In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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We Who Believe in Freedom Shall Not Rest

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

I have been horrified by recent shootings of police officers, and my prayers go out to their families and colleagues.  At first I was concerned that the strict nonviolence practiced by the Black Lives Matter movement had been compromised, so I was relieved to hear that the gunmen were not part of the movement.  Because, you see, I support Black Lives Matter (BLM).  Of course I know that all lives matter, but black lives seem not to matter when police so frequently kill black people and are not prosecuted.  BLM has raised awareness of the racial bias of policing in certain areas of this country and has intensified demands for racial justice.

There is also a backlash against the movement, which seems apparent in the outrage expressed over Nevada City Council member Reinette Senem’s Facebook comments.  She has since apologized for her generalizations and clarified that she supports the local police and values her relationship with them.  I hope she stays the course and refuses to be shamed or intimidated into resigning her position.

I am glad to hear that she and others believe that our law enforcement officials are respectful and have a good relationship with the public.  That has been my experience as well. But racism is a reality in this mostly white community.  I have witnessed it.  I suspect that there are racial overtones to the recent debate.

I believe that the organized attempt to force Reinette out of office is a red herring, that is, “something that distracts attention from the real issue.”  The real conflict locally seems to be between those who support BLM’s calls for police accountability and those who do not, between those who are appalled by ongoing police killings of black human beings and those who want the public to fully support and trust the police.

The “blue wall of silence,” which prevents ethical police officers from calling out unethical colleagues, does not serve the interests of anyone.  Rather, it endangers all police officers as well as the public.  Yet it seemed like some of the speakers at the recent public forum wanted to extend the blue wall of silence to public officials and to put the public on notice that we, too, should support law enforcement without question.

One speaker quoted a Bible passage from Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!”  Reading this passage in the context of the public forum implied that all police and all authorities are just.  That is simply not true.  Many of the other speakers made the same case—that we should support the police no matter what.

This demonstrates the rational distortions that result from taking selective Bible passages literally.  Jesus disobeyed the rulers of his time, as did the apostle Peter who said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in jail.  The Roman Empire put Jesus, Peter, and Paul to death.  Some people may truly believe that if you do what is good you will receive the approval of police or other authorities.  But that’s not always how it plays out.

Racial discrimination is well-documented in the US criminal justice system.  This statement is not an attack on police officers who do their best to protect people and uphold the law.  But the truth is that people of color are at a disadvantage in interactions with police and in our courts, jails, and prisons.  Read The New Jim Crow or Lockdown America or Just Mercy to find out more.

This conflict is not new.  It is historic, with roots in the system of slavery, followed by segregation, voter suppression, “stop and frisk,” and zero-tolerance policing.  Police killings of black people have been happening all along, but BLM is bringing these killings to light.  In the words of a civil rights song:  “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons…we who believe in freedom shall not rest, we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.”

 

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Resistance: A Way to Live Humanly

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Today, Good Friday, I am publishing two excerpts from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, about the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and continuing presence.  You can order it from a local bookstore, order signed or bulk copies directly from me, or find it online.  Here is the first excerpt:

 

How can we live humanly, as free and responsible human beings, enmeshed as we are in a global system that is diverting the life-force of human beings and siphoning off the gifts of God’s creation for idolatrous and unjust purposes that threaten the future? This question brings us around again to resistance for, as William Stringfellow said, in times of great tyranny, “resistance [becomes] the only human way to live.”[i]

For the topic of personal transformation to be relevant here, it must address these issues. In other words, How does the message and Way of Jesus Christ help us to become free of idolatry and injustice? How do they help us to become free, fully human, faithful to God, more completely the people God created us to be?

First, it is essential not to lift the story of Jesus’ death on the cross out of the context of his life, teachings, and ministry or out of the time, place, and political situation in which he lived. In the words of Charles Campbell: “The cross cannot be plopped down out of the blue as a magical transaction between God and individual sinners. Rather, Jesus’ resistance to the powers of the world leads to his crucifixion and gives the cross its distinctive meaning.”[ii] Jesus’ death was a continuation of the way he lived his life. It was also the consequence of living in faithfulness to God and in resistance to the Powers.

Second, those who would follow Jesus can expect the same. There is no promise of safety, no corner of ease or complacency in which to hide. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[iii]

Third, Jesus makes us a wonderful promise that will be fulfilled, if we are willing: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). Jesus promises that if we follow him without reservation we will be given back our lives, our humanity, ourselves.

But how? Following Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, it is impossible without divine aid. Fortunately, this is just what is offered. For those who would follow Christ, this aid comes through an ongoing relationship with the Creator, through the tangible activity of the Holy Spirit, and through the presence of the Christ within and among us. Christian faith does not just offer us an example to follow, but a “Way.” And ironically, the cross, an instrument of torture and oppression, has become a symbol of the Way of Jesus Christ, which transforms human life.

