workers

Could your church help your community find hope in the wake of the election?

Last weekend, people started reaching out to me because they were afraid, and they didn’t want to stay that way. They didn’t want to rage or burn things down; they wanted to find a way to contribute to their community, to help others overcome fear.

So with the help of a PHENOMENALLY gifted intern, the Oakland Peace Center created a resource fair. The goal was simple: to help people feeling a sense of urgency discover that they have a power to make a POSITIVE contribution in their community, that they need not dwell in anxiety and fear but can overcome it by coming together.

The reason I’m writing this is that within four days, we had thirty organizations agree to table and four hundred people attend (in the rain!!!). Check it out!

crowdcrowd2

What this tells me is that people are hungry for positivity, and that people are hungry right now for a sense that they are not alone.

Now, the Oakland Peace Center is made up of forty organizations who are working to create equity as the means of creating peace, so we had a good baseline. But our partners are mostly small, scrappy organizations working to help people at a local level. We wanted folks to connect with them, but we also wanted to provide resources for people looking to get engaged in work we didn’t have covered: advocacy with Muslims, health care access, learning how to intervene when someone is being assaulted (verbally or otherwise), women’s rights, environmental justice. So we needed to reach new organizations as well as new people.

Here’s how we did it:

We listened and we checked in: On the Friday and Saturday after the election I got several messages from people saying “what do I do to engage in protecting people’s healthcare?” or “a lot of people are asking me what they can do to protect immigrants’ (or refugees’ or LGBTQ people’s or Muslims’) rights. Where do I point them?” Then a facebook friend shared an event happening in LA that weekend and asked if anything like that was happening in Oakland. I said no, but it might help me field the questions I was getting. I was at an OPC partners’ retreat so asked them what they thought, then spent another day or so asking organizations what they thought. We began to sense that people were hungry for the opportunity to do something pro-active. Youth were walking out of school; people who had never marched were marching; whole congregations were wearing safety pins so they could express their solidarity with people for whom they feared. We had a sense that this could be meaningful and helpful to the community. In our community, we felt a need to capture the energy of the present moment, so we moved quickly (four days!!!! whew!), but we might do another one in January or February. Another listening we did was during the event: we thought our next event would be more about training people, but what we heard was people wanted another of these resource fairs so that their friends could come and so other organizations could be in the room. So we’re shifting focus from what we thought was best to what the community has told us would be best.

Our message was positive: In both our email blast, our flyers and our facebook messaging, we didn’t focus on hostility or negativity or anxiety. Truthfully, many of us feel those things, and they are valid feelings. But we believe at the Oakland Peace Center that what we are building is even more important than what we are tearing down, even though there are things that need to be torn down in order to build. Our facebook message read “If you feel a drive to do something about the environment, immigrants’ rights, healthcare, Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights, reducing bullying, increasing a culture of peace and inclusion, or any other issues to make this community better, please come to this gathering and learn about the ways you can participate! Whether you are a long time activist or have never attended a rally in your life, your contributions matter!” My sense is that right now, people are feeling negative, powerless and isolated. So our message was positive, reminded people of their power, and reminded them that they were not alone. And the event reinforced those themes.

We Honored Multiple Ways of Creating Positive Change: The other beautiful thing that emerged out of who the Oakland Peace Center is (and which I believe churches and faith communities can create for the same reasons) was that we had multiple dimensions to how people could be engaged. “Get In Where You Fit In” was a slogan our intern Virginia used, and it was true: we had organizations working on policy issues national and local, we had organizations engaged in community service work (who were not afraid of the organizations doing policy work), and we had organizations connecting people to inner peace so that they can take care of themselves in order to take care of others. The OPC is committed to creating peace-filled communities, and we need different policies, and we need people engaged in service and solidarity with each other, and we need people who are able to heal from trauma and find peace within themselves. All of those resources were available, and some of them even got taught right there during the event, like intervention during assault and the basic skills of HeartMath and anti-bullying techniques.

We made sure that as many of the communities potentially impacted by upcoming policy changes were in the room as possible: we reached out to Muslim organizations, disability rights organizations, environmental groups, women’s groups, LGBTQ+ organizations, organizations supporting the Movement for Black Lives, immigration organizations, and so on. There are usually organizations doing both advocacy and social service around these communities in every state in the nation as well as in most major cities.

We created an air of celebration: People who came wanted to experience hope. And part of how hope gets crushed is by replacing joy with fear. So we created a festival atmosphere: popcorn and fun, high energy music, and a kids’ table with children’s books representing both themes of inclusion and justice (which we promoted in advance so people knew it was a family-friendly event). Joy is an underutilized tool of creating justice! We even had a woman who creates justice-oriented children’s coloring resources volunteered at the kids’ table! (Here are some of the pages we provided the children.)img_6597childrens-books

We didn’t create anything new: With any issue we are concerned about, there are folks doing really good work who are underresourced. This is a moment to connect, not necessarily re-invent the wheel.

