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This article originally provided by The Journal

Forum calls for social and economic justice

September 23, 2008

By Edward Marshall / Journal Staff Writer
From left, Ted Boettner, the Rev. Jim Lewis, Larry Matheney, David Hammer and Gary Zuckett host a “Shared Prosperity” Town Hall Meeting at Shepherd University’s Robert C. Byrd center in Shepherdstown. (Journal photo by LaBrell Guy)

SHEPHERDSTOWN -West Virginians United for Social & Economic Justice, a coalition of progressive organizations, was at Shepherd University Monday night for another of its series of community town hall meetings.

The meeting promoted the group's "Agenda for Shared Prosperity" - a set of values and policy proposals designed to strengthen the middle class while creating the conditions necessary for more families to realize the American dream. The Shepherdstown meeting is the latest in a series of town hall meetings that started in Parkersburg in 2007.

Among the policy topics discussed Monday were making health care affordable and accessible to all West Virginians, outlining the connection between costs of the Iraq war and cuts in domestic spending, justice in the workplace, civil justice and economic fairness.

"What is a shared prosperity? The way we look at a shared prosperity is the way we use the market ... to harness certain social outcomes," Ted Boettner, Executive Director of the West Virginia Center for Budget & Policy, said.

That means, he said, increased wages for productivity, the improvement of citizens' financial status, stable pensions and health care, among other things. One thing that he said the group has seen over the last 30 years is a real change in the way the American economy is structured and the way he said it's moved away from policies that protect the common good.

"What we've seen are policies implemented that have actually increased the gap between those who are rich and poor," Boettner said.

The typical worker today in West Virginia makes about 85 cents less than they did in 1979, he said. Those with just a high school education make about two dollars less and those with some college education make a little over a dollar less.

Another guest speaker, the Rev. Jim Lewis, a former Marine and member of the West Virginia Patriots for Peace organization, who pointed out the connection between the current economy and spending on the Iraq war, which now has eclipsed more than $500 billion.

"The goal now for us is to get those troops home, not deepen the war and not continue this endless spending," he said.

He admitted the groups efforts have been difficult in connecting the war and the economy because voters typically think in categories. In a recent poll, he said just eight percent viewed the war as the top issue in the upcoming presidential election with the majority believing the economy was the No. 1 issue.

"What we've been saying now for three or four years is that these two things are incredibly linked together. There is no separating them," Lewis said.

West Virginians, he said, have paid over 1.4 billion in tax dollars to fund the war. Taxpayers in Congressional District 2, which includes Jefferson County, will have paid a total of $666.8 million in tax dollars, while taxpayers in Jefferson County specifically have paid $62.5 million to fund the war. The statistics were from the National Priorities Project, according to literature available at the conference.

"I don't know how many people in Jefferson County, or Kanawha County where I'm from, are taking time out to look at the money at the money that has come out," Lewis said. "(We must) spread the word that the war is on, it's costing us money and with an election coming up ... don't forget the war."

Among the other members on Monday's panel were Gary Zuckett, the Executive Director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, who spoke about the need for accessible and affordable health care for all West Virginians; David Hammer, of the West Virginia Association for Justice, who spoke about the need to protect civil liberties and preserve civil justice; and Larry Matheney, Secretary/Treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

"Here in West Virginia, just because of bad trade policy, we've lost 7,200 jobs during the Bush administration, most of which came from manufacturing," Matheney said.

- Staff writer Edward Marshall can be reached at (304) 725-6581, or emarshall@journal-news.net

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