Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri: It’s Not Just for Lawyers

By Blake Heath, Chair of the Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri

Since September of 2011, I have had the privilege of serving as the chair for the newly formed Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri (YPB).  The goal of the YPB is to support the mission and programs of Legal Aid of Western Missouri through social events, fundraising initiatives, and community outreach efforts.  Many people are unfamiliar with the work that Legal Aid does or they assume that the organization is just a bunch of lawyers so there is no need or way for them to get involved.  The YPB hopes to spread the message of what Legal Aid does and to change the perception that the organization is just for lawyers.   Below is more information about the YPB and a brief description of some of the work we have done and will be doing in the future.

In December of 2010, the staff at Legal Aid put together a small focus group of various young professionals in the Kansas City area to explore ways Legal Aid could raise awareness about the mission of Legal Aid, recruit volunteers, and raise financial support.  Legal Aid recognized that older more established attorneys made up the majority of its volunteer and financial support base.  Legal Aid wanted to expand that base to younger individuals, and Legal Aid wanted to find support outside the legal profession.  After several more meetings, the YPB was officially formed to help Legal Aid recruit young professionals willing to further the mission of Legal Aid.

While Legal Aid’s primary purpose is to provide access to the legal system for clients who are normally shutout of the legal system, the work has a much deeper impact on our community.  For instance, Legal Aid is a leader in converting abandoned properties in the urban core of Kansas City into occupied, high quality housing.  Every year, their Economic Development team works with the City and other not-for-profit agencies to bring litigation that brings 80-100 abandoned properties up to code.  Legal Aid’s work in obtaining Protective Orders and divorces for hundreds of victims of domestic violence every year has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of stopping the cycle of violence.  And, every year they get hundreds of people who are permanently and totally disabled access to long-term, pro-active medical care by getting them onto Medicaid when their benefits have been wrongly denied or terminated.

To help support these programs and the mission of Legal Aid, the YPB has been active since its formation in September of 2011.  We have participated in the annual Party with a Purpose, held informational sessions where Legal Aid staff attorneys described their practice areas, assisted with the construction of a one-of-its-kind playground for children with disabilities, and participated in the Run for Justice 5K put on by the Lawyers Association of Kansas City.  In addition to these events, we will be sponsoring a charity bingo event this summer, we have tables for our members at the Legal Aid Justice for All luncheon, we will promote and participate in Legal Aid’s annual golf tournament, and in the fall we will travel to rural Lafayette County Missouri to volunteer with Legal Aid’s Migrant Farm Workers Project Monday Night Outreach.

If you would like to find out more about the YPB or any of our upcoming events, then please feel free to contact me at  You can also find us on Facebook at Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

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A review of Sr. Maria Riley’s paper: “Can We Talk about Social Protection?”

A review of a paper by Sr. Maria Riley, O.P. of the Global Women’s Project of the Center of Concern, Washington, D.C.

Once again Sr. Maria Riley, O.P., from the Center of Concern’s Global Women’s Project brings a thoughtful, forceful paper for our reflection and response.  In “Can We Talk about Social Protection?” she discusses how to improve our current social safety net system so that a true and viable social protection system exists for all citizens.  This paper is a follow-up to last month’s “Shredding the Social Safety Net.”

In this paper, Sr. Maria points out that these are difficult times in the United States.  Vulnerable people in our society are plagued by unemployment, growing poverty – extreme poverty in some 1.4 million households – as well as hunger and food insecurity.  The society is also witnessing a growing crisis of care-giving across the generations from child care to chronically ill and disabled care to elder care and the growing inequality both in levels of income and in access to services.

At the same time it seems public concern and political commitment to care for those most in need is diminishing. The will to ease the suffering of the most vulnerable through social welfare that was ushered in from the Great Depression through the 1970s has gone sour. Social welfare has changed from being considered a social good to being attacked as a negative burden supporting the “lazy and undeserving.” The concept of entitlement as a right or need has shifted to being seen as a privilege that many do not merit. And the responsibility of government “to promote the general
welfare” as stated in the Constitution has been degraded to accusations of intrusion by “big government.”

Changes in attitude have many roots in our culture, from an extreme sense of individualism, to the ascent of economics as the prime political and social concern, to politics and ideology and to lack of information or misinformation.

To read Sr. Maria Riley’s entire paper, go here.

