By Robby Stern
The Jewish High Holidays occurred in September. Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe between the two holidays are a time of deep reflection and self assessment. At the same time as the High Holidays, I passed the half way mark for my 69th year and began to think about turning 70 and the likelihood that I am in the last two decades of my life if I am lucky. (My wife says I will live to 100 but I am not sure I want to put her through that!!)
One of the places my mind wandered during that time was to the role I want to play at this time in my life. I love PSARA. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by truly marvelous people who make me think, laugh and feel fortunate to be alive (along with my beloved family and friends, all of whom are PSARA members). I also believe PSARA is an amazing organization. Our activism is exemplary and that is because of the generous volunteers on our large Executive Board and the commitment of our wonderful members. (That means all of you who are taking the time to read this newsletter!)
As I worked my way through the ten days of the High Holidays, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, I realized that with the time I have to be a political activist, I really really want to focus on what I believe are the two greatest challenges we face as human beings. The two intertwining transcendent threats to our country and the world, in my opinion, are income inequality and the climate crisis.
Income inequality and the growing gap between the top one or two percent and the rest of us undermines our ability to address the threat to our planet and to human survival posed by climate change. People who are struggling daily to make ends meet want decent jobs that allow them to provide for themselves and their families. If those jobs require fossil fuels, they will accept that reality.
Furthermore, income inequality is destructive to the democracy we need to make the necessary decisions to change how we interact economically and socially with our environment.
A fundamental way to address income inequality is to support workers who are organizing to wrest some of the income and wealth from the top tier and distribute it downward. Workers who have decent incomes with health care and retirement security are much more likely to have the intellectual space to think about and act on the changes necessary to save ourselves from the effects of the climate crisis.
I will judge, and will urge others to judge, those politicians who seek support politically by where they stand on the issues of climate change and income inequality. Words are not enough! What have they done that demonstrates their determination to address these two critical issues?
There are things we can do to address both of these issues. PSARA is participating in efforts to stop the coal trains and the XL Pipeline. We also can do all we are able to support the redevelopment of the Port of Bellingham which will create many good family wage jobs as an alternative to the development of the Gateway deep water coal terminal near Bellingham.
PSARA supports the initiative in SeaTac for a minimum wage at $15 an hour, the fight of low wage workers for better wages and benefits, and efforts to organize workers so they can act collectively. We will fight side by side with our union sisters and brothers to defend existing family wage jobs and to expand the numbers of workers who can live more economically secure lives. All of this work, as well as fighting to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, is essential to address the twin threats posed by income inequality and the climate crisis.
But, we will not be able to wait for a fairer distribution of income and wealth to address the impending disaster posed by climate change. We have to act now. Climate change requires that we think globally and act locally.
I thought about these issues during the High Holidays and I also thought about personal work I need to do. I want to learn how to eliminate unnecessary worry and anxiety that occupy my thoughts far too frequently. I want to put away my need for personal recognition and do the work I do with a sense of personal satisfaction not dependent on validation from others. I also want to be more kind and compassionate with everyone with whom I come in contact.
Obviously, this personal work is as challenging and long term as attacking income inequality and climate change. I decided that if I could work on these personal changes at the same time that I help organize around the issues of income inequality and climate change, I might actually become more effective.
I get a chance to evaluate how I am doing next year during the High Holidays when I am 70!