Days 38-39 — meeting Randy Barry, Elliot Engel – and MLK anew

Special LGBT envoy Randy Barry and Ruth Messinger

Special LGBT envoy Randy Barry and Ruth Messinger

Here I am introducing Elliot Engel

Here I am introducing Elliot Engel 

Presenting Congressman Engel with a gift

Presenting Congressman Engel with a gift

MLK, Jr.

MLK, Jr.

Faith, me, and the Capitol

Faith, me, and the Capitol

While AJWS is known primarily for its funding of grass-roots organizations devoted to women, children, LGBT, and other marginalized groups in 19 countries of the Global South (countries in the developing world), it has also done important advocacy work in the US on behalf of these concerns abroad. It has been advocating not only for IVAWA (the International Violence Against Women Act), but was also a key mover behind the appointment of a special envoy for LGBT rights in the State Department.

In January when I spoke on behalf of AJWS at two congregations in Chicago in honor of Martin Luther King Day, some of my talking points were about these very two issues, and I distributed letters for folks to sign, calling on President Obama to appoint a special envoy for LGBT rights. As many of you know, Randy Barry was appointed to that position in March. This was a great step forward for LGBT rights domestically and globally, but it also spoke to the power of citizen engagement and advocacy on behalf of the issues that are important to us.

All of us who had worked on behalf of this campaign were thrilled when we found out that Randy Barry would be addressing us at this policy summit in DC. At breakfast this morning, he was eloquent and moving. He acknowledged that AJWS, through its leadership on the issue and the pressure we had put on the White House, was a prime mover of creating this position of special envoy for LGBT rights. He felt optimistic that there is support from the Administration and the State Department for what he is hoping to accomplish, but he was realistic that this will be a long game that will take years, possibly decades to win. Quoting Charles Radcliffe (head of global human rights issues for the UN), he said that the best time to plant a tree would have been 25 years ago; but the next best time is today.

Continuing with his theme of trees, Special Envoy Barry mentioned that his office is still basically undecorated because his stuff has yet to arrive from Holland, his last diplomatic post. The one thing he DOES have already hanging in his office, however, is a black-and-white photograph of a tree that Anne Frank saw from the secret annex. This had been a departure gift from Robert Leopold, the executive director of the Anne Frank House, who said to him that this tree had been a tree of hope to Anne and that he hoped it would also be a tree of hope to Randy in his work on global LGBT issues. In a world in which 77 countries criminalize homosexuality (constituting 1/3 of the world), he will certainly need to be reminded often of this tree of hope, lest he become disheartened.

The rest of the day was filled with workshops and advocacy training for our lobby visits on Capitol Hill tomorrow on behalf of both women’s and LGBT rights. Todd Larsen, LGBT coordinator for USAID (Agency for International Development) addressed us at a pre-dinner cocktail hour and reiterated how important a partner AJWS is in the world of economic development and human rights.

This evening’s banquet, however, was my opportunity to take the stage and introduce my congressman, Elliot Engel, who was an original co-sponsor of IVAWA. What a thrill. Even better was getting to sit next to him at dinner and find out that he lives just two blocks away from me in Riverdale. He spoke eloquently about the work of AJWS and of how truly important lobbying visits on the Hill are. One constituent visit is worth far more than even hundreds of emails.

After dinner two friends from my cohort (Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz and Rabbi Elliot Baskin) strolled down the entire Mall all the way from the Capitol Building to the Washington Memorial, then to the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and ultimately to the new and breathtaking (2011) Martin Luther King, Jr. National Monument. That was the perfect piece de resistance of our day, as so many of the quotes embedded in his memorial spoke to the work that AJWS does and that we have become so passionate about:

“Have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And my favorite of all: “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

That’s where I am and why I’ve become so committed to the work of AJWS, developing a global perspective, and marrying my Jewish faith to a broader vision and version of loyalty.

Tonight we have counted 39 days of the Omer, Endurance in Bonding.










2 thoughts on “Days 38-39 — meeting Randy Barry, Elliot Engel – and MLK anew

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