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Summing up the American Losses at the VI Summit of the Americas, La Paz, Bolivia — May, 2012

By: Rev. Michael Gillgannon, a Kansas City – St. Joseph diocesean priest who has served the people of Bolivia for nearly 40 years

Pope Benedict XVI went to Cuba in March to continue the pastoral dialogue of the Catholic Church with the Cuban government which Pope John Paul II had so successfully initiated in 1999. Despite some not so well informed critics, Pope Benedict’s visit, including fruitful dialogues with both Fidel Castro, and his brother, President Raul Castro, had some quite interesting results symbolized by the regime making Good Friday a national holiday for workers to take part in religious observances. Pope Benedict reiterated his condemnation of the international economic embargo of Cuba while noting that the former Marxist ideology had become outdated in Cuba and elsewhere. Cuba has been in a process of deep economic and political change for some time and it became a pivotal point in the recent VI Summit of the Americas meeting. The difference of the patient dialogue of the Church and the unfortunately outdated Cuban, and Latin American, diplomacy of the United States was quite evident in their different results.

President Obama spent three days in Cartagena, Columbia for the Summit meeting of Hemispheric Presidents. Some cited this as a change in attitude, if not in policy, because few presidents had given that much time to Latin America before. The Summit event was inaugurated in the Clinton Administration in 1994 to promote free trade agreements like NAFTA all over the Western Hemisphere. The agenda this year was once again to promote trade (to seal and applaud such an agreement with the host country, Columbia, recently approved by both countries) but also to respond in new ways to the failed policies of years to curb the continental scourge of the drug trade and the cartels which control them throughout the Americas. The low point for the American President was not the scandalous behavior of the Secret Service agents accompanying him (Interestingly, prostitution is legal in most Catholic countries of the Americas. But, also interestingly, they outlaw the death penalty). Rather, it was the fact that university students in Columbia, reflecting popular sentiment against American policies, mounted demonstrations against him which forced the closing of the universities. And worse, the American agenda for Cuba, for trade, and for drug control, were all roundly rejected by the assembly.

The rejection included, unusual for this meeting, closed door diplomacy which was not able to reach a consensus agreement on a final document. So none was given. The democratically elected Presidents of Latin America and the Caribbean islands, representing over 600 million people, rejected the policy of not including Cuba in the Summit. Only the United States and Canada refused to budge on the fifty year-old policies of exclusion and embargo. Most analysts, north and south, repeated the truism that North American policies on Cuba reflect not intelligent and professional diplomacy but political deference to the influence of the Miami Cuban exiles on Florida and national American politics and policies. President Carrea of Ecuador boycotted the Summit because of the exclusion of Cuba. President Ortega of Nicaragua held a massive support for Cuba rally in Managua paralleling the Summit with thousands in attendance. The Latin American presidents ended by telling the North Americans that they would not attend another summit (in Panama in 2015) without the participation of Cuba.

The Columbia-U.S. Free Trade agreement, years in discussion, was offered as a benefit to the Columbian hosts for the occasion. But President Obama in his 2008 campaign had said he was opposed to such an agreement because of Columbian government policies against workers rights and trade unions. The Washington Office for Latin America recently published their study on such policies documenting that 30 union leaders were assassinated last year in Columbia. Since 1986 almost 3000 such organizers have been killed. And only 5% of such cases have resulted in penalties for their perpetrators. So much for workers benefits and social justice in the free trade agreements which the United States has imposed in the last 20 years on Mexico and Central America. Despite these contradictions, the U.S. policy makers seem tone deaf to the strong voices of so many progressive Latin American countries, like Ecuador and Bolivia, which are organizing political and economic trade blocs of their own excluding both the United States and Canada.

Among other serious disputes continue to be immigration. U.S. immigration policies seem to be unplanned, contradictory, and often, inhuman. A poem of Robert Frost questioned the saying “good fences make good neighbor” by intimating fences and walls are needed only because neighbors quarrel and lack mutual confidence. Building frontier walls and allowing States and municipalities to dictate national foreign policy does not seem to be wise when such laws are seen as unjust and insulting to human dignity. Latin governments ask, “Is the United States becoming a huge ‘Gated Community’ to keep out “the others”? Is fear and “national security” making a once welcoming people…“send us your homeless tempest-tossed”…a nation of selfish and closed citizenry? Latin Americas’ peoples and governments have every reason based on real experiences to think so despite the positive efforts of many Church people and others to change such unjust laws.

