UMW national exec featured in Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day

2/11/2019

The executive for Racial Justice for the national United Methodist Women planned to attend the 44th Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day.

But when Emily Jones registered, she didn’t plan on presenting. Ruby Thelander, spokesperson for event, had other ideas. After Jones registered, Thelander asked Jones to speak while at the event, Feb. 9 at Lincoln Christ UMC. And Jones was very excited for the opportunity. 

UMW national executive Emily Jones speaks during Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day, Feb. 9 in Lincoln. Photos by Rachel Shea

Nebraska Ecumenical Legislative Briefing Day is an opportunity to learn about legislature, how to contact representatives and discuss hot topics that are currently happening -- or in some opinion -- should be happening.  

Thelander said the event’s purpose “is to provide information about particular concerns we all share; to learn how these issues are being addressed in our legislature; to call together leadership in various disciplines to share their knowledge and on-site about the issues; to provide information about how to contact our senators regarding bills being debated and how their passage/defeat might affect us; and to provide material to share with church groups, family, friends and neighbors."

Open to people of all faiths, the event is designed to help participants understand the issues before the Nebraska Unicameral, where attendant bills related to those issues reside in the legislative process, and which state legislators are sponsoring them. 

This year, included in the estimated 200 in attendance, were 25 students from Creighton University in Omaha. Thelander said this is the third year Creighton students have attended, with numbers increasing each year. This year, the students led opening worship. 

“It brings a different energy,” Thelander said . 

The day is made up of workshops (of which participants may choose three) run by subject matter experts. 

New this year, was the workshop “Advocacy.” In this workshop, four speakers discussed various topics.  

  • Ruby Thelander explains the process of writing to a congressperson.

    Thelander spoke on how to write to senators, both what to say and how to best to send the letter.  

  • Andrea Paret, Great Plains Conference Peach with Justice coordinator, discussed immigration. She said “we need to realize why people come (to the USA). Most don’t want to leave home. They may fear for their lives or their children’s lives.  

  • Jones was able to speak on racial disparities. Jones said about 30 percent of children in Nebraska are children of color; however, 60 percent incarcerated children in Nebraska are children of color.  

  • Molly McCleery, program director/staff attorney --Healthcare Access Program at Nebraska Appleseed, spoke about Medicaid expansion. The expansion affects those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford healthcare. 

At the end of the workshop, people were encouraged to write to their state senators with paper, envelopes and stamps provided. 

This workshop, while one of five being held at the same time, consisted of more than one-fourth of all attendees. 

There were eight workshops in addition to “Advocacy":

  • “After Prison -- Then What?” Led by Ruth Karlsson, executive director of Released and Restored, spoke on the legislation related to enabling former prisoners in Nebraska to enter the world to be productive and successful.  “We lose sight of the beloved men and women in prison,” Karlsson said. 
  • “Children’s Issues” Juliet Summers, policy coordinator for Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice from Voices for Children, led discussion on what needs to be done in the legislature for the children of Nebraska. 
  • “The Power of Faith in Addressing Climate Change and Care for Creation” Ken Winston, Council for Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska, and the Rev. Penny Greer, board chair of Interfaith Power and Light, addressed the continuing concerns about climate change and how it affects everyone – especially since Nebraska is in an agricultural economy and dependent, at least in part, on the weather for the economic health of the state. 
  • Isabel Bousson discusses organizing the 2018 March for Our Lives
  • “March for Our Lives/School Safety”  Led by Isabel Bousson, a senior at Lincoln East High School and organizer of the 2018 March for Our Lives ( “It was cold,” she said of the 2018 March for Our Lives. “But their souls were fired up, so we were warm”) , this workshop focused on the steps needed to form a march and how Bousson has been working with the state legislature on possible actions to help keep students safe. “It doesn’t stop at the march,” Bousson said . 
  • “Advocating and Educating for Nebraska’s Behavioral Health System of Care” Annette Dubas, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organization, discussed how to address the problems of mental health in the community and what the are the alternatives to homelessness. 
  • “Public School Funding” Ann Hunter-Pirtle, executive director and founder of Stand for Schools, spoke about the use of taxes and how it may be ensured that public schools are well funded -- with an emphasis on upcoming state legislature. 
  • “Redistricting Reform: Is it Needed in Nebraska?” Led by Sherylyn Miller, president of the League of Women Voters, and Kate High, treasurer of the League of Women Voters, this workshop discussed this difficult topic and how it may be guaranteed that when redistricting is done, it is done fairly. 
  • “Breaking News” The Rev. Carol Windrum, retired director of Peace with Justice Ministries, and Tim Fickenscher, retired high school Montessori teacher, discussed issues that have come to light after the planning of the workshops. 

After the workshop, attendees meet for lunch before heading back into the sanctuary for the closing address. Jones and Fickenscher spoke at the closing. 

Jones started off by discussing the school to prison pipeline, what it means and what everyone can do. She thinks about how black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls – despite similar behavior. Thoughts like that, she said, can make you weep, like the women in the Bible.  

“We need to keep working towards justice,” Jones said. “To use the skills we’ve established here today.” 

She mentioned that it is one thing to hear a concern from one person, but it’s another thing to hear from the (200) in this room. 

“Be the change, said Jones. “There is much to be done and much that can be done. 

Jones mentioned the celebration of UMW turning 150 next month. She said that in all those 150 years, they never found the meaning of change they were seeking by biding their time and waiting on someone else to do the work. They commit to putting faith, hope and love into action. 

“We are just asked to do our part,” Jones closed with. “We’re not asked to be the light, God is the light. But we are asked to carry the torch as long as we can.” 

-- Rachel Shea, for the Great Plains Conference


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