We also hear this discomfort and fear expressed in the scapegoating of blacks, Jews, gays, and other minorities; in the backlash against women who want to control their own bodies; in the vehement objections to gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual Americans who want equal rights; and in the vocal attack on public education because it is open to children of different races, religious traditions, and social backgrounds, or because it teaches about evolution.
Although these discontents can be heard in varying degrees throughout the land, the discord is particularly intense in Pennsylvania. This is why the Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy (PAD)2 was founded.
PAD was created by progressives and moderates in Pennsylvania to be the statewide, umbrella organization to promote public education about democracy and to coordinate responses to right-wing attacks on democratic values and institutions in Pennsylvania. The mission of PAD is "to create and sustain a community of groups and individuals who will engage in promoting democratic values including respect for a diverse society, separation of church and state, and individual rights as guaranteed in the Constitution." PAD also has adopted policies in support of civil rights, equal rights for sexual minorities, intellectual freedom, nonviolence, public education, religious liberty, and reproductive rights.
Scientific discoveries, social transformations, and changing control over lands regarded as sacred have been hard on religious fundamentalists3 worldwide in the last century. Fundamentalists' understanding of the sacred has been challenged, and their concept of the proper social order has been turned on its ear by the human rights movement, not just in the United States but in many parts of the world. These changes have become a serious threat to many religious leaders' influence over the moral and social life of their congregations. It is not surprising that these challenges have stimulated strong fundamentalist backlashes, which are characterized by efforts to promote theocracies and reject democracy and pluralism.
Outside the United States, Ayatollah Khomeini led Islamic fundamentalists to revolt in Iran; Sunni Muslims are warring against the Egyptian government; fundamentalist Palestinian Hezbollah and Hasidic Jews are fighting the compromises needed for peace between Palestine and Israel; the Taliban in Afghanistan are establishing an extremely theocratic state; and the Hindu "nationalism" movement in India is working to purge members of other religions from government.
In the United States, the backlash has also had a political dimension. It is exemplified by the political nature of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, Robert Simonds' Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE), the American Family Association, and many others. The reactions of these groups are often seen as a response to civil rights gains, the feminist movement, the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970's, and affirmative action legislation. The groups have been even more outraged by the series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions which affirmed the separation of church and state and stopped state-sponsored prayer in public schools, and the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion.4 With the spread of television, and now the Internet, the ideas about individual rights represented in these decisions are broadcast into every home.
Typical backlash reactions include remarks like those by Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition, who has said that "the feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."5 At another point Robertson railed, "The radical left has kept us in submission because they have talked about separation of church and state. There is no such thing in the Constitution. It is a lie of the left and we are not going to take it anymore."6
James Dobson of Focus on the Family, claims that the "church has not just the right, but the duty" to challenge a governmental leader who "acts contrary to Biblical fidelity" and states that "I'm prepared to pay with my life" in support of this right.7 And Rev. Jerry Falwell, in his book America Can Be Saved, stated, "I hope I live to see the day when ... we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them." In a spate of religious intolerance in 1998, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss); Randy Tate, the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition; and Rev. Reggie White, the Green Bay football player, all attacked gays and lesbians in the national press. Their rhetoric followed a well-established pattern in which religion is used to justify racism, anti-Semitism, and the scapegoating of minorities.
Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue and a New York Congressional candidate in 1998, said to a pro-choice audience, "When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee because we will find you, we will try you, and we'll execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed."8
In Pennsylvania, Mark Thomas, former leader of the Pennsylvania branch of the Aryan Nations, claimed, "My Bible says that the Jews are the people of Satan. ... and our God has commanded us to exterminate them."9
Some areas of the United States have been more open to right-wing demagoguery than others. Pennsylvania is a case in point.
The Vulnerability of
This Commonwealth is much more conservative than the neighboring states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and the New England states. Only Florida has more senior citizens as a percent of population than Pennsylvania, and only Rhode Island has a higher percent of Catholics. Demographically, Pennsylvania is the fourth most rural state in the country. These factors have contributed to a deeply rooted social conservatism. In the many old coal-mining communities, descendants of Welsh, Irish, Italian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Serbian, Lithuanian, German, and Polish miners still divide along ethnic lines, each going to a different ethnic Catholic church and their own social club. "Religion and ethnicity outweigh income as primary motivational factors in Pennsylvania's high nonpublic [school] enrollments," according to the analysis of U.S. Census data by Albert Menendez of Americans for Religious Liberty. "Both Catholic separatism and Protestant domination of public schools have combined to create a higher than normal preference for parochial education among the state's Catholic communities."10
Furthermore, Pennsylvania lost its coal industry during the depression, and then its steel industry after WWII, leaving behind black-lung disease and unemployment. Labor unions, which had acted as a bridge among ethnic communities, began to lose members. Family farms began disappearing in Pennsylvania, creating a class of rural poor who own land and may still work small, marginal farms but now drive school buses or work in town to make a living. Many have little income to pay the real estate taxes needed to replace old schools.