[i]. William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco: Word Books, 1974), 119; italics in original.

[ii]. Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 47.

[iii]. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.

Campaign Nonviolence Arrests at Beale

John and Guari 1

On Monday afternoon, September 29, two anti-drone demonstrators were arrested for trespassing onto Beale Air Force Base.  My good friend, The Reverend John Auer, a retired United Methodist pastor from Fresno, offered a prayer for peace and for the earth.  Then he crossed the line onto base property, assisted by my beloved, Guarionex Delgado.  He pushed John’s wheelchair the length of the mile-long road to the Wheatland Gate.  Base personnel detained them when they reached the guard house.  I also walked with them, taking pictures, but turned back when they entered through the gate.

John stated that he was attempting to deliver a letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart, the Base Commander, informing him of a recent anti-drone resolution passed by United Methodists in the California-Nevada region.  (I had also signed on to the letter.)  The letter also included The World Council of Churches’ Statement on the Use of Drones and the Right to Life.  Beale is the home of the Global Hawk Drone, a surveillance drone that helps find targets for armed drones.

This action was one of over 250 nonviolent actions carried out in coordination with Campaign Nonviolence, calling for an end to war, poverty, and climate change. John and Guari stated concerns for the children, for humankind, and for the earth as reasons for walking onto base property.  John carried a sign with a picture of the earth that said, “No War, No Warming,” a reference to the relationship between war and climate change.  They both wore light blue scarves that represent solidarity with others around the world who are suffering the effects of war and who are working for peace.

John spoke of his reasons for taking this action:  “I believe in the recuperative powers of the earth and of the people.  We can’t stop trying.  We can’t stop making an offering of our lives and of our hope.

“I oppose drone warfare because the more we depersonalize war the easier it is for us to fight, and to act as if it is not costing us anything.  When we mechanize war it makes others expendable.  Everyone becomes collateral damage.”

“I am committed to a better world for our children and grandchildren, and I mean all our children and grandchildren.  They will ask us one day what we did in this time.  I want to be able to say that we offered some kind of resistance and some kind of hope.”

Guari said, “I am opposed to all forms of violence.  Climate change is violence against the earth.  Poverty is violence against the people.  War is violence against both people and the earth.”

“When I was younger and uninformed, I served the Empire.  Now that I’m older and clearer, I serve my brothers and sisters who are working for peace and healing.  In this case I had the strength to accompany a brother in the struggle.”

Stay informed and updated.  Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.  Go to the Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page or Occupy Beale website for updates on this court case, background information, and announcements about upcoming Beale demonstrations and direct actions.

 

Immigration, Solidarity, and People Power

The bumper sticker on my car.

The bumper sticker on my car.

I love my community.  Pascale Fusshoeller, one of our own, was arrested on immigration charges and threatened with immediate deportation.  Our community rallied to her support, somehow pulling together a legal team and raising money for her defense.  Supporters created a FaceBook page within hours, which received over 1200 “likes” within days.  People made so many calls and sent so many emails that Senator Barbara Boxer’s office asked us to stop, assuring us that they had gotten our message and were considering Pascale’s case.  Soon afterward, she was back home with her spouse, Susan.  She still faces charges under a complex, unjust, and broken immigration system, but the legal process has been slowed down and will be highly  visible, as the community continues to organize for her support.  This case shows what community organizing can do.

Pascale received such an outpouring of support because she is an integral part of our community.  She and Susan provide us with YubaNet, the online newsletter that provides general news, in-depth local and regional news, fire updated (the North San Juan Volunteer Fire Department  wrote a letter on her behalf), editorial by local folks, and so much more.  Her case has brought to light, in a personal and highly visible way, the cruelty and injustice of our nation’s immigration policies.

Most immigrants without the proper papers lack such public support.  They are separated from their families and “disappeared” into a vast, complex, and profitable system of immigration courts, detention centers (often for-profit, privately run), and deportation.  Many of us are now expanding our awareness and our circle of concern to include all immigrants, including those people in our community and beyond who have been living in the shadows.

I hope we can come together as a community to educate ourselves and speak out against the injustice of the current immigration system, to work for its reform, to resist automatic incarceration and blanket deportations, to support family unity, and to demonstrate solidarity with  the immigrants in our midst.  As Pascale’s case makes clear, organized “people power” can create a shift.  Faith communities, local government institutions, community organizations, and concerned individuals working together can create this community as a sanctuary, where the immigrants among us can feel at home and at peace.  This process has already begun.