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Monday, September 30, 2013

Why We Need to Tell President Obama to Stop Deporting Immigrants

Recently, I was asked by a friend and colleague the strategic reasoning of why we should begin to push harder on the Administration to stop deporting immigrants altogether until genuine, solution-based immigration reform was passed. In light of the fact that this Administration has deported well over a million people, here was my response. 

My first thought is that we need to push hard for this simply because it is the right thing to do and it provides an alleviation of suffering for people who have suffered greatly under this Administration.

But I think in addition to that - which frankly, is enough for me - is the fact that this provides an opportunity for us, the faith community and more specifically the Church, to remind the WH (White House), the media, the public, and especially ourselves what this issue is all about - this is first and foremost a human rights issue. For far too long we (faith community, particularly the Church) have played along and allowed corporate interests to define this as an economic prosperity/border and national security issue. Immigrants are reduced to units of profit or potential servants of patriotism.

I read something on my commute this morning which I believe rightly characterizes the DC-based immigration coalition and the way in which we have sold our birthright for a bowl of crappy soup, my comments are in brackets:

"Economic monopoly, cultural monopoly, and political monopoly coalesce in the same exclusive club of corporate power. This group is beyond politics and ready to collaborate  with any political system [including a social system, which is the Church] so long as the system accepts its rules of the game and is ready to assume its cultural forms." (Collier & Esteban, 1998, p. 40)

This is exactly what we have allowed to be done and with the religious conservative roundtable and their horrible list of principles (a "guarantee of a secure border" and "fairness to taxpayers" must have made the corporate/nationalistic interests happy beyond measure), the corporate/nationalistic powers now have the legitimacy of a small narrow piece of the Church sanctifying their interests - this narrow slice of the Church that has been called the entirety of "the faith community" by the media and upper East side funders. This is why the inclusion of religious conservatives has been detrimental to the larger goal of genuine reform.

Yes, pushing for an end to deportations and universal DACA might scare Republicans into compromising on some extraordinarily watered-down version of immigration reform - i.e. the Senate bill - if they think the President will act, the Republicans will get nothing out of it and the President will get all of the credit. But to be honest, I get so tired of these kinds of political projections and shenanigans that even before I am done writing this sentence I am bored to death.

I think we push hard for universal DACA and for a complete end to all deportations because it provides relief to suffering people and because it might deliver the Church from the corporate entanglements that have kept us from sounding like and behaving like the Church. We frankly should have been calling for this all along, but this moment gives us a gracious opportunity to recover our voice that has been lost because we want so desperately to be politically relevant. We want desperately - too desperately I believe - to keep our political access, even though we put at possible risk our ability to remain incarnated among people who truly are vulnerable to the actions of this Administration.

We have to hear their voices now more than ever and I have yet to hear the voice of an immigrant say it is ok for the White House to continue deportations because it is a good idea politically. I just hear people saying stop the madness.

And this wouldn't be the first time that the Church finds liberation through listening first to the people directly impacted by injustice and broken systems.

Just my two cents

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kick-Butt Quotes from Mario Savio

I have read dozens of books about the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and I remain fascinated with the sacrifice, passion, creativity, and unswerving commitment by those who made up these movements, most of whom were young people. Most of us are familiar with the more prominent leaders: Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and Julian Bond are among some of the more notable.

But there are so many more leaders without whom the movements would not nearly have accomplished all that they did. Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Tom Hayden, James Bevel, Daisy Bates, Ella Baker, James Farmer, Rita Schwerner – there are so many!

It is the lesser known leaders who give me the greatest hope. It is the lesser known people who sacrificed so much – who gave their lives, or at least the best years of their lives to a cause greater than themselves. What we do not know is that so many lives were forever altered through beatings, through economic marginalization, through cutting short their education to give themselves to movements for justice. It is their commitment that overwhelms and inspires me; that deepens my hunger for justice and righteousness and that builds a fire for justice within me that cannot be quenched.

In the beautifully written biography of Mario Savio by Mark Cohen details the life of one of the primary leaders of the Free Speech Movement at Cal-Berkeley in the mid-1960s. His life is one that genuinely inspires me. Not coincidentally, just as the other movements for peace and justice were birthed out of the civil rights movement – especially the Freedom Summer of 1964 when white college students from the North came to Mississippi to register Blacks to vote and to illuminate the oppression of the segregated South – a major part of the formation of Savio came from his participation in Freedom Summer.