Another sore point is the international drug trade and the failed United States police and military policies of control both at home and in Latin America. A mounting wave of criticism is asking for a revision of these policies because they have not worked for years. And many international voices are saying it is time to look for international collaboration and coordination to control the illicit trade now destroying not only persons but national States.

“The Economist”, a journal usually critical of the economic and political policies of progressive Latin American governments, had a pointed comment on the Summit worth noting…

”If Latin America is doing so damn well all of a sudden, why does it not just get on with the business of standing on its own feet? As for the tricky issues of immigration, drugs and Cuba, can’t those southerners see how things stand north of the border? Don’t they understand that the thorny domestic policies of the United States make serious action on them impossible? They can see. They do understand. But in recent decades some of the countries of Latin America have managed against great odds to summon up the courage to overcome their own impossible domestic politics. It may be time for the United States to follow their example for a change.”

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We’re all living downstream

There’s a fable about a village along a river. Villagers began to notice increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the swift current, and went to work inventing ever more elaborate ways to save them. So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the people in.

How many people have you heard of (or know) who have been recently diagnosed with cancer?   How does this experience compare with your experience of 5-10-20 years ago? “We never heard of cancer when I was growing up,” is a comment I hear frequently.

On one of my frequent forays to Half Price Books, I picked up the book Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber, written 15 years ago and revised in 2010.  Sandra is both cancer survivor and ecologist. The book chronicles how the health of the land, air and water in the world we inhabit is inextricably tied to our own health. In the legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, she traces the high incidence of cancer and the terrifying concentrations of environmental toxins in her native rural Illinois. She chronicles similar correlations in communities throughout the United States, where cancer rates have risen alarmingly since mid-century.*

On alternate Mondays in the chemotherapy infusion center, I witness a procession of people coming for their treatment.  I am amazed and grateful beyond measure for the care we receive, and the way that care is given.  A few minutes at the pamphlet rack or in the resource center is cause for marvel at the patient-friendly information and holistic support systems that have been developed to assist people on this difficult journey.

But then I think, where is the outrage?  Where are the well-developed systems to oppose the ever-increasing disregard for human health and well- being as more and more cancer-causing toxins are poured into our environment?  Who has the courage to walk upstream and confront those who are throwing people into the river?

One current example is the move by oil and gas companies toward “fracking.”  Are you aware that toxic chemicals injected underground as part of fracking process will most likely eventually seep into our groundwater?  According to a recent story on National Public Radio, there are 10,000 fracking sites scheduled for development within the next few years .*

Sandra Steingraber, at the end of her documentary video, Living Downstream, speaks passionately about an emerging environmental human rights movement, which would inspire a groundswell of “carcinogen abolitionists.“  How might you, how might we begin walking upstream together?  Let me know at


*Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: an Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.  Da Capo Press, 2010.

*For an insightful and balanced article on environmental toxins/carcinogens, go here

*Also check out the NPR story . For more information and action ideas go to 


An additional resource on the health implications of global climate change: Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It:  University of California Press, 2011.

RoseTherese Huelsman, IHM

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A letter of farewell from Sr. Jeanne Christensen

Dear Friends,

In 2006, the Kansas City Olive Branch was launched by Michael Humphrey and Dan Meyers, members of the Salvadoran Faith Accompaniment Group, who were concerned about the continuity of the work of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office.  This concern arose because both Fr. Frank Schuele and I were leaving the office.  I was humbled and pleased that they wanted to continue providing a strong resource to the peace and justice community in the greater Kansas City area.  With the help of dedicated individuals who served on the Visioning Board,   KC Olive Branch became a virtual reality.  Over the years religious women and men’s communities and individual donors have provided financial support.  Many have offered their ideas, encouragement, informational resources, and/or written articles.

In 2008, after both Mike and Dan experienced career changes, I became editor and successfully fulfilled that role only with the outstanding assistance of Clare Murphy Shaw – web mistress par excellent!!  Over the last several weeks, Mike, Clare and I have exchanged emails regarding the future of KC Olive Branch – the conversation was initiated when I expressed my need to resign as editor due to my additional ministry responsibilities.  I am continuing my Mercy community justice ministry from Kansas City, so you will still see me around.

