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The Acton Institute
H ealth Care Without Harm is a Washington, DC-based environmental group that has taken more than its share of heat from the chemical industry over its campaigns against the use of mercury in medical equipment, the incineration of highly toxic medical waste, and the use of pesticides, cleaners, and disinfectants.
Late last year, a conservative religious public policy group attacked not only the organization, but also religious leaders that support the group’s campaign against the use of PVC, or vinyl plastic—the most widely used plastic in medical devices which Health Care Without Harm maintains is “harmful to patients, the environment, and public health.”
Rev. Gerald Zandstra, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Stewardship at the Acton Institute (www.acton.org), authored a far- ranging broadside, warning religious leaders to be on their guard against “being used by radical environmental, leftist organizations to whom they lend moral legitimacy” for their anti-corporate campaigns.
In an essay entitled “Religious Leaders and Social Activism: Prophets or Captives?” Rev. Zandstra, an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, maintains, “Religious leaders are always in danger of being ‘captured’ by someone with a cause” because they have become important players, often lending “moral legitimacy” to a particular campaign.
Rev. Zandstra and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty have been imparting their own “moral legitimacy” to corporations for more than a decade. In May 2003, Zandstra and Father Robert Sirico, the president of the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Institute, spoke against environmental and human rights resolutions brought by a number of religious organizations at Exxon Mobil’s annual shareholders meeting.
At the meeting, Rev. Zandstra —who unapologetically acknowledges speaking against “captured” priests and nuns—claimed that the religious activists were trying to “set the ethical tone for Exxon Mobil because [they believe] you [the company] cannot do it for yourselves.” Religious activists believe, “Our nation [sic] business leaders must be soulless, heartless creatures who, if left to their own devices would merely rape and pillage.”
He also praised the company for its “excellent” record “in human rights” and its “excellent” record in the environment.
In another article, Rev. Zandstra pointed out that Protestant pastors responding to his survey overwhelmingly concurred with the statement, “Without close government supervision, corporations will abuse their power.” While admitting that the Enron and WorldCom scandals may have fueled suspicion of corporations, Zandstra believes that corporate leaders are falsely characterized as being predominantly concerned with profit-making, the bottom line, and adding to their personal portfolios.
So why is the Acton Institute waging war against religious social activists?
“I think the attack points to our success in working with the religious community,” Stacy Malkan, Communications Director for Health Care Without Harm said in a telephone interview. “We have been very successful mobilizing the religious community for our campaigns because they are deeply concerned with health care issues and the environment. Our religious partners would no doubt be insulted by charges that they are dupes of the organization and the cam- paign.”
Founded in 1990 by Father Sirico and Kris Alan Mauren, the Acton Institute has become an important player in public policy debates and helped lead the attack against socially responsible clergy. Father Sirico has advised President Bush on “charitable choice” and was an early supporter of “welfare reform”; he edited a book for the Vatican aimed at reordering the Catholic Church’s social justice teachings; and helped launch the Interfaith Council for Envir- onmental Stewardship (ICES), a coalition of right-wing religious leaders aiming to counteract liberal environmental groups.
Since its founding the Institute has been fed generously by a gaggle of right-wing foundations. Between 1991 and 2001, it received more than $2.5 million in grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and John M. Olin Foundation, according to Media Transparency, a website that tracks “the money behind the media.”
In an op-ed in the Detroit News , Sirico spelled out his philosophy: “Unnecessary regulation” and forcing companies “to cede their corporate governance to national and supra-national authorities” forces “creative initiative” to be “replaced with passivity...rather than innovation.” In the end, this “results in less competition, loss of market share, higher consumer prices and increased unemployment.”
While Zandstra supports the involvement of religious leaders in social issues, he warns that they need to question the agenda of the organizations they work with. “If the ideas being proposed stem from sound theological commitments, then the religious spokesman stands on sure ground,” Rev. Zandstra writes. “If, however, the cause is basically secular, the religious leader can be seen as simply trying to inject religious language into a non- (even anti-) religious agenda.”
What are Rev. Zandstra’s problems with Health Care Without Harm, Building In Good Faith— one of the anti-PVC campaign partners—and the environmental health movement? They start “from a largely secular environmental philosophy and seek to import religious justification,” he writes. And, he argues, “this campaign to phase out vinyl building materials is just one piece of the greater anti-vinyl movement.”
The actual agenda of Health Care Without Harm is the elimination of PVC from health care facilities, in effect harming patients who need the materials, says Zandstra. “This is quite simply an ideological crusade based not on concerns for human beings, but rather on an irrational bias against all things ‘artificial’,” Rev. Zandstra charges.
“The tragic part is that many of these religious leaders intend to do good,” Zandstra writes. “Unaware of economic or scientific realities, they fail to calculate the ‘unintended consequences’ of the policies that they advocate. They risk being used by more sophisticated people on the hard left who wrap their agenda around religion. Religious leaders need to be more careful not to lend moral legitimacy to harmful economic and environmental policies that, if put into full effect, would have devastating consequences.”
The subtext of Zandstra’s agenda is less about environmental and health care realities and more related to protecting industry. In late October, an Acton Institute report entitled “Health Care Without Harm—or Harming Health Care?” was penned by Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute (www.cato.org) and a nationally syndicated columnist. Bandow maintained, “A long running campaign to rid hospitals and other health care facilities of medical vinyl products…has dangerously overstated the risks associated with vinyl use and diverted attention from much more serious health threats.”
Health Care Without Harm counters that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Toxicology Program have warned that DEHP, a toxic additive that leaches from vinyl medical devices, can be harmful to certain patients, including sick infants and pregnant women undergoing high risk procedures. “Why should the most vulnerable patients be exposed to potentially dangerous devices when non-vinyl plastic devices that don’t leach toxic additives are available?,” Stacy Malkan asks.
The HCWH website (www.no harm.org) maintains it is “an international coalition of 431 organizations in 52 countries working to transform the health care industry so it is no longer a source of harm to people and the environment.” According to Malkan, the organization has “a mainstream and common sense environmental agenda, which includes working with the Environmental Protection Agency on Hospitals for a Healthy Environment—a four-way partnership with the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association—which is aimed at having health care facilities agree to phase out the use of mercury and reduce wastes, and reduce persistent organic pollutants.”
“Health Care Without Harm is committed to bringing together a broad coalition of folks including health care providers, unions, religious leaders, and environmental activists,” says Stacy Malkan. “We are an issue-oriented organization and not the so-called usual suspects as the Acton Institute has charged.”
Shortly after the Acton Institute attacked Health Care Without Harm, Health Progress , the official journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (www.chausa.org), devoted a special section of its November/December issue to “Environmental Responsibility and the Ministry.”
Sr. Sharon Zayac, director of the Illinois-based Benincasa Ministries, wrote: “We will not be true providers of health care until we understand that our well-being is contingent upon clean air and water, healthy soils and food, toxin-free clothing and plastics and metals and building materials…. We have an obligation to speak out for the health of the entire household.
“And if the very buildings in which we gather the sick are not healthy, what service do we provide? We must take on the task of reducing or eliminating what we can and challenging the many industries who supply us to live up to their responsibilities as well.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.