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...