Radical Hope after hearing that “We’re so sorry to vote to lay you off.”

I cried before the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees meeting today.

I witnessed trustees apologize and lament their vote to eliminate positions in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.  24 faculty and 2 professionals (not administrators) will be laid off.  Seven of them are tenured.  When I heard this, I said F***.  I said it audibly, and within  hearing distance of some low-level administrators who don’t have to worry about their jobs.  You can say what you want about civility, but I’m going to err on the side of maintaining my capacity for shock.  I don’t want to see the layoffs of tenured faculty normalized like the leaking roofs at WIU.

However we respond and react, it’s not going to be perfect, and so in my imperfection, I’m going to err on the side of outrage.  I grew up in a Christian tradition (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), and it was never lost on us that Jesus did not always conduct himself in a way that could be called “civil.”  At least I didn’t push any tables over this morning.

I left the board meeting and cried.  I cried for my dear friends who will get a letter tomorrow, and I cried for my own lay off that I’ve not recovered from, not even after two years.  (And please don’t tell me to “move on,” because my appeal is still in process and my dead loved ones are memorialized at WIU and I’m an alumnae (-a, -i–? so much for my year of Latin)).

After two years, though, I perceive a shift, and it’s in the power of the people and in a change of heart–probably my own heart.  Once you’re laid off, you’re not as afraid.  After years of grieving, I am able to connect with others and be supportive.  These connections give me hope.  Janus, by the way, could weaken us, but it might also empower us to love and support each other more.

Plus, JB Pritzker, who’s coming to Macomb tonight, is probably about to defeat Bruce Rauner.  He’s going to have a lot of damage to repair at WIU and our other universities, but if anyone can protect tenured faculty at WIU, it’s Pritzker.

 

Time for Revolution: After 40 Days of Moral Revival, a Call to Action from the U.S. Capitol

I found the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Chicago office on Halsted, in the Pilsner neighborhood of Chicago.  State Representative Litesa Wallace (below), from Rockford, IL,  came to wish us well before we boarded the overnight bus.   In her wok in the state legislature, she created the House is the Economic Justice and Equity committee.

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I loved being on a bus full of people with whom I share the values of the Poor People’s Campaign.  We understand the various ways most  people are vulnerable to our economic system of extreme wealth and fear, prejudice and discrimination.

While waiting for the bus, I chatted with these follow activists:img_0102.jpg

Above:  Darryl Robinson, Ron “Kowboy” Jackson, and Curtis, who braved arrest a at a PPC action in Springfield a few weeks ago.  I asked Kowboy what makes him endure the discomfort of two nights on a bus for the Poor People’s Campaign.  “I’ve seen so much suffering,” he said.  In 1988 he put children on stretchers after a shooting at Winnetka Elementary.  Years later, after a car accident, doctors told him he would never walk again, but he does walk.  He walks for the poor and depressed, for society’s most vulnerable, for veterans, and victims of police brutality.

After a night of sleeping while sitting up, we arrived in D.C. Saturday morning, and the SEIU received us with hot breakfast.

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While we ate, the 83-year-old Louise Brown (below, wearing bright blue and orange) told us her hospital strike story.

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If Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the queen of justice by written opinion, Louise Brown is the queen of justice by action.  In the 60s, Mrs. Brown and ten other women striked for living wages, fair treatment, and the right to unionize.  They went to jail.  Today, Mrs. Brown goes to jail in order to illuminate the widespread and extreme poverty that this country has normalized and ignored.

On the Capitol Mall, for three hours, we rallied, listened to the voices of the poor people, and danced. Folks came from 40 states.  Danny Glover sang.

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I loved it that Rev. Barber said:     This is not a rally—it’s a REVOLUTION.

I love Rev. Barber’s discipline.  He privileges the voices of the poor and limits the voices of allies in privileged positions.  If we really want to learn and understand, we will listen to the poor.

 

Barber’s co-leader, Liz Theoharris (below), arms herself with facts.  She makes it impossible to logically accept the myths about poverty– myths that only lazy people are poor and there’s nothing to be done.  In fact, working people are poor, and there is something to be done. There is, she says, ENOUGH housing, food, and healthcare for all.

