The Common Good

Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship

(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food—except water—to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)

Lisa Sharon Harper speaks at the opening of Fast for Families. Photo Brandon Hook/Sojourners

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UPDATED: Day 10: 11/21/13, 4:00 p.m.

I'm entering day 10 of my #fast4families. Still holding up, but weaker. I feel the power of your prayers. Thank you. 

Please also pray for the 1100 immigrants who will be deported today and for their families and loved ones. And pray for Speaker Boehner. It is NOT true that there's no time to pass reform by the end of the year. It is within the power of the Speaker to extend the legislative schedule. He can do it if he wants to. If you live in Ohio, please CALL BOEHNER and tell him you want him to let immigration reform come to a vote before the end of the year. Thank you!

Day 9: 11/20/13, 7:29 a.m. ET

Great news!!! Politico reported last night that House Democrats are going to start joining the fast! Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) says she’s been inspired by the fasters and has vowed to fast from all food this Thursday as she works at the Capitol. She’s also sent around a letter to all Democratic reps asking them to join her by choosing one day to fast from all food!

Read the Politico article here.

I’ve been reflecting on Advent recently. Advent is the time of darkness before the light. It is the time of cleansing before re-formation. It is the time of waiting before redemption, salvation, revolution and … peace.

Reflecting on Luke this morning, I was most struck by Zechariah’s prayer (Luke 1:67-80), particularly his focus on the need for the people to be forgiven for their sins and the promise that our savior would “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Forgiveness of sins is followed by walking in the way of peace.

Fasting is a cleansing process. Literally, after a certain number of days the toxins that are usually locked in one’s joints, organs, and muscles, start to come out.

I wonder if God is moving America to fast because our nation needs to be cleansed in the area of the way we treat immigrants. We’ve been sinning against immigrants and immigrant families for so long that we’ve become desensitized to it.

May the Holy Spirit of God move over our nation and may She give us ears to hear the cries of the children of families broken by our immigration system. May He give us eyes to see our own complicity in this pain. May God give us courage to believe the impossible is possible. And may Jesus guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen.

Day 8: 11/19/13. 4:20 p.m. ET

I visited the fasters' tent for the #Fast4Families today. It was wonderful to see the core fasters who are still living and fasting in the tent along with all the new solidarity fasters. There are about 15 fasters in the tent today.

I returned this morning because today the fasters left the tent and walked to the Longworth House building to visit Speaker Boehner's office. Boehner is the leader of the House and has the power to put HR15 or any of the piecemeal proposals House Committees have come up with to a vote on the House floor. Then that legislation could be conferenced together with the Senate bill that passed earlier this year. But last week, Boehner declared that he has no intention of conferencing any House bill with the Senate bill. That was a major setback.

Boehner’s legislative aid would not let us into the office. Instead, no matter what we said, she responded “I will relate your concerns to the speaker.” We asked her to pray with us, as is the custom of the fasting circle. She refused flatly. She said, "I'll watch as you pray."

Please pray that God moves Speaker Boehner’s heart to meet with the fasters and pray with them.

Eliseo explained to the aid that the fasters will keep coming back, offering the Speaker an opportunity to meet with them until he says yes.

Pray.

Day 7: 11/18/13. 1:18 p.m. ET

It is Day 7 of my #fast4families.

I called in to the #Fast4Families organizing call this morning and asked how Eliseo Medina was doing. He has noticeably lost energy. He’s still walking, but very slowly. The days in the tent have been cut shorter. If you visit to participate in the evening vigil the time has been moved to 4pm (from 6pm last week).

The fasters could really use your prayers. According to multiple sources, the votes are there to pass immigration reform in the House. All Speaker Boehner has to do is bring it to a vote, but he has refused to do so. Everyone agrees the reason is fear, both short term and long term.

In the short-term, Boehner is probably afraid of losing his job. If he lets the current House bill on immigration come to a vote and it passes, he will alienate the Tea Party faction of his base who could then turn around and oust him.

In the long-term, as Jim Wallis said in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post and I explained in a recent interview on AlJazeera America, there is an undertow of long-term demographic fear standing in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. In short, the naturalization of 11 million immigrants might threaten the white male voting majority.

Please pray for Speaker Boehner. Pray for him to be filled with supernatural courage. Pray for him to be cut to the heart by the revelation that he is exercising a perversion of power that is sacrificing 11 million souls simply to keep one job. Pray for him to choose his Catholic faith over fear and do the right thing.

And pray for the fasters who are living inside the tent on the national mall. It is one thing for me to fast in the comfort of my home. It is quite another for Eliseo Medina (late 60’s) to fast in the cold drinking only water.

