One thing that should be noted about Seminarians here at LSTC is that we are actively living out our Call to do ministry and journey with those that society states have no voice. Being the Church and proclaiming the Gospel as an Action, rather than a thought is who we are. Below is a post by Toby Chow, Middler M.Div and one of the lead organizers of Seminarians for Justice.
On Wednesday, March 11, Seminarians for Justice spent the day in the state capital of Springfield. We gathered before sunrise and piled into a van to join the community organization SOUL and other faith, community, and labor groups from across Illinois, in response to a proposed budget which, in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., takes necessities away from the many to give luxuries to the few. Anna Ernst (MDiv Middler), Drew Rindfleisch (MDiv Senior), and recent graduate Ben Adams (MDiv 2014) had previously undergone civil disobedience training and were prepared to risk arrest and spend the day in jail if necessary, although in the end no arrests took place.
In February Illinois’ newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner proposed a budget that would make deep cuts into a seemingly endless series of government programs and social services that are essential to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and also maintain the overall quality of life for the vast majority of people in the state. This includes cuts to services for people who are homeless, people with disabilities, young adults who were wards of the state; cuts to public transportation, higher education, antiviolence programs; and on and on.
Governor Rauner and others have rationalized these cuts by claiming that the state budget faces a huge deficit, and that therefore there is no alternative. But this rationale leaves out another part of the story, and that’s the power of the very wealthy in state politics. Due to an array of loopholes, 2/3 of corporations that do business in the state pay nothing in corporate income tax to the state, including 1/3 of the companies on the Fortune 100 list. In addition, Illinois has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country. This means that the richer you are, the lower your tax rate will be. This is largely due to the fact that the state constitution currently mandates that the income tax rate must be flat (i.e., the state does not charge higher tax rates at higher income brackets). Our statewide coalition has developed a set of progressive revenue proposals that would allow the state government to address the deficit without placing the burden on the most vulnerable.
So we went to Springfield to demand a fairer, more progressive tax system in order to avoid cuts to state spending on health care, education, and social services of all kinds. Hundreds staged a march to the Governor’s mansion, while hundreds of others filled the legislature and we staged two protest actions in the Chamber of the House of Representatives and outside of the Governor’s office. Anna explains why she decided to participate:
“In the ELCA bylaws, under guidelines for ordained ministry, the 7th and final guideline is to ‘speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love to the world.’ As a candidate for ordained ministry, I feel morally obligated and called to make it very clear to our elected officials that the proposed budget is not just. The budget clearly strips resources from those who already struggle, and there are other funding sources available that will NOT hurt the poor and the oppressed. We do not have a budget crisis in Illinois. We have a revenue crisis, a spiritual crisis, and a crisis of conscience. As concerned faith leaders we must make it very clear when we believe that proposed policies are in conflict with our call to serve the church and the world.”
The day of action was covered widely in the news media, including the Chicago Tribune. Drew was interviewed in this TV news segment and a very fine photo of Ben outside of the Governor’s office is featured in this news story.
The fight for a fairer, more just state budget continues, but we did achieve one important goal: we established that there is in fact an alternative to these cuts.