Monday, December 24, 2007

Dream of Flying

When will the moment be when we pick up and fly? Like a penguin who has the means, but cannot take wing we sit here still on this earth with the means to take flight and find what we are looking for and yet the glorious burden of what we are supposed to do acts as the hurricane, the rainy day the dreary weight upon our shoulders that keeps us from reaching our fullest potential.

At this place we stand weighted by the rain, and like the penguin we go through our lives looking for that gust of wind that will one day allow us to take to the air. We lust for it, we daydream about the day in which we will have the financial stability, the time away from work, the completion of the mortgage, and yet while we wait, the sun rises and sets smiling at us each and everyday, begging us to come and join in the fun of God's great wonderland. The wealth of this life cannot ever be realized until this mediatative and beautiful journey can take place.

That is why I plan on taking a trans-american bicycle tour upon completion of my year a Cap Corp. If life is meant to be lived, what are we waiting for? I write this blog more as an accountability to myself to actually do this than anything else really to put it forth into the world to say that something so seemingly crazy will be completed.

Through this trip I hope to find meaning, I hope to find a deeper understanding of whether God is really calling me to the ministry of the Church, I hope to find a deeper understanding of what the plan for me and all of God's children here on earth, I will never find the complete answer, but to be in pursuit of it must be to some extent our calling on this journey.

Just wanted to share the lyrics to one of my favorite songs in the whole world and I hope that the meaning that I have found out of this prose maybe also inspiring to you.

Dream of Flying
Alexi Murdoch

"Pale light this morning

Woke me
Slow pain I feel
Will not let me be

So much work to do
I don't know if I can
Trying so hard, so hard, so hard
But I know that I'm just one man

Five years old I climbed up on the wall
My mother warned me but I took no heed
Like all creatures great and small
I took a fall and found out I could bleed

These days I'm afraid of everything
Suppose cause everything will die
Thought it was to love what they will lose
So much easier to lie

Sometimes I fell like I'm drowning
Actually it's more like most of the time
But every now and then when I'm sleeping
I still have a dream that I'm flying

And I wake up crying"

Be a flying penguin!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Onto 2008

They say that the revolution of the new world will never be televised. These beliefs are founded in mountains of evidence seen on the broken streets of Milwaukee that pass under my bicycle wheels every day on my ride to work. News Release! The corporation, George Bush or the American Idol will not save us from the jobless cities, minimum wage jobs, under-funded schools, violent gang wars, racial segregation lines, and blatantly unequal access to opportunities in the social structure. For it is only by OUR hard work in which the seeds of justice will be sewn.

What have things come to? When the streets of Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago are divided so staunchly that the only thing we hear about each other comes from the mind draining visual plastic opiates that sit in our living rooms. We are not simply mindless consumers of propaganda and ridiculous garbage that advertisements convince that we need.

We are people and as people, we are members of families, communities, neighborhoods, churches. Yet we have become so isolated! When did we give up on getting to know people that are different than us? Did we ever have this?I know that we have, and amidst the muck we see community built at places like the Catholic Worker, the Lions Club, Town Hall Meetings, neighborhood organizations, the examples of small seedlings bursting and poking out to rear their faces in the desert are too many to number and these seedlings certainly have the potential to grow into flower and fruit. Recently, I've been reading the book of Acts and I am convinced that the community that was formed then around the body of Christ might be one of the great examples that we have of a human world community family, when we give everything up and follow the prophetic word of God, great community has the opportunity to arrive. I don't mean to be preachy here, and I apologize if I come across that way, but instead I wish to point out the optimism and great movement of a committed group of individuals that share a vision of "the way that things should be." This is not to say that the way in which the church has acted recently is any indicator of this, but community is certainly evident in our religious movements, our civic movements and only when we can unify in solidarity can a new world be possible.

This God gives us the power to go into the streets of Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago with word and action that says we are not going to put up with this corporate domination and exploitation of this human community for any longer. This God is a God of Peace and God that speaks to us. When our streets look like bombed out Falajuah and Baghdad where is the freedom that George W says were spreading to the world in our own communities? To what do we have freedom to we ask? Freedom to access dingy minimum wage jobs that leave us homeless on streets, that leave our children's mouths at the mercy of food shelters, that put our teenage brothers and sisters with no other choices except for hustling drugs, violence, and eventual incarceration, freedom to house our families in burnt out urban homes? And yet each and every one of us in our human community is valuable. We are valuable to be active participating individuals working in the Kingdom of God's community to enact real social change. Each and every one of us, every welfare mom, every homeless beggar, every drug addicted burnout, every Wal-Mart sales associate trying to get by has human dignity.

This is not about charity, this is not about simply feeling sorry for the least of us, this is about empowerment, this is about realizing the great abilities and talents that each and everyone of us has to be an important, positive member of our community.This empowerment has to be evident! Who are we?! What do we stand for? For if we stand for nothing, we will truly be defeated. We all know that when the current structure of power is not challenged, it will certainly take its stand and bulldoze all the concepts of equality, democracy, comradely and love. At the disposal of this structure of power is the money that was stolen from our brothers and sisters; the profit to coerce and allow members of our community to be paid large sums of money to work against their own families. But we must live in hope; this hope is one of the only things that we can cling to in 2008. Because there are so many voices, so many brothers and sisters that feel the same way as I do about our broken communities. And although it sometimes seems hopeless, this is a battle that we can win!

The power of the corporation is powerful, but the Lord's power of justice that inhabits all of our souls deep down inside is so much stronger. The power of love knows no boundaries and when that power amasses, the constructs of social inequality will collapse on their own fallacies of justice.

So go into this New Year with great love, great hope and compassion knowing that the struggle will be hard, but certainly is doable.

God Bless Everyone!


P.S. I didn't know where to fit this in, but on a boarded up door of a burnt out door of a once vibrant Detroit business was spray painted "Where are the 200 thousand troops to protect this city?" It had quite an impact on me and I thought I would share it.

*"Surviving Decay" Graphic was drawn by my favorite visual artist ever. Eric Drooker, please check out www. to see more art from Eric.

Monday, December 3, 2007

International Human Rights Day-Dec 10th

Why hello computer/cyber world! I hope that the holidays are filling people's lives with love, grace and the values of community.

Things at the Faith Community for Worker Justice are going very well. Robin, my volunteer student from Alverno College has committed to helping out 20 hours a week next semester to advance the mission that the Faith Community for Worker Justice is working on through 2008. With that said, things are looking up!

The Capital Returns Campaign is going much better now thanks to the work that the Faith Community for Worker Justice put into it. Thanks to the protest at the plant and panel discussion that were organized by FCWJ, the United Steelworkers, the labor union that is working within the plan has stepped up their internal organizing at the company and has sent an organizer all the way from Philadelphia to work specifically on this campaign until it is won. Way to go for making sure that we advance human rights for low wage workers at Capital Returns. Hopefully soon we will have a union organized at Capital Returns and the ridiculous health and safety issues that were and have been making the folks who work there choose between their jobs or their health will be alleviated and the workers at Capital Returns can labor with dignity.

Dec 10th is just around the corner and with this date comes International Human Rights Day. A day that Milwaukee will celebrate along with the rest of the world in conjunction with the United Nations. The event in Milwaukee is being organized by me, but not really sponsored by FCWJ in the same way that most events are. The idea around international human rights day this year is to highlight the work that all sorts of area non profits are working on around Milwaukee.

Sponsoring organizations in include:

9to5- the working women's organization
Citizen Action- a direct action community organizing group in Milwaukee
Good Jobs Livable Communities-a community based labor group
Milwaukee Network for Social Change-who organizes the "free market"
WISCOSH-the Wisconsin Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
Running Rebels- an inner city youth empowerment organization
Democracy Matters- a organization committed to spreading democracy through education
Lutheran Human Relations Association-a Lutheran based social justice organization
United Steelworkers- a labor union supporting the workers
Faith Community for Worker Justice-a interfaith religious/labor group
Greater Milwaukee Human Rights Council-dedicated to advancing human rights in Milwaukee

At this event we should also be having Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Mayor Tom Barrett, Senator Spencer Coggs discuss the importance of human rights. Other speakers will include Pastor Tim Berlew from Greenfield Memorial Methodist Church and Rose Daitsman-Greater Milwaukee Human Rights Council who will release the executive summary of human rights in Milwaukee.