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Elija Blu, a voice of the Illinois PPC, stands to the left of Theoharris. I recently heard Elija tell a crowd that he comes from a long line of “irrespectability.”  He used to belong to a gang.  He works full-time now, but is still poor.  But he, with the 43% of US inhabitants who are poor, has a right to shelter, nourishment, and health.

A highlight of the day was the “roll call,” in which representatives from forty states shouted the name of their state.  Here’s a sample:

I love that the PPC demands the ENTIRE REVOLUTION.  Everyone is important–no one left behind.  We do not privilege one form of discrimination or vulnerability above others.  If one person is hurting, we are all hurting.  The PPC includes black immigrant rights.

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Seala Matthis, from Virgin Islands (which has not recovered from Hurricane Maria) wore a shirt that says, “Immigrants Make America Great.”

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After a three-hour rally,  we marched to the Capitol.

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The PPC is not afraid to quote from a variety of sacred texts and other moral documents that nations and countries hold dear, such as preambles to state and federal constitutions.  These texts say that every human life is dear and that we must take care of each other.  We must take care of the people who are most vulnerable, which usually means, take care of the poor and the immigrants.

After the march, I went in the National Gallery East and found works by two African American women:

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Pansies in Washington, by Alma Thomas
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Dat Ol’ Black Magic, by Betye Saar

 

 

Restoring The Moral Narrative: Poor People’s Campaign, Week 6 of 40-day Campaign for Moral Revival

Interfaith prayer and a band enlivened the 6th Monday of the Poor People´s Campaign for Moral Revival this week –in Chicago, not Springfield.

Cub fans were lining up outside Wrigley field, but my husband and daughter joined me for Poor People´s Choir practice in the Poeple´s Church on the North Side.

Rehearsal for the evening’s finale: “Ain´t gonna let nobody turn me around.¨ Most of the choir had come from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

After choir rehearsal, we walked a few blocks to Lake Shore drive, to catch the end of the last Illinois rally of the 40-day campaign and join the march to the People’s Church for speakers and music.

For the purposed of this blog, “interfaith” includes atheists with faith in humanity, as well as people from various religions.

Once back in the People’s Church, my daughter, husband, and I stood on stage with the choir and sang Somebody’s hurting my people and it been going on far too long.

Reverend Saeed Richardson asked who was in the house. “Tent City,” someone shouted. The percussionist rolled the drums and the keyboardist hit a chord. The crowed cheered. “Who else is in the house tonight?” Asked Rev. Richardson.

Fight for 15

Indivisible

National Nurses United

Soul

Senior Caucus

35th Ward

Progressive Labor Party

Inner Voice

United Methodist Church

Coalition for the Homeless

Unitarian Universalists

March for our Lives, Chicago

Organized Communities against Deportation

After each of these groups announced themselves, we celebrated with drum role and keyboard chords.

Rev. Saeed called on us to rectify the country’s distorted moral narrative. By moral, he means the values that sacred texts, and even government documents, call us to hold dear.

One of the rabbis encouraged us to follow the paths of the prophets, which is what the PPC does–it calls us to develop systems of love and support the most vulnerable of our society, including immigrants and the environment.

A cantor from a congregation in Deerfield sang, We must love each other. We will fill this world with love. Singing gently with folks from different religions, race, and genders, made me believe the words. I recalled singing such songs at church camp, but with people who looked and talked like me. To sing it with the homeless, the queer, the sex worker, the former gang member, the sick, the rabbis, the pastors, and the musicians made my eyes begin to tear-up. The lessons of my childhood as a preacher’s daughter in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a tradition that, for decades, I had left behind, returned.

The Poor People’s Campaign unites the most socially-committed of Christianity, as well as of Islam, Judaism, atheism, Unitarian Universalism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hindus and infinite moral or religious traditions. Even readers of the United States constitution will find a moral call for domestic tranquility and, for each person, a right to the pursuit of happiness. The preamble to the Illinois constitution specifically mentions the moral responsibility of the state to alleviate poverty.

