Both namedropping and conjuring the fiery rhetorical style of the late Paul Wellstone, Rep. Keith Ellison gave a rousing welcome speech to the 3,400 people gathered in Minneapolis over the weekend for the 2010 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Heralding the progressive legacy of the conference’s host city – from Wellstone to Hubert Humphrey to Eugene McCarthy – he began by calling attention to the yellow “LOVE” shirts some in the audience wore, an idea he came back to in his final words, which both supported Barack Obama and subtly revealed his own frustrations with the president.
Acknowledging the role of Christ in his own faith life and in Islam, Ellison told the biblical story of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fish – how a small amount of food somehow managed to feed an enormous crowd. “As the scripture goes, there was enough… I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened… Maybe the disciples’ perception of scarcity was misinformed, and actually there was more than they understood there to be. Maybe there was radical abundance, though they saw scarcity.”
Then he drew a parallel with today: “There’s enough for the straight and the gay. There’s enough for the people who were born in America and the new immigrants. There’s enough for the blacks, there’s enough for the whites, there’s enough for the Latinos, there’s enough for the Asians, there’s enough for the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Hindus! There’s enough, everybody! …We don’t have to throw anybody under the bus. We don’t have to chase anybody out the door!”
But there’s a big “if.”
There may not be enough, he said, if we continue our rate of military spending or if we horde our wealth or “take the bountiful oceans… and pollute them with fossil fuels that spill into our oceans.”
Concluding the welcome, he offered a subtle critique of the president, by suggesting that he’s struggling – but falling short – in doing the “right thing.”
“Of course President Obama hasn’t brought forth heaven on earth,” he said. “Did you think that he was going to? He needs a strong movement based on the movement of love to propel him forward to do the right thing. I think he wants to do the right thing, but when he’s got the war-mongers pulling on him, it’s not easy to do the right thing.”