Friday, February 20, 2009

A move to Michigan

When you leave a place that has as much love, compassion and genuinity as Milwaukee it's hard not to be a little nostalgic about "how the Milwaukee times were." However, time always has a way like Green Day would say grabbing you by the wrist and directing you where to go.

I suppose that's how I ended up in Michigan, Elizabeth has been living in Detroit since August and being so far apart was becoming taxing on our relationship. Neither of us did well with long distance and because of the economics of things, one of us had to give in. Being a bicycle messenger, although probably being the most fun job that I will ever have was appealing, not being near my fiance' was not.

So hear I am, I packed up my things and in a matter of 2 weeks my stuff was jammed packed into my brothers small pickup truck. Elizabeth and I had found a house in a little town called South Lyon, MI, it's about 10-15 miles north of Ann Arbor where the University of Michigan is located. Our house is super awesome! Our landlord gave us the opportunity to paint the inside of the house in whatever colors that we wanted. Elizabeth and I both have a little different tastes so the living and dining room I painted in a classical opaque white while my office was triumphantly painting "slime" green!

Since then, I've been looking for a job in Michigan. Not an easy thing to do I suppose in a state that has the highest unemployment rates in the country. I've applied to everything, from telemarketers, to grocery stores, to bicycle shops, to non profit work. Each day I pray that I will get some sort of response from the other end. Looking for jobs I didn't think was supposed to be a one way form of communication!

Anyway, someday soon I hope that I will be able to find something. Although I don't really know what the purpose is now, I believe in faith and I believe that God sent me to Michigan for some purpose that I haven't quite yet discovered. I suppose that it will reveal itself soon or at least that is my hope because being unemployed is no fun!

We've got a little cat now though, her name is Marley, she's a little black kitten that was found my a shelter almost frozen to death in the cold Michigan winter. She's the most interactive little cat that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, as I write she sits perched in front of the computer screen wondering why the cursor is moving at the pace that it is and why it coordinates with the buzzing sounds of fingers dashing on the keyboard. At night she'll often nuzzle up to me in bed to try and stay warm she's such a good little kitty.

Anyway, hopefully I will find some meaning in this move to Michigan soon, if you could, please keep me in your prayers that I am able to find a job here and do something really fun and productive that allows me to be apart of the creation of a better world.

Peace Always,


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter Cycling

As you may have seen outside, if you live in Milwaukee there's a bunch of snow on the ground. This happened prior to it falling out of the sky making for some pretty nasty conditions on the roads... If there is one thing that is more important than anything else about being a bike messenger in a snowstorm its keeping your feet dry and not letting the salt and other crap on the roads literally eat yourself and your bike alive. Its funny, when I deliver many of my packages, the clients sometimes ask, don't they let you drive your car in this weather? The answer is always well uh... I don't have a car so... yeah...

Anyway, after watching in horror as the salt and snow ate my nice Campy parts alway in the sea of white death, I decided that something had to be done, so much to my resistance, but out of pure practically, I now have my first single speed. The Univega after a few hours in the workstand finished up with no derauilers to destroy and a simple easy single speed design which should prove to be (1) Inconvient and (2) Milwaukee winterproof.

Heres the finished product, Univega ready for winter battle.

I also thought that I would stick this on the blog, I remember seeing it at the 2007 Bicycle Film festival, but for all of you who missed it, it's a pretty cool courier video!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving and other Stuff

So I was just realizing that I don't tend to ever write updates on whats really going on in my life on this blog, but instead ideas and thoughts that I have about whatever.

Me Married~

Anyway, I don't know if I mentioned it on my blog but I'm getting married! Elizabeth and I are thinking about having the ceremony on July 4th (the same as my parents) back in Pennsylvania with the reception in my parents backyard. (Just like the old parties that we used to have there when I was growing up) Its going to be pretty neat, we're trying to find a way to have a wedding that will have many of the Quaker wedding traditions that Elizabeth enjoys. Just this weekend Mom and Dad went and visited a Quaker meeting house for the first time in their lives to get a sense of what it would be like and I think they really enjoyed it.

