Stamford, CT -- More than 400 Connecticut residents, health care reform advocates, and clergy attended an evening prayer vigil that began at Senator Joe Lieberman's Alma Mater, Stamford High School. The vigil transformed into a candlelight march to the senator's condo building, where participants sang "This Little Light of Mine." Unexpected drama came at the conclusion of the event as clergy--including rabbis, pastors, reverends, and imams--attempted to deliver a communal letter calling for Lieberman to support health care reform. They were met with police, who blocked access to the building while neighbors stood on their balconies watching the procession. Building resident Shirley Binin, who had walked with the crowd, stepped up and received the box of prayers and walked into the building while vigil participants chanted, "We will be back."
The prayer vigil and candlelight march was organized by Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care as a symbolic way of reaching out to Senator Lieberman short of going to Washington. Frustrated by attempts to schedule a meeting with Lieberman, who has not made himself available, Connecticut health care leaders decided to bring their message to Lieberman's doorsteps. The group had met with Senator Christopher Dodd in the spring and has reached out to Senator Lieberman but did not get the same response. For a man who loves the spotlight, he manages to hide from the glare of his constituents. While he preens, people die, and will continue to die because of senators like Lieberman, who have determined that their convictions are more important than their constituents lives. Go figure.
Stamford mayor Dan Malloy, who has announced his candidacy for governor, opened the vigil by waxing poetic. He noted that the site of the vigil was the same place where Lieberman graduated high school, accepted his place on the Democratic ticket in 20002, and announced his run for president in 2004. It is also symbolic that Lieberman chose to move across the street, around the corner from where he grew up and attended synagogue. The same building--once a synagogue where he received his bar mitzvah--is now Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, and the pastor, Dr. Tommy Jackson, was the first of many prayer leaders standing outside of Lieberman's condo complex. Dr. Jackson prayed for inclusiveness and said that Senator Lieberman is a man of faith, conviction and, hopefully, a man of conscience.
Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, one of many prayer leaders present at the vigil, leads West Hartford's Congregation Beth Israel, and sees first hand the effects of a lack of adequate insurance on older residents, many of whom struggle on fixed incomes to meet daily living costs. "It is one thing to vote against a measure, it is completely unconscionable to block legislation of preventing the measure from coming to the floor for a vote, as the framers of our Constitution provided," he said.
Rally attendee Mark Sullivan, who is a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, said that among industrial nations the United States is the 40th in life expectancy and 29th in infant mortality, while Americans pay twice as much for health care. Meanwhile more than 44,000 people in the United State will die this year because of lack of health insurance and access to affordable medical care.
For Rabbi Ron Fish of Congregation Beth El in Norwalk, CT, the respectful, interfaith vigil was a positive sign: "It was very exciting to see such a diverse and passionate group tonight call for justice together--all while remaining respectful and hopeful. Really, I think our area shined tonight with the power of a positive vision for change. I feel truly privileged to be one of the voices demanding the future we deserve."
Senator Lieberman, what is it that your conscience tells you?
Here's the letter given to Senator Lieberman from the Concerned Clergy of Connecticut , which was signed by seventy clergy leaders:
We are not politicians. We are not doctors. We are not financial analysts.
We are rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and pastors.
This does not mean that our political, medical or fiscal views should be taken any more seriously than anyone else's. We acknowledge that everyone must evaluate the complex and myriad questions that appear in the health care reform debate based upon their own judgments. Certainly our elected political leaders must weigh the problems of cost, availability and sustainability when redesigning such a large portion of our economy.
But our areas of expertise do come into play in this debate. The moral question of what kind of society we seek to build should underlie any deliberation on the question of health care reform. We surely disagree over many subjects of theology and politics, over questions of faith and dogma. But whether from the words of Torah or the Gospels of Jesus, whether from the Talmud or the Koran--our traditions all are explicit and clear on one thing: We are commanded to seek the welfare and healing of all those in our midst, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable. Our understanding of the insights of Jewish, Christian and Muslim thought on how we should navigate through the complex challenges of modern life compel us to speak out together in favor of major change that will extend the benefits of modern medicine to all our fellow citizens.
For us this is not an intellectual exercise. We work in our communities, among the sick and scared, who face not only illness but financial ruin when disease strikes. We see hard working people denied care because of pre-existing conditions. We see families with health insurance that they simply cannot afford. We see doctors and nurses whose vocation is to mend the broken, frustrated that their efforts are directed toward profits and paperwork rather than people and healing.
It is for this reason that we insist that the moral imperative of our time is clear. Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious tradition should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal health care in America.
It happens that we are all also citizens of the State of Connecticut. This fact leads us to ask our Senator Joe Lieberman- what is it that you stand for? We ask you to sit down with us, a diverse group of clergy, and your constituents, and answer the most important moral questions. How can you justify your threat to block this much needed reform against the will of the majority? How is it that you can stand in the way of our fellow citizens being granted access to life saving technology? When you speak of values and conscience, what exactly do you understand to be the morality of our current system?
When concerned about questions of finance, we turn to the independent analysis of the CBO, which suggests that a "public option" will reduce long term costs and lighten the fiscal burden of the government. When interested in the effect on medicine, we trust doctors, like the AMA, who approve this approach. When considering the effect on seniors, we turn to the AARP, which also endorses reform.
But when speaking of morality and conscience, when pursing a calling to goodness and justice--on these matters we have something to offer. Our voices reflect our traditions and our understanding of what God asks of us.
Senator Lieberman, what is it that your conscience tells you?