I list a few of Savio’s quotes below, taken from Cohen's book. But what I most appreciated about Cohen’s biography was the honesty of the narrative. Savio was not perfect and he made mistakes, sometimes out of over-zealousness; something I can easily relate with. But he also detailed Savio’s ongoing struggles with mental illness as well as Savio’s refusal to capitalize on his popularity after the Free Speech Movement to garner for himself the accolades and prominence in other movements, such as the peace movement. 

Working in DC and seeing many supposed “leaders” in the causes of justice I see all too often that many “leaders” are simply mouthpieces in search of microphones. They do press conferences like most of us breathe air. They are professional spokespersons, media mega-hit superstars who can deliver silky smooth sound bites on any issue for any occasion as effortlessly - all for the cause either of justice or themselves. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Not so with Savio. His was an honest soul passionately in search of honesty and integrity and a world that would value all people. Savio was most known for his leadership of the Free Speech Movement, and even though he struggled for years with mental illness, and though his involvement in later causes for justice did not gain him the notoriety he earned when he was in college, his passion and his commitment never wavered. In or out of the spotlight, he never stopped believing, working, organizing. God, I love that.

Below are a few of his quotes. I find his ideas still quite relevant though Savio has been dead for years now. I never knew Savio, but when I finished the book I felt such sadness, like I had lost a friend. For those committed to justice, Savio is indeed a friend and he is missed.

Savio’s most famous speech made during the Free Speech Movement, December 2, 1964
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

Savio made these remarks at his high school graduation in June, 1960
“We might well consider each individual to be a single atom: Each atom is, of itself, insignificant, but one tiny spark can cause an explosive release of energy. So too, one tiny spark of purpose set loose among [people] can inflame the world in a chain reaction of fruitful activity….the actions of every individual – no matter how insignificant they may seem – can assume cosmic significance if we only have a purpose outside [ourselves] and faith in [our] ability to achieve that purpose. And our purpose must be spiritual.”

Savio made these remarks in the fall of 1964 during the Free Speech Movement
“In our free speech fight at the University of California we have come up against what may emerge as the greatest problem of our nation – depersonalized, unresponsive bureaucracy….The things we are asking for in our civil rights protests have a deceptively quaint ring. We are asking for the due process of law. We are asking for our actions to be judged by committees of our peers. We are asking that regulations ought to be considered as arrived at legitimately only from the consensus of the governed. These phrases all are pretty old, but they are not being taken seriously in America today.”

Savio wrote this October 1, 1984 in response to the invasion of the tiny island of Grenada
“Judging from public reaction to the U.S. ‘triumph’ in Grenada, we must sadly conclude that for many the lesson of Vietnam is that fighting colonial wars is perfectly acceptable; what is unacceptable is losing them.”

Savio’s remarks were given at the 20th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement in October of 1984
“[The people of the civil rights movement] overcame their fear by holding one another…and that got to the children of white America. And we threw ourselves ardently into their movement. We wanted to be part of them, because in America of the 1950s, a very boring and in some ways scary time, we had seen nothing of people holding one another. And that’s what the black people showed us – that we could overcome our fears by holding one another….Our government is preparing a bloodbath in Central America, and we have a choice – we have a choice! Either we manage to prevent that by establishing some kind of bond of real solidarity between us and the people of Nicaragua, of El Salvador – of all of Central America – and therefore make it our Mississippi for this generation. Either it will be the Mississippi of this generation or it will be the Vietnam of this generation.”

Savio’s remarks were made at the 30th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement
“We have the passion because our community is a community of compassion. With the poor of the earth no matter what side of the border they’re on – whether they’re legal or illegal, just folks, folks whether they’re black or brown, folks whether they’re yellow or red, folks who wear pants, folks who wear dresses, folks who wear both for God’s sake! We want to cast our lot with the people not with the bosses. We don’t want to buy into that coalition against the poor. Do it! Do it!”

Savio wrote this in May of 1995 against the anti-affirmative action California ballot initiative
“Affirmative action may sometimes require fine-tuning, but such adjustment, when necessary, should be undertaken only by people fully committed to the goals of gender and ethnic equality, not by those who deny the persistence of prejudice.”

Savio wrote this in 1995 against the anti-affirmative action California ballot initiative

“Racism in the United States began in 1619, when the first African was brought to Virginia in chains. Of the subsequent 377 years, for 245 the country permitted slavery. For the next 100, legal discrimination was the rule, accompanied by frequent acts of terror such as lynchings and church burnings…Not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did our nation formally resolve to overcome the damage done over the previous 350 years. For only about 30 years has the US, as a whole, undertaken positive action to heal its centuries-old racial wounds. It is offensive to suggest…that a single generation of affirmative action has remedied such a long, sustained history of abuse.”