We created spaces for people to cast vision, share their commitments and offer words of hope. We had poster board where people wrote what they were committing themselves to and what their hopes were. We didn’t create a physical space for grief, although one restorative justice partner gathered people who wanted to really let their feelings out and feel heard, and that was beautiful. One of the organizations, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, invited people to cast a vision for a moral economy when people visited their table: fame

We learned some really inspiring things:

  • People were so excited about this that even without asking for them, we ended up with phenomenal volunteers!
  • There were a lot of young people who came because they want to become activists. But there were also senior citizens who felt that they could no longer stay uninformed or unengaged. I believe that is true of church folks as well: as OPC intern Virginia White reflected to me after the event, “people have care about these issues but haven’t known how to engage, or didn’t think they should. This is not about convincing people to do something new.” That’s who our event was for, and they came in the rain by the hundreds.
  • Some people were puzzled by why we would do something like this until we explained that part of the mission of the OPC is to connect people to each other’s work. And they were also puzzled by the fact that the church (in our case, First Christian Church of Oakland) played a role in this gathering as the folks who created the OPC. What a beautiful moment of puzzlement to help the community realize that the church can and should be engaged in this work of standing with indigenous and Black and LGBTQ+ and environmental and civil liberties organizations. What a teachable moment.
  • This event created hope. Let me say it again: at a time people are experiencing fear, we created a space of hope. Participants thanked us, and so did the organizations, some of whom have been in this work for decades and feeling a little out of hope themselves. At our best, isn’t that what the church is supposed to be about? Hope conquering despair, not just in the abstract, but in concrete ways.
  • Over and over, people said they felt a sense that there really is a community dedicated to supporting each other. During my introductory announcement, I reminded people that “we need us. We need to have each other’s backs. In the coming days we will need to be able to trust each other, and that happens when we really show up for each other.” So I told them to talk to all of the tablers but also to talk to each other, because we have each other’s backs best when we know each other, and that can start here. And people did. And it was transcendent.

I was asked to share our methodology so others can borrow from it. I decided to write it in a way that I hope churches in particular can borrow from it. It took a lot of time and effort, but it was not difficult logistically to manage. Once our facebook numbers started looking good, some of the organizations that had never heard of us before suddenly thought this would be a great opportunity.

 

¡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.

In honor of May Day, an excerpt from Pre-Post-Racial America

Today is a day that historically acknowledges workers and the struggle for basic human dignity for low-wage workers. Since around 2006, it has particularly lifted up the ways in which immigrant workers deserve greater dignity than our society affords them. In honor of workers, here is an excerpt from chapter two of Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines.

Our Christmas carols and march and food distribution for locked-out workers. I’m on the far left in the green hat. 🙂

I met Francisca when a handful of religious leaders joined with some workers protesting the Castlewood Golf Club in Pleasanton, California. The management had locked out some workers for not agreeing to a new contract where the workers had to pay all of their own health care (consuming up to 40 percent of some employees’ paychecks) in what the club had described as a record-breaking earnings year. I didn’t learn it until later, but Francisca was the janitor who had found a memo in the new manager’s trash can saying that his primary objective was to shut down the union (which had functioned without any conflict for over twenty years). And fight they did, almost imperiling the future of the club out of management’s belief in their right to not provide health care or fair wages.
What struck me about this campaign was that the union working with them had assumed U.S. citizens would be the most upset and willing to stand up for fair treatment. Instead, it was mostly immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, who stood on the picket line for month after month. “Most of the white people had good positions, like bartender,” Francisca explains. “The only two white people on our side, it was just because they knew better. One day one member told Miss Peggy, ‘You old hog; go home and die.’ We grew a thick skin. We Mexicans put up with everything. I told people I put Vaseline on my face every morning so what they would say will slide off me.”

Most of the workers on the picket line were from the kitchen or served as janitors. They were mostly Latin@. When Francisca reached out to one of the White servers to join their protest of the unfair working conditions, he responded, “With all due respect, what am I going to do there? I’m in front of the members serving them their food. If I join you, they’re going to know who I am. And with all due respect, it’s a bunch of Mexicans and Michael and Peggy.”…

On the picket line one day, a member bicycled by with a stroller attached in back. As they biked by, the toddler stuck its hand out of its fabric enclosure and gave the workers a “thumbs down.” The mother turned around and biked by again, and the toddler stuck out the other hand to do the same thing. I’m partly just impressed by the commitment to biking in such uneven terrain just to get your kid to harass picketers, but Francisca noted that the saddest thing to her was a parent teaching her child to hate because “we were on their land.” (Maybe it’s because I’m an immigrant or maybe it’s because I’m a Christian, but the notion that any of us have the right to claim stolen land as ours more than the people working it is a weird one to me.)

I joined the workers in a three-day fast over Mother’sDay weekend, where they tried to remind club members that many of the workers were mothers or were supporting mothers, and that this protest was taking food out of the protesters stood quietly with flyers about the conflict with management, and a woman came up to another worker, Maria (who had adopted two little children two days before she was locked out of her job; the theme of this weekend was very personal to her) and spat at Maria, “You are TEARING APART FAMILIES!” The woman’s son had refused to eat at the country club for Mother’s Day because of the workers’ protest. Maria had to work really hard to extend Christian love in response (although by then the workers were used to being catcalled and threatened with phone calls to Immigration and jeers to go back to Mexico).