If you don't know what a Quaker wedding entails, it is similar to a traditional ceremony where everyone sits in silence and when they are called to speak they stand up and address the congregation. Eventually, Elizabeth and I will stand up and say our vows, and with that we are married! Pretty sweet eh? Here's a picture of the two of us in our practice engagement photos!
So that's what were thinking with regards to that, as you know these plans have gone through revision after revision, but I think that we're starting to get it really hammered out.

Thanksgiving Trip~

Elizabeth and I took the trip down to Chattanooga, TN to visit my grandparents and cousins this past thanksgiving. It was a really good trip, she had never been through the mountains and taking her up Signal Mountain where my Uncle lives was really fun... The mountains down in Chattanooga are huge. (As you can probably see if you look out at the background of the picture). It was really good to get up there with my grandparents getting older and my cousins getting ready to start college and begin their lives.
While I was there I got to spend some quality time with my all of my family, it was good because the last time I was in Chattanooga was 3 years ago, and the cousins since then had grown like weeds and my grandparents got to meet Elizabeth and officially accept her into the family. I also got to spend some time with my Uncle David, who had came from out west to spend some time with the family. If I haven't mentioned him before he's a really cool guy, he's been living out of his car for the past 30 something odd years taking whatever sort of construction job he can find for a while until he has enough saved so that he can go hang out in the wilderness again. He's lived all over the American west, in nudist colonies, national parkland, you name it! He's a true free-spirit who continually inspires me to go out and live my dreams
On the way down Elizabeth and I also stopped down at Mammoth Cave National Park, which is home to the world's largest cave system. Its really neat,

Uncle David inspecting Cannons on Lookout Mountain

apparently, there are 312 miles of discovered caves with more and more being discovered each day. We took the New Entrance tour which took us down through the dark limestone walls and crazy rock formations, its pretty nuts it almost seems like your in another world!
We also got to do some riding, just like us, we never leave home without our bikes and this trip was no exceptions. Elizabeth got the chance to climb the infamous "W Road" its called that because at the top the road is actually shaped like a W, weaving up the mountain through tight switchbacks at steep mountain grades. Completing it made a Midwestern flatlander happy to say the least!

It was a good trip, but now its time to get back to work in Milwaukee, there are packages to be delivered and bikes that need to be ridden.

Mountain Complete!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Organize?

When did it all really begin? Where did this fire in my heart for fighting for the rights of low wage workers come from? As I drove down the street one early morning on the way to track practice my sophomore year of college, I passed the local temp agency, it was 4:30 in the morning and I didn't know anyone could possibly wake up that early in the morning unless it was mandated upon them. As I drove past that temp agency on 38th St in Indianapolis and saw the line for jobs wrapped around the side of the building, it was if my brain had been slapped with a vision of the reality, as a newborn would seeing light for the first time. Where had I been for all the time before that, how did I develop such a skewed and simple belief that if we just worked hard enough that the world was at our doorstep, that the factors of races, privilege and poverty did not exist? Was the quest bringing good to this crooked world really for me to do? Like Joah, I didn't want the job at first, after all, there were better paying ways of providing for my life than this, but just as Joah could not escape the belly of the whale, I could not escape my destiny in the struggle for the rights of low wage workers.

With great power comes great responsibility said Spiderman's mentor, God blessed me with an upbringing of privilege, growing up in a family that loved me dearly and had the means to help me get through college. With my education came my liberation, liberation from the confined and overly simplistic understandings that had once been my rock. It seems the structures of power and inequality seemed to only rear their ugly head when examined, this examination is always a choice that we have to make. As I drove by, looking into the glazed; half awoken eyes of the single mother in line hoping that a possible job today would yeald the means to turn the lights back on, I knew this would be my destiny. The only meaning my life that would be worth it would be to be the advocate for that line.