Human Rights are important to all of our organizations, each of our organizations works on addressing these different issues that fall under the veil of human rights and yet so much of the time we don't get the chance to recognize that.

International Human Rights Day will address Human Rights as they relate to all of us and our struggles to make sure that people are treating with dignity, love and compassion in the world. This event will highlight the commonalities that we all have in our passions to create a better world.

If you can make it, please join us at the City Hall Rotunda at 3:00 pm on Monday, Dec 10th.

Hopefully everyone has a super happy holiday and enjoys their time spent with friends, family and loved ones.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Reflection on Love and our Human Family

When asked by an interviewer; Desmund Tutu the illustrious religious leader and force behind the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; sat in his chair, for is the wrinkles on his face bore the years of struggle and experience that only a great man could have accomplished by a life lived ideally.

Desmund Tutu was asked, how do you get people to stop killing each other? Tutu smiled with a love for his human family that seemed to conquer all the host of violence, betrayal and conflict that could possibly be conjured up by a cruel world. His smile revealed something so fundamental, so basic as if the question itself was almost silly for an interviewer to ask.

Tutu responded by stating that the moment we can all see that we all come from the same family will be the moment in which the violence of inequality and murder will cease to exist. Tutu, stated quite bluntly that he or anyone he knew could not drop a bomb on Iran, recruit another child solider, not pay a worker their fair wage, not traffic another young woman into a prostitution ring if we see each and every one of these people as a member of my family. After all, I cannot murder 'that' person because they are my sister, they are my brother. Only then will we be able to start with the healing process in a world that has in the past been so cruel to our brothers and sisters.

In a conversation I had with a friend over our yearly visit to the School of the Americas Protest calling for human rights to be observed in Central and South America we discussed the concept of beginning to see ourselves as one human family. She mentioned that this concept might not be as successful as Tutu had stated, for it was easy to think of this peachy idea of love human family in the complex state of mind as if it were some off center wacky idealist idea. After all, as a child she too had treated her biological sister with great senses of indignity. Well of course, I thought, knock me out of this peachy rosy dream and get back to reality Jon, we live in the real world after all. For I too had done quite a good job at treating my biological brother with a large degree of hatred and angst during the years that we grew up together. To this day, although I love my biological brother deeply, I cannot say that conflict between the two of us remains non-existent.

In the end, however, he is my brother and despite our differences I shall not try to actively harm him-through this treatment I too expect for that to be reciprocated. When I love, I expect for that my brother to do the same. The concept of one human family follows suit. For I might not always agree with my brother, my sister, however in the end they remain my brothers and sisters in the communion of our human family and when they suffer, our whole human family suffers.

After our conversation with my friend at the SOA, I started referring to her as my sister and their was a quiet transformation that allowed for all involved in the conversation to see each other differently than we had seen each other before and at some level I think the both of us started seeing the other people in our community this past weekend in a different light. At some level I felt like we had broken through some sort of an unspoken boundary. For she was no longer just a friend of mine, but a integral part of my family, she was my sister.

As we gathered at Ft. Benning this weekend, we gathered because our brothers and sisters were suffering and we stood at the gates of that army base petitioning that our sisters and brothers who were causing the suffering to stop. Bringing about the new world that we are all called to find means that we love unconditionally, a concept that is more threatening to the status quo than the most unruly gang of anarchist revolutionaries, communists, Al Quida terrorists or whatever. Whatever movement that we create needs to be based on the prophetic idea and words of Desmund Tutu and the concept of each being a part of a collective human family. The concept that we love our sisters and our brothers who are both at the hand of suffering, but also the brothers and sisters that are the catalysts for that suffering; for they are all apart of our human family.

Love unconditionally, love everyone, love, love, love, love and when that revolutionary act becomes the norm, the world that many of us have been looking for will be realized.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Just a few words....

In a world of derogation, denial of freedom and dignity of life, we cleave. Cleaving for something valid, something worth living for; as commercials fly by like candy and opiate we are convinced that we are not legitimate, not worthy, not loved. Only that commodity displayed in gold will bring us the happiness that each and every one of us is looking for.

But below us, on another level there is another world, another reality that low wage workers here in Milwaukee are facing everyday, and a world that does not revolve around the simple accumulation of commodity that serves only to allow us false happiness. No, sir, no maim, there’s another world a world that is plowed down by our highways, our Wal-Marts, our boutique outlets.

There is struggle, a struggle that doesn’t ask the question of what piece of clothing will elicit the greatest common denominator of sexual satisfaction, and acceptance by our peers. No, sir, no maim, this struggle is primal, and this struggle is for life itself. In Milwaukee and across this world we have a population that looks for nothing except where the next meal is going to come from, a population that must choose between baby formula and having to pay the rent. A population who through this struggle has found only comfort in drugs, alcohol and destitution.

And here we stand, which dress should we wear that makes our ass look sexy? Which automobile will complement my attitude? What present can I buy for my kid that will show them that I love them? What is going on here? What lies have we told ourselves to leave us in this point of such meaningless isolation with ourselves and the community to which we live?

In the end, what do we all really want? What do we cleave to? What are we trying to do? We want a world of hope, we want a world of dignity, and we want a world of grace. A world where companies like Capital Returns treat the people who work for them with respect, and no matter how many computer lines those workers down there are told to type per hour let us remember that they are not the machines that they are continually told that they are! They are humans! They are living, breathing, worrying, struggling through the broken down neighborhoods in which their wage and aliments caused by contact with dangerous medicine will never allow them to escape. Let us always remember that workers rights are human rights and the struggle of everyday life doesn’t have to be that way. I believe in a better way, a way where employees in low wage conditions have the voice to form a union and allow their disempowered voices to ring as loud as the tone of freedom on Independence Day.

We are human, all of us, let us never forget that! Let us treat each other decently, let us love unconditionally, let us live and break out of our cycles of poverty and through it, a new world will be possible!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Blog Concept

As I was watching public access television the other day, I watched a story about a couple of right wing bloggers who were announcing the enormous success that they had had with blogs for Bush. Popular partisan reinforcement of their own ideology was becoming ever more widespread, they had published a book based on their popular blog. How crazy that something online written by seemingly normal and non-powerful people could be so influential.

Both sides of partisan politics have certainly employed the use of blogs with a good deal of success and through it. On both sides of the political arena readers of all ideologies pinned to listening what they believe over and over again thus reinforcing what they already believed while also allowing them to tune out the corporate right or the spineless left. One unintended consequence of the rise in popularity of political blogs is that because people of the left and people on the right have become so concentrated in reading only blogs that conform to their opinions that it has allowed for a dramatically increased polarization in American Politics between the left and the right.

What a shame or not? What is the repercussions of this shift, has the world of blogs made things better by solidifying the left and the right into more solid units? I think probably so. Is this a good or bad thing? It goes both ways. In the negative sense the use of blogs has allowed for a "tunnel vision" for partisan folks to not be able to even comprehend what the other side is thinking. In this way its negative, we have gotten so far away from each other in ideology that from a democratic standpoint, all views are not considered by everyone before decisions are made. Thus, allowing for the erosion of democracy.

However, simultaneously political blogs are enhancing democracy and allowing for something really neat. The blogosphere gives everyone a potential voice to speak out about what they believe in the world and the way things are going. The blogosphrere allows for the main stream media to lose much of its power as news. Instead, 'the news' is written by everyday people instead of big companies who have their hands in whatever they have their hands in. While the mainstream media fumbles around trying to figure out what is 'objective and what is not' political bloggers write what ever they feel, allowing their political identity to fuse out of every facet of their imagination. Its amazing to see this power erode, while partisan politics allow their pundits to argue about whether the media is leaning toward the left or leaning to the right, a new media has a risen in the blog world. This media is unabashedly partisan and makes no claims about trying to be 'objective'.

