Our Turn: Economic justice in a time of transition

Published: 1/6/2021 6:20:22 AM

Somehow, the New Hampshire Legislature begins the 2021 legislative session on Jan. 6, but not without controversy concerning the convening of the House of Representatives. The governor is sworn in on Jan. 7. And on Jan. 20, our nation will inaugurate a new president.

This season of policy-maker transition is a time of both hope and deep concern for those of us who care about the common good and a fair and inclusive New Hampshire (and nation) in which no one goes hungry or un-housed; all workers earn enough to survive and thrive; our air, water, and health are protected; and the lives of all individuals – no matter what one’s race, ethnicity, color, age, gender identity or expression, ability, or status may be – are valued and cherished.

In more “normal” times, we would be out in full force and large numbers during these elected-official transition moments – that is, physically present, visible and vocal – as we advocate for the core values and public policies that lift up human decency and build healthy, safe, vibrant, and economically equitable communities.

But these are not “normal” times. Our neighbors are sick, hospitalized, and dying because of a fast-spreading, easily transmitted virus that will not take a break for political transitions. Further, COVID-19 has laid bare the paucity of our systems and the failures of many officials in terms of their capacity to respond effectively to the needs of those in harm’s way, including the ill, their caregivers, and anyone whose work is deemed essential to the community.

Because we care deeply about the health and safety of others, we have chosen in the present moment not to organize massive in-person gatherings at the State House or in any UNH parking lot filled with legislators. We have taken this approach not because of ideology but rather out of a basic desire to protect our loved ones, our colleagues, and all others in the community, even those we do not know.

These are not normal times. The newly sworn-in New Hampshire House speaker died of COVID-19, and the speaker pro-tem and other unnamed legislators were also infected with the coronavirus after multiple meetings and gatherings where, despite repeated warnings from medical experts, large numbers of willfully defiant legislators went maskless. Not only is it tragic, but this disturbing display of callous disregard for the health and safety of others among far too many state legislators also strikes a deeply troubling tone for the 2021-22 legislative session.

In this not-normal time, we choose to honor public safety and to act and convene responsibly while we make our voices heard. We likewise implore legislative leaders to draw upon their own sense of civic responsibility to conduct the upcoming legislative session with the combination of safety and citizen accessibility fully in mind, no matter what accommodations or calendar adjustments are required.

We wish to remind our elected officials at all levels that we join the majority of our New Hampshire neighbors in desiring access to safe and decent jobs paying living wages; a clean environment and resilient climate; freedom from discrimination, oppression, and violence; and adequate shelter, healthy food and all the other necessities for living safely and securely in New Hampshire.

We also join the majority in understanding that access to health care is absolutely essential both in and beyond this dangerous time of COVID-19. So, in the current moment of electoral transitions, you may not see us filling the hallways and hearing rooms of the State House or in mass gatherings at other locations where elected officials are gathered. But this does not mean that our voices are not present. The policies and values we mention here are the will of most people in the state, and we remain united in standing together for these values and “for the common benefit, protection, and security of the whole community” (as referenced in Article 10 of the New Hampshire Constitution).

We and also implore our elected officials to remain mindful generally of our collective interdependence. We are in this together. And we who care deeply about our responsibility to one another and to our common humanity will persist.

This sentiment comes jointly from the American Friends Service Committee-N.H. Program; Change for Concord; Economic Justice Mission Group, N.H. Conference, United Church of Christ; Granite State Progress; Kent Street Coalition; Manchester NAACP; Martin Luther King Coalition N.H.; N.H. Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health; N.H. Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; N.H. House Progressive Caucus; N.H. Youth Movement; N.H. Veterans for Peace; Portsmouth Women’s March 2020 Organizing Committee; Occupy Seacoast; Resistance Seacoast; South Church, UU, Portsmouth, Social Justice Associates; Unitarian Universalist Action New Hampshire; and Arnie Alpert and Andru Volinsky.

(The Rev. Gail Kinney of Canaan is the worker justice minister, Meriden Congregational Church, UCC, and a member of the New Hampshire United Church of Christ Economic Justice Mission Group. David Holt of Somersworth is an organizer for Occupy Seacoast. Anna Howard of Portsmouth is a member of the South Church UU Social Justice Associates and a 2020 Seacoast Women’s March organizer.)


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