These factors – an older population, conservative religious traditions, and strong ethnic identities – create a resistence to social change. Added to this are feelings of economic disenfranchisement stemming from the long-running series of economic dislocations. These attitudes about social displacement and disenfranchisement pass down through families as stories about hard-working people being unfairly marginalized. "Pennsylvania has long been a pacesetter ... for church-state disputes," notes Albert Menendez. "The Supreme Court decisions on prayer and Bible reading in public schools were initiated in Pennsylvania, as were a number of parochiaid,11 abortion, equal access, and religious garb cases."12
Not surprisingly, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family identified Pennsylvania as the northeastern state where their religious-right message of skewed "family values," which scapegoated minorities, feminists, gays, and liberals, would find more acceptance than elsewhere in the Northeast.
As a result, Pennsylvania was selected as a staging platform in the Northeast for their campaign to gain political control of local schools, state legislatures, and Congress.13
In the early 1990's, progressive leaders14 and moderates in Pennsylvania became increasingly alarmed by the rising tide of right-wing political power in the Commonwealth. Several well-funded right-wing groups lobbied effectively to compromise civil rights and civil liberties by subverting the legislative practice of holding public hearings. In the absence of public hearings, legislators would change a few words in existing legislation or bury their right-wing initiative in the text of an unrelated bill.15 As a result, the press was often unaware of what was happening and consequently did not publish news stories to inform citizens. Many of the changes made by this legislative tactic have had disastrous effects on the civil rights of gays, on women's health clinics, and on programs for the poor. In their more public initiatives, Pennsylvania right-wing legislators had the support of national organizations that provided slick publications and radio and television programming.
After extensive discussion among the PAD founders, it was decided to get organized as a nonpartisan16 organization. In 1995, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy (PAD) was incorporated as the statewide, umbrella organization to promote and coordinate moderate and progressive responses to the right wing.
Founding members of PAD believed progressives could mount an effective educational effort against the right wing. Our assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the right in Pennsylvania indicated that its primary strength was its vertical organization, which linked national, state, and local levels and used churches as a distribution system for literature and voters' guides.
However, the general public was more liberal on important values than the rhetoric of the right wing suggested.17 Also, PAD was not starting from scratch. At the state level, capable, well established organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and others were already in place. What was missing was, first, a unifying set of policies around which cooperation among moderates and progressives could be managed. The second missing element was the organizational capacity among progressives to communicate efficiently statewide, to coordinate effectively, and to pull into the network the many smaller moderate and progressive groups and individuals who were out of the information loop.
In 1996, a long-range strategy was outlined for PAD that included forming a board of experienced progressive leaders, defining the common values and policies around which cooperation could be orchestrated, developing a statewide communication system, expanding PAD's network to grassroots groups and individuals, creating an effective mechanism for working together over the long haul, and ramping up the activity level of PAD in helping progressives who were working on issues consistent with our mission and policies.
By 1999, most of the elements of PAD's 1996 strategic plan were in place. This was a significant accomplishment, one that was necessary for a systematic, long-range response to the right.
Today, PAD has board members and advisors who are of different races, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, faith traditions, and secular perspectives. This diversity is unified by shared perceptions and values. Those involved in PAD share an appreciation that there are many different and rewarding ways for any person to celebrate the spirit18 and to understand this world. Second, they agree with PAD's mission and policies. Third, they understand that by working together our effectiveness in implementing moderate and progressive programs statewide and locally is greatly increased. And finally, PAD offers each moderate and progressive another opportunity to validate in action that which is most authentic about him- or herself. "Without the sense of collaboration with like-minded beings," wrote Albert Einstein, "in the pursuit of the even unattainable in art and scientific research, my life would have been empty."19
It has been PAD's strategy from the beginning to work with and through the existing leadership of organizations to help facilitate communications and networking; to promote coalitions, coalition building, and partnering; to highlight issues of common concern; and to be a resource for information and technical skills. In short, PAD is designed to make existing organizations more efficient and effective while supporting the leadership of these organizations, many of whom are PAD board members or advisors.