The blog is like the person, and combined allows for a new type of online democracy to reign over.

It's interesting to see the paradox of the blog. In one way it acts to limit the idea of democracy while allowing people who believe one thing to just subscribe to what they already believe and create a "group think' like atmosphere. Yet it also gives the "power to the people" and completely erodes the power of the main stream media!

Crazy eh? With that said, if we use blogs right and read things that we both agree with and disagree with as our form of media, then maybe the paradox of group think that blogs create will be alleviated by creating a form of radical democracy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

23 and beyond!

So 23 years old! I think I am actually a man, a grown up, scary! Can you believe it!

I have lately been feeling this crazy call to manhood. This weekend, I went down to Indianapolis Indiana to attend the wedding of one of my old friends from college. The wedding was nice, I got the chance to see all of my old college buddies that have disappeared since the move to Milwaukee. How fast things change, I feel that were all growing up!

Jon Swain came to the wedding with a lovely lookin' lady. I couldn't believe my eyes, out of all of Jon's grief about girls and finding the right one it seemed like it finally clicked for him. Jake was getting married, at the age of 24 Jake was immersing himself in a completely new and changing experience. John and Marie Williams, who also at the wedding who are 23 announced that Marie was pregnant and asked if I would be willing to be the Godparent. You know what that means don't you? I happily accepted amongst the fog of liquor, but simutaneously realized the tremendous responsibility of what he was asking, could I be ready? So Anna and I drove home reflecting on the speed in which things change as we enter this world into adulthood. Relieved that we had escaped all of this talk of growing up, we stopped at Brad's house down in southern Wisconsin before heading up to Milwaukee. Wow! now Brad is a real grown up. Also at 23, Brad and his fiancee' have purchased a house and have a 17 month year old child.

Its just amazing to see how all of this comes about... this aging thing. So much of a part of you wants to cling on to the good old times when responsibility is nill and freedom reigns reckless. Its crazy how much we change though; sculpted by the forces of age and accountability.

I find myself in that position now doing all of this organizing. In a place where nobody tells you exactly what your path should be, the exact measures in which you should follow to be successful in your life. You have guidelines, there the ones that you were supposeably taught for your entire life leading up to this point. However, somehow after all the preparation of things you feel as if you were the child in the talent show who rehearsed and rehearsed the song and dance to death in front of the mirror, only to forget it all in the face of the crowed stage. Why couldn't we just remember everything, be on autopilot, completely set up for the life that we always wanted. Why can't we just have it all figured out when we get to this point?

As I sat in the car on the drive back after seeing Brad's baby I thought of my parents. When they had my brother and I they seemed to have it all figured out, all set up, but I realized that I was now at the age that they could have been upon having me. With so much doubt fear and misdirection, how could they have possibly figured it out.

So I guess in conclusion, despite how much confusion and disillusionment about being this age, in the end we figure it out, perfectionism never seems to reign but instead we go through this process of mucking through it all and in the end we come out and realize that were in the light.

Who ever said that I life without perfection was ever a life without meaning?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Into the new season!

Wow! Can you believe that summer is already over? You can really tell by the way that that weather here in Milwaukee changed. Bicycle rides to work are cluttered now with layered flannel shirts, vests and a plethora of other junk aimed at making a bicycle ride warmer.

So Labor in the Pulpits went down without too many hitches. Speakers, for the most part managed to not get their butts thrown out of too many places because they dared to say that God was a God of the poor.

And here I stand, about a month ago I spoke about "Hanging on the Strings of Hope" and I am happy to say that I am now the Community Organizer down here at the Faith Community for Worker Justice(FCWJ), in charge of creating a program that the FCWJ can do throughout the year. I have a few ideas and will see what ends up flying.

It seems that this is going to be a neat year. By having the chance to work here for a year, I really feel like I can get FCWJ going to a point where it will have continued support from the Labor Council and possibly even have a few people that will work here on a full time basis by next year. The road to getting this organization up and running is a large one that will require much compassion and love by many people, but I believe in people and believe that there is enough concerned folks from faith and secular backgrounds to make it an effective organization.

Right now I am working on getting a strong bit of student support for the program to join the clerical support that we have had in the past. This means working both ways, supporting student organizations around town to create contacts between the religious community and the student community. We already have a student from Alverno University, here in town who is going to be volunteering down here over the course of the semester. She will be working on supporting the Capital Returns campaign in any capacity that we can by hosting a panel discussion and maybe sometime soon down the road organizing a direct action against the company.

There will also be an educational aspect to the FCWJ in having a seminar for lay and clerical leaders in the community on how to engage their congregations in issues of economic justice. This is tentatively scheduled to start Oct 11th at the Capuchin Volinteer Corp House, if you are interested in participating please give me a call at 414 771 7541.

We will also be teaming up with the Milwaukee Network for Social Change to get congregational support out for their Free Markets. Free Market is a program where a bunch of people bring all the old junk and give it away together, For Free!

We will also be working with the AFL-CIO's Health and Hygiene drive sponsored by United Way, if your congregation wants to get involved, feel free to call and we'll get you connected.

Brochures for our organization have also been created and we would like to distribute them to gain community support for FCWJ.

A website is also in the mix to be created, I will keep you updated on how that is going.

All and all were getting up and running to have a strong program for the 2007-2008 year.
Thanks for reading.

Peace Always,

Jon Royal
Community Organizer
Faith Community for Worker Justice

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summer Reflections

What does it mean to be a person of faith? What does it mean to be an activist? I am not 100% sure of either and I doubt that I ever will, but this summer gave me a little bit better understanding of both. Many of my activist tendencies may have been inspired by guilt that I was doing nothing to fix the broken down structure that allows for 80 % of the wealth to be controlled by something like 20% of the population. How could we have existed in a structure like this that allowed for so much wealth discrepancy? Fueled by a sense of anger to fix this, I set out on a journey to do my little part in creating the ideal that I had read in my political theory books.

What I found was something so much more inspiring, so much more beautiful; something that couldn’t be published in a book by a great academic theorist. What I found were people! People struggling without the slightest reason to hold on to any hope, yet everyday they got up that morning and went to fight the fight, to struggle for another days wages, to put food on the table that night, to not get evicted from there house… The whole time being subjected to some of the most atrocious working conditions that one could imagine. When Mother Theresa was asked by sympathetic onlookers about what they could do for the people who had nothing, she always simply responded, come and see. For coming and seeing could transform lives toward love and justice.

Labor in the Pulpits Program

Coming and seeing was my role this year organizing the Labor in the Pulpits program. Although much of my time was spent of the phone making pestering phone calls to Priests, Rabbis, Imams, Reverends and potential speakers to get involved in the program, in the end, I got a good response! About 100 congregations from across faith backgrounds decided to either speak on the issues of low wage worker justice or have speakers on Labor Day weekend come to their congregations and speak about worker justice. I also developed all the resources that would be used for the program that will be used by all of the speakers.

Standing in Solidarity with the workers at Capital Returns

Also would on a weekly basis I would meet up with Helen, Christine, Kimberly, Jeanette, Desiree, and Jason to name a few. They were fed up with what was happening to them at work, they were tired of being treated like slaves making barely enough to live. Not much has changed for the minority worker since the times of slavery and after hearing their stories, I am convinced that slavery still exists. They get paid a meager wage that allows them only to make enough to pay for the most inexpensive of housing, and commodities. Now instead of the owner paying for it, the owner gives them barely a wage and tells them that they can pay for it themselves; emancipation from slavery is what they call it…

(See the campaign leaflet that I wrote included in this letter.)

