solidarity

A Fast for Families

Miriam Perlacio assembles a prayer quilt in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

IT WAS LIKE the end of the movie Lincoln. In an instant, one whole side of the House of Representatives turned, looked up at the five core fasters from the Fast for Families and erupted in overwhelmingly spirited applause. The applause reverberated throughout the chamber for what seemed like an eternity, though it was really only minutes. Ah, but what grand minutes. I wept. My body, standing there in the gallery, could not contain it.

The Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship was launched on Nov. 12 with core fasters abstaining from all food and drinking only water. Based in a tent on the National Mall, only a few hundred yards from the Capitol building, the fast was sponsored by nearly 40 church and labor organizations and garnered support from more than 4,000 solidarity fasters across the U.S. and around the world. Our goal: To move the hearts and compassion of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

In the Capitol building on Dec. 2, during the hour before the startling ovation, Eliseo Medina (the leader of the fast, which had reached the end of its 21st day on that Monday evening), D.J. Yoon (executive director of NAKASEC, a Korean-American advocacy agency), Cristian Avila (from Mi Familia Vota), and I received House member after member who’d come to visit us in the gallery to say “thank you for your sacrifice.” All the faces and names you usually see flashed across the screen commenting on the events of the day on cable television shows—they came to us, standing in the flesh, shaking our hands, grateful and concerned for our health.

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Global Churches Alliance for Bangladesh Garment Workers

Mary Priniski wrote in the August 2013 Sojourners magazine about churches responding in solidarity with garment workers, disproportionately women, after the terrible fires in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Now, a global church alliance has been established. Ekklesia reports:

[The alliance] provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

 

A Passing of the Baton

From left, Lisa Sharon Harper, Bernice King, Virgil Wood, and Sharon Watkins discuss faith, race, and the future of the church.

BERNICE KING watched as, one by one, the heads of denominations from across the nation bent down to sign the Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. “Response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’” Transfixed, King—Martin King’s daughter—sat in the first row of a church one block from Kelly Ingram Park, where 50 years before children had run scared, ravaged by German shepherds and fire hoses.

As they signed, the presidents of CCT’s five church “families” stepped to the podium. Each read his or her church family’s confession of complicity with the demons of racism and injustice during and since the civil rights era.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. sat behind bars in the Birmingham city jail and responded to criticism from eight local white clergy’s “Call for Unity” against outside agitators. King penned prophetic words in the margins of the newspaper that carried the white clergy’s call for “law and order and common sense.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King explained. He recounted the failed attempts to negotiate with city officials hell-bent on living a “monologue rather than dialogue.” He clarified: “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

King’s letter was a response to the protests of eight white clergy, but in an existential sense it was to the whole U.S. church.

Fifty years later, on April 15, 2013, after every denomination had added its “amen” and every confession had been read aloud, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter walked forward to receive a signed copy of the Christian Churches Together’s response to her father’s letter. It was a heavy and a beautiful moment. A baton was passed.

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My Pilgrimage with Warehouse Workers

EVERY TIME I fly into Ontario, Calif., I see neat blocks of gleaming, low-rise warehouses surrounded by well-manicured trees and shrubbery. I now know that what goes on inside those buildings is not nearly so pretty.

As a board member of People of Faith United for Worker Justice, a local faith-rooted worker justice organization, I have seen the dismal working conditions inside several of these warehouses and have heard the testimonies of workers who have been seriously injured on the job. Eighty-five percent of the warehouse workers in Southern California earn minimum wage and receive no health benefits, even though their jobs entail unloading and reloading heavy boxes.

Since many of these workers are hired through temp agencies, which are often located inside the warehouses, workers’ rights are routinely abused. When someone is injured, instead of being cared for, he or she is simply not called back to work the next day. When workers complain about poor working conditions—such as a lack of breaks, access to bathrooms, or having to lift heavy boxes into freight trucks in 108-degree temperatures—the managers tell them it’s not their responsibility because the workers are employed by the temp agency. The temp agencies in turn claim they are not responsible for conditions in the warehouses because the agencies are separate companies.

These warehouses are a critical link in a global supply chain that begins in Chinese, Cambodian, and Bangladeshi sweatshops. The goods are shipped to the Port of Los Angeles, unloaded, and hauled out to these warehouses where they are repackaged, loaded onto trucks and trains, and shipped off to Walmarts, Targets, and Home Depots across the U.S. From there, the merchandise ends up in our households.