Please send your prayers to the fasters in the tent and words of encouragement to fast4families@gmail.com. They would love to hear from you. Those praying in the tent include: Eliseo Medina,  SEIU; Christian Avila, Mi Familia Vota; Dae Joong Yoon, NAKASEC; and Sang Hyug Jong, NAKASEC.

Day 6: (Nov. 17, 2013) 4:06 p.m. ET

I’m in the middle of my 6th day of my #Fast4Families. Only drinking broth, juice, and water.

Over the past two days, I must admit I’ve been tempted to fudge the fast a few times. Last night I was with my family in Philadelphia at the 67th birthday party for my late Uncle Richie. His childhood friends and my mother threw a party in his honor at Ruby’s Chinese Buffet! Oh my goodness! Chinese buffet has never looked so good in my entire life! It was a food lover’s heaven and all I could eat was the Wanton soup BROTH!  I actually contemplated taking home a doggie bag of yummy delights and freezing it for the day when my fast is over!

But, then my cousin, Rev. Alan Jenkins (Pastor of St. Barnabas — Bethsaida United Methodist Church in the heart of South Philly), reminded me that it is in the moments of temptation when we have to fight the hardest. And I thought about it. How crazy is it to freeze a take-out Chinese buffet dinner from Philadelphia for an indefinite amount of time? There are Chinese buffets in D.C. I’m sure I could go to one and get a good meal when my fast is completed. Besides, that would shift my focus from the fasting process itself and its meaning to the food I dream of eating after the fast. I didn’t do take out.

Today, I’m feeling the temptation again. It’s funny how temptation comes. I don’t feel tempted to go have a slice of pizza or a burger. No. I’m tempted to have a hearty bowl of vegetable soup or vegan chili; both things that are good for me and technically qualify as “soup.” But my commitment was to only drink broth (not soup). So, fudging it would not be fudging it. It would be breaking the fast.

To be clear, breaking the fast is cool, but the word I believe I received from the Lord at the start was: “Keep going until I tell you to stop.” I haven’t heard the word “stop” yet. So, in my case, fudge=break=not so cool.

Today I spent part of my morning surfing photos of the #Fast4Families on Flickr. I miss the tent and look forward to visiting again soon. It is such a holy space. So many House members and Senators and leaders have come to visit since we launched 6 days ago. The photos reminded me of the reason I felt called to fast in the first place. God is calling us all to purify ourselves, listen to the cries of the poor — the cries of the immigrants, and to push an intransigent House to “Act:Fast”!

Day 4: (Nov. 15, 2013) 10:28 a.m. ET

I’m in Day 4 of my #Fast4Families. I left the fasting tent on Wednesday evening and have been in Sojourners board meetings for the past two days. It’s been a challenge to function without food for this long, but am amazed at how much energy I do have.

AlJazeera America had me on the air for an interview about the immigration #Fast4Reform and #Ready4Reform this morning. It went really well.

I appreciate your prayers. And please continue to pray for the leading fasters in the #Fast4Reform tent: Eliseo Medina, SEIU; Lucy Tzunun, Immigrant MTRNY; Dae Joong Yoon, NAKASEC; and solidarity faster, Marco Grimaldo, Virginia Interfaith Center, who will come to join them for the next day or two.

Blessings family, Lisa.

Day 2: (Nov. 13, 2013) 7:30 p.m. ET

Two thousand Sisters of Mercy have committed to join the Fast for Families call for immigration reform and citizenship on Nov. 20 and the Moral Mondays movement in N.C. has committed to join the #Fast4families on Nov. 25!

What an honor and education to #Fast4Families with Eliseo Medina, who helped organize the Delano Grape strike with Cesar Chavez in 1965, fasted with him in 1968, and helped lead La Causa (i.e. the farmworkers movement) after that. Eliseo is a man of deep and true faith. It was humbling to be led by him over the past two days. I will miss my time inside the fasting tent, but I am one of the many who is called to carry the fast out of the tent and into the streets where we live and work and to the pews where we worship. Please pray for Eliseo Medina. He will live in the tent, fasting from all food and drink (except for water), until congress passes immigration reform or his body tells him to stop. 

Will you consider joining the #fast4families? Even fasting for one day will make a difference. Go here to register your fasting commitment!

5:42 p.m. 

We just had wonderful time with Rev. William Barber, the President of the NAACP in North Carolina. He shared how amazing it is that we still have to fast and march and push for justice in the 21st century. He prayed using Psalm 94 as the basis of his prayer: “How long O’, Lord…” He said we would talk with the Moral Mondays leaders in N.C. about joining the #fast4families in solidarity one day this month (possibly Nov. 25). Watch for more info on that.