What I learned is there are faces, people, all individuals, all inspirational, all beautiful being stuck in these situations. They each have a story, they each have a face, they each have things that make them laugh and make them cry. They ARE human despite what sort of machines their jobs want to turn them into. We gave each other hope; we gave each other inspiration that operated in a cyclical fashion. I would walk out of meetings feeling like collectively we had hope as a human community. Listening to Kimberly speak out about the conditions at work, I heard passion; prophetic, pure and unrefined, she spoke with a heart that had forgotten how to hate her people and instead stand together as one. They were not people I just ‘helped,’ they helped me; through them I discovered the magic of living life to the fullest.

On ‘youtube’, I watched a video where I guy was going out asking people in the streets what the meaning of life was. Overwhelmingly, people responded by saying that the goal was to be happy, through this work, no matter how nutty it got sometimes, I cannot remember a time when I was happier and more fulfilled with the beauty of that we are working so hard to achieve through our journey here on earth. Riding home through the degraded and destitute neighborhoods, I saw hope breaking out of every boarded up window, colorful murals painted on the sides of abandoned buildings serving as constant reminders that a new world was possible and despite the gunshots, drugs, and bombed out buildings. The community was alive, still looking for the good in every situation!

I promise you, the good is there! And happiness cannot be found through the endless accumulation of things, but instead through the human relationship, the constant interactions of people with one another. That is the bounty that a life in solidarity with the poor affords. Now I do not wish to paint this view as a completely rose colored vision, there are stresses, fall backs and really tough times, we watched as union busting took its toll on the Capital Returns Workers and folks got scared about showing up to our union meetings, we heard the stories of miscarriages at the workplace, of mothers that wouldn’t be told by the company that their children had had an accident and was on the verge of death in the hospital. I had people of faith tell me that I was all wrong, that helping the poor was not something that the church had any business in. But hope has a way for creeping up like weeds after a thick coat of roundup, reclaiming its position like a plant in the occasional desert rain.

Working on an ecumenical level with people of faith has also been amazing. There have been so many amazing people of faith that I have met through this. People like Pastor Tim, Fr. Mike, Dave, Joan, Mary and Rabbi Yichak have shown me that faith in God means more than attending church or synagogue on a weekly basis, faith is living, faith is breathing and loving without borders. Seeing God work through these people has been one of the most transforming, refreshing and renewing observations that I have seen. The Kingdom of God is a living a breathing one, transforming the lives of people who open their hearts to love. It has been absolutely beautiful to see the solidarity of people of faith who stand up regularly and speak out for what is right as a voice to those who are so often not heard. Getting those people connected to break down all the race and class barriers that have been created out of ignorance and fear has been amazing to participate in and I thank God for allowing me to be a catalyst in being apart of this breaking down of walls.

So where do I go from here? After thinking and praying on it I have decided that this is the work that I would like to continue to do for the next year. The internship will be over tomorrow, but I was able to connect with an organization called the Capuchin Volunteer Corp. The Capuchins have a program where young people of faith come together in a house that has a basis on voluntary simplicity. If it all works out, I will live in community, pray in community and act in community. During the day, the group of volunteers will all work at various places around town working primarily with the poor on all sorts of issues and then in the evenings we will come home to share our experiences with one another. We will try to live our lives simply, in service to others. Through this work I would continue to be a full time volunteer for the Faith Community for Worker Justice organizing people of faith around issues of low wage worker justice and continue to stand in solidarity with the everyday people struggling to make ends meet doing all in my power to see that they have jobs that will support a life of dignity for themselves and their children.

Jesus once said to the rich man, give up your things and follow me. On the surface it seems impossible, however, I find myself trading a life of affluence for a life of love. Trading a life of meaninglessness for a life of meaning! Through this, I feel more connected to God than I think anyone could, this makes me so very happy!

Thank you for your support in fueling this experience, your money went to a just and loving cause I assure you. Through it, about 100 congregations from across faith backgrounds were organized and close to 10,000 people of faith are going to hear about the plight of the low wage worker on Labor Day Sunday and workers at Capital Returns have been given a theological framework to continue to fight for justice.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Destination-Mineral Springs

So believe it or not, I try to make sure that their our other components of my life besides activism. I think that in order to actually be good at something, you can't always do it all the time. Its so utterly important to have a life separate of just one thing. I've seen a lot of my friends go down the road of complete and utter focus only to at one point or another have something smack them in the face and say "hey! there is a big world out there!"

With that I want to tell you about the bike trip that Katy and I took out to Mineral Springs. Katy is a friend of mine from "Team Pegasus" a 'cycling team' that spends much of its time drinking beer and having a good time and a little bit of time riding their bicycles. All in all its a really good bunch of kids, and with our 'sponsor' being Pabst Blue Ribbon, we get set up pretty well.

Anyway, Katy and I set off on our trip out to Mineral Point, WI at 5 o'clock on Saturday morning. We had originally planned on having a group of 3 to 4 of us coming, but when the rubber hit the road, people squealed at the idea of getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning and riding their bikes close to 140 miles in a day.

I arrived at our meeting place in the twilight hours of a Milwaukee morning. Half awake and half asleep I sat at the corner of the street, gazing upon a quiet metropolitan city that wanted nothing more to do than sleep in on a Saturday morning after a heavy night of drinking. Katy rolled up on her bike and we started rolling.

With a bike all decked out with GPS Systems, computers, lights, pumps and panniers our wheels rolled slowly out of town. We escaped the city that morning before the beast woke up and found ourselves out to Waukesha, a small suburban town on the West Side of Milwaukee where we hopped on the Glacial Drummin Trail which serves as a bicycle 'highway' all the way to Madison.

By about 8 o'clock, our belly's needed some fuel for the trip and we arrived in Dousman, WI at the local store just as the bakery for the morning was being delivered. The lights were not on in the store yet but the bakery had shown up and we followed like bugs being drawn to an Oklahoma bug zapper. As we stepped out an consumed the perfectly fresh doughnuts, we knew the ride was going to be a success.

As we got close to Madison, we ran into an older couple on the trail. Cute as can be, they walked down the trail hand in hand with those sunglasses that allow absolutely no light in. As we passed them side by side, we scared the hell out of them and as we passed, the old man let out a yelp and told us to stop. Katy and I knew exactly why we were stopping. According to the rules, your supposed to pass single file and we didn't. This old man had something to teach our generation and he was full of voice to do it. As we stopped, I just wanted to hear this guy out and exchange a kind gesture to finish our little connection out. He told us how we should not have passed side by side and told us how we needed trail passes to ride on the path, despite his utter sincerity in his voice, Katy and I could not help but get over the fact of how cute him and his wife were together. Maybe someday we will to grow old together with someone we can care so much about and be able to yell at 'young wippersnappers' and tell them stories about 'when I was your age.' Following our conversation, we wished them well on their walk and took off, for we had really enjoyed their company while they stood there 'giving us a talkin' to.'

When we arrived in Madison, we met up with my good friend Anna for lunch at a pizza place down by the University, as we sat there consuming some of the most amazing pizza I had ever ate, we shared stories about what was going on in each other's lives. Everyone had a good time. As we left Madison, it began to rain.

The rail to trail on the West Side of Madison, is paved with dirt and if there is one thing about dirt that is true is when it interacts with water, it turns to mud. With 50 to 60 miles to go Katy and I rode down the mud trail. Flinging mud in every which direction. So much fun! It poured, but both of us remained in good spirits. Eventually, we arrive at Katy's parents house in Mineral Springs, about 45 miles away from Debuque IA. The town was quaint and personable, much different from the childhood town that I had grown up in. She knew everyone and everything there was to know about Mineral Springs.

In the end, it was a really good weekend, we both had a really good time and enjoyed every moment of a seemingly random experience.

Monday, August 6, 2007

On the Strings of Hope

As the time with my internship with the Faith Community comes to a close, I really would hate for all of this work to be done in vain, for another year to pass and for the speakers of Labor in the Pulpits to converge on their congregations with the prophetic voice of the poor behind them and then when the message was heard, for people to be moved, but not be able to participate in the creation of this better world.

