photographs by Brooke Anderson: http://www.movementphotographer.com/
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.
The workers with whom I was getting arrested, on the other hand, rely on the income they receive in an industry with no paid time off (or sick days); they follow all the rules so they won’t get fired for exercising their legal right to protest, but they risk being punished through shifts withheld and therefore money withheld that they rely on to pay bills. (And those bills are no joke at minimum wage in one of the most expensive places to live in the country.)
And yet they risked arrest on behalf of workers who can’t get arrested and on behalf of workers who would have been fired for walking off the job even if it was illegal. They risked arrest on behalf of every worker who works two jobs and often works hours s/he doesn’t get paid for, for workers who have to live off of leftover McDonald’s for the last two weeks of the month because even when they are working 40 or 60 or 80 hours a week, that is not enough for rent and electricity.
They work for companies who could easily absorb the cost of paying a fair wage or even pass on the cost to consumer for a matter of pennies per item, and yet it is not about rational debate or reasoned policy nuancing–the companies don’t want to because of some convoluted principle that they shouldn’t have to offer the dignity of fair pay to the workers who keep their company going. Even though it would cost them almost nothing and it would improve morale and loyalty and probably profit margins. Fast food corporations are standing firm on the principle of “I don’t wanna, and you can’t make me.” They are acting like toddlers, but toddlers who are doing harm to millions of people. (And I’m talking about their workers. The harm they’re doing to all of us foolish enough to eat there is a whole different blog post.)
And that was worth getting arrested over.
This was the first time I’ve been arrested. I’ve never thought it was what should earn me my stripes within progressive circles, and I never wanted to be part of an action where we were getting arrested for the sake of getting arrested, for the theater of it. It didn’t seem respectful to the heroes I grew up admiring–Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi in particular. I’ve risked arrest once before, by entering the private property of a global developer with other community members and refusing to leave until we spoke to the President about providing a living wage for local workers. But the police were never called, and my record remained clean.
But then this summer, fast food workers decided they would do anything it took to get attention to such an important cause — the fact that in America you can work full-time twice over and still not be able to support your family — as long as it was nonviolent. And when they chose to get arrested in Oakland, one male and one female clergy were invited to join them to provide spiritual support and encouragement should we actually get locked up.
And it was ultimately an easy choice for me, because one of the most significant passages in scripture for me is Isaiah 58:3:
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say [to me, God], ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.”
It’s like the author of Isaiah was talking to Ronald McDonald and Jack-in-the-Box themselves.
So risking arrest wasn’t something I was excited about, but it felt like the way to show my solidarity with a campaign I connect to God’s calling in our community.
“So how are you doing?” I asked one of the workers after our cuffs were taken off; “what was that like for you?” She’s kind of a legend in the local fast food worker movement–a powerful speaker who has brought to light the impact of low wages on good people working hard to care for family on too little money.
“I have to admit, I cried a little in the police van,” she said, “but not because I was scared. It was because of all the support we got while we were being arrested–they were chanting my name. I’ve never had an experience of that much support before.”
And that captures something particularly exciting about this movement that I didn’t have words for until getting arrested with the workers.
What fast food corporations have intentionally and strategically withheld from fast food workers in recent years are two-fold: dignity and community. What this campaign has created is two-fold: dignity and community. Every worker I was arrested with is a leader, a real leader who speaks publicly and recruits additional workers and coordinates strategy and supports the work with all the gifts they have. And they are doing it for one another.
The campaign for fast food worker wages has been successful in changing the dialogue about paying a fair wage across the nation (alongside equally courageous
WalMart workers’ campaign). But what has been exciting to me about participating in a unique way is that I have witnessed within the fast food workers’ campaign the shift from me to we. This is definitely about each striker wanting better wages and no more wage theft (being forced to work without pay in addition to the hours clocked in) and wanting the basic right to spend time with family instead of having to work 80 hours a week. But it is also about creating a network of support for people who were not encouraged to see themselves as a community.
No wonder the corporations are digging in their heels. Toddlers do not yet understand the gift of community.
On Thursday, having been arrested seemed surreal and odd, even though many of my friends and colleagues let me know they were proud of me. Today I realize the word I am looking for is humbling. Because I got to share a police van with powerful leaders living out God’s call to God’s people thousands of years ago in the book of Deuteronomy and to God’s people today:
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.
I hope I do not ever take those prophets for granted.