Activists

Champions of Justice

The notion that professional sports has anything to do with social justice and human rights would be seen as laughable by most members of the athletic community. Sports, we are told, are about escape, excitement, and a respite from the ills of the world. This is why Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but [people’s] failures.”

But there is a rich tradition of athletes who commit to a life of good works, as well as “jocks for justice” who use the platform of sports to speak out about human rights. The examples are as diverse as they are extensive. From civil rights advocate Paul Robeson to suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, access to sports was central to their struggles for liberation. As Robeson remembered of his days desegregating the Rutgers University football team, “When I was out on a football field or in a classroom or just anywhere else, I was not there just on my own. I was the representative of a lot of Negro boys who wanted to play football and wanted to go to college, and as their representative, I had to show that I could take whatever was handed out.”

Or as Cady Stanton wrote in the women’s magazine The Lily, rejecting claims of a man’s “physical superiority”: “We cannot say what the woman might be physically, if the girl were allowed all the freedom of the boy in romping, climbing, swimming, playing hoop and ball.”

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Death of an Activist

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while trying to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military police concluded that her death was accidental, though eyewitnesses claimed she was murdered. Simone Bitton, an Israeli filmmaker living in France, examined the conflicting accounts of Corrie’s death in her documentary Rachel. Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail and Rising from the Ashes, spoke with Bitton at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April, where the film had its North American premiere.

Becky Garrison: What drew you to this story?

Simone Bitton: I am an Israeli citizen, though I live in France now. This story has special significance for us because it was the first time a foreign peace activist protecting Palestinians was killed by the Israeli army. Somehow a red line had been crossed.

On a more personal level, I was moved by the story of this young girl. I’m 53 years old, and I’m at the age when one starts mourning one’s youth and evaluating one’s own present and past commitments. I had been a peace activist since I was young, and I have a deep feeling that my generation has failed. We didn’t achieve anything. The Occupation is more terrible than it used to be.

Corrie’s death received little press, but she still received more coverage than the Palestinian who died the same day.

In general, in the Middle East and a lot of places, the value of life is not the same for the media and the public. The lives of Palestinians aren’t worth much in comparison with the lives of Americans and Israelis. Although I made a film about an American citizen and not the anonymous Palestinian victim, my choice to focus on the American should be questioned in the film. And I think it is.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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What Sustains Me

Let Jesus Love You, by Tony Campolo

I try to start each day by setting aside about 20 minutes for centering prayer. I empty my mind of the 101 things that are apt to start spinning in my head the moment I wake up. Then, focusing on Jesus, I let him love me. I wait to feel myself enveloped by his presence. I silently yield to being saturated by his Spirit. In my morning prayers, I say nothing to God and I hear no words from God. But in these times of “waiting upon the Lord,” my spiritual strength is renewed.

Secondly, at the end of each day I practice the Ignatian prayer of examen. Lying in bed I reflect on all the good and God-honoring things that I did during the day and thank God for allowing me to be an instrument of love and peace. Following Philippians 4:8, I remember whatever I did that was true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Only then, after such affirmation, am I prepared to review the day a second time, recalling everything I said that was hurtful to others and fell short of God’s will. In accord with what I read in 1 John 1:9, I ask not only for God’s forgiveness, but also for God’s cleansing. I ask Christ to reach out from Calvary, across time and space, and absorb out of me the sin and darkness that accumulated within me during the day.

I believe that because the Holy Spirit is holy, the Holy Spirit is frustrated coming to dwell in dirty temples. Thus, Christ’s cleansing of my temple at the end of the day is a requisite for receiving the infilling of Christ’s Spirit during centering prayer the next morning. Without Christ’s Spirit in me, I lose heart and lack the energy to do justice and evangelism.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University, is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.

Open Yourself to Community, by Soong-Chan Rah

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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A Paradigm Shift

Our Mobilization to End Poverty this spring brought together nearly 1,200 Christian leaders and grassroots activists from around the country committed to overcoming poverty. The various presentations—both the inspirational plenary sessions and the in-depth training workshops—were widely praised as excellent.

Morning Bible studies and three nights of uplifting worship with soul-deepening music and powerful preaching by Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Frederick Haynes, and Bishop Vashti McKenzie helped us remember why we were there. Awards were given to exemplary grassroots activists Rachel Anderson, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Alexie Torres-Fleming and national media figure Tavis Smiley, all of whom embody the crucial pursuit of economic and racial justice.

President Obama sent a personal video thanking the activists for coming to Washington and for what they do back home. The video was followed by a panel discussion with top White House staff working on the anti-poverty agenda, including the director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois; the administration’s point person on poverty, Martha Coven; and Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation Van Jones.

The next day we went to Capitol Hill. Faith leaders got appointments in the offices of 84 senators and 213 representatives! Our advocacy teams urged Congress to commit to reducing poverty by half in the next 10 years, fully funding the foreign assistance budget, and supporting health care reform. At a rousing afternoon rally, five members of Congress came to speak to us, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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Making Places and People Bloom

In 1997, Majora Carter, a native of the South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point, moved back in with her parents to save money after graduating with a Master of Fine Arts from New York University. That’s when she learned about plans by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration to build a waste transfer station in her community, which already suffered from severe pollution produced by nearby plants. Angry and determined, Carter organized local environmental justice groups to win the fight against the transfer station and install new public green spaces in Hunts Point.