Tonight marks Fra. Patrick Carolan’s last day on the fast (for now). He plans to fast for part of the week each week until Immigration Reform is passed. He will leave the fasting tent, so he is passing the fast to Fra. Jacek Orzechowski, a polish Franciscan who will join the fasting tent for the next two days. The Franciscans will be here the whole time, passing the fast from one father to another.

Each of the fasters just thanked Fra. Carolan for his presence and the gift of his energy and sincere heart over the past two days. Now we’re listening to Fra. Jacek’s story.

I will be leaving the tent tonight but continuing the fast. I covenanted to return to the tent when I break the fast to receive the fasters’ blessings.

I look forward to the Vigil tonight. It will be good for the soul. A good way to go out from the tent, in Jesus' name.

3:06 p.m

The fasting community has begun to create it’s own rhythm. We pray in the morning. Each time a visitor comes, we share our stories. Then the visitor shares his or her story and what brought them here. Then the visitor is asked to pray for us.

We had a surprise visitor this afternoon. Pastor Mike McClenahan, senior pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, a conservative mega-church in San Diego, stopped by the faster’s tent on his way to the airport.

Like a liturgical service, each faster offered his or her story, placing it on the altar of our communion. It was lunch time and we could not eat, so instead we feasted on each other’s stories.

Pastor Mike shared how he is an accidental activist. Two conservative leaders in his church decided to meet with two immigrant members of the church over a period of time. They went into scripture together around the issue of immigration reform. They prayed together. They shared their own stories. Finally, the two conservative leaders came back to Pastor Mike and insisted that their mega-church take a stand for immigration reform.

You should have seen the faces of the fasters around the circle — mostly Catholic or unaffiliated. It was as if they were thinking, "Really? That can happen?!"

Yes, with God all things are possible. God is the God who moves mountains and changes the course of rivers. He can certainly change hearts and even interrupt ideological loyalties. Hallelujah!

Since then, in a very short time, Pastor Mike has taken major steps to help move his congregation forward in immigration reform and they are now preparing for the day when reform passes and his church can help its own immigrant population to navigate the new system.

You may have heard, Jim Wallis was in a meeting with President Obama today and the focus was immigration reform. Pastor Mike was there, too. He stopped by the tent on his way to the airport to meet the people who are fasting for reform. His church is fasting and praying for him right now. Perhaps, their next move will be to #fast4families with us. Let it be so …

1:12 p.m.

I started this fast yesterday as a "solidarity faster." I planned to fast for two days — no food or drink, except for water. Last night’s vigil was so powerful. In the middle of the song the African woman sang in French, I started to weep. I remember asking myself why I couldn't stop crying. I was afraid of what I thought I might be hearing. I heard that still small voice Jesus followers know well: the voice of the Holy Spirit — speaking spirit to spirit. I was fighting it. I knew what it was asking me to do. This morning when I woke up the sense was still there.

After a crazy cab ride to the fasting sight on the National Mall, I joined the fasters as they shared stories in the fasting tent. (Turns out the power went out in the tent overnight and it got cold really quick. They were able to go to an alternative site until it was fixed, but it provided an additional struggle during the night.) Then we went into in a special service held for SEIU leaders here to do legislative visits on the Hill. After all of this, that small voice won't let me go. It's still whispering.

"Don’t end your fast today… Keep going in solidarity. I’ll let you know when it is time to end."

I have decided to do it, but I will augment my fast to include broth and juice to get some nutrients. And I will visit the fasting tent as it's possible for as long as it is here.

Day 1: (Nov. 12, 2013) 9:30 p.m.

The prayer vigil tonight was powerful. We were joined by 200 CASA members from Maryland who led a rousing service full of testimonies. I was particularly moved by testimony of a young woman whose uncle was deported. He was the "uncle of the neighborhood," she said. He was also a leader in their church.

An African woman sang a song in French that my mind didn't understand, but my heart got completely. Her earnest and untrained voice broke my heart. In each note you could hear her yearning for a time when she and her family will be freed from the burden of fear levied by our broken immigration system. Her voice was soft, but at the same time determined. It was beautiful and I couldn't stop weeping.

Then California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Enforcement Subcommittee, was given a prayer quilt that was hand stitched in Arizona to hang in her office today. She will return it tonight, when it will be offered to another House member every day until Immigration Reform is passed.

4:28 p.m.