As my time runs out, I would like to create a progam that would keep people of faith connected to the phlight of low wage worker justice. However, like many things there simply isin't the money for the Labor Council to pay someone to continue doing this work. Realizing that time is of the essence I talked to the Capuchin Volinteer Corp here in Milwaukee about the possiabilities of maybe moving into the Capuchin House and having them cover my expenses for the year so that I could continue this work.

So I had a meeting today with the director of that program, seeing if it would be possiable to work for the Faith Community for Worker Justice all year long and he was completely excited about the prospects of the program, unfortunately like the Labor Council, they do not possess a never-ending pool of money that can allow everyone to work for Peace and Justice. My living expenses would have to be covered by someone other than them as their pockets are quite empty.

After having a discussion with both the Labor Council and the Capuchins, it dosen't seem like collectively, there would be enough money to allow me to eat food and do this work at the same time. However, I have not given up! With a beleif in Providence (the way in which God allows things to just fall into place) I feel that somthing will turn out. Its not going to be easy, afterall, I am just a college graduate with no 'professional' fundraising abilities, I don't have experience organizing huge not for profit organizations, and no strong track record of organizing people of faith around low wage worker issues, but what I do have is 2 things, faith and optimism that somthing will work out.

I've started trying to figure out various funding sources for grants to continue the program throughout the year. I also have an idea of a program that involves getting clergy connected to local campaigns and bringing a youth presence that has been noteably absent to the movement for low-wage workers in the past.

I guess sometimes the only thing you can go on is faith and beleif in Providence. With only a few leads on jobs after this is all done in about a week and a half, I really don't know where I will stand with regard to my ability to devote my life to the work of low wage workers. This work is not the most lucrative of careers, but I assure you that it is the most rewarding when you can go home at night really knowing that your neighbor may have not gotten evicted from their house, or was able to put food on the table as a result.

Things are so up in the air, hopefully the coming days will bring good news as to how I could possiably continue this work, as the fruits of it cannot be underestimated. If you have any ideas, please let me know...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Labor in the Pulpits update

So, many of these blogs get their inspiration through the work that I am doing as a part of the Faith Community for Worker Justice organizing all sorts of religious communities around issues of worker justice.

To this date, there are 87 congregations in the Milwaukee area who have decided to participate in the program, were shooting for a little over 100. With that number of people we will probably end up on Labor Day Sunday, having 10 thousand open ears hear about how labor and the struggle for justice are won. We have speakers converging on many of these congregations, while at the same time having some congregations speak themselves on the issues of worker justice. Hopefully this program will bring tons of new and interested people of faith to the forefront of the organized labor movement for immigrant worker rights and the right to organize.

The importance of getting the religious community involved cannot be underestimated. As we saw during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's the church played a dominating role in the organization of the masses to speak out against de-jury racism. Many people will say even on the left that this represents a coalition of church and state, and although at some level the church must keep itself out of politics when it comes to mandating law, the religious individuals of this country have just as much right as anyone secular to discuss how they feel about the political world. Many religious folks feel that it is their calling to speak out for justice through the backing of their own faith and the person who wishes to limit this is only a tyrant and hypocrite of pluralistic ideology.

The Faith Community needs to stand up on issues that effect the poor, the voice of these good hard working people is so easily hidden in the veil of market capitalism and we must not forget that in the end, we are all one human body who's social contract states that we must look out for one another.

Anyway, the Labor in the Pulpits program serves as a manifestation of this theory and brings with it a great sense of optimism! Faith suggests a moralistic framework for living and acting in the world; politics through this serves as the action and thus the two cannot be separated for people of faith.

The program is going really well and should be a great asset to the working poor of Milwaukee when it comes to having a voice in the workforce.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Two Feet of Christian Service

Something has been lingering on my mind for quite a bit of time and I think that this is a good place to vocalize it. I know I haven't really discussed my faith in too much detail in this blog and I certainly don't really intend to. Faith in something greater than yourself can only be shown, and can rarely be found through words.

There is something that I heard of a couple of years ago that really struck my attention and that was "the two feet of Christian service." And although it was developed by Christians it certainly applies to everyone regardless of faith.

Idealistically, people who care about the world in which they live work in both of the sectors. One of the feet of Christian service is the alms giving part many people, including churches, businesses and individuals feel really comfortable with the first foot. This service means being in solidarity with the poor by giving them the things that they need immediately, (food, water and shelter) and this is really important. However, it is something that so many engage in. We feed the poor at food pantries and soup kitchens, we have clothing drives at our community centers or places of work, at Christmas time we even have programs where we donate toys to be given to underprivileged families. All of this feels good, were giving back to our community and treating the poor with dignity and respect. We go home after shopping at target and buying a few extra things to donate to our well heated homes, sleeping in our cozy beds, while a couple of people that we helped out sleep on hard floors, but with stomachs full of the food we gave.

However, tomorrow rolls around and when the calories are burned, the toys are broken and the jeans are tattered, the very people who we felt so good about helping out are in the same exact place as they were before we gave them the things they needed at that very time. At some point at some level we must ask ourselves why are these folks poor in the first place? Simple answers come to mind first...their lazy, they don't want to work, they just went to jail, there on drugs. But in the end all of these answers place the blame on the individual, as if their is something deficient about them.

We are called to use our brains, to think beyond these overly simplistic sort of answers. And this is the second foot of christian service, the why... why is it that they are poor, is it a result of not having jobs that they can make enough money to survive? Is it a result of not having parents that were able to raise them in good family situations because they were always working to not get the house foreclosed upon. If that is true, why were they paid so poorly? Why did the schools that they grew up in so poor? What effect did their racial status and class status have on them being able to succeed?

When we start asking these questions things seem to get a bit more complicated. They beg the question of why is it that there is such a disparity of wealth? Why is it that the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. So much of the time we are afraid to ask these questions, to think that there is something beyond that surface... These questions create conflict because they challenge us to think, they question the very place that us, the affluent stand. But in the end, when we solve these oftentimes "dirty" issues, perhaps the family that we adopted for Christmas will have a good enough job to not depend on our alms next year. Maybe the programs that we advocated was the thing that gave them a leg up out of the cycle of poverty.

One cannot be done without the other, giving the poor food, shelter and clothing is really important as it serves people's immediate needs, but so is the questioning of structure, the questioning of the very beliefs that may have put us in the privileged position that we found ourselves in from the beginning.

Have you ever seen a runner win a race hopping on just one leg? Ever seen a bicycle racer cross the line in first with just one wheel on their bike. Ever seen a successful marriage with just one person? Just as none of these situations are highly improbable, so is the creation of a newer better world, without a combination of tactic.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A plantation right in our own backyard Capitally Returning to Injustice

Currently, I am working on a drive to organize some low wage workers, we could sure use your support, here is a synopsis of what is going on...

We as a community of compassionate individuals who care about the way that the poor and powerless are treated are called to take action on behalf of the workers at Capital Returns. Who would have believed that right under our noses; right here in Milwaukee we would find a government subsidized company being run like a plantation. Imagine coming to work every day for an average wage of $9.00 and hour and being exposed to mystery pharmaceutical substances in powder, liquid, or any other imaginable form. How about being searched every time you have to go to the bathroom, or being forced to perform your data entry job standing up and having your chairs removed from your department? These are just a few of the oppressive conditions that employees at Capital Returns at 6101 N. 64th St. are faced with every day.

Capital Returns is a pharmaceutical waste distributor based on Milwaukee’s north side. They received a $250,000 economic development loan from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to help them move to their present location in 2005. That same year they were purchased by a large supply chain management company named GENCO. They employ about 500 workers at their 64th St. Location.

Capital Returns is a pharmaceutical processing plant in Milwaukee that processes expired and unused pharmaceuticals into waste products. Through this process, workers primarily women of African American and Hmong descent are employed to handle potentially harmful drugs and log them into computer databases. The working environments that these laborers are subjected to are absolutely atrocious. With hard days at in the plant and hazardous working conditions, these employees are not only not making enough money to live with the most meager of comforts, but also all sorts of health and safety concerns plague these low wage workers everyday. The harsh treatment and the unsafe work conditions have caused many of these workers to pursue joining the United Steelworkers Union.

