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In Gratitude for Pete Seeger and Justice-Seeking Texas United Methodist Women

Last night I sat in a hotel conference room with close to 200 Texas United Methodist Women at the 26th annual UMW Legislative Event, listening to a presentation entitled “200 Years of Women as Change Agents” by Dr. Kristen Contos Krueger. “Women’s movements for change in the U.S. generally have three things in common,” she said.

“Number one: They give voice to the voiceless—those without power, means, or opportunity.” Just before this presentation, these UMWs had finalized their 2014 Legislative Agenda. It calls for faithful advocacy on five priority issues: expanding Medicaid; restoring cuts in funding for education; creating a more humane criminal justice system with improved mental health programs; planning for a sustainable water and energy future for Texas; and implementing sensible regulation on the predatory lending industry. I’d say all of those fit into the category of “giving voice to the voiceless.”

“Number two: They organize in diverse, unexpected groupings—across race, education, and class lines.” This was a multi-racial crowd, to be sure—and probably also multi-class. The biggest challenge in terms of diversity for this group was its lack of middle-aged to younger women. (This is a challenge for many women’s religious groups right now.)

“Number three: They are led by women of faith.” Right. In this case, Methodists and a smattering of Christians from other denominations.

As Dr. Krueger walked us through the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the feminist movement, she pointed out their links and interconnections, and the fact that most women participated in more than one.

“These were not separated, individual movements,” she said. “These were all just chapters in one long, connected narrative of social change—and in being here tonight and lobbying your legislators at the Capitol tomorrow, you are part of that narrative.”

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This morning, Austin woke up to freezing rain and sleet. Our intrepid advocates suffered a few falls on icy sidewalks before deciding not to risk life and limb for legislative visits.

The other thing we woke up to this morning was news of Pete Seeger’s death.

I have to believe that Pete would have loved the Texas UMWs who come to Austin every year to learn, to pray, and to advocate. Like he did, they look honestly at the injustices of the world, but they do not flinch and they do not quietly acquiesce. In fact, there’s nothing quiet about them! Like Pete did, they do what they can to change the world for the better—with determination, with hope, and sometimes with song.

When our speaker last night showed a picture of Rosa Parks, she asked the crowd which version of the Rosa Parks story they knew—the one most people are told about a tired woman with sore feet who just didn’t want to get up from her seat that day; or the true story—the one about a woman who was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP; the one about an activist who had recently attended a training about advocating for workers’ rights and social equality; the one about a determined, prepared woman who routinely refused to move from her seat on the bus, so much so that bus drivers would sometimes deliberately not stop when they saw her waiting.

The Texas UMWs knew the true story, and I was not surprised. When Dr. Krueger told them, “Real change happens when women are organized,” they nodded, knowingly. It is because they are organized that they are so effective.

Today, I am listening to Pete Seeger music, in gratitude for a life full of song, honestly sung. I am also reflecting on his dedication to social change and environmental justice, and the way he used his gifts to bless the world.

It seems fitting to be remembering his life on this, the last day of the 2014 UMW Legislative Event. If the women hadn’t been iced-in this morning, perhaps they would have started their day of legislative visits at the Texas Capitol by singing “If I Had a Hammer.” I bet Pete would have liked that.

Participation—that's what's gonna save the human race. -Pete Seeger

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Above photo used courtesy of Jim-The Photographer, via Flickr Creative Commons.

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