As many of you may know, last weekend I traveled to Austin, TX to give a Platform for the Ethical Society of Austin. This came about in the wake of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade in June. Texas was already reeling under the oppressive abortion ban signed into law by their Governor last September. I had been in contact with Austin member (and new AEU president) Carolyn Walker asking how we could support them in their tiny Ethical outpost in the middle of country and soon I was invited out to give a platform!
I took the title for my talk from the very powerful panel presentation we held earlier this month: The Gavel Heard ‘Round the World. I was very honored to find out that my platform was the first hybrid Sunday platform they’ve done since the Pandemic put us all in time out and on the morning of September 25 about 7 people showed up in person with about the same joining in on Zoom. ESoA is a small society with about 20 members but it’s mighty. I told them in my platform that morning that their small society anchoring the middle of the country was more important that the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I said, “You know when Felix Adler founded the Society for Ethical Culture, it was in response to a great need in this world. A need to address the issues of the day, the injustices of the day, with the deeply held values of justice, of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every human, of deeds above creeds.”
And over the years, as that message spread, Ethical Societies sprang up around the nation. Mostly, and not surprisingly, on the East Coast, but also in more improbable places like Missouri and here in Austin, TX.
In fact, this Society connects the two coasts and is a lone, solitary way station in the middle of the country, deeply entrenched in a state with some of the greatest abuses of human rights writ into law.”
Then I went on to say, “Actually, I daresay your presence here, your commitment to our ethical values, your work for justice is exponentially more important and more valuable than the New York Society of Ethical Culture, or the string of societies that populate the East Coast, because here is where the need is greatest.
I will, of course, vote in the mid-terms in New York this November, but my vote will be just another blue drop of water in an ocean of blue. I attend protests and speak at rallies in New York, but they are not for citizens of New York whose rights are well protected.
Here, every time you show up to this building, or on Zoom, every time you vote, or attend a protest, or call your senator or representative you are a part of the resistance in the truest sense of the word. Dorothy Day once said, ‘Go where you’re least wanted, because there, you’re most needed.’ And you, friends, are more direly needed here. So, thank you. Thank you for taking up the standard of Felix Adler here where it’s needed most.”
It was a powerful time as I shared my ideas about creating an Ethical Choices Network around the nation whereby Ethical Societies (and other progressive faith communities such as Unitarian Universalists) in progressive states where the right to a safe, legal abortion still exists can support our kindred societies and organizations in states where that right has been taken away or severely limited.
After my platform address, we had about an hour conversation in which people shared their stories of hope and frustration, of fear and courage. One woman, a visitor, shared her own abortion story—one of the ways I suggested we could help normalize abortion has a basic health care decision, rather than continuing to stigmatize in the larger society.
Carolyn Walker also shared how the Society presidents would be meeting in Philadelphia (in person!) and were going to provide material for local societies to use in press releases, letters to the editors, and other ways.
This is Ethical Culture at its best: when we band together to do the work of justice for all people. When we let people know they’re not alone. When we answer the call to share our resources.
And this is what the New York Society of Ethical Culture does really well.
I have also been in conversation with the good folks at Choices Medical Clinic here in Queens. You may recall the founder of Choices, Merle Hoffman, gave a platform at NYSEC in August, on ‘Abortion, Love, Power, and Resistance.’ She founded Choices over 50 years ago, before Roe v. Wade as a means to provide safe, legal abortions to people from other states and has already seen an influx of Texans since September 2021.
I have discussed with her the possibility of NYSEC funding hotel vouchers for people traveling from other states to have an abortion and also providing comfort bags for folks as they leave the clinic and return to their homes. These bags would have pads, a little snack, a bottle of water, etc.
Here, in our own backyard, there is also need. Here, in our own neighborhood, NYSEC can provide the ethical support where its most needed.
Our weekend getaway is coming up. At a Leaders luncheon where we all met to discuss the theme, Joe Chuman suggested the theme of friends, in particular surprising or unlikely friendships people have, Richard Koral was going to present a platform on the values of friendship and thought that was a great idea. I suggested the Ram Dass quote as our main theme: “At the end of the day, we’re all just walking each other home.”
That’s what I was doing in Austin, and that’s what we’ll be doing with Choices Medical Clinic, and hopefully with other Societies and organizations locally and nationwide: walking each other home, making sure we get there safely, and ensuring there’s a light shining in the window to welcome us all.