Francisca had to fight the urge to not yell back, “Because, when you go back you need to go back with your head held high. They also called us uneducated and dumb and you don’t know what you’re fighting for. I wanted to be able to show them who had the education. I knew we were going back and I wanted to be able to look people in their eyes and not be ashamed.”

Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson was the reason I became a Disciple of Christ, and I still consider him my pastor. I remember him, an African American addressing a mixed group of White and Latin@ and Asian people and saying of America, “We may have come over on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” Some of us actually inhabited this land for thousands of years, but most of our forebears came here as slaves or indentured servants, or they came here to establish a better life. Like the Israelites, we came onto others’ land by choice or by force and had to find rules to live by that honored each other and hopefully created a better place for all of us. Like the Israelites, we did better by some people than others, and we did best when we were ruled by hope rather than by fear.

Oakland, you’re the hot chick now:

Stop letting your boyfriends treat you like you’re lucky to be with them!

Please forgive the heteronormative nature of the following piece.

If you read my blog posts regularly, you know a few things about me: I’ve been the fat chick and I’ve been the hot chick. I’ve been with guys who treat me well and I’ve been with guys who have conveyed to me that they’re slumming it a little. (Added note: I’ve found that guys don’t tend to treat me better or worse based on my size; I just tend to let them treat me badly when I don’t realize that I’m a person worthy of being treated well regardless of size.)

At the last city council meeting I attended, I found myself thinking, “whoa–there are a lot of developers these days who know that Oakland’s the hot chick, AND they know she hasn’t figured it out yet! That’s gonna get messy!”

 

So, based on my learnings from the dating world, here is my contribution to the upcoming surge in high-end development in Oakland. It’s really addressed specifically to city council, the brains of the incredibly hot chick that is Oakland.

 

Dear Oakland: (more…)

Faith, fast food and the paddy wagon

 

photographs by Brooke Anderson: http://www.movementphotographer.com/

photo by Brooke Anderson

photo by Brooke Anderson

My father worries that if I ever try to go into politics, my arrest will ruin my career. “Not in Oakland,” I told him consolingly. “Ah yes,” he said; “Jerry Brown is from Oakland.” Neither of us is sure Jerry Brown’s been arrested for anything, but he remembered that I live in the city of Governor Moonbeam (and the Black Panthers, but I’m not sure my father knows who they are).

So yes, that’s me getting arrested by an officer who clearly felt that there might be some actual crimes he could be solving instead of this silliness, but the officers were kind to us and we were all released quickly.

It’s pretty silly to call me brave for risking arrest this past Thursday: my part-time paid job told me that as long as I could make up the hours, I was welcome to follow my conscience. There were lawyers lined up to bail me out and to try to get my record expunged. If I receive a fine, I’ll find the money somehow. And also, I was probably going to get treated well because cops hate arresting pastors. An officer friend of mine said he always tries to avoid arresting pastors because whenever he shows up in the news arresting a pastor, he gets really lousy coffee at his favorite coffee shop for a week afterwards. (more…)

Are we getting played? Workers and small business owners are not enemies

Reflections on the Lift Up Oakland campaign for a fair wage (and its alternative)

It was hard not to be fired up at the rally last Tuesday for a $12.25 minimum wage in the city of Oakland. Courageous workers stood at the podium and shared their struggles to care for a family on a minimum wage, council members stood in solidarity with an effort to make sure that every worker in Oakland had the right to sick leave (for their health and the health of customers), and faith leaders reminded the crowd that God stands with the people fighting for justice for all. It was pretty clear we were on the side of God.

It felt even clearer that we were on the side of right when Councilmember Reid told us that he was going to let the business owners speak first at the Community and Economic Development Committee meeting because they had to get back to the businesses they run. There were boos and jeers from the crowd, some of whom were minimum wage workers who had to go without essential pay in order to attend the meeting. It really got the “hey! who’s for the little guy around here?” juices flowing.

 

But the people who got up to speak weren’t the enemy. (more…)

Finding home (or, A million different Occupies)

I attended my very first Occupy the Hood meeting tonight.

It’s not like I was unaware of the movement–my co-pastor and I expressed enthusiasm and concern about Occupy Oakland almost simultaneously almost from the beginning, and when we read this article http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/10/occupy_the_hood.php in October, we were pretty sure this was where we belonged.

But then we (or at least I) got caught up in the ups and downs of the Occupy Oakland ocean–joy at the experience of thousands of people filling the streets for the November action, horror at the mistreatment of protesters, disappointment as the movement became more about a particular space than about people in this community who barely have a passing connection to City Hall, dismay at the disregard by organizers for the stated needs of laborers prior to the port shutdown in December, rage at the outright illegal actions of the Oakland Police Department on January 28 followed by almost equal rage at the remarkable number of arrestees who did not place their single experience of police brutality in the context of decades of a broken police system that misuses great cops and perpetuates a longtime gap between cops and community. (more…)