With the Rev. Jean O'Bresky looking on, Rev. Mary Westfall talks to Sen. Bob O'Dell about the state budget and anti-union legislation coming before the State Senate.Photo: AFSC / Arnie Alpert
Rev. John Gregory Davis called on “Passover Prophets and Resurrection Resisters” to bring a message of social justice to the New Hampshire State House at the United Church of Christ New Hampshire Conference’s second Advocacy Day, April 19, starting at South Congregational Church in Concord. After Rev. Gregory-Davis’ comments, orientation about current legislative developments, and a workshop on advocacy skills led by the AFSC’s Arnie Alpert, a few dozen UCC members and friends set off for the State House, four blocks away.
Several activists associated with the United Valley Interfaith Project joined up with others from the Granite State Organizing Project to testify against SB 160, one of two bills that threaten to bring back predatory payday and car title loans, allowing interest rates as high as 403%.
“We are here because SB 160 brings usury -- something we as people of faith have opposed for thousands of years -- back into New Hampshire,” Rod Wendt and Glinda Allen told the House Commerce Committee. “SB 160 will bring back predatory lending practices that will entrap poor people, people with little education and financial sophistication, in a downward spiral of debt. As people of faith, we find this exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable among us totally inconsistent with the values we hold dear -- of caring for the poor, being our brother’s keeper, showing compassion.”
In addition to attending hearings, participants swelled the ranks of Interfaith Voices for a Humane Budget, the AFSC-initiated group that has conducted vigils outside meetings of the Senate Finance Committee since the beginning of April. For Advocacy Day, the vigil moved to the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, whose revenue estimates will determine whether the Senate chooses to slash the budgets for essential services as deeply as the House did. “We are called to bring kindness and compassion to all those places where it has been lost,” said the Rev. Larry Brickner-Wood, of the UNH United Campus Ministry, in one of several prayers offered in the hallway outside State House Room 100, where Senate Ways and Means holds its meetings.
Sadly, furthering exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable among us appears to be entirely consistent with the priorities of legislative leaders, at least in the NH House, which approved its version of the budget March 31. State Senators are still deliberating over the budget, and whether they will respond to the urgent pleas of those who depend on taxpayer-supported programs for services that enable dignified lives remains to be seen.