As I graduated from college and followed through with this fire, I knew that the root of justice was fundamentally based on economics, when you don't have a job that gives you enough to put food in your children's mouth, when the hell are you ever going to “save” up the money to go to the doctor? If your working two jobs just to make ends meet, when are you ever gonna have the time to be a parent and make sure the kids don't get involved in gangs. When the economy fails and your job is first to go, how are you going to make it? Do illegal options seem the best choice?

Economic justice is the not simply an aspect of the foundation for fighting for justice, it is the foundation.

The work started at Interfaith Worker Justice with the Labor in the Pulpits program organizing clergy to discuss issues of worker justice as they related to their faith on Labor Day Sunday. In 2007, about 100 congregations in the Milwaukee area talked about the importance of fighting for the rights of low wage workers, parishioners were challenged to think about poor folk in new ways, many these parishioners now are in similar situations now as recession and factory closures lead to more unemployed. Maybe at some point we will realize that were all in this together and that we rise and fall as one...

After that summer with IWJ it happened, the rubber hit the road, I kept the job with Faith Community for Worker Justice for a full year and the situation at Capital Returns crept up, Capital Returns (now Genco Pharmaceuticals) was a pharmaceutical recycling plant on the northwest side of Milwaukee which inventoried and disposed of unused and degrading drugs from places like Walgreen's and CVS. When the stories got out about what was going down at the plant something had to be done, the employees of Capital Returns had a plan and that plan was to organize a union. As I began to meet with the employees of Capital Returns with the United Steelworkers an organizing drive was created.

The situation down at the plant was bad, most of the workers were coming from the Welfare to Work (W2) program, a failed attempt to put people to work; however the jobs that were provided were as horrible as the program that had placed them there in the first place. Workers at Capital Returns were handling all sorts of dangerous drugs, pregnant women were grabbing raw old birth control pills out of boxes with no protection to their hands but food service gloves, an issue that may have lead to a number of miscarriages at the plant, as we heard the stories, the injustices seemed to creep up faster than pestering dandy lions in the middle of spring

Changes needed to be made, that was evident and the workers began to organize, after all this was their workplace, and if they couldn't be the ones to take the power back who would? They talked to their friends, brought back union cards, dug through the trash to find documents needed to detail workplace atrocities, distributed union literature and the in the organizing terms “leaders were developed.” Meanwhile, we worked on organizing the community outside of Capital Returns, we brought the situations that workers faced to churches, universities and local unions, and as the larger community became invested in the campaign workers felt that the power was theres, to win or to lose.

As the United Steelworkers received enough cards to file for an election we had a big vote yes rally. The workers called upon their friends and family, and with it college students, clergy and union fok gathered outside of the plant gates only as Milwaukee winters are, with 4 feet of snow on the ground and 15 degree temperatures, we got 100 people standing outside the gates of that wrenched place; the message was clear “Vote Yes!”

The feeling for the workers was monumental, once folks who had been broken down and beat up for their entire lives actually had a say in what was going on, although attempts to organize Capital Returns eventually broke down as a result of union busters running high dollar campaign, people from the plant began to have a sense of their own power to change the forces that seemed to ultimately govern their lives.

The feeling for me was similar, I once thought an organizer had to be the leader, but in the end it was never about me being the leader, it was about workers taking control of the forces which they at one point thought were unattainable. I am confident that at some point, Capital Returns will have the voice of the workers in charge.

As I continued organizing we worked on the Paid Sick Day referendum, where every worker in the City of Milwaukee would have Paid Sick Days through their employer, in an effort concerted with 9to5, the Working Womens Association, the referendum passed this past November by a landslide, this monumental reform has now made Milwaukee the 3rd city in the country to offer this important benefit.

