5 Action Items for Obama

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President Barack Obama will be sworn into office for his second term as the first black President of the United States of America. I am reminded of these words from Dr. King:

"One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution." (Spoken by Dr. King at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly in 1966.)

The 2012 election signaled that the United States is again in a "great period of change." The following five issues call out for "new attitudes and outlooks," and I urge President Obama to rise to the challenges of leadership with responses based on justice and compassion.

1. Create a just and compassionate federal budget.

The effects of our country going over the "fiscal cliff" were minor, but we still face grave economic challenges. Our next federal budget should focus on job creation, revenue increases, a shared commitment to the common good and cuts in unnecessary military spending. Our elected officials need to stand up for those most marginalized in our society, to put partisan politics aside, and make a difference in the lives of all who live and work in this country. I call upon the Administration and Congress to work together to create a just and compassionate federal budget.

2. Prevent gun violence.

The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was just one in a long string of tragic and deadly incidents of gun violence. The devastating killings in Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., Ft. Bragg, Texas, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and Virginia Tech make it clear that we must immediately take steps to halt the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips. We join with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence in calling for change. For far too long, the National Rifle Association has been able to derail any discussion of how to prevent gun violence, but we must not allow them to obstruct the current movement toward change. We owe it to the memories of all those lives cut short by gun violence and hate to do all we can to make America safer. I call upon the Administration and Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing gun violence atrocities.

3. Develop compassionate immigration reform.

Everyone agrees that our current immigration system is broken. Millions of undocumented immigrants are living and working within U.S. borders without a path to citizenship. The Administration's focus on enforcement-only policies has not reduced that number but instead has led to the tearing apart of families, human rights abuses and even death. Legislative action is needed now to preserve families and save lives. The Unitarian Universalist Association is a signatory to the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's "Interfaith Platform on Humane Immigration Reform." We affirm that immigration policy reform should uphold family unity as a priority of all immigration policies; create a process for undocumented immigrants to earn their legal status and eventual citizenship; protect workers and provide efficient channels of entry for new migrant workers; facilitate immigrant integration; restore due process protections and reform detention policies; and align the enforcement of immigration laws with humanitarian values. I call upon the Administration and Congress to work together to develop compassionate immigration reform.

4. Protect all women in their reproductive lives.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Our country must commit to protecting all women and their reproductive lives with justice and compassion. Reproductive justice works to understand and address systemic inequalities as they relate to marginalized communities and people and their reproductive and sexual lives. As a human rights issue, reproductive justice promotes the rights of people to have the children they want to have, not to have children they don't want to have, raise their children in safe and healthy environments, and express their sexuality without oppression. I call upon the Administration and Congress to protect all women in their reproductive lives.

5. Marriage equality.

Last year was a watershed year in the ongoing struggle for marriage equality. This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Though this is now a matter for the judiciary and not the legislative or executive branches, it is my fervent hope that the freedom to marry will soon be a right afforded to all.

In the days, weeks, months and even years ahead, there will inevitably be other challenges to face in the ongoing process "to form a more perfect union." As we mark the 84th anniversary of the birth of Dr. King, I call upon the Administration, Congress, and all Americans to work toward the goal of "liberty and justice for all." There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.