justice

¡Ya basta! Fasting to end Rape on the Night Shift

I’m in my second day of a five day fast with night janitors for a cause most people don’t even realize is a cause: many immigrant women cleaning buildings across our country live in fear of sexual assault by predatory managers who know they are working alone and need to keep their jobs. It’s stuff so sinister you can picture one of those cartoon villains twisting his moustache as he plans the act. But it is real. It is happening to people who clean buildings we or our family members work in. And finally, despite all the risks, some women stepped forward to speak the truth about their experiences and change things for their sisters.

img_5662I first learned about this hidden crisis during a screening of the Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift a couple of weeks ago at the state building in Oakland. You can watch the whole thing online and I dare you not to cry. What moved me even more than the film, though, was listening to the stories of women who had to find the courage to risk their jobs and means of supporting their families to do what was right for themselves and for other women at risk. What struck me in particular that day was a young woman whose mother is part of the campaign. She said something along the lines of “there are certain things you never expect to talk about with your mother: sex, rape, violence at work.” She then expressed how proud she was of her mother and how proud she was to stand with her. I was deeply moved.

Last week, one of the organizers of the film told me that the workers would be fasting Monday through Friday of this week, demanding that Governor Brown follow his moral compass and sign AB 1978 into law. According to the United Service Workers West,

Female janitors face unique risk of sexual harassment and assault as their jobs often require working alone at night in empty buildings, an epidemic PBS Frontline profiled in “Rape on the Night Shift,” and in a report from UC Berkeley earlier this year: “Perfect Storm: How Supervisors Get Away with Sexually Harassing Workers Who Work Alone at Night.”

AB 1978, the Property Services Worker Protection Act would enhance the Department of Industrial Relations’ authority to prevent assault by requiring employer training and prevention plans, establishing a hotline for victims, and toughening enforcement for employers who leave workers at risk.

As janitor and activist Maria Gonzalez said,

“I was sexually assaulted at work, twice. The employer transferred the supervisor and me to the same building. With nowhere to go, I felt trapped. As survivors, we have stepped out of the shadows to fight back against rape and exploitation, because we know the bosses count on our silence to keep us vulnerable. Ya Basta! We built a movement that can’t be stopped because more and more women are coming forward to support each other and create a safe workplace. Now Governor Brown must do his part and sign AB 1978, because no woman should ever be afraid to go to work.”

I heard stories like this from the women who were fasting when I met them yesterday. One woman was assaulted, took self-defense lessons, fought off her boss with a letter opener when he attacked her again, and was fired for her efforts. Other women were assaulted, forced to do things against their will, and raped. And they said they were glad to be doing this, that they had released their fear, that they were proud to be doing this for the women who follow them into these workplaces. They were excited to be fasting.

There is something about workers fasting that hits me at my core as a person of faith as well as an activist. At a rally yesterday, a labor organizer announced that the workers would be staging a hunger strike.

img_2127But I met the workers. They were fasting. It’s a different thing, which is why I was moved to join them in their fast as soon as I heard they were planning it.

Fasting has strong, ancient roots. Fasting is a critical part of the Christian faith (and Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish among others) for spiritual as well as sometimes justice reasons. But even when justice is part of it, fasting involves connecting to something bigger than oneself (and in this case praying for divine intervention to evoke right action by our state’s elected leader).

Fasting can be about community, even when it is a solitary practice. Several of the women fasting this week are Catholic, like Governor Brown. I saw some of them holding rosaries as they received a blessing from Rabbi Rothbaum yesterday. I saw some of them reading Catholic devotionals in Spanish. And I heard one of them say “Having religious leaders visit us and pray with us reminds me that we are not just activists. We are tools being used by God to make the world better.” The ten women fasting will be community for each other, and I hope that img_2144knowing I am fasting with them will remind them that there is a larger community supporting them. But most importantly, I hope that their spiritual act will remind their and my governor that our shared ties of faith call us to treat God’s children with deep compassion and dignity, and that our shared faith does not allow evil to continue undisrupted.

When the workers shout “¡Ya basta!” it is a prayer. It is the prayer of our God who will not tolerate sexual violence. And it is God’s own prayer put into action by faithful women, as has happened for millenia: faithful women have put hands and feet to God’s prayers.

I believe the saint Teresa of Avila is saying to the women fasting at the Capitol today, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

And the workers I met, who have survived sexual violence in the workplace, are serving as Christ’s hands and feet, answering God’s “¡Ya basta!” prayer as loudly as God would wish.

If you live in California, please contact Governor Brown and ask him to sign AB 1978 today to end rape on the night shift: (916) 445-2841.

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

patel_and_son_seated770

An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

A litany on resurrection and Demouria Hogg

At the Wild Goose Festival in Charlotte, NC two weeks ago, I presented a workshop called “Who Killed Demouria Hogg: On race, faith and not seeking the ‘perfect victim.'” I talked about the respectability politics of the church that stops the church from publicly mourning losses that are complicated.

