This is a monthly presentation and Q&A session featuring a speaker from an organization making a positive difference in Texas.
Offer the Oak Cliff and Southwest Dallas communities a chance to participate in a stimulating, thought-provoking discussion of meaningful issues of the day—from the content of textbooks to ethical eating.
The Speaker’s Forum will be held on the second Wednesday of each month at no cost to attendees.
Refreshments and discussion open the evening at 6:30pm; the speaker’s presentation begins at 7:00pm in the sanctuary and is followed by a Vespers service from 8-8:30pm, focusing on the evening’s topic.
Jan Brubaker, Member
UUCOC Social Justice Ministry
The Speaker’s Forum program will resume later in the fall.
We have started a bibliography of recommended readings from our speakers. It is available here on our website.
May 9th: The Faith Community and Domestic Violence
Family violence counselor Albert Chagoya discussed his approach to using spiritual solutions in his work with victims, at-risk families, and veterans with post traumatic stress disorders.
Albert is the Director of Addicare Family Violence Program. He earned his Bachelors in Science in 2003 from the University of Texas in Arlington. He is a certified family violence counselor and holds the full accreditation to provide theses services by the Texas Criminal Justice Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD).
April 11th: TEXAS CONSERVATION ALLIANCE
The Texas Conservation Alliance has been protecting Texas' rivers, forests, coastlines, wildlife and other natural habitats for over 40 years. The group's environmental initiatives have led to the establishment of four natural wildlife refuges in Texas, the designation of five wilderness areas in Texas' national forests, creation of the Big Thicket National Preserve and other parks, and more. The Alliance and its members have won many awards, including Affiliate of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Foundation.
In concert with the Alliance's effort to protect our rivers from unnecessary dams and channelization, Alliance Presenter Carol Spruiell talked about "Smarter Water For North Texas," a program to explore low-cost, low-impact water supply alternatives to The Texas State Water Development Board's plans.
March 14th: LAMBDA LEGAL
Roger Poindexter, South Central Regional Director, and Omar Narvaéz, Regional Community Educator, spoke about current projects and a bit of the history of Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization committed to the civil rights of GLBT people and those with HIV.
February 8th: DOWNWINDERS AT RISK
February’s Speaker’s Forum guest Jim Schermbeck, leader of grassroots environmental group Downwinders at Risk, offered a sobering look at the environmental risks from gas drilling and development (“fracking”) in the Dallas area--while assuring that active citizen involvement can, and has, effected positive change.
Best known as the longtime watchdog over Midlothian’s waste-burning cement plants, Downwinders today is a major defender of clean air in our region.
The group’s success stories are significant and hard-fought. In 2006, Downwinders negotiated a landmark settlement that brought new pollution control technology to the Midlothian cement complex, and also created the largest private clean air trust in Texas: ” The Sue Pope Fund.” Environmentalists are now participating in North Texas air planning committee decisions; before then only government and business leaders took part.
Schermbeck pointed to action on Frisco’s lead smelter as an example of empowering the citizen “to quit being a passive receptor, a downwinder, and get a seat at the table.” Once on the outskirts, the smelter now sits downtown, near public parks and 1,000 ft. from a high school. Piles of lead lay in plain sight, lead lined walls around the smelter, and lead was dumped into an adjacent creek. Last year Downwinders organized residents to act (“Frisco Unleaded”), and “now the city is taking the first steps toward closing the plant. This is what happens when you combine Downwinders with concerned citizens.”
Today, Downwinders has joined a coalition concerned with fracking: “Dallas Residents at Risk.” Using data from the Open Records Act, the group developed a startling map which shows the inventory of gas leases (110 total) ALREADY approved on city-owned land. “More smog-producing pollution is being released into North Texas skies from gas drilling and development than from all the cars and trucks in D/FW combined,” said Schermbeck. These gas industry emissions, he said, “are essentially unregulated.” Left unchecked, there could eventually be 50,000 gas drilling leases in D/FW.
Dallas’ Gas Drilling Task Force is rewriting the city’s ordinance, and will make recommendations to the City Council after its last scheduled meeting February 28. The stakes could not be higher. Schermbeck urged attendees to attend a city-wide meeting of Dallas Residents at Risk March 27, to find out what fracking means for Dallas, and the future of our neighborhoods.
Find updates about March 27 fracking meeting, plus sign up for news alerts at Downwinders’ website (downwindersatrisk.org). It’s thorough, timely, and one of the few air quality resources left in D/FW: neither the Ft. Worth Star Telegram nor the Dallas Morning News now have full-time environmental reporters.
Much thanks for your thoughtful presentation, and tireless environmental efforts, Jim!
[The "Dallas Residents at Risk" map can be viewed here. Using data from the Open Records Act, it shows the inventory of gas leases already approved on city-owned land.]
January 2012: We did not have a speaker in January.