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Solidarity and Sustaining the Beloved Community

Photo: Community image,  Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Community image, Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com

"I expect and am willing to be persecuted, imprisoned, and bound for advocating African rights. And I should deserve to be a slave myself if I shrunk from that duty or danger." -William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist (1805 - 1879)

With Black History Month coming up in February, many of us will remember the civil rights struggles that have brought us to where we are today. I recently read a fascinating book about that movement focused on the role of women in those efforts called Freedom’s Daughters. It highlights past generations of women activists, both black and white. They led in the struggles for abolition, desegregation, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. These movements carry with them the roots of our contemporary work for justice.

As I considered the lessons from that book I found myself resonating with many challenges, failures, and victories these women experienced, much of which was based on the race and gender dynamics of the day.

As an educated white woman who began my foray into community organizing though a summer internship in my early 20s — like many of the young women in Freedom Summer coming down from the North — I had not yet delved into the complicated nature of race relations in the United States. I started my summer feeling competent, a person who could learn and adapt to changes as I had on many previous international mission experiences. I carried with me an overly simplified belief in the romantic “beloved community.” The beloved community would come about as we worked together, prayed, and marched. 

Roots of the Common Good

LATELY I’VE been on a campaign to read some of the classic novels that I should have read decades ago. This summer it’s been John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. There, I confessed it. All these years I’ve been coasting on repeated viewings of the John Ford film adaptation. But I’m reading the original now. And despite the hunger and hardship faced by the Joad family, I find myself experiencing nostalgia for those old hard times.

Americans fell into the Great Depression of the 1930s without the safety net of unemployment insurance, food stamps, or federally insured bank deposits. In fact, victims of the current depression have those benefits because of the things their ancestors did 80 years ago. Back then, Americans pulled together with the sure belief that we are all responsible for each other and that no one of us can, or should, stand alone. They recognized that a common plight required common action, and they gave us a trade union movement and a New Deal.

In The Grapes of Wrath, that recognition is rooted in the primary value of family solidarity, which grows to include neighbors and co-workers, and, finally, in Tom Joad’s famous speech, extends to all people struggling for justice (“whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat”), and even to all humanity, past and present (“maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of”).

Obviously, that sense of solidarity is hard to find in 21st century America. Today’s Joads, while also motivated by family values, are more likely to blame their problems on big government and to vote for free-market fundamentalists who will cut taxes on the rich.

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Pastors and Congregants Wear Hoodies to Church

Image via The Faith Community of St. Sabina, www.stsabina.org.
Image via The Faith Community of St. Sabina, www.stsabina.org.

Christians and other people of good faith nationwide stood in solidarity with Trayvon Martin this weekend by wearing hooded sweartshirts — aka "hoodies"— to church.  

Monday marks the one-month anniversary of Trayvon's slaying in Sanford, Florida at the hands of neighborhood "watchman" Gregory Zimmerman, who shot and killed the 17-year-old African-American boy in “self defense” for “looking suspicious” while dressed in a hooded sweatshirt.

Trayvon was unarmed, carrying only a package of Skittles, an iced tea and his cell phone.

Last week, people across the nation began wearing hoodies to work, school, and community marches in response to Trayvon's slaying and the injustice of the kind of racial profiling that it would appear directly led to it. On Sunday, many churches took that vision a step further as pastors and congregants donned hoodies and wore them to church for what some congregations called "Hoodie Sunday."

U.S. Veterans Show Solidarity With Iraqi Restaurant

After vandals threw a 20-pound rock through the window of an Iraqi restaurant in Lowell, Mass., its owners, overwhelmed with fear at this unwarranted hate crime, came close to shutting its doors permanently.

That is, until a group of U.S. veterans flooded into the restaurant to support the owners.

Last week, Veterans for Peace organized war veterans and citizens to gather in solidarity with the Iraqi store owners. Their efforts filled the seats of the restaurant twice, and also brought the neighborhood a clear sign that city hate crimes won't be tolerated by people of good will.

In Solidarity with Target Workers on Thanksgiving

Target. Image by Kevin Dooley via Wylio [http://bit.ly/vFvCHN]
Target. Image by Kevin Dooley via Wylio [http://bit.ly/vFvCHN]

Thanksgiving Day is a civil holiday, but it is a day of religious significance when we consider the ethics of commensality, the holiness of the table meal, the physical and spiritual importance of sharing a meal with family, friends or even with strangers. We share food, time, and lively conversation. We make memories. Such occasions are a part of the joy of life. When we consider the meaning of the communion elements as not only the body and the blood of Jesus, but as elements that signify the sustenance and the joy of life, then such occasions as Thanksgiving Day are joyful days that make life worth living.

Some people who work for Target, a major national retailer that plans to open its doors for Black Friday starting at midnight following Thanksgiving, have circulated a petition in protest. They are right to say enough. I stand in solidarity with them.

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