01 May 2012

"Say Little, Do Much"

photo from NYT
I really appreciated Council Speaker Quinn's embrace of the Living Wage Bill that passed the New York City Council yesterday; appreciated her willingness to defend a bill that represents real economic justice for low-wage workers in New York City; and appreciate her decision to defend the bill despite Mayor Bloomberg's opposition, which includes the threat of a veto and a lawsuit to prevent the law's enactment.  Politics being what it can be, here were two sometime allies on behalf of the city disagreeing with one another in a tone of civility that is, sadly, the exception rather than the rule in American politics today.

Just before noon yesterday, when I checked the news on-line and took a glance at my emails and calendar to see what was next, I read this statement from a fellow clergyman about the news conference at City Hall in favor of the Living Wage Bill that was about to be passed:  "The reign of the rich is over!  A new day has dawned in New York City!"

Not really.

While I understand the rhetorical usefulness of the pulpit's emotional perorations to action, they usually fizzle out in the face of the mundane slog of governance.  And that's precisely as it should be.  If anyone should know that, it ought to be a clergyman, who recognizes the zeal of the convert, only to be humbled by how difficult it is to live a consistent life of faith and action.

Ah, well.  In a big city with so many clamoring to be heard, fiery blasts of verbal ammunition do occasionally penetrate the prosaic armor of governance.

I had a day of correspondance, lesson preparation, and pastoral work to attend to (including my annual trip to Poly Prep High School's senior 'history of religion' class, which I calculated I've been going to for nineteen years!).  At noon, while my colleagues in the city who I've joined in supporting the Living Wage Bill were assembled downtown, I couldn't get away; and besides, the work was done, the bill was set to pass by an overwhelming margin, and I had a twenty-three year graduate student who needed to digest a recent trip to Israel and what it meant for her evolving Jewish identity.  To wit:  we are indeed works in progress.

So it came to pass that when someone at the carefully choreographed press conference called the mayor "Pharaoh Bloomberg," Council Speaker asked for an apology for the breach of decorum, didn't receive it, and left.

I think she made the right decision.  And journalistic opinion and political jockeying aside, it was a decision of integrity.  In the public eye, with the goal of winning passage of a long-fought for piece of legislation, zero-tolerance for exaggerated mud-slinging works for me.

For all the drum-beating, rally-rousing, march-making hay of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is finally a legislative victory for economic justice for the working poor in New York City.  There are no Pharaohs here to overthrow; there is no "reign of the rich."  There is the slow moving political process, wringing occasional victories for one side or another in the ongoing, unsung efforts to bend ears, persuade, and move people from one place to another so that more deserving souls can put bread on the table.

We'd all do well to humble ourselves before such monumental tasks, focus on achieving what is possible, and do so with a measure of civility that can be a model for the rest of the nation.  Clergy role here was in organizing, not speechifying.  As the sage Shammai famously explained, "Say little, do much."  We'd do better to recognize that more often.

I am so proud of my city's legislative achievement and believe the Living Wage Bill is a real measure for economic justice; and I'm proud of my City Council Speaker for standing up for civility and being a good winner.



Anonymous said...

"There are no Pharaohs here to overthrow; there is no 'reign of the rich.'"

Guess you forgot about your opening paragraph there in which you acknowledge Mayor 1%'s veto of the bill which he likened to "the USSR."

You used to have edge. Now you just say whatever you must to placate your wealthy yuppie congregants so they don't have to feel guilty about being rich.

Andy Bachman said...

Anonymous: You miss the point. Let the Mayor say silly things like equating the bill's passage with Communism. His rhetoric doesn't merit the equally silly term "pharaoh." Further, as Michael Powell correctly pointed out, this bill is only a small victory but nevertheless an important first step. Equally troubling to me was John Liu standing front and center. His alleged illegal fundraising tactics are a mark against progressive causes.

Lost edge? I have had congregants object strongly to my wading into politics--even on the issue of my support for this bill. You don't know what you're talking about.