In a celebratory climate at DC's popular progressive "salon" Busboys and Poets, room overflowing, which combined the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tikkun magazine with the launching of a DC-area chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), Representative Keith Ellison (D-WI) became the first recipient of the newly established annual Visionary Leadership award. The interfaith, multiethnic audience greeted him with a standing ovation.
Presented to Ellison by Imam Johari Abdul Malik, of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, the trophy honors "someone who exemplifies the highest ideals of NSP."
The imam singled out the huge week Ellison navigated less than seven days ago, speaking out forcefully against Congressman Peter King's attempt to reenstate a McCarthy regime in this country, this time aimed against Muslims, with his "Islamic Radicalization" hearings.
Ellison noted that he and his colleagues succeeded in "putting baking soda on that fire."
The imam then lauded the second milestone achieved by Ellison last week--introduction of the Global Marshall Plan to Congress by way of HR House Resolution 1708.
The plan was the brainchild of Rabbi Michael Lerner, co-founder of the interfaith group Tikkun and then of its activist arm NSP seven years ago. Briefly, its aim is to require a contribution of one to two percent of the GNP of all developed countries to developing countries, in an effort to attend effectively to their basic needs and hence enhance their lifestyles as much as possible. Two billion of the world's population subsist on incomes of one dollar a day, while developed countries dump surplus commodities into the ocean.
This newest Marshall Plan is not charity, but payback, said Ellison. It represents a fraction of the wealth, exploitation, and human capital extracted from those countries by the many empires that occupied them, all developed countries.
Not only is Ellison the first Muslim American to occupy a congressional seat--he was first elected in 2007--the imam also lauded him as the first African American sent to Congress by the state of WIsconsin, which basks in its neighboring state's liberal pedigree of Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Paul Wellstone, all former Minnesota senators, all idealistic progressives .
Ellison accepted the trophy with humility and gratitude, recalling soon after that as far back as 1947, this country's thirty-eighth vice president-to-be stood up in Congress to denounce segregation, antagonizing his co-partisan (of the time) Strom Thurmond, who walked out of the chamber.
Responding to the various statements made that evening concerning the impasse between Israel and Palestine, the congressman took no sides, asserting his position as neutral. Having visited both lands, he said that all of those people are human, on both sides of the borders, and a spirit of joining together would be a milestone on the path to peace.
Ellison turned to what he called the debate throughout the country about the role of the government in our lives. Some assert it should play no helping role at all, while others "think differently," he said, looking around the room with approval.
The moral test of a nation is how it treats its infants, senior citizens, and unprivileged populations, the representative continued. The government must help to defend us against powerful corporations and protect our right to collective bargaining. The First Amendment should apply to human beings only, and not those leviathans composed of thousands, whose will may not even be reflected in corporate activities and decisions.
The government must fight against the wrong "golden rule" that "he who has the gold makes the rules," while it champions the real golden rule, which would go far to restore the economy if activated by all.
None of us, religious or otherwise, can live up to our religious values, but we should all be found striving toward them, Ellison continued. Unity and solidarity comprise the only way to achieve this goal. Referring to the NT Parable of Loaves and Fishes, the congressman speculated that perhaps there was actually enough to go around, because (a theme taken up by other speakers as well) "there is enought today for all of us."
Right now, he joked, he has an amount of money in his pocket equal to or greater than the sum of taxes paid by three major US corporations. And yet essential funding is being subtracted from the LIHEAP program that subsidizes heating for senior citizens, and from the Pell grants that are so helpful to college students struggling toward their degrees because of the huge cost of higher education.
"We must straighten up our lines and close the gaps," said Ellison, alluding to the shoulder-to-shoulder positions taken by Muslim men at prayer.