Column: A Raging Spirit

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Photo: Bobby Kennedy.

Having just finished reading Chris Matthews’ book, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit,” I find myself yearning for a time when we had great national leaders on both sides of the aisle that struggled and fought to make our country better.

I was reminded of my liberal Catholic upbringing, when helping the poor and those in need was a noble cause. Unlike today when our President labels hard-working families as criminals, rapists, and free-loaders deserving deportation. Our faith taught us to take a stand for the rights of all Americans rather than choosing some while turning our backs on others, like a Miami school teacher who just wanted to marry the love of her life, not to make a statement or to get fired from the job she loved doing.

That liberal Catholic upbringing guided many to become involved in their communities, some becoming national leaders like Bobby Kennedy, to push for the rights of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and poor Americans living in harsh poverty throughout the country.

Today our society awards the wealthy 1 percent with enormous tax cuts while hard-working families struggle to get by. We elect a self-absorbed tyrant rather than moral leaders like Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. who were both assassinated in 1968 before finishing the work they started that helped move this great nation forward on its noble journey.

Back here in our Island City, I have received some negative feedback from numerous residents over my recent statements on the Archdiocese of Miami. My comments were in no way attacking St. Clements Church or the services they and other non-profits carry out by serving those in and around our great city.

Long before the Archdiocese of Miami fired a school teacher for getting married to her same-sex partner, I have been a strong advocate for charging our non-profits their fair share of the Fire and EMS services they receive here in Wilton Manors. Like all city’s residents, some on fixed incomes, some just getting by from paycheck to paycheck, some struggling to raise families, we all have to pay our bills. We have to pay our electric bill, our insurance premium, and our water bill and yes, the city’s Fire Assessment Fee, a bill that pays for the Fire and EMS services we all need.

Up until 2015, our city’s non-profits paid nothing for the services they used, while residents were charged more to cover those costs. Since 2015, the city has moved to charge non-profits a portion of those fees with the understanding that that percentage would continue to rise on a sliding scale upward over a few years covering more of the cost of those services. Churches and other non-profits still and always will enjoy their tax-free status. That is the privilege earned by the role they play in our society, by providing crucial social services and other public benefits.

Here in our Island City, in Broward County, in Miami-Dade, in most Florida counties along with almost all of the Fortune 500 companies that employ Florida residents, there are laws protecting LGBT residents from discrimination, laws that protect them from being fired for marrying their same-sex partner.

So why are many of our residents willing to turn a blind eye when the Archdiocese chooses to operate in such a punitive and hateful manner? One respected member of our community stated at our last City Commission meeting that the firing was legal and that the teacher knew the conditions of her employment working for a private religious institution. Really? Is it too much to ask that the largest non-governmental provider of social services, schools, and hospital systems in South Florida morally act on the same playing field that this community demands from everyone else. I think so!

Pope Francis recently highlighted the work of fellow Catholic Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Workers movement during the Great Depression. Dorothy Day railed against inequality and promoted the idea of an inclusive “human family.” Perhaps it’s time for the Archdiocese of Miami to reexamine their priorities and embrace the human family that is South Florida.

Only by holding ourselves to higher standards instead of self-interest, not turning a blind eye to injustice, and demanding the same from community leaders and elected officials will we continue to make life just better here.

                  “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.

            Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out

            against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a

            million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can

            sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”


                                                                                                Bobby Kennedy 1966

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