A Rabbi speaking to the Poor People’s Campaign said that broken systems break people.

Jade Mazon, whom I met at the first Monday of the PPC, and who will stand and speak with Rev. Barber on the national mall this Saturday, June 23, said poverty is generational for her. Jade said that her daughter’s school says she’s not a good enough mom and threatens her with community service (though Jade already generously donates her time to the PPC and the Rebel Bells) but The crowed broke out in applause when Jade announced that Kiki won the class honor of most improved and highest standardized test score. From the second row, Kiki beamed with hard-earned pride for herself and her mom.

Pilar Rodriguez, member of a Unitarian Universalism social justice group, said that he is a queer person who presents (not identifies) as a woman. He feels unsafe walking at night in his neighborhood. In his apartment, they repair things with duck tape because they can’t even afford milk. Pilar told the crowd that if anyone needed a place to stay, they were welcome to stay with him. The crowd cheered in support of his generosity.

Rami Nashashiri, director of Inner-city Muslim Action Network, said we have a moral responsibility to address the systems that are broken–that charity is insufficient. He recalled the Salvadoran bishop who said that “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint, but when I asked why they were hungry, they called me a communist.”

Mentioning slavery and ICE’s kidnapping of immigrant children, Nashashiri said that the brokenness, even the U.S. government’s cold and cruel streak and the immorality running through the country, is not new. WHAT IS NEW, he said, is our coming together in the Poor People’s Campaign.

We are restoring the moral narrative.

Tents in front of the Governor’s Mansion: Symbolic creativity for Week 5 of Poor People’s Campaign

On the fifth Monday of the Illinois Poor Peoples Campaign on the capitol, the media came to record activists speaking next to tents in front of the Governor’s mansion.

Erica Nanten, Joyce Brody and Reverend Saeed Richardson directed the action, which began with a march  from the the Capitol strip to the Governor’s Mansion.

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Just Seeds, a cooperative of socially engaged artists, printed signs and banners for the Poor People’s Campaign.

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Week 5 was the most creative action of the campaign so far.  My favorite banner:IMG_3121

In a creative and symbolic move, the campaign set up tents at the entrance to the governor’s mansion (below).  When you set up tents on crumbling concrete next to a mansion, the contrast of  hyper-wealth for the minority, next to extreme poverty for majority, is shocking. It’s the American nightmare.

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The governor’s mansion sits behind tents and campaign activists.  The woman with the red headband is Takesha Williams.  Takesha said that a 15$ minimum wage is only a step.  She has big dreams, but our politicians make it hard for her to realize them.

We’re always ready for a chant:

(The people, united, will never be defeated.)

Reverend Saeed Richardson (below, center) said people are going through hell, and when you’re going through hell, (quoting Martin Luther King), don’t Stop.  Keep going.IMG_3116

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Rev. Saeed always has his hands full, so he pins a sign to his back. Left, Mabel Willams, with her speaking notes.

Aiesha Meadows, a fast-food worker and member of Fight for $15, said that when Rauner vetoed the 15 dollar minimum wage, “he stole from us.”  The crowd hear her and said, “That ain’t right.”  Importantly, Aiesha repeated that she and her co-workers want a union.  Every time she said “union,” she smiled.  

The crowd chanted, 

“Rauner vetoed 15. 

Veto Rauner ’18.”

Mabel Williams (In black and white striped top, above, next to Reverend Saeed) works 40 hours a week, and is still poor.  “I clean hospital rooms,” she said.  The new patient’s health depends on my diligence in eliminating viruses and bacteria, so my work is very important, but I can’t pay all my bills.

Erica faced Rauner’s mansion and spoke to him about how it feels to lose your home and job:

 

Erica initiated the musicology.  “We sing,” said Erica, “to make sure folks know we are human beings.”

In front of the governor’s mansion, Erica taught us a song:

I went down to the rich man’s house (substitute governor’s mansion, immigration, etc. at end of each each verse)

I took back what he stole from me,

took back my dignity,

took my humanity:

Erica introduced Rosie, the featured musicologist (video below).

