Sunday, April 13, 2014

Local Values with Faraway Foundations - April 13, 2014

     As the Board chair of a local group seeking to raise the city minimum wage, I am fascinated by claims that "outside influences" are dictating this campaign.  
      Of course, it would be easy to claim that certain forces in at least one state in which I have lived in the past (see below) are directing opposition to anyone who would suggest raising the minimum wage in any state.  The "prosperity" of which those forces speak will likely be shared mainly by those on the higher rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. 
     However, I don't feel I need to go there.   Where I want to go is somewhere much higher than those supposedly lofty rungs, a sacred place that lies within the realm of values.
     Yes, the values that I espouse emerged from the Ancient Near East over 2000 years ago.  The Torah, preserved and transmitted to the world by the Jewish people, speaks over and over about what employers are supposed to do for their workers.   I suppose that could be called an "outside influence," except for the fact that those very scriptural references are contained in houses of worship in and around Las Cruces.   These teachings inspire many people to contribute good ideas and energy to our city.   The "outside influence" stirs people inside to make Las Cruces a better place to live. 
     My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Lithuania over 100 years ago.  They all ended up in the Kansas City, Missouri, where I was raised.  I attended college at the University of Illinois, and served as a rabbi in Ohio, Kansas and New Hampshire.   Perhaps that makes me an outsider.  Or, it might have given me experiences that will enrich this community through the work that I do in local organizations.   I would think that, if we want to bring people here from other parts of the nation and the world and have them stay, we shouldn't be accusing them of bringing "outside influences" to our city.   That is hardly hospitable. 
    I am neither an economist nor the son of an economist.  I am, however, informed well enough to know that a proposal to raise the minimum wage to the same level as is being proposed nationally doesn't mean that the number is not applicable locally.    Some citizens have pointed to a minimum wage in other New Mexico cities being only slightly higher and, therefore, the nationally proposed number is "too high" for us.   According to those "outside influences" of biblical teachings, proposals on raising the minimum wage that fall short of raising a worker out of poverty are not high enough.          
      We, as the Las Cruces community, are who we are because of everyone who lives here at any given time.   The Great Conversation series held at the City Council Chambers revealed a wide range of feelings on this issue.   Those of us sitting in the circle were there because we care about Las Cruces' citizens and the well-being of our city.    The prophet Jeremiah declared in Jeremiah 29:7,  "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you...and pray...on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."   Praying for the welfare of any community means considering the status of everyone who lives there, showing concern, empathy and offering support.   "Outside influences" are irrelevant.  What matters most is that we do all we can to include all of our neighbors inside our circle of community.   

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