Patrick Carolan (Franciscan Action Network) is among the solidarity fasters here for the next couple of days. He shared with the group a portion of a homily that Pope Francis gave a few weeks ago:

"Please let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. … Today, amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope. It is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds. … Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, and protect creation."

Beautiful. Thank you, Pope Francis.

4:00 p.m.

We just learned that the park service is demanding that we keep the flap to the tents open. It's getting colder and will be very cold by nightfall. Please pray for the fasters who have committed to stay in the tent overnight — Eliseo Medina and Patrick Carolan (Fransican Action Network). They are both older (seasoned) and not allowed to sleep. If they do, the whole operation could be shut down. Please pray for their health.

2:37 p.m.

As fasters, we have begun sharing our stories.

Eliseo Medina shared how he met Cesar Chavez back in 1965 when they were beginning the farmworkers strikes then. He talked about how they gained their inspiration from the organizing that was happening in the South at the same time with Dr. Martin Luther King and the student non-violent movement. He shared how they learned from Dr. King and from Gandhi about the power of non-violence. Medina shared how he feels like an old man now when he talks to young organizers.

And it hit me—right there in the middle of his sharing—I'm one of those young organizers. And just last weekend I trained young organizers in the faith-rooted approach to organizing that he and Chavez helped to develop in the lineage of the Civil Rights movement and Gandhi's press against colonization.

I teared up and said, "Thank you. Thank you for having the humility to learn from those who came before you—the student non-violent movement in the south. And thank you for having the courage to step out in faith and push against injustice in the fields of California. We are here because of you. Thank you."

1:43 p.m.

It's been an incredible afternoon. I just sat down and talked with Roberto De La Cruz. He is helping to coordinate the fasters. De La Cruz organized Cesar Chavez's fast! I cannot believe I'm here. De La Cruz and Eliseo Medina were ribbing each other about marches they've done before. De La Cruz knows my mentor, Rev. Michael Mata, and fellow activist and faith-rooted organizing trainer, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra.

The highlight, though, was speaking with Julian Bond just before he left the tent. I remember watching him talk about the days with Dr. King in the documentary, "Eyes on the Prize." He thanked us for fasting. I thanked him for laying the foundations for our action today.

12:31 p.m.

We entered the community tent and were met with a sea of television news cameras, lights, reporters with arms stretched forward holding recorders. I was shocked.

Eleven national leaders marked this as the first day of a thirty day rolling fast for families—a call for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. The fasters and other leaders of the civil rights movement, including Julian Bond (civil rights veteran), Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners) and Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), walked into that tent and behind the podium.

Henderson, opened the press conference explaining that these national leaders have come together to launch a thirty day rolling fast for immigration reform. Henderson called me forward to explain the spiritual significance of a fast. Here are my remarks:

"Throughout the Hebrew scriptures there are examples of public fasts and people of God who chose to abstain from food and drink for a period of time.

  • Daniel fasted to cleanse himself from the ways of the empire.
  • Nehemiah fasted to discern the spiritual causes of the destruction of his people.
  • Mordecai fasted at the entrance of the king's gate in protest of the conspiracy to destroy his people—a conspiracy that was taking shape within the king's court.
  • Jesus himself fasted for forty days before entering his reign in Luke 4; before declaring his purpose to set the oppressed free!

Today, we stand in this lineage and the lineage of people from many faith traditions. We recognize that in the U.S. today, we have encountered just such a moment."

Then I called to the podium, Rev. Jim Wallis, who explained the reason for this fast at this moment in our nation's history.

He said, this movement has won! 70 percent of Americans now want immigration reform, but a minority in the House of Representatives is keeping justice from being done.

And it felt like a crack in the universe when Rev. Wallis called a spade a spade. He said the issue of immigration has become racialized in our nation. Certain politicians are feeding on racial fears in order to block reform from happening.

One after another, the fasters stood before the podium—Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon—and offered testimony. This is why we are fasting. We are fasting because we cannot wait any longer. We are fasting because we stand with the 11 million people and their families who cannot wait for congress to get itself together for the pain and suffering in their families to end. We are fasting because whether we are immigrants who came here voluntarily in the last century or our ancestors were brought here in chains 200 years ago, we are fasting America a better place for all.

Dozens of local solidarity fastsevents, and actions are already underway in key congressional districts across the country. Fasters are joined nationwide by groups and activists prepared to make sacrifices for the passage of immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

The work of the fasters is spiritual work—the work of people of faith here are: five who will fast indefinitely until immigration reform is passed or until their bodies give out and six who have joined them for two, three, or five days. I am here for the next two days.

Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing for Sojourners.

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