Witherspoon luncheon hears
call to action from Congresswoman Maxine Waters
June 26, 2000
by Doug King
The Annual Witherspoon Society Luncheon was held on
Sunday, June 25, at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach. Some 250 people were
present to hear Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat from the 35th
District of California, say that after hearing the presentation of awards
and other announcements, she thought maybe she had "gone to liberal
For the opening prayer,
offered by Witherspoon board member Vicki Moss, click here.
New moderator Syngman Rhee drops in
The Rev. Syngman Rhee, who just the day before was
elected Moderator of the 212th General Assembly, stopped at the
Witherspoon luncheon long enough to eat, meet the guest speaker Rep.
Waters, and speak to group. He praised Witherspoon for its
"continuing efforts to bring peace and justice in our own
communities, within our own church, and around the world." He closed
with a pledge that "as moderator, I'll be delighted to work with you
continually, in order that the peace of God and the justice of God may
prevail in our own church, and in our land, and throughout the
Waters calls for a more just "criminal
[The full text of her address will be published here as
soon as it is available.]
Ms. Waters touched on many
issues: the death penalty, Elian Gonzalez and relations with Cuba, the
need for change in the criminal justice system, the World Trade
Organization, the troubles of the Democratic Party, and more.
Speaking of her own party, she said the Democrats have
become a "which way" party which is unsure of its basic
direction. Many of the party's members and supporters are lower or lower
middle class, workers, union members -- yet the party leadership is moving
more and more to the right -- partly because the Right has gained enough
power to scare the politicians of both parties.
As one example she cited Vice President Al Gore's move
to support some kind of asylum for Elian Gonzalez. That odd move lost him
11% of his support in polls, she said, and that support has not come back
So the growing power of the Right is a matter of real
concern, she said. And she had noticed that the same concern was felt in
the Witherspoon Society.
In looking at the criminal justice system she pointed to
penalties for drug use which are disproportionately harsh on the drugs
more commonly used in African-American communities (crack cocaine), and
much lighter on "white" drugs such as powder cocaine. When we
realize that the flood of cocaine came largely through the
"Iran-Contra" efforts of the CIA, and that big dealers generally
get off easy while street dealers are punished severely, we see a system
which discriminates harshly against people of color.
One way to deal with the problem, rather than adding
harsher sentences and building more prisons, is to improve services to
people caught in the drug culture -- services of treatment, education,
rehabilitation, and more.
Waters urged Witherspooners to get involved in this
issue, as they have in Jubilee 2000, which has been "a wonderful
coming together of churches in the U.S. and around the world, so that
politicians sat up and took notice." "As you have dealt with
debt relief," she went on, "you can help us confront the drug
She concluded by affirming that, in spite of this
country's move toward the right, and in spite of the time and energy we
have lost in our efforts for peace and justice because of the power of the
right (and the religious right), it feels less lonesome being in touch
with groups like Witherspoon. We need to work together, she said,
especially as even the Democratic Party struggles with the question of
"Which way America?" If Ralph Nader gets the support of 11% of
the voters in California polls, it can only be because he is saying
something that some people really want to hear. And we need to be saying
and working for those same things.
Awards presented to Rod Martin, Blase and
The Andrew Murray Award was presented by Lois
Baker of Houston, Texas, a long-time peace activist,
to Rod Martin, former president of the Witherspoon Society, and Executive
Director of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA)
from 1972 through 1990.
Baker said she thinks of Rod Martin as a truly "big
man" -- not just physically, which he is, but morally. He is a man
whose love has always embraced others, whose passion for justice has been
steady and powerful.
Because Rod's health made it impossible for him to be
present, one of his daughters, Shona Kiilsgaard, received it for him.
Shona is pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Pismo Beach, California.
The Witherspoon Congregation Award this year
became the Organization Award, as it was presented to Blase and Theresa
Bonpane, who share leadership of the Office of the Americas in Los
Angeles. The Rev. Hank Bremer, former Treasurer of Witherspoon and a
long-time friend of the Office of the Americas, presented the award. Blase
and Theresa spoke briefly of their commitments to peace and justice in
Latin America and elsewhere.