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News Briefs 3.19.03

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He comes in peace

A world on the brink of war. Terrorism. Murder. Brutal dictatorships. Who's to blame? For most people, it's "them." We believe we'd have a more just and peaceful world if only "they" would change and be more like "us." But how do we change others or an unjust society? Sulak Sivaraksa, a Buddhist peace activist who will speak in Rochester, believes he knows what it takes to affect change. "Radical transformation of society," he says, "requires personal and spiritual change first or at least simultaneously." In other words, a better, more compassionate world begins with working on yourself; you can't change them until you change yourself.

            Sivaraksa, who's from Thailand, is a proponent of "socially engaged spirituality." For him, a spiritual person doesn't hide from the world. "To be truly religious," he writes, "is not to reject society but to work for social justice and change." This is a different view of Buddhism especially for people who think Buddhists stay in monasteries, rejecting the world. That, says Sivaraksa, can happen but shouldn't. He believes that people sometimes have to withdraw from the world for a time but they must stay engaged with the world and its problems. If not, he says, "that withdrawal becomes an escape."

            Although a Buddhist, Sivaraksa's message and talk isn't solely for Buddhists. Sivaraksa and his organization, the Sanithirakoses-Nagapateepa Foundation (SNF) have worked with a number of different religious groups, including Quakers and Sufis in this country and Muslims in Southeast Asia. "It will offer a Buddhist perspective," says Donna Kowal, one of the people helping to bring him to Rochester, "but the talk will more broadly address engaged spirituality." There are, obviously, many religions and, says Sivaraksa, "...many descriptions of the religious experience. But all come back to becoming less and less selfish."

            Sulak Sivaraksa's talk will be held Thursday, March 20, at the Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, at 7pm. Info: donna@rzc.org.

--- Joseph Sorrentino

Uninsured get their week

As national "Cover the Uninsured Week" drew to a close, the Jewish Community Federation hosted a kind of summation: a March 14 Interfaith Breakfast with religious leaders and health-care professionals. The event and campaign grew out of work by the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other groups.

            Temple Beth El's Rabbi Raphael Adler opened with an aphorism. "Sometimes God is very big or very small," he said. "And sometimes God is very small indeed, [like] an uninsured child." Later, Roman Catholic Bishop Matthew Clark noted his denomination "advocates for a more just distribution of the goods of our society." Then keynoter Bonnie DeVinney, director of the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, put some numbers on the problem.

            Locally in 2000, said DeVinney, 90 percent of adults and 98 percent of children had health insurance. That still leaves a large number uninsured, of course, but further problems complicate the picture. For example, said DeVinney, a significant number of local people are "discontinuously insured" --- they occasionally fall through the cracks through job loss or change of family status.

            Then there are the intertwined issues of race, ethnicity, and class: According to DeVinney, 21 percent of local Hispanics are uninsured, as are 31 percent of local residents who live below the poverty line.

            Which way are we headed? Budget cuts, and the politics behind them, have brought in new procedures that hold things up. For example, said DeVinney, some Medicaid applicants are experiencing delays in processing, and in the private sector, some employers are shifting more of the burden of health premiums onto their workers.

            As part of her presentation, DeVinney showed a slide with a kind of bottom line: "Lack of health insurance is now the sixth leading cause of death for people under 65."

            "What more can we do?" asked DeVinney. We must understand, she said, who's at risk for being uninsured --- and realize that the ranks of the uninsured now hold lots of suburbanites as well as city residents. And, she said, we should know how to hook people up with assistance like "Medigap" (additional coverage for seniors on Medicare) and low-cost or free health services.

            During a discussion of employers and health insurance, we pointed out that some Canadian localities advertise government-provided health benefits as a plus. Indeed, businesses that re-locate north of the border don't have to bother at all with health insurance. Have Rochester-area businesspeople taken note? "We have not had that discussion about health care," said DeVinney.

            Not that there isn't government intervention here. As the Catholic Family Center's Marvin Mich told the interfaith group, New York State is now moving large numbers of people from Medicaid to the state's Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus programs. That saves money but may provide less coverage.

ArtWalk's gay add-on

Rochester's ArtWalk could soon have a significant work of public art commemorating the gay rights movement and honoring the local gay community.

            A new group called the Atlantic-Beacon Sculpture Committee has begun to work with ArtWalk activists, who've already installed various sculptures along recently upgraded walkways at the University-Atlantic intersection. The Sculpture Committee's plans call for a "visual representation of Stonewall" --- that is, the 1969 uprising in New York City's Greenwich Village that catalyzed the contemporary gay and lesbian struggle.

            A competitive design submission process is job one, says a committee news release. Moreover, the committee plans "to create a non-profit gay community foundation/organization to promote the ideals of Stonewall."

            For information, contact the committee by e-mail: ABSC14607@aol.com.

Correcting ourselves

A production error caused two images in last week's Calendar to be reversed. The image with the City's Choice on Vinnie Massaro (by Judy Levy) was supposed to run with the City's Choice on Gallery 15's Memory and Identity show. And vice versa. Our apologies to the artists and galleries.

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