December 14th: ANIMAL LAW
Many laws govern humane treatment of animals--the problem lies in lack of enforcement, said attorney Yolanda Eisenstein at December’s Speaker’s Forum. An SMU honors graduate and adjunct professor, Ms. Eisenstein was the first lawyer in Dallas with a private practice focused on “animal law.” Her animal defense and advocacy work continues today. Here’s a recap of the presentation:
Our discussion began with a brief history, when “Animal Liberation” arose to join other civil rights movements of the early 1970’s. The Animal Legal Defense Fund became the first group (1979) to use law to protect the interests of animals.
Today, over 100 Federal laws address animals, Eisenstein said. Enforcement is slow; Agribusiness lobbying of public officials and legislatures is a significant factor. Progress is hampered, too, by a “justice vs charity” philosophical division among animal rights activists. The former believe animals have intrinsic value: zoos are always wrong, humans have no right to eat animals, or even keep them as pets. The latter believe it’s ok to use animals as food, trap them, etc.--if they’re treated humanely.
On the concept of religion and animals, she noted that while many sacred texts encourage merciful treatment, the animals are on earth for our use. She recommended author Andrew Wollsley for further reading.
Eisenstein discussed animal law at the state level--where most reform happens. East and west coasts are most progressive, plus change occurs more readily when ballot initiatives are available (not in Texas), and legislators can be bypassed. Even in such cases, she said, initiatives are eventually watered down by legislators.
Texas happenings: progress is slow. A puppy mill law did pass the last legislative session, and “gestation crates” for pigs (body-size living space) are being phased out. Though the Texas Court of Appeals broke new ground in holding a pet owner could recover “sentimental damages” for loss of a pet (dogs have been worth “market value” since 1891), the Legislature will likely cap damages. The Texas Veterinarian Medical Association, she added, opposes any animal rights initiative.
During Q&A, Ms. Eisenstein related that not only do factory-farm animals have zero rights, but a failed attempt was made recently by agribusiness lobbyists in Minnesota and Iowa to help pass stringent “ag-gag” laws. Designed to punish whistleblowers exposing conditions at factory farms, the legislation would have subjected whistleblowers to TWO felonies: the first for filming inside the facility, and a second for distributing the film.
Asked about experimentation on animals, Eisenstein spoke of computer modeling and human tissue analysis as effective alternatives. She noted that The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine succeeded, single-handedly, in removing such practices from most medical schools.
What now? Eisenstein suggested folks acquaint themselves with Texas Health and Safety Codes 821 and 822, as well as Chapter 7 of the Dallas City Ordinances. A member of the Texas Humane Legislation Network (www.thln.org, 1-888-548-6263), she recommended the group as an effective advocate for animal protection. Eisenstein distributed an Animal Law Bibliography for further reading (on our website here), and highlighted books by Martha Nussbaum for the “justice” and Matthew Scully for the “charity” viewpoints.
Kelley O’Conan: “Found the update on ag-gag legislation distressing but informative.”
Rachel Betzen: “I know what she means with how the animal rights and humane folks are at odds--I’d love to do something to get them talking to each other.”
Much thanks to Yolanda Eisenstein for making the long trek to share her expertise with us! Her Dallas law office: YEisenstein@AnimalLawOffice.com, (214) 749-0101.
November 9th: AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
November’s Forum attendees were treated by a return visit to UUCOC by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke. A Texas native and lifelong journalist, Terri started her leadership role at ACLU in 2008, after retiring as editor of the Abilene Reporter-News. Terri’s talk focused on immigration, with a little “Lege” Review thrown in. She also addressed new grassroots-building initiatives on four priority ACLU issues: immigrant rights, religious freedom, youth rights and criminal law reform--which includes drug laws and reducing the overincarceration rates of people of color.
October 12th: SLOW FOOD DALLAS
Slow Food was founded to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions--plus people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. With over 100,000 members worldwide, each Slow Food chapter promotes local farmers and local flavors.
Our speakers: Dallas chapter co-leader, artist and food advocate Jim Shade; Texas/Oklahoma Governor, Le Cordon Bleu chef and Sommelier Claudine Martyn.
September 14th: TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK
Our first 2nd Wednesday Speaker’s Forum introduced a UUCOC audience to Garrett Mize, of Texas Freedom Network. Mize spoke of social conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education who have, since the Reagan Administration, sought to inject a right-wing agenda into textbooks, from requiring study of positions of the Moral Majority to eliminating minority leaders from mention because board members hadn’t heard of them. Mize noted that while Texas has received more abstinence-only funding than any other state, it has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates. TFN is working to help improve sex ed in Texas schools, by encouraging citizens to join a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) in their district. Their website provides tools to help folks who would like to do so.
Science textbooks did take a “leap” forward this year: all of the science materials approved by the SBOE have NO creationist arguments, and in fact include language affirming evolution. And Mize reminded the audience that all SBOE positions will be up for election in November 2012. Texas Freedom Network will continue to fight for curriculum standards based on the work of scholars, and for counterin the religious right in Texas. Our thanks to Garrett Mize for his thorough presentation, and we encourage a visit to their comprehensive website at www.tfn.org, to see how you can help!