In 2001, Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a sustainable green economy in the South Bronx through education and green jobs training. Her work won her a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2005. She has been called the “Rosa Parks of the green jobs movement.” Carter spoke with Sojourners assistant editor Jeannie Choi about what it takes to eradicate environmental injustice and why the time for a green economy is now.

Jeannie Choi: How do you get people—from community members affected by environmental injustice to investors and politicians—interested in building the green economy?

Majora Carter: People have to see their self-interest in supporting whatever it is that we’re putting out there. When I found out that the city and state planned to build a huge waste facility on our waterfront, I was really alarmed; but many people in the neighborhood weren’t because they were so used to living this way. It wasn’t until I helped make the connection between the waste facilities that were located in the community and the neighborhood’s high childhood asthma rates that people became angry. They saw their self-interest tied up with the environmental injustice in their community, and that’s when they felt the rage that I was feeling.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2009
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With Eyes to See

His name was Richard, the same as mine. I sat inside his meager thatch hut, listening to his story, told through the tears of an orphan whose parents had died of AIDS. At 13, Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity, or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them, or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them, either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be. I try to picture my own children abandoned in this kind of deprivation, fending for themselves without parents to protect them, and I cannot.

I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t supposed to be there, so far out of my comfort zone—not in that place where orphaned children live by themselves in their agony. There, poverty, disease, and squalor had eyes and faces that stared back, and I had to see and smell and touch the pain of the poor. That particular district, Rakai, is known to be ground zero for the Ugandan AIDS pandemic. There the deadly virus has stalked its victims in the dark for decades. Sweat trickled down my face as I sat awkwardly with Richard and his brothers while a film crew captured every tear—mine and theirs.

I much preferred living in my bubble, the one that, until that moment, had safely contained my life, family, and career. It kept difficult things like this out, insulating me from anything too raw or upsetting. When such things intruded, as they rarely did, a channel could be changed, a newspaper page turned, or a check written to keep the poor at a safe distance. But not in Rakai. There “such things” had faces and names—even my name, Richard.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2009
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Speaking of Change

IT MIGHT SEEM UNLIKELY that a social justice program would flourish at a predominately white school in a region where racial divides are as common as Confederate battle flags. But extraordinary changes have occurred at Stetson University since the revolutionary thoughts of a black minister began to be implemented on campus and in the surrounding town of DeLand, Florida.

For more than a decade, a steady stream of poets, historians, business leaders, musicians, and significant figures from the civil rights era has flowed through Stetson’s campus as part of the Howard Thurman Program. In front of students, faculty, and townsfolk, speakers recount their days as freedom riders and their participation in boycotts, sit-ins, and marches. Others speak of slum colonialism in the 21st century, the fight for quality health care for minorities, as well as for decent housing and cultural freedoms. Still others have forged laws in Congress, negotiated prisoner releases in the Middle East, and helped South African refugees get an education. All challenge their audiences to seek solutions to issues of poverty, racism, justice, and social change.

The speakers come to this 126-year-old university because of the life and work of Howard Thurman, a theologian, professor, author, and mentor who influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and many other African-American leaders in the mid-20th century asthey founded and participated in the civil rights movement. Thurman is often considered the spiritual architect of this social revolution that forever changed lives in the United States.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Nor-easters for Peace

Editors' Note: Despite the fact that it's early summer and you're probably sitting on your deck wishing you had applied sun screen, try to imagine it's winter again and you're marching in the nation's capital against the war and there's a blinding winter storm. Not working? Okay, try this: Fill a bucket with ice water and stick your bare foot in it. Okay, now the other foot. THAT's what it was like, only colder. And wetter.

Filled with the Holy Spirit—who had already performed the miracle of ending a worship service on time, despite the participation of more than a dozen major religious leaders (you know how they can talk)—we walked out of the Washington National Cathedral and into the path of a blinding winter storm that I would have described as cold and bitter, had I been able to make my mouth work.

At this point, instead of marching to the White House, I felt God was calling us to march someplace closer, such as a nearby coffee shop, where we could get something hot. ("Could I get 3,000 regular grandes to go, please, and one espresso mocha skim latte with two vanilla shots. It's for a major religious leader.") But before I could share this divine revelation, the marchers had embarked on the three-and-a-half mile walk to the home of the president, despite the fact that the vice president's house was only a couple blocks away. (And he had coffee.) I tried to mention this, but I was swept up by the surge.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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Deeply Felt

I was born just before the United States entered World War II, and I've been participating in peace walks and vigils since the war in Vietnam. This was one of the best organized and deeply felt. The participation of some wheelchair users was touching, as was the closeness that came so quickly among people who started out as strangers. Many of the past events I've attended consisted almost entirely of peace church members. Here I had conversations with Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, and many others. I wish everyone in the nation could have experienced it as I did.

Jenny Duskey attends Ambler Mennonite Church and lives with her husband, Pete, in Glenside, Pa.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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