life, yet it is shed wantonly in war. As Catholics, when we receive the Eucharist, we acknowledge our oneness with God and the entire human family. We went to the recruiting center using what we have - our bodies, our blood, our words, and our spirits - to implore, beg, and order our country away from the tragedy of war and toward God's reign of peace and justice."

In an April 2004 trial on charges of criminal mischief, the jury deadlocked with nine of 12 jurors voting to acquit. Beginning this week, however, the federal government is retrying the four on charges of conspiracy, punishable by six years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

+ Read their full statement in The Ithaca Journal

+ Get trial updates and learn more


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Readers write

Kerry Elizabeth Thompson writes from Springfield, Massachusetts:

Thank you for publishing Rev. Ann Whitaker's letter [Boomerang, SojoMail 9/16/2005]. Being both visually and physically disabled myself, I am deeply interested in Disability Rights and related issues. According to reports I have seen, between 25% and 30% of New Orleans' residents qualified as disabled. Therefore, between 25% and 30% of the people in that city alone were partly or wholly unable to help themselves before, during, and after the storm.

It is indeed the responsibility of government at all levels to assist those of its citizens who are unable to help themselves - that is, the most vulnerable segments of the community: children, the elderly, and those with disabilities and illnesses. The government also has a responsibility to assist and protect the poor, this being an integral part of its function of providing for the common welfare. When, as today in the United States, large numbers of the most vulnerable are also among the poorest citizens, the government's failure to discharge its duties to those citizens - instead seeking to promote the interests of megacorporations and the wealthiest individuals - is unconscionable. The responsibility of the U.S. government is to protect and care for the people, especially the vulnerable and the poor, not to protect Halliburton, the National Rifle Association, and the 2% who pay the estate tax.


Ritagail Burleson writes from Bartlesville, Oklahoma:

I live in poverty in the state of Oklahoma. I will not be signing your Katrina Pledge for the following reasons:

1. The pledge states: "As a person of faith, I believe that the poverty we have witnessed on the rooftops of New Orleans and the devastated communities of the Gulf Coast is morally unacceptable." If I am only moved by the sight of poverty when I see the people on their rooftops on the news, then I have had a very hardened heart - especially if I am "a person of faith."

2. I am already doing #1 in the Katrina Pledge, and did even before the hurricane hit, as soon as I saw that the hurricane was aimed at the Gulf Coast. And I wasn't praying merely for "the poor," but for everyone. (And I have given money, not much because I have little, but I still have done it. But then, I have given money to others before the hurricane.) I also do what I can, with my extremely limited resources, to help people God may send my way, regardless of their socio-economic class. Have the rest of you been doing the same, especially those of you who have more resources than I have?

3. I might support #2 in the Katrina Pledge, except for the way the first part is worded: " I pledge to work for sweeping change of our nation's priorities. I will press my elected representatives...." If we leave the "sweeping change" to our "elected representatives" we are merely passing on the responsibility. I wish something like the following would have been included: "As a person of faith, I will do what I can to personally help the people who God brings into my life, no matter who they are. I will strive to be an example in my own faith-based group (church) so that we are welcoming to people other than those of our own socio-economic level."


Lori Quick writes from Riverside, California:

I believe that it is irresponsible of us to blame the president and our national government for the events of Hurricane Katrina when, as it was pointed out by Wes Granberg-Michaelson in "Acts of God or sins of humanity?" [SojoMail 9/9/2005], the city made itself vulnerable. I think that it was the state and local governments' responsibilities to help with preventative measures in the first place. I also think that it's time America woke up and stopped being so shocked that something of this nature can actually happen on American soil. We shouldn't think that we are better than other countries just because we are the United States of America - as if we were immune to such tragedies.

We should stop asking God to bless America - we are already so blessed. Get out of our two SUVs and luxury cars, and out of our five-bedroom, five-car garage houses, the biggest, and best, and newest of everything, and realize there is another world outside the door of our middle-class lives. Instead of praying that God would be on our (nation's) side, we can only hope that we (individually) are on God's side.


Mabel MacMillan writes from Seminole, Florida:

In reference to the letter from the gentleman from Milwaukee who wrote in response to Elizabeth Green's article, "Priorities for the Poor?" [Boomerang 9/16/2005] I felt compelled to offer my opinion. I am amazed at the number of people in our country who refer to the government as though it were some entity totally apart from any of us. My understanding of our system (in theory, and I guess in my dreams as well) is that we are the government. Only through active participation - be it through letters, e-mails, and phone calls to our respective elected representatives - will we ever be able to effect the kind of change that so many of us yearn for in this country.

I get so discouraged by the events all around us, so many of which are entirely preventable, but I just can't give up yet. As a liberal Christian (yes, I believe it is possible to be both!) I feel that it is our duty as citizens and the employers, if you will, of those who serve in any elected office and of their appointees, to hold them accountable for how our tax dollars are spent. I also believe that our tax dollars are vitally necessary to meet the needs of those who find themselves in need. It could be any one of us, given a sudden turn of unfortunate events, and I would hope that we never rid this country of the safety net already in place. The major problem is that there are too many holes in the existing net and we must work to do some serious reweaving.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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