Hay cadenas que romper (There are chains to break)

Hay victorias que obtener (There are victories to make):

I was the only one who spoke about education and jobs in rural Illinois.   I am laid off and my students don’t have a teacher to teach Hispanic Women and Women and Creativity.  In McDonough County, both the poverty and depopulation rate are climbing.  Also, like Chicago, Macomb schools face sexual assault charges that might have been prevented if we had had adequate funding for sexual assault prevention programs.

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A concluding photo with Fight for 15 holding the banner.

When most campaigners hopped on the buses to Chicago, Maya and returned to the sleepy Capitol building and took the Grand Stair Case to the third floor for an “us-y::

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After an eating salads and chili at Obed and Isaak’s, we began the hour-and-a-half drive, through the long rows of industrial corn, back to Macomb.

 

 

 

The Poor People’s Campaign, Week 4: The Right to Health and a Healthy Planet

When we get arrested, we do it to arrest the consciousness of the state and to guarantee that what we are doing will not be done in the dark.   Rev. William Barber II, quoted in Jaffe, p. 164.

I arrived too late to train for the day’s nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s action in the Springfield yesterday.  Instead, I was privileged to serve as a moral witness.

After rallying on the capitol, we img_1986.jpg delivered a letter to the chief of Healthcare and Family Services.  In the letter, we demanded healthcare for all.  We sang, chanted and perplexed the offices worker. When the police said they weren’t going to arrest our designated agents of nonviolent direct action, our agents sat down and linked arms, blocking the entrance.

Finally, an officer said our agents were creating a fire hazard.  Tactfully, a police officer warned our agents that they were committing a crime and would be arrested.  Our agents for moral reform did not move.

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When the time came for arrests, our agents rose for their handcuffs.  Pastor Betty , wearing a stole, stood first.  As Pastor Betty was arrested, a police officer said there were better ways to accomplish our goals than arrest.  What are we to make of the fact that a police officer lectures the clergy (a woman trained to preach from sacred texts) in front of moral witnesses?  How can he lecture so confidently in his disregard for civil disobedience? Does his lecture indicate cynicism towards  the more perfect union the drafters of the constitutional wrote about?

On the drive home, my daughter Maya, who recently read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for 11th grade English,  said,

“If he doesn’t think civil disobedience is effective in creating a more perfect union, what does he think is? War?”

“It would be civil war, and our own government is already stocking local national guard and law enforcement with war weapons.”   I said this because of what I have seen at Standing Rock and because of the machine weapons I’ve seen police hold at entrances to stadium concerts.

“So, as an alternative to the violence of civil war, I’d say civil disobedience is a preferred solution.”

Maya said, “Does he  consider the fact that poor people can’t afford to hire lobbyists or donate to PACS?”

“What disturbed the historian in me,” I said, “is that he disregarded the fact that our constitution guaranteed women’s right to vote only after 500 women were arrested for engaging in nonviolent direct action in front of the White House in 1919.  Lobbying and campaigning weren’t enough.”

IFascism relies on ignorance. Fascism relies on most people not knowing that Alice Paul and Martin Luther King took arrest so that this country could be a more perfect union.

“And Jim Crow.  The officer doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that civil disobedience overturned laws that prevented black people from voting or learning in adequate schools.”

The PPC is reclaiming the moral language of the constitution and of  sacred texts.  The PPC draws attention to a decaying economy that is not by the people nor for the people. During the arrests, the police officer said he had better things to do with his time.  I wonder what is better use of anyone’s time than placing oneself on the line to draw attention to the moral decay of our union. How do we establish a more perfect union if, by one measure, 40 percent of our families can’t pay basic bills?  If  we don’t have clean water to drink? Clean air to breathe?

If not for civil disobedience, the votes of the vast majority of the people in this country–women of color, men of color, white women, the poor and immigrants– would be even more suppressed than they are today.

For a moral account of poverty, violence, and ecological devastation, supported with facts and data, please read the the PPC’s  MORAL AGENDA BASED ON FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS.

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Speaking truth to power

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Photo of Pastor Betty taken around 4 pm. All 14 agents of nonviolent direct action were released by 9:30 pm.