MLK

Seeing Through 'Right-to-Work' Laws

WHAT’S NOT TO like about a law called “right to work”?

It is a label that invokes the best of our U.S. national persona: a dedication both to individual freedom and to the important role that our labors play in developing personal character and community prosperity. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a so-called right-to-work law in early March, making his state the 25th in the country to adopt such legislation, he did so on a desk emblazoned with a bold sign saying “Freedom to Work.”

The problem with right-to-work laws is that they are a lie.

For generations, legislation drafted under this label has been promoted by people and organizations whose priorities are not to enhance the autonomy and welfare of our nation’s workers, but to crush them. Aimed at weakening collective bargaining rights, these laws trace their origins beyond the 1980s union attacks led by Ronald Reagan, past the 1940s Southern strategy to beat blacks out of the labor force, to a 19th century “Northern strategy” that equated “collective bargaining with the enslavement of free white men,” according to sociologist Cedric de Leon.

Right-to-work laws prohibit a company and its workers from agreeing that workers who benefit from a union-negotiated contract should pay fees to that union. The only “right” protected is the privilege of workers to benefit from union advocacy without paying for its cost. The goal is to drain the resources of those unions, smothering workers’ ability to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

In addition to the pitch for “individual worker freedom,” right-to-work laws are sold as providing a boost to local economies. “We now have given one more big thing on that checklist to say that Wisconsin is open for business,” Walker said before signing the new law.

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Building Beloved Communities

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

ONE OF MY favorite descriptions for the people of God, what the New Testament calls the “body of Christ,” is the evocative language of “the beloved community” used by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

beloved community is a powerful vision of a new coming together, a new community that welcomes all peoples in their diverse ethnicities and nationalities. Everygroup, clan, and tribe is included and invited in. That dream and vision undergirded King’s movement for civil and voting rights, both spiritually and philosophically, and deeply reflected his own underlying moral belief and hope as a Christian minister.

Yet in one of his most famous quotations, King also said this: “I am ashamed and appalled at the fact that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” He said this in 1953, while he was still associate pastor at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But obviously, and most painfully, that quote is still true today.

Incredibly, prior to 1998 there was no good national data on how many U.S. churches were “multiracial.” In this context, a multiracial congregation is one in which less than 80 percent of members belong to any single race. This definition is now widely used by scholars of modern religion, including Michael O. Emerson, the definitive scholar on multiracial congregations. According to scientific surveys of U.S. congregations of all faiths, Emerson has observed that “7.4 percent of U.S. congregations were multiracial in 1998, [and] in 2010 that figure had grown to 13.7 percent.” In other words, truly multiracial congregations in the United States are still very much the exception to the rule. At the same time, it is highly encouraging that their number nearly doubled in just over a decade.

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Selma: 'To Come Away Changed'

Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collectio

Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collection/flickr.com

The white ministers didn’t fly down to Alabama in January, when Sheriff Jim Clark clubbed Annie Lee Cooper outside of the county courthouse, nor in February when a state trooper fatally shot twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson in the stomach for trying to protect his mother after a civil rights demonstration.  

But on Bloody Sunday everything changed. At 9:30 p.m. on March 7, 1965, ABC news interrupted a broadcast to show hundreds of black men, women, and children peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and a sea of blue uniforms blocking their way. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse, and then the screen filled with the smoke of tear gas, police on horseback charging the screaming crowd, burly troopers wielding billy clubs and bullwhips, a woman’s hem rising up over her legs as a fellow marcher attempted to drag her away to safety.

Overnight the nation’s eye turned toward Selma. Rev. Martin Luther King sent a telegram to hundreds of clergy that Monday, urging them to leave their pulpits and join him in Alabama to march for justice. Some supporters, like the reporter George Leonard, packed their things immediately after watching the newscast from Selma.

“I was not aware that at the same momemt ... hundreds of these people would drop whatever they were doing,” Leonard wrote later.  

“... That some of them would leave home without changing clothes, borrow money, overdraw their checking accounts, board planes, buses, trains, cars, travel thousands of miles with no luggage, get speeding tickets, hitchhike, hire horse-drawn wagons, that these people, mostly unknown to one another, would move for a single purpose to place themselves alongside the Negroes they had watched on television.”

Selma changed the course of history by paving the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, but its impact didn’t end there. The spirit of Selma rippled outward, forever changing those who made the long journey to Alabama — including a white minister from Washington, D.C., named Rev. Gordon Cosby.

#ReclaimMLK Protests Call For A 'Year of Resistance’

Two young women join the march on Monday January 19. Image courtesy Charissa L

Two young women join the march on Monday January 19. Image courtesy Charissa Laisy/Sojourners.

Over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, protesters across the country sought to reclaim the radical, activist legacy of Dr. King by taking to the streets in protest of ongoing police brutality. Frustrated that his work has too often been softened and sanitized, protesters stressed that Dr. King’s original tactics, which were often direct and controversial, are desperately needed today if the United States is to effect lasting change.

 “[Dr. King] has become more of a vague idea and people forget that he was a person that marched the streets,” one protester in Washington D.C., Caroline, said.

“They need to be talking about real activism and real change and not just having a day off work and saying the name.”

Another woman, Janelle, described Dr. King as “a great leader but also part of a larger movement that is still trying to combat the same injustices that he was fighting against.”

Marching with three children under the age of ten, Janelle explained their presence bluntly.

“This problem isn’t going to go away,” she said.

U.S. Churchgoers Still Sit in Segregated Pews, and Most Are OK with That

Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma." Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15), just as the civil rights drama Selma was nominated for best picture in the Oscar race, one fact of American life was little changed.

Sunday morning remains, as King once observed, the most segregated hour in America. And, against a backdrop of increased racial tensions, new research shows that most Americans are OK with that.

Two in three (66 percent) Americans have never regularly attended a place of worship where they were an ethnic minority, according to new polling analysis released by LifeWay Research.

“People like the idea of diversity. They just don’t like being around different people,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based research firm. 

“Maybe their sense is that church is the space where they don’t have to worry about issues like this,” he said. But that could be a problem, because, Stetzer said, “If you don’t like diversity, you’re really not going to like heaven.” 

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