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Fri12132019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent.

The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister.

In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should ever be separated from its mother, the audience gasped—a collective intake of breath at the ironic current relevance of that age-old story. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment.

Barbara Fast, 67, has been in the desert for only a year and a half. She was born and raised in New York City, the only child of working parents.

“I was what used to be called a ‘latch-key kid,’” says Fast. “My mom and dad were big influences on me. I would get to go to work with my dad sometimes, at the Veterans Administration, and I learned to have respect for those who serve in any capacity in our government.”

In high school, Fast specialized in math and science. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy, and went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

“My senior high school year was 1968, when so much was going on, particularly the King and Kennedy killings,” she says. “I had already become involved in local political campaigns, and then once I was in college, there were the Kent State killings, bus riders in the South, and marches. Fairness and justice were always really important to me.”

As a lawyer, Fast went into trial practice. “It was what I seemed to be good at, and I loved the thinking,” she says. “I became a prosecutor in New York state—not a defense lawyer, because I was all about justice and discretion on behalf of the people. In the late 1970s, New York was coming out of bankruptcy; graffiti was everywhere. I felt I was participating in upholding standards. Every day, there were ethical issues.”

The work required an enormous commitment. Fast and her husband decided to move to Connecticut to start a family, and she began to teach law.

How did Fast go from law to religion?

“My husband is Jewish, and I’m sort of Catholic (from a mixed marriage),” she says. “We decided to raise our children in the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Westport. I was doing lots of volunteer work on environmental issues and was asked to give personal witness at the church for Earth Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing to do five minutes, but I realized then that although I had always been standing in the back, I wanted to be in front of the church. I wanted to engage the hearts of the people.

“We live in this world, and it’s about how to live with integrity and joy. We don’t know for sure what happens afterward, so we can only imagine and wonder. What I do now is about how we live our lives. If we can ask the right questions, we can get to the right answers.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘If it knocks more than once, it could be God knocking.’ I’ve never forgotten that. I applied to go part-time to Yale and felt at home in divinity school, studying the Old Testament and ethics.“

Fast met her husband, Jonathan, in college, but it wasn’t until they met again at an alumni event that they got together. They have now been married 35 years.

“I have three wonderful children: Molly, my stepdaughter, and two sons, Ben and Dan. Jon was a novelist, but we both made career shifts at about the same time. He started teaching social policy, and I went into divinity school.”

What brought them to the Coachella Valley?

“About two years ago, we decided to retire, after kicking it around for about a year. I had served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Connecticut, and I was tired. After the Sandy Hook shootings happened nearby, I was in a state of trauma. It was all just so sad.

“Jon was retiring, and our son Ben was in Los Angeles, so we looked around there. Then we came over the mountain originally thinking it was ridiculous—it was August, and the temperature was about 114! But we fell in love with this area. It’s affordable, and there are so many creative people here. We wanted a place that was near a UU church, and when we attended, we found a great group of people, friendly and smart. We knew the church was in transition; they weren’t ready at that time for a full-time pastor, but I did preach there a few times.”

Shortly after arriving in Rancho Mirage, Fast sought out the CV Rep Writers’ Group, run by Andy Harmon.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I had crafted stories as part of sermons, not just about individuals, but about human beings in general and the human condition, trying to make connections with how we are living now. I had presented stories, after gathering evidence and analyzing it, as a lawyer. Then I did it in sermons. Now I wanted to expand my capabilities. Biblical text is very compact, so when I was writing about Miriam, I asked myself, ‘Why did she go into the water? How did she get there, down the Nile? What must it be like to sacrifice your child?’”

Fast says a “calling” is when your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need: “It takes different shapes at different times of your life.”

Lucky for us, Fast’s current time of life is here in the desert. She shares stories with her “audience” every Sunday, making a difference in the community, and bringing goose bumps to her listeners.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Although California can’t do much to block the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, opponents in the “Resistance State” keep finding ways to chip away at their foundations.

The latest: pushing the state and its Democratic leaders to cancel its business deals with, investments in, and campaign donations from private companies with federal immigration contracts:

• A group of K-12 teachers are urging their retirement system to divest from GEO Group, CoreCivic and General Dynamics.

• Some University of California students and workers are pressing the UC system to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The company helps the system administer a placement test for incoming first-year students.

• Politicians and the state Democratic Party are shedding donations from CoreCivic, operator of private prisons and detention facilities.

“I don’t think we should profit off of the lives of other people,” said Adrianna Betti, one of hundreds of teachers who are urging CalSTRS, the organization responsible for the pensions of California K-12 teachers, to divest from the private prison companies. “The concept that I’m going to retire off of this type of money—it bothers me immensely.”