PAD's strategy of collaboration among equals is a very different organizational approach from that of the right wing. Their top-down, authoritarian command structure is lead by mostly white, Christian patriarchs. This undemocratic approach would not work among progressives who prize democracy and are distinctly independent thinkers.
PAD's strategy of collaboration is also based on leveraging and partnerships. We leverage the strengths of proven progressive leaders beyond their usual sphere of influence, which historically has been limited to their own organizations. They collaborate through PAD as partners who receive mutual benefit without sacrificing their independence.
The number of moderates and progressives joining PAD has increased fourfold in the last couple of years. PAD board members and advisors are some of the most experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled progressives in the Commonwealth. They understand the effectiveness of cooperation, that we all get stronger as one gets stronger.
Excerpted from It's a Matter of Values, by Clark Moeller, Past President of Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy.
1 Powers, Richard, "American Dreaming," New York Times Magazine, Sunday, 7 May 2000, p. 66.
2 PAD is a 501c3 organization incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1995, with organizational development following in 1996.
3 Fundamentalists, a definition: The majority of fundamentalists consider themselves "people of the book. ... Jewish, Christian, and Muslim fundamentalists alike reject the ‘decoupling' of religion and science by secular modernists. By elevating natural knowledge and disregarding revealed truth, they argue, secularists have disrupted the proper relationship between knowledge and wisdom. One result, fundamentalists in the three traditions contend, has been the destruction or loosening of normative restraints that would otherwise harness the dehumanizing forces of ...technology."(Mendelsohn, Everett, as cited by Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education. The Fundamentalism Project, sponsored by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993: p. 5)
4 Sandel, Michael J., Democracy's Discontents: American in Search of a Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1996), pp. 55-90.
5 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) fund-raising letter. Iowa, 1992.
6 People for the American Way, The Christian Coalition After Ralph Reed at www.pfaw.org/issues/right/bg_cc.shtml
7 Center for Democracy Studies. Promise Keepers Watch (March 1997), p. 4.
8 Address to U.S. Taxpayers Alliance, August 8, 1995. In his 1998 congressional race he received 8% of the vote.
9 Anti-Defamation League. Danger: Extremism (New York: Anti-Defamation League,1996), p. 152.
10 Menendez, Albert J., Who Goes to Nonpublic Schools: A Study of U.S. Census Data (Silver Springs, MD: Americans for Religious Liberty, 1998), pp. 3, 16.
11 "Parochiaid" is public aid to parochial schools.
12 Menendez, Albert J., Who Goes to Nonpublic Schools: A Study of U.S. Census Data (Silver Springs, MD: Americans for Religious Liberty, 1998), p. 16.
13 Leavy, Deborah, "From the Director's Desk," The Civil Liberties Record, The Newsletter of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (Spring 1994), p. 2.
14 Representatives included the leaders of Planned Parenthood Advocates of PA, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania NOW, Inc., the Freedom to Learn Network, Pennsylvania Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), and some local groups, including the Freedom and Tolerance Network and the Bradford County Coalition for Choice.
15 The adoption of House Bill 115 in 1999 is a classic example.
16 In the early 1990's, Elsie Hillman from Pittsburgh, who was a member of the National Republican Committee, funded a kick-off conference that resulted in a series of meetings out of which PAD emerged as an organization. Senator Allen Kukovich(D) was an early board member and is now a PAD advisor. PAD continues today as a nonpartisan organization with Republican, Democratic, and Independent participants.
17 For example, according to Alan Wolfe's study, 83.6% of Americans agree with the statement, "There are many different religious truths and we ought to be tolerant of all of them" (Wolfe, Alan. ONE Nation, After All. New York: Viking, 1998., p. 62), more than 2 to 1 agree that respect for homosexuals should be taught (Wolfe, p. 76), and there is an acceptance of immigrants, 76% indicating a "welcoming" or at least a "qualified" acceptance of immigrants. (Wolfe, p. 140) In addition, "Seventy-six percent of Americans oppose a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion." (The New York Times Magazine, "Typical: The Likes and Dislikes of Today's Everyfamily," 1 November 1998. p. 42)
18 Robert Wuthnow: In the United States "the character of spirituality appears to be changing ...the deeper meaning of spirituality seems to be moving in a new direction in response to changes in U.S. culture." ... Americans' "beliefs are becoming more eclectic, and their commitments are often becoming more private." (Wuthnow, p. 1)
19 Einstein, Albert, untitled essay in What I Believe (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1984), p. 25.