Finally, I ended up working with AFT Healthcare which is where I stand now, organizing nurses to fight for the very same reasons that the workers at Capital Returns did, to have a voice that could shape the course of their lives, to be the voices of change in their workplace. As we stand now we are working on trying to get a neutrality agreement with the hospital so that nurses can freely and fairly organize their union so that they can be advocates for themselves.

Through faith, optimism and a never ceasing belief that a better world is possible will I continue the work of justice in our world because to not do so would be turning my back on the sanctity of everyday life. So to all the students and young idealists out there keep dreaming and keep fighting because its our world to live for and we rise and fall only as one.  

Monday, November 17, 2008

Balance of Sprituality

I hope that you liked that Carl Lewis youtube video posted below, maybe we can use his words of motivation to go on and fight out the next few years of organizing work that we have to do! 

Anyway, I went to Church yesterday and had some really good reflections.  The sermon that Pastor Tim spoke about was the balance of spirituality and the need for each and every one of us to have encompass two different forms to be truly whole. 

The first being to be in deep communion with God, this means spending time in meditation and prayer. This can come through a number of different ways. The first being the tradition of the Quakers.

The Quaker tradition empathizes being quiet and knowing that God is speaking.  So much of the time that we spend in prayer it is simply us speaking, talking to God, but never keeping our mouths shut enough to listen to God's reply.  The Quaker tradition does this through silent communal meditation  where we allow God to speak to us, whatever is relevant and important in our lives at the moment, the Quaker tradition teaches us the importance of listening as well as speaking.

Furthermore, I believe that deep communion with God can also be found within the tradition of Catholicism and although I have never been Catholic the traditions of ritual and transcendence that are so ever popular in the Catholic traditions allow us to transcend the everyday to a place of holy reverence.  The space that many Catholic churches encompass with elaborate decor and imagery take us out of the everyday as we enter the place of God, there is nowhere in my opinion that allows us to feel in a haven of God more than in a Catholic Church. With this combination of steadfast tradition and time spent in deep prayer as well as the physical space that we enter in a Catholic church, I find that I am able to attend to a sense of yearning for God that doesn't come out of my own tradition.

There however, I think is a balance of spirituality amongst the personal and the social and when it comes to the social context of my faith, I feel that it can be best attained in my own tradition: United Methodist. 

When I enter Memorial United Methodist on any given Sunday I feel the great attention to community that is played out in the space, a deep commitment to others who have attended there for so long and a sense that the Kingdom of God cannot be found within ones self mutually.  The strong commitment to social justice and the poor, our work within our neighborhoods and communities is so ever important in the United Methodist Church.  At Memorial we take time out in the service to spend children's time with the kids so they too feel apart of the community.  When Pastor Tim says its time to peace, we may never know when he'll be able to wrangle everyone back together to get back to the service. 

In order to fulfill the complete commitment to Christ as Christians, we must be able to attend to all aspects of our faith, to the spiritual and to the social.  All of the traditions that I mentioned are all doing degrees of both.

While the Quakers spend time in silent mediation with God on Sundays, they are also highly active in the anti-war movement and anti poverty measures, the commitment that the Friends have to social justice is fantastic.

The Catholics while also having a very deep understanding and commitment to ritual and tradition, they to are active in their communities through the running of one of the largest social outreach programs in the city through the facilitation of food pantries, prison and drug ministries. They also have created one of the largest documents of any faith on social commentary called Catholic Social Teaching. This teaching was largely responsible for the liberation theology that spawned up in Central and South America when the poor realized that God had preferential treatment for the poor which gave them the power to build the uprising against hyper capitalist regimes in the Reagan era.  

The United Methodist Church while also attending to the community of Christ, will also hold breakout sessions on how to walk the Labyrinth, how to understand God more fully and personally, and spends significant time trying to develop the spiritual side of its members. 

For if we are to be Christians that can hold onto our foundations, we must have a solid grounding in both the sacred and secular aspects of our life and live them out in a Christ-like way.  All of our traditions attempt to figure out that negotiation in very positive ways, we just need to be accessible to them.