Betti told a recent CalSTRS investment meeting that the organization needs to provide more transparency about its portfolio and realize they are making moral choices with their dollars.

“Nobody with a moral lens would have made this decision ever,” she said.

Amid public outcry last month, President Donald Trump backed off of his initial policy of separating undocumented parents from their children at the border. “So we’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem,” he said. “At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border, and it continues to be a zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

More than 1,800 children have been reunited with families after being separated at the border, but more than 700 still remain separated—and some of those may be in California.

The state—which Trump branded “out of control” in its immigration defiance—passed a trio of laws last year designed to make California a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants who don’t commit serious crimes. Although the Trump administration sued to have the laws overturned, it has not yet been successful.

But the emotional family separations posed a particular frustration in Democrat-dominated California. Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined 17 other states in contesting the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy last month, arguing in the complaint that family separation is causing severe trauma that state resources will be strained to address.

The federal government “does have the right to decide how to conduct immigration processes. They’ve done a very poor job obviously—very harshly,” Becerra said on KQED earlier this month. “We are more limited there in what we can do as far as allowing these kids to be free.”

One move the state could make: divestment. It’s a tactic that various activists have proposed against gun manufacturers, tobacco companies and fossil-fuel firms. Successes include the UC divestment effort in the 1980s against South Africa, which Nelson Mandela credited with helping bring an end to the racist apartheid regime.

CalSTRS said it is determining potential risk factors the private prison companies may post to pensions. At its meeting, investment committee chairman Harry Keiley said he’s asked the chief investment officer update the board on the issue by September.

CoreCivic said in a statement that none of its facilities provide housing for children who aren’t under the supervision of a parent, adding, “We also do not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release.”

“We are proud that for over the past 30 years, we have assisted both Democrat and Republican administrations across the country as they address a myriad of public-policy challenges,” said the company spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. “CoreCivic has a strong commitment to caring for each person respectfully and humanely.”

Other educators are urging the UC system to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The University Council-AFT—the labor union that represents librarians, lecturers and other university faculty members—sent such a letter to UC president Janet Napolitano in June, who also received a similar letter from the Council of UC Faculty Associations, the umbrella organization that represents the different faculty associations at each campus.

The University of California Student Association, an organization that represents students across UC campuses, is also pressing the UC system to end its contract. “To work with a company actively taking part in the state sanctioned violence of separating families seeking asylum, and profiting from it is to be complicit in the inhumanity of their actions,” the association said in a letter to the president.

“This is still happening, and they’re not doing as much as they could,” said Stephanie Luna-Lopez, a third-year student at UC Berkeley and associate chief of community development for the Associated Students of the University of California, the student association for UC Berkeley. “We actually cannot do anything, because it’s out of our control.”

Napolitano contends that UC has contracted with the company for years; that it assured her they were providing case work for unaccompanied minors to facilitate reuniting families; and that breaking ties would be “detrimental” and “disruptive.” (Although she presided over significant numbers of deportations as head of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, Napolitano has denounced Trump’s separation policy.)

General Dynamics Information Technology has worked with the Office of Refugee Resettlement since 2000, providing casework support for the Department of Health and Human Services. It says it has no role in the family separation policy, but facilitates reunifications.

Democratic legislators and the Democratic Party have, since Jan. 1, 2017, collected some $250,000 from private-prison companies that incarcerate undocumented immigrants. Now they’re distancing themselves.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted last month that he would donate campaign money received from CoreCivic to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works with formerly incarcerated people to reform the justice system.

After CALmatters noted that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom received private prison money in his campaign for governor, an aide said Newsom donated $5,000 to the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Families Belong Together project, which protests Trump’s immigration policies.

The California Democratic Party has also announced it will no longer accept contributions from organizations that run private prisons or other incarceration services.

“The private-prison system represents so much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system,” said CDP chair Eric C. Bauman in a statement. “Accepting donations from companies that profit from the systemic injustices and suffering that results from them is incompatible with the values and platform of our party.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On this week's post-fireworks weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips debates the merits of the president; Red Meat enjoys some arts and crafts; This Modern World drops the first F-bomb in its decades-long history to make a point; Jen Sorenson offers a nod to European culture; and The K Chronicles admires what rich people have.

Published in Comics

On this week's Supreme Court-swinging weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson ponders the un-American invasion that's currently under way; The K Chronicles visits the National Black History Museum; This Modern World examines more incomprehensibly awful happenings; Red Meat is missing some magazines; and Apoca Clips asks Trumpy about Melania's jackets.

Published in Comics

On this week's zero-tolerance weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson shakes her head as Americans are separated from decency; The K Chronicles looks at the powers Trump claims ... and the powers he doesn't; This Modern World has problems with satire; Apoca Clips listens in at the summit; and Red Meat launches some missiles.

Published in Comics