North Shore Long Islanders can take pride in the splendid center on Shelter Rock Road in Manhasset that has been serving democracy and humanity for decades.
That task has become more challenging in recent years because concerns about truth “matters” are increasing exponentially.
We are now veering toward a severe crisis of “knowing,” not only being aware of what’s happening, but having an ability to discern what data is reliable. [It’s more than coincidental that April 2, 2018 was marked as the “Second Annual International Fact Checking Day”]
Truth is critical for a democracy – in both ways that it “matters.” first, that it is quintessentially “significant” to make informed judgments. Second, that if we are to achieve an effective and just society, we need to be cognizant of truth in the range of ways (“matters”) that require attention.
At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock last week, Rev. Ned Wright and Veatch director Joan Minieri led a discussion that showed ways their group fostered truth-telling.
A dramatic example for the evening was the support for 1971 printing of the entire Pentagon Papers in association with Sen. Mike Gravel, and by giving financial support to the Beacon Press.
They did this at a time when 35 publishers had declined.
Few offered explanations, but, most likely, they feared legal confrontations with the Nixon administration.
Wright and Mineri explained how their organization took those risks and endured legal hassles and expenses.
They distributed a Chicago Sun Times editorial (2/9/72) that praised UUA President Robert N. West for opposing authorities who “are prepared to stifle the voices of legitimate and responsible dissent.”
Over decades, those 1970s marker events spurred UUCSR, with its Shelter Rock Forums, and, especially, the Veatch Program, to deepen and expand commitments to democratic citizen empowerment.
A book about their efforts has been appropriately titled: “FUNDING JUSTICE: The Legacy of the Unitarian Veatch Program.”
Author Warren Ross published his study in 2005.
In its foreword, the Veatch leaders at the time (Carol Adams and Zed Kesner) said they were proud that their foundation’s grants strengthen and further the goals of Unitarian Universalism.
It is particularly noteworthy that UUSCR’s principles are so aligned with our nation’s highest values and aspirations.
Adams and Kessner emphasized Veatch objectives: “addressing the root causes of our society’s problems: why there are not enough jobs; why people are going hungry; why the economy and environment are under stress; why even our democracy is under stress.”
The deep and continuing commitments by Veatch bring to my mind words from a noted Kennedy speech: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Those aspirational words are emblematic of Veatch commitments and staying power; they are particularly relevant in 2018 during our 70th-year celebration of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and the key role played by Eleanor Roosevelt).
Veatch Executive Director, Joan Minieri emphasized the vital importance of “the power of speaking up and speaking out.”
The UUCSR Program, she said, strives “to make sure that people have the resources to do that.”
She drew a direct line from Pentagon Papers/Beacon Press support to the present.
In 2017, Veatch distributed nearly $13 million for citizen empowerment, including civil and constitutional rights, informed public discourse, democratic participation, environmental Justice and other key projects to foster inclusive and participatory democracy – where citizens care and act because they become informed.
Among UUSCR’s stated values: “Humanist principles which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”
Reverend Wright stated: “We are increasingly in need of reliable information that can be acquired quickly so that citizens can make informed decisions.” From recent and past Veatch grants, there are many examples of “people in the trenches telling the truth about what is happening in the country.”
During the past few years, more citizens are joining the “crusade against ignorance” that UUSCR and its Veatch Program have been fostering for more than half a century. Consider:
1. Sara and Jack Gorman, “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us”
2. Ben Berger, “Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement”
3. Bruce Bartlett, “The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies, and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks”
4. George Orwell, “1984” (revival during 2016)
5. Michiko Kakutani, “The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump” (forthcoming)
6. Eric Liu, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think”
Jefferson noted: “If we expect a nation to be ignorant and free, we expect what never was and never will be.”
UUSCR, Shelter Rock Forum, and Veatch Program have sustained and advanced citizen-empowered democracy. Kudos!