In this memoir, we hope to understand some of the indignities that are happening to the workers at Capital Returns. These are the stories of the voiceless; who work day in and day out under oppressive structures of exploitation that are dedicated to keeping their employees destitute.

Health Concerns

When it comes to health concerns at Capital Returns, low-wage workers are constantly being put in situations where they must choose whether to do their job and not get fired, or place themselves in situations where they risk serious bodily injury.

Often times, workers through their jobs handle all sorts of old drugs without adequate protection to their own bodies. Many of the drugs that these employees handle have the potential of being highly harmful to their health. For example, the potential for a woman who is pregnant being exposed to birth control pills as part of her job is highly possible. In fact, in the past couple months 2 women who work at the plant have had miscarriages and although there is no way to say that it may be a result of the drugs, the correlations are awfully suspicious.

There is a general lack of concern for the employee’s health at Capital Returns, ventilation in the processing plant is always terrible. High humidity and lack of fresh air often leaves employees feeling nauseous with searing headaches and abnormally high cases of asthma attacks. And although workers have reported feeling terrible as a result of the working conditions, nothing is done to improve their well being. “On a weekly basis, there always someone who goes down,” one worker explained. “A lot of the time we have to choose between whether we want to stay healthy or continue to go to work.” When workers must choose between their health and whether they will continue to have a job, many of these workers can do nothing but keep working as they rely on these jobs to raise their families and pay the bills. Losing their jobs is just not an option for many workers at Capital Returns and as a result, they must put themselves in situations that are highly harmful to their health and well being.

In addition to bad ventilation in the plant there have also been reports of fires in the building. When these fires occurred, there was no evacuation of workers from the plant, but instead workers were told to keep working through and the fire would be taken care of and would not spread into the part of the building that they were working in. Not being allowed to leave a building when it’s on fire?! What kind of company is Capital Returns? Do the workers staying absolutely productive on the job outweigh the consequences of their safety?

Treated Like Children

The workers at Capital Returns are treated like workers on a plantation. The company conducts extensive searches on workers when they go to the bathroom, leave the plant and go to lunch. Strict rules dictate ridiculous policy that makes absolutely no sense. For example, one worker was suspended for being insubordinate to her supervisor when he told her to give him her badge and go home for the day. When the worker told him that she needed her badge to leave the building, she was suspended. In a world where we are taught to treat each other with dignity and respect, this sort of child like wrangling of low-wage dignified adults is simply not acceptable.

Because of these workers often desperate situation in the workforce, many of them are scared to speak up in fear of losing the jobs that they hold on to so dearly. They feel that they have to put up being treated like children because of their desperate need for a job.

Oppressive Policy

Capital Returns could care less about the well being of their worker. Employees who log in the old pharmaceuticals are forced to stand all day on concrete floors to do their work. In the past, they gave their workers chairs, but because of reasons unbenounced to the employees, they have had all of their chairs taken away. When asked if they could have their chairs back, it was refused. As a result, these workers spend their whole day on their feet on the concrete floors of the shop as they enter old drugs into computers. Many of the workers are seniors who find standing up all day particularly difficult on their bodies. Beat up and tired from being on their feet all day, the company bosses sit in well padded seats and watch over their plantation.

Workers are suspended for the most ridiculous of reasons, especially if the company suspects you of being for the union. One day, after a long day of logging drugs, one worker clocked out, eager to get home after a tough day at work. Every day before each worker leaves the plant they are searched by security. On this particular day, as he stood their being searched the security guard found that the worker had a pill that had fallen into one of the cuffs of his pant leg during the day as he logged expired drugs. When they discovered this he tried to explain when asked what it was doing there why it was there? He told them that his job was to log old pills and oftentimes the drugs fall out of their broken packages and end up all over the place. Another worker told me that at her desk, there were always old pills laying around in all the cracks of her desk from her job. However, because of this incident, the worker who had been discovered with the pill was automatically accused of stealing the pill and was fired immediately, he had been an employee good employee at Capital Returns for a long time, devoted to the company that he worked for, his coworkers often described him as an excellent, diligent worker who had always done what he was supposed to. Now without employment, he risks falling back on bills and destroying his credit as a result.

Now take this logic and put into a job like landscaper or welder. Suppose that a landscaper left the job site with dirt on his pants. Could he be rightfully fired for stealing the dirt from the job site? Or a welder who comes home covered in metal shavings. This sort of treatment of low wage workers that have no voice is simply unacceptable.

At Capital Returns, if you are a pregnant woman there is no consideration for your need for a job. Once workers have a baby and must go on maternity leave, they are required to re-apply for their job as if they were a new employee. During the time in which a mother has a baby, there is no consideration for the mothers well-being. When a mom has a newborn at Capital Returns, they go into labor not knowing if they are going to have a job when they are healthy enough to go back to work, leaving both the lives of the mother and the child up in the air.

Many of these workers are young women that have been hired through Wisconsin’s W-2 Program which generally starts them out as temporary employees. Capital Returns preys on these sorts of programs because it knows that the people who are hired through this program are poor and easily exploitable. Through this process, Capital Returns, by hiring the most exploitable laborers knows that it is much more easily able to patronize and marginalize these workers.


As a result of the employees at Capital Returns vocalizing their concerns at the workplace and getting no response from the company workers thought that the best idea would be to contact the union and see if they could get something organized.

The result of these actions were harsh. The company began having meetings and trying to intimidate and scare workers about the terrors of the union. The company went so far out of the way as to hire union busters whose full time job was to make sure that the workers didn’t form a union. Apparently, Capital Returns has the money to hire these expensive contractors to come in and break up unions, but cannot afford to give their workers even the most minimal of power in their workforce. These union busters held meetings that sought to spread lies and create a culture of fear in the workplace. Some workers were even threatened to run over in the parking lot if they decided to form a union. The company even started posting people to watch over the lunch room to see who was talking to whom in order to figure out which workers supported the union and which ones didn’t. After the company started doing this, they began to single out workers who they believed to support the union and conduct ‘random’ searches on them as they entered the work place. It also seemed that once these people were singled out, that they were watched much more closely at the workplace to find any sort of slip ups that could warrant discipline or suspension. Through this process, workers in the plant are scared, rumors about the union spread like wildfire as workers are pitted against one another at the job. Through these actions, the company was able to set up a culture of fear in the plant that implied that if you supported a union, there would be a much greater possibility of getting fired.

Because of this crippling fear that the employees face, many of them are afraid now to say how they really feel about how things are going at work. Only with your help, can we stand in solidarity with these workers. With this support behind them, we have the ability to change the way that Capital Returns treats its employees.

A Call for Action

We as a body of people called by our own sense of morality have an obligation to stand up for the voices of those who are drowned out. If we are to be a society based on the democratic values for all, then we need to first start at the root cause of fighting injustice. This is not simply an abstract call for help on creating an abstract better world but real people in the Milwaukee community that wish for nothing more than a voice in the places of their employment.

We as a people must be willing to listen to this silent voice, to stand up and make a calling on behalf of the low-wage worker. History books tell us that plantation work ended with the ended with the civil war almost 150 years ago. However, it can be assured that it is still here.

The forces that keep hard working poor in a state of poverty are relentless in Capital Returns. Workers must continue laboring at places where they have no voice, no opportunity to escape except complete destitution. In our society a place that prides itself on being the richest in the world how is it that companies like Capital Returns are permitted to continue labor practices like the ones that they do? Have we not evolved beyond that state?

The Capital Returns workers need you help. The more people who help to get the word out about what is going on at Capital Returns; the more people who attend our rallies; the more people that feel compassionate about the people in our very city about these issues; the better chance we have of creating justice in the workforce at Capital Returns.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Refections continued

"People will be together only in a common wretchedness as long as each isolated being refuses to understand that a gesture of liberation, however weak and clumsy it may be, always bears an authentic communication, an adequate personal message." Raoul Vanetgem

Recently I have been thinking about a number of things that open up the question of isolation of people from each other. See this clip from a movie called Waking Life: Recently I also saw the movie, You, be and Everyone we know. All discuss the process by which we cannot fully connect with the other people around us. Yesterday, I suggested that it might be out of fear which is the mechanism by which this communication is thwarted. But what are its effects on the human potential? That is the question that seems to show up in the praxis of everyday life.