I will miss my involvement with this wonderful virtual peace and justice community.  June 2012 will be the last edition that I edit.  How KC Olive Branch moves into the future is still being discussed.  If you have ideas or suggestions, feel free to send them to Clare, Michael or me; and I will see they get included in the conversation.

I hope that KC Olive Branch has been helpful and perhaps inspiring to you.  Thank you for being part of our community, working to make the world a more peaceful and just place for all.

Peace and blessings.

Jeanne Christensen, RSM

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Experiencing Climate Change and Responding

Several years ago, a friend and I returned to our beloved Glacier Basin Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It took me a bit to figure out what was wrong:  about half the trees were missing.  And so were the shade and the feeling of being embraced by the forest.  What happened?

I soon learned from a ranger that the major culprit is the pine bark beetle. Normally beetles are killed off by a certain number of winter days below a certain temperature, which usually happens every 2-3 years. At that time these temperatures hadn’t happened for ten years. A nearby camper told me that Timber Creek Campground, another favorite, didn’t even open until July 4 because of dead tree removal. He said. “There’s not a tree left.”  I couldn’t even go there. That was when climate change became real and personal for me.  To this day, I can seldom tell the story without a surge of emotion.

The ranger commented: “The forest will come back, but it won’t be the same forest and it won’t be in our lifetimes.”

All of us have experienced climate change, if we pause to think about it.  The year 2011 included 12 major climate events ranging from killer tornadoes to floods, to drought to catastrophic fires.  In the Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen in recent decades, especially in the winter months. The growing season is starting earlier and lasting longer.  Extreme heat events and heavy downpours are becoming much more common.  Fire ants are headed north.

The vast majority of climate scientists and earth scientists (over 95%) agree that global climate change is real, caused by human activity, and a serious threat to our future.  For a snapshot of what this change might mean for humans, I recommend a study by the Pontifical Academy of Science called “The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.”  The article clearly illustrates the fate of glaciers, with before-and-after pictures. It analyzes the inevitable coming crisis of fresh water for both human consumption and agriculture for millions of people, many of whom are already poor. 1

The irony is that those who are contributing the most to this climate change phenomenon are those who are not only the least affected – for now – but who also have the greatest resources to cope.

Really, I’m not trying to make you depressed. I prefer to think of it as reality therapy.  The wonderful part about facing reality is that it has the power to move us to constructive action.

What action?  The choices range from reconstructing our worldview, to changing our daily habits, to speaking out in order to change our institutions and social structures.

Do you remember, during the recovery period from 9/11, when President Bush encouraged us to shop!  Are we a nation of citizens or of consumers?  Are we here on earth to reach out to one another and to build relationships of care, concern and mutual responsibility for the wellbeing of one another and the planet — or to accumulate more “stuff”?  As a culture, we have been seduced into a worldview in which personal worth is measured by money, where “the one with the most toys wins.” This culture is simply not sustainable—environmentally or socially. Not even spiritually.

There’s a new world view coming over the horizon – and odd as it may seem, it’s coming from science. Actually in some ways it’s not new, because it reflects something known by indigenous people in both the past and the present – that we are all one, we are all interconnected, in relationship, accountable for the impact we have on one another.  The difference is that today this worldview is rooted in scientific inquiry – including the realization that everything in the universe comes from the same single origin, and that we all are connected with and influencing each other.  We are all in a very real way kin.

Those of a Judeao-Christian heritage will recognize the resonance with the Wisdom Tradition in the Bible.  God’s wisdom (usually portrayed as feminine), who was with God before anything came to be, was present for the whole work of creation, and delights in being in the world with human children. The same theme is echoed in John’s Gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…through [whom] all things came to be, not one thing had its being except through [the Word]. “  I suspect that most religious traditions can find passages which explore humans’ relationship with the universe and each other in similar ways.

Today, literally millions of groups around the world are striving to learn how to live, in a vast diversity of ways, out of that reality that we are all interdependent:  through protecting and renewing creation, living compassionate lives, embracing spirituality, re-inventing small scale economies, restoring collaborative relationships, working to create a socially just society and much more.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has so wisely said, “Each of us can do something. You can, you can, you can– I can!