I only know Demouria Hogg through what family shared during the press conference and through news coverage. Colleagues involved in the protests of his death noted that in articles about his death, the fact that he was a good father to his three children came as an afterthought, almost as if it were surprising, since they led with his having violated parole and being found in possession of a firearm, an additional violation of his parole. What strikes me is how during the press conference when Demouria jr’s mother was speaking about him being a good father, Demouria, Jr jumped in and said, “He loved to play basketball.”

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

During the discussion part of the workshop, a man said, “I go to a progressive UCC church. We know how to talk about this. Our consciousness is raised. What do we DO as a church?” And a litany poured out of me.

I shared some of that litany at the Disciples of Christ General Assembly on Sunday afternoon during a workshop on my book and the issue of intersectionality, and someone said, “I want to use that litany in church. Can you share it with us?” And I said that it poured out of me due to the spirit, not from a script. He kept looking at me until I said, “but clearly I’ll be writing a blog post recreating it.” So here it is. Please add other suggestions to this litany. I have not addressed them all, but all of them are things almost any church can do.

Demouria Hogg, African American father of 3, age 30, was killed by Oakland police on Saturday morning, June 6, because he could not be woken up while asleep in his car. The church sometimes feels overwhelmed by how to end police brutality. But the church has a role, and the church has a responsibility, and the church has the opportunity to participate in resurrection.

When the church helps its school board provide support for young Black and Brown children instead of expelling them at rates much higher than White children for the same behaviors, when the church disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with its police department to address implicit bias on the police force,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church supports mental health services and homeless services instead of outsourcing those issues to the police,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with new White community members to build relationships with longtime community members of color rather than calling the police out of fear of their neighbors,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church creates job opportunities and housing for returned citizens / previously incarcerated people whose opportunities are almost nonexistent,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church brings restorative and transformative justice practices into the community so there are alternatives to the culture of retribution that is bound up invisibly but inextricably in racism,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg. 

When the church unapologetically claims that all lives will matter WHEN Black lives matter,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church, in all of these ways, plays a role in honoring the dignity of Black lives before they are faced with Black deaths,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg, and in so doing, resurrects the body of Christ.

Amen.

Black lives, windows, and good governance

There is a debate over the first amendment and preservation of property in Oakland right now, and the camps are fairly clear:

“I’m tired of seeing my city trashed.”

“Broken windows do not matter more than broken Black bodies.”

The mayor of Oakland recently enforced a sundown restriction on protests (possibly although not necessarily influenced by two SF Chronicle columnists who suggested similar measures after windows were broken, cars were damaged and buildings were tagged in the Auto Row neighborhood). This policy shift (which the mayor indicates is a policy already on the books which she simply chose to enforce) was executed during a peaceful protest to honor the lives of Black women, including Black trans women, who have died due to police brutality. Police also kettled and arrested numerous people (including a planning commissioner) at a protest of the curfew two days later and stood at the ready during the interfaith protest the next night.

 

Here’s what’s interesting about this issue to me:

Both sides agree with each other. (more…)

“I enjoy being a girl”

or “How Patriarchy unintentionally saved me”

(feel free to listen to this song in the background for inspiration.)

There are a few guys in my circles of radical clergy with a certain public following. I love their tweets and facebook posts because they’re sometimes funny and sometimes biting, and they’re almost always so certain.

Which, for those of you who have known me for a long time know, is exactly how I used to sound.

One of the big ironies of my life is that my biggest bump in with patriarchy is what started me down a path that I wish was available to my incredibly certain brothers: the path into humility in the midst of the righteous cause. (more…)

“An Obnoxious Peace”

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Image from Urban Cusp, taken in Baltimore on April 23, 2015

Preached April 26, 2015 at Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago IL, dedicated to the people of Baltimore.

In the days following the Michael Brown verdict, that cold Thanksgiving week, there emerged a debate among my friends regarding the uprisings happening in my hometown and around the country. I called it the debate of the Kings. That is, my friends would quote these two Kings in defense of their positions.

On the one hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.”

On the other hand was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said in 1966: “I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for Black people. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.

(more…)

Can we talk about “the talk?” – teaching children how to protect themselves from “Protect and Serve”

I remember an incredibly uncomfortable Thanksgiving during Occupy Oakland. Not the cliche uncomfortable of Republicans and Democrats getting into immigration policy over the mashed potatoes and gravy.

A friend of mine who had been arrested during Occupy for carrying an umbrella (the citation indicated it was a temporary dwelling, which had been banned from the plaza in front of city hall) was regaling us with stories about what it had been like to be in jail, and how they sang together and made jokes to the arresting officers.

Across the table, another friend was clearly not amused, while his daughter’s eyes got wider and wider.

See, my friend had been working really hard not to normalize jail or prison as a regular part of life for Black people in his daughter’s eyes. He wanted his daughter to believe that to be Black in America did not mean an expectation that jail or prison would be a regular and normal part of life; even though they have people in their family who have been to jail and prsion. He did not want her to see it as “no big deal” or a laughing matter. Now, he was also raising her to know about civil rights and justice and fighting for fairness, and when she reached the double digits, they would likely start talking about the prison-industrial complex, because he knows how real the New Jim Crow is. But the light, comical treatment of jail life at the dinner table was the opposite of what he was going for at this moment in his daughter’s formation.

Parenting is hard. Parenting a Black child in America is harder.

(more…)