Without others surrounding us and being able to fully connect with us, how can we build any life that is centered on meaning. New Age religion and philosophy may suggest that we look within ourselves to find our own authenticity. Likewise, other philosophers suggests that we look completely out into the world to find our authenticity; however this leads the problem of letting a completely materialistic and false economic system consume the very person we wish to become. The market sees us as a consumer, a simplistic machine that only exists to produce and consume with the intentions of only reproducing again. If we want the real answer for how we find authenticity and break free of the isolation that a post-modern benevolent world creates, I truly think that the only way in which we can find this is simultaneously looking inside and searching ourselves, while also completely immersing ourselves in the people to which the world has to offer.

Without the presence of both of these existences, this understanding crumbles under its own weight. So if we truly want to be human, you know as far as our own striving toward the maximum of human potential we must recognize and endorse the creative acts of all individuals no matter how insignificant they may seem. Things that show the truest forms of complete human identity. We must embrace these acts to truly understand. So much of the time we are asleep, and these acts don't make sense in the context of our narrowly understood roles and situations to which we form our identity. However, if we open our minds to these things. Maybe something beautiful may come out and true community (the one we have been looking for the whole time will arise).

Don't mean to sound like a pessimist, because I am certainly by no means one, but instead. I am optimistic at the reaches that the human potential has in store. When we reach this spot maybe we can be truly happy with ourselves.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fear, Love and Freedom

I apologize for not keeping up with this blog so well in the past couple of weeks. But I have some new observations to make that have been on my mind for a while.

One is the dichotomy between fear and love. About a week ago Elizabeth and I were riding our bikes down by the Lake. It was a beautifully poetic thing, what is great about when I go riding with people now its not about the ride and the training advantage that will be received by pedaling for the suggested time period, but instead its about discovery. Anyway, so in this spirit of discovery, we rode down to the lake, it was pristine day, easily distracted by the sights of people/places and things we were happy. We danced on the public art, threw our bikes down and threw ourselves into creativity. As we rode, we found a lighthouse down by the Summerfest Fairgrounds and got the great idea to see if we could climb up inside of it. However, we found it to be locked up and inaccessible. So we sat enjoying the water and watching the boats come into the harbor. Elizabeth thought it well to wave and smile at all the boats as they came in, after all, she had been doing this the whole ride, waving and smiling at all the people we passed along the trail, breaking the isolation that we each feel from each other like a hammer on ice. This friendly endeavor of waving and smiling lead to an amazing adventure. As she leaned over the dock, red hair blowing in the wind; free. A boater yelled out "hey, would you like a ride?" Elizabeth stood there apprehensive. But I had learned a few things since the tour, with respect to opening yourself up to strangers to let them be a part of your life. I urged Elizabeth to partake what some might call risky behaviour with a lone man on a boat. We climbed down from the dock loading our bikes into the sailboat for a ride. Wearing nothing but Lycra and bicycle jerseys we sat, meeting and greeting a stranger on a sailboat. Oh boy, what a glorious endeavor!

Peter was his name, a middle aged tanned scruffy sailor who was living the life that the suits downtown only wished they could attain through their corporate salaries. Peter was free, Peter was happy! Once a salesman who worked the white collar job soon found that the life he was living was not satisfying, after being broken up and shredded by the seemingly meaninglessness of the rat race, he left it all and found his way onto a sailboat, traveling around bodies of water in the way that every Jimmy Buffet fan wishes they could. Peter was free, he had been face to face with the life that we all get sucked into. First, you go to college, get into a lot of debt, get a car, get into more debt, get a good job, to pay that debt back, decide that you need a house, take out a mortgage and before you realized the iron chain that solidified you to modern society is sealed, your freedom is exchanged for the very things that you believe will make you free. Crazy how that happens eh? The way we are constructed into this mental and physical slavery.

Peter has a lot going for him; so many people when asked what they believe to be the meaning of life respond by saying that they want to be happy, and although to some extent, this may be a selfish pursuit, like Rousseau would say, you have to foster your garden and be happy before you can help others be happy.

So how do you find happiness? I don't think that it can be found through the traditional modes of everyday life that the "American Dream" suggests in fact just the opposite, through rejection of the very thing that we think will make us free is the path toward it.

Anyway, it was a great experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. As Elizabeth sat on the front of the boat letting the breeze flow through her hair like the fingers of God, Peter and I sat there, understanding each other. We sat sailing into the sunset with a shared mutual understanding about how this world works. One so simplistically revolutionary, that modernity must overcome great leaps and bounds to comprehend.

Freedom comes through breaking down the walls of fear that only work to serve the bourgeoisie. Fear divides us from ever trusting other people, they say that crime has risen, that we must lock our doors, carry a gun, not hitchhike, be scared of terrorists, planes, bombs and people. At each level, it isolates us further and further from making community and realizing collectively that were all stuck in this stupid rat race. Only when we break down these walls of fear that separate us from each other can we truly be happy. These walls only exist to isolate us from others so we don't realize that in the end, we are truly all one big human family, all individuals looking for effectively the same thing. We all want love, truth, happiness and community with others. But this cannot happen in a society so filled with fear.

As Elizabeth and I jumped onto a boat with a complete stranger, we took that first step at breaking down that fear complex that we have all been so craftily duped into following, and as we bid farewell to our new friend Peter, we realized how full life could be when we rejected fear and loved for once, embraced each other with open arms and yes, maybe even left ourselves vulnerable to being hurt.

"Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist, keep LOVING, keep fighting!"

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summer Time and the Livin's Easy

I must say that the state of Wisconsin is hands down the best state that I have lived in so far and living in a lot of states, I can say that with some degree of confidence. The demeanor of people in the Midwest combined with a relatively more socially conscience public allows for Milwaukee WI to dominate all!

Milwaukee is the host of a tremendous amount of street festivals that take place throughout the summer. Literally every weekend there is a street blocked off that where people wander about, listening to eclectic mixes of music, all for the excuse of consuming alcohol. And best of all, its free! (for the most part) Milwaukee just finished a festival called Summerfest. Summerfest is the largest music festival in the world and judging by the venue space and that had more stages than you could comprehend that played music straight through for a week long. Thousands upon thousands of people crowded to see the bands that they simply could not get enough of.

It was amazing the demographics of people that show up to the festivals. Especially at Summerfest, the rivers, interstates and other natural and man made dividers that serve to eliminate people from interaction based on their race and classes are suddenly eliminated at these venues. Summerfest, because of its relatively high cost is somewhat limiting to the poorest because of its 15 dollar entrance price, but despite that, it is amazing the diversity. All of God's people converging on one highly concentrated place. For once, we are forced to look at the beautiful diversity and talent that the children of God possess. Truly amazing, for once, we are able to break down those walls and barriers that separate us.

These walls, mental voids that we have of anyone except the people that are just like us isolate us from reaching our furthest human potential. Only through the exposure to the entire population can we consider ourselves knowing. Democracy suggests that all people have a say in the political and structural situations in which they are apart of. Without this how can we truly know the human community, why are these walls here in the first place? So many of us go through life interacting only with the people that we feel absolutely comfortable with, I am no exception, but I think that in order to truly understand ourselves, others and the world around us we must be wiling to open our hearts and eyes to a vision that is wider than the diameters of our television set, our neighborhood, our friends and family. That is the goal in the end, at least for me maybe you'll find that it fits into your own as well.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Journey (next day, do days matter anymore?)