Each of us can make changes in our priorities and our lifestyles. We can consume less, drive less, make wise consumer choices that support responsible companies, etc., etc.  We can talk with others about our concerns and work to change daily practices where we live, work and worship.  We can build a sustainable, resilient world based on relationships rather than large financial institutions.

We can attend an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium and follow up with like minded participants.  We can connect with local and national groups and movements, and spend a few minutes or even an hour or so a week doing electronic advocacy, writing letters or making phone calls to help change public policy.  Not infrequently, I get emails from   (“because the earth needs a good lawyer!”) saying “We won!  You submitted 50,000 comments about this regulation and they had to listen to the public voice! We couldn’t have done it without you.”

For a plethora of do-able ideas, ranging from the individual to the institutional, I recommend The Better World Handbook: Small Changes that make a Big Difference. To join up with a faith-based metro organization that supports “greening” faith communities, connect through

The human future is in our hands. Let’s not blow it. If we get it right, generations yet to come will bless us and thank us for our wisdom, courage and committed action.


1 “Anthropocene” is the term for the new geologic era we have already entered, which is characterized by the impact of human activity on the planet.  Another relatively new term is “climate refugee” which refers to millions of people who are already fleeing their native lands because of extreme drought and unpredictable weather patterns which make it virtually impossible to grow food.



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Nuke Free Now plans weekend of action Aug. 3-6

Introducing Nuke Free Now

Information about the group from their group page on Facebook:

The mission of this group is to raise awareness of the true costs and
consequences of nuclear weapons production, nuclear energy, &
corporate profiteering. We are transforming the nuclear narrative and
inspiring a life-affirming future.

We of the Occupy New Mexico Movement,, and allied
organizations worldwide invite you to join our 4-day event to
transform the nuclear narrative in the public consciousness and
inspire a life-affirming future.

The event will take place August 3rd through the 6th (Hiroshima
Commemoration Day). Please join us in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New
Mexico, or coordinate an event in your community to call for the end
of nuclear weapons production and nuclear energy, disarmament, clean-
up and remediation, peace and justice.

Over the weekend our event in northern New Mexico will include
educational workshops, inspiring speakers, celebrity activists, hard-
hitting films and music, large-scale non-violent direct action, a
march to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a hunger strike
(beginning July 16), and more.

It was in the small town of Los Alamos that the first atomic bombs Fat
Man and Little Boy were created, and from there sent to destroy
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Forty-plus years after the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty was signed and with 5200 thermonuclear warheads
in our arsenal, LANL is still in the business of making bombs. We say
“business” because corporations like Bechtel and Lockheed-Martin are
profiting from the production of these genocidal weapons.

Carcinogenic runoffs from LANL contaminate hundreds of miles of the
Rio Grande, the drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of
people. Native American communities are closest and receive the most
contamination. Radioactive releases poison our air, water, and food
and cause disease. Huge forest fires regularly threaten the Lab,
including one last year and one in 2000 that came within a thousand
yards of setting ablaze 42,000 barrels of radioactive waste stored
under canvas canopies.

In our view, there is no starker example of economic disparity created
by the Military-Industrial Complex than Los Alamos County. Of our
nation’s 3,142 counties, Los Alamos county is among the richest, has
the highest income per capita, the lowest poverty rate in the nation,
and is tied for the lowest unemployment.

Yet it is surrounded by some of the poorest communities in the U.S.,
and LANL’s “contribution” to our economy has not kept New Mexico from
having the highest child poverty rate in the country.

We need your help! We know in our hearts that global cooperation and a
world of compassion is possible. Now is the time to create the
critical mass for disarmament and transformation. We are at the
tipping point.

You don’t have to come to New Mexico to make your voice heard. Any
Bechtel office or subsidiary, any University of California campus,
(which shares administration of LANL with Bechtel), or any nuclear
power plant, arms manufacturer, or public space is a perfect site for
local action in coordination with us and our brothers and sisters
around the world. We will help with material and logistics, and love.

In the coming weeks we will offer a tool kit with key talking and
organizing points both here and on our website.

Together we can create a global action to transform humanity’s
narrative and create the world of beauty that we know in our hearts is

For further information and to contact us go to: (Nuke Free Now on Facebook)!/nukefreenow (Nuke Free Now on Twitter) (OSF LANL Working
Group on Facebook)
(Hunger Strike Los Alamos 2012 on Facebook)

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