Today was a great day, after all the crap that I had been through over the past couple of days, the first thing I needed was a good day; a day without deep philosopical insights and drama. Its important to have days like this somtimes, where you don't dwell on the stuff like the meaning of life and stuff. You have to be balanced, where thinking too deeply all the time will only lead you to a complete loss of your other creative side. Completely strapped for cash, 40 dollars and a path of 500 miles would make the trip meger at best. You wouldn't beleive how much food you will eat when your body is used to burning tons of calories all day long through the cycles of the chainwheel and constant movement of rubber on tarmac. Burning on the high to "get the hell home" I traveled 135 miles.

The plan would be to try and take a little bit different way home than I had taken to Duluth. This objective certainly didn't prove to be very hard considering that Wisconsin, like the rest of the United States dominated by the car culture has created a vast infrastructure of pavement that creates pathways to even the most desolate of locations. (even the middle of the dense Minnesota woods) With no money I decided to try and budget 10 dollars a day to get on by. This budget ment that the stops in the small town diners would no longer be feasable, instead the diet was filled with a vegitarians delight of peanut butter and jelly bagels that I was quickly becoming very accoustomed to. Besides this what it was decided that the best way to get a load of calories to fuel my well traveled legs would be really high calorie cheap as piss junk food. The foods that best served this need was King Size Snickers bars, which had probably twice what any given persons saturated fat content should probably be for one day and of course Little Debbie snacks that costed only about 25-50 cents a peice. Coke and other caffenated drinks would also provide the fuel to give that extra added boost that always seemed needed when you rode down a vacant road aimlessly staring at nothing except the GPS display that slowing counted down the mileage to the nearest town with a gas station.

I must admit that coke and other fine caffenated products really do a good job of getting your ass moving fast! It will be like your completely dragging ass, almost incoherant of the beautiful unrestrained earth that surrounds you and then you see a beautiful angelic oasis in the distance, a sign beckoning to be seen by weary travelers such as yourself "BP" it screams loudly in a haze of green and yellow lights. What more could a person like yourself ask for. Your salt covered drugged out face reacts to the sweet nectar of cold brown overprocessed globalized liquid like a flower in the desert, soaking up every last nutrient that it has (not too many in the case of coke).
A king size snickers and a coke later your calculating out how long it would take you to do a 150 mile day. Generally however, like most drugs, this only lasts for about an hour and a half until your back to calculating a regular day.

Stopped around Ladysmith, WI today (actually I was probably about 10-12 miles away) Pulled off to the side of the road when no cars were looking and dived deep enough into the woods as to not be spotted by whoevers "land" I was trespassing on that night. Its not the best of campsites, having to clear out a spot in the brush is a pain, but it will do the job. Oh well, better get some sleep, another long day ahead tomorrow.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Journey Day 6 (5/30/2007)

So... I got up in the morning pigging out to the max on the buffet breakfast that the hotel that I stayed in the last offered. Stayed up late last night drinking a whole pot of coffee myself. My mind in complete overdrive. I told my story to the waitress at the Perkins and she was absolutely astounded. She hooked me up with a free meal maybe out of pity, maybe somthing else, I don't really know. The waitress probably about a year or so older than me talked outside just as I was leaving about where we stood in our lives, what the hell we were doing here and what do we do from there. As we sat outside at midnight, she leaned against the wall, as to take a long and needed break from the burden that life had bestowed upon her. The cigarette that lay their pinched in her calioused hands and myself were the only friends that either of us seemed to have at that particular fleeting moment in time. She told me of how she had hitchiked all the way from Colorado to Duluth about a year ago to start a new life. She worked two jobs, one down the street and worked the night shift at Perkins. As she told me about how she had ended up in Duluth there was obviously a deep amount of pain that surrounded the topic. She let out a soft wimper and tear as she told me what she was doing here. All of her dreams a youthful ambitions of doing somthing with her life had culminated in the occupation of a Perkins waitress. She felt so much more able, so much more potential fro all her talents. I told her what Scott had told me earlier that night about how people only remember the trainwreaks. She laughed, but told me that she remembered the good times to and that they were always her favorite stories. Maybe its a little bit of both I suppose, life being a process of ups and downs to which both can be equally memoriable. I do think though that the painful and hard ones make the good ones more appreciable. We said our goodbyes, and I knew deep down inside that she wanted me to go home with her that night and clense her sorrows, but I didn't quite feel obligated, with a girlfriend at home at the time it was just not an option.

After a long night of writing and reflection, I awoke. Got up in the morning pigging out to the max on the buffet breakfast that the Super 8 that I stayed in that night offered. I mean if they were gonna charge me 65 dollars to stay there for one damn night I was going to eat the piss out of their "free" breakfast. The waitress at Perkins suggested that I take the city bus up to the airport, from there I could rent a car and drive out to where my bike was and be on the road again by midday. I negociated the city bus route for a couple of hours until I found myself up at the airport in Duluth. I jumped on the bus and the first time completely took it the wrong way to the end of town opps. And after a long string of stops at the mall and downtown Duluth I ended up at the airport a few hours later. When I got to the airport, nobody would let me rent a car without a 'credit' card. Apparently "debit" cars just won't work and despite my somber story that I had for all the rental car folks company policy was company policy and my dreams of being able to get a rental car were quickly drying up. Thinking that I could possiably apply for and instantly recieve a credit card, I asked one the rental car attendants where the closest bank was. She gave me directions and I walked for a couple of miles with my messenger bag and sleeping bag until I found the bank. Apparently, it takes 7 to 10 days to receive a credit card and there is no such thing as an instant one. Shucks, well what am I going to do now? So I decide that the next best thing is to take a cab. 70 dollars later the cab takes me to the end of the dirt road where I can hike out to find my bike. I start hiking and plan on using my GPS along with peices of paper from my journal to mark out where I've been out in the woods and where the entrance where the hunting cabin lies and trail ends. Luckily when I dumped my bike I was able to get the slightest of a signal to be able to mark where my bike was so that I would be able to come back and get it. So I start hiking and plan on using my GPS along with the peices of paper from my journal to map everything out. Jumping into the woods with extreme caution, I can feel the spine tingling fear that I had the day before as I entered this situation. The last thing I wanted was to end up in the same position that I was the day before. And yet it happened that way.... After scowering the woods for about 3 hours in search of my bike, I could not get an accurate reading from the GPS and although I could find my way back to the end of the trailhead, I could not find my bike in the dense woods. I was defeated. Here I was with no bicycle and 15 miles away from the nearest house the taxi had left along time ago and without a a car and a bike, all I had was my own two feet. The only option that I saw that I had left was to say screw this and go home. The problem is that before I get home I have to hike 15 miles to the end of this damn logging road to get help. With soaking wet feet from hiking through marshes I walked and by the time I got done with my walk I was completely haggard and defeated.

I found a lady outside mowing her lawn. Now this the first person that I've seen in 6 hours (like yesterday) and I am more than excited. Barely being able to walk anymore because of all the blisters that have accumulated on my feet I greet her. She looks as if she is scared of me, and given the way that I probably looked I wouldn't blame her. She calls out her husband who hears my story and rather than letting me use his phone to call someone in town, he feels highly confident that finding the lost bike will be no problem whatsoever, especially since its marked by GPS. We all jump in his pickup with his 4 wheeler loaded in the back and drive out to the hunting lodge. Now apparently he has some sort of super GPS that can see through trees and when he sticks the coordinates into his machine, the bike is found within 15 minutes. Its absolutely amazing! Here is me thinking that the Snake my favorite bicycle in the world is completely gone for good! And he finds it! We load it onto the back of his 4 wheeler and drove back to the end of the road. Andy, the guy that help me out more than I could have ever known put my butt back on my feet. He was late for his softball game so he quickly had to leave shortly there after. But I was back on my feet, aboard the Snake. Barely being able to walk because of the blisters on my feet the size of Texas, I rolled my body onto the saddle of the Snake and started pedaling back toward Duluth. By the time I arrived in Duluth it was rainy, cold and misreable. Soon I had to concede to another hotel room. 80 more dollars down the drain. Throughout this experience I had spent 210 dollars and in a matter of 2 days had spent a majority of my budget for the entire trip. It was time for the Snake and I to head back home.