Although my students (and most of my family & friends) call me a “hippie” I don’t really think I fit the true definition of that label. I have a house, a car, & a job. I don’t play guitar, I don’t smoke dope, and (up until last Friday) I have never slept outside on a pavement (not even for Grateful Dead tickets!). I do consider myself to be a social activist compelled to live a life of integrity. If I believe in something, then I want my life to be a reflection of those beliefs: That means action. It’s not enough for me to say “I support the CIW & Fair Food” and then donate money, sign a petition and call it a day. That is certainly necessary & appreciated, especially if that’s all you can do due to location, health &/or ability. But, I am able-bodied and not restricted by any health issues or family obligations. I also have a big mouth that is perfect for chanting at marches, rallies, and protests!
When I got the e-mail about the plans for the March “Now Is The Time” CIW 10-day Tour I knew right away that I had to participate in the 24-hour vigil on March 14-15 in Lakeland, Florida. The purpose of the 10-day/10-city tour was to again invite Publix & Wendy’s to the Fair Food table. I only waited to sign-up because I wanted to ask a friend to join me. I considered my job, but felt that my position at school as Liturgy & Events Coordinator was not a significant obstacle to participating in this action. I figured if the members of the CIW could sacrifice 10 days of poverty wages, then I could sacrifice one day of my salaried pay. It also provided me with an opportunity to model to my students what practicing our faith is really about. Although my 8th graders were nervous about leading the Stations of the Cross that Friday without me, they were excited by my participation in this action. I prayed for them as I’m sure they prayed for me. [Later I heard they did a fine job!]
My friend Gwen & I headed out to Lakeland the morning of the 14th & we made it out there by about 2:30 pm. There was quite a crowd already gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Southgate Publix, and I was greeted by Elena, Claire & Carmen from Interfaith Action as well as Reverend Noelle Damico. It is always good to see familiar, friendly faces at events like this! At last year’s 200 mile march Rev. Noelle grabbed me out of the line & I ended up on stage along with other religious & clergy leading the crowd in a litany of peace & justice. Last year I participated on the last day of that long march & didn’t know a soul; this year I felt like part of the family!
My experiences during the 24-hour vigil are many, but my big “take-away” is the humanity that I encounter. You don’t spend 24 hours on a strip of sidewalk with 50-100 people without getting to know some amazing souls! I will never forget their stories, their hope, their generosity and joyful spirit. And after listening to music in Spanish, speeches & instructions in Spanish (& then translated into English) I have decided that it is not too late to learn Spanish. During the wee-small hours of the night I actually felt like I was understanding the Spanish even before the translation!
I met the Reverend Michael Livingston who also toughed it out on that sidewalk all night long. What a man of faith! I didn’t really know who he was until a few days later. In an op-ed piece last month he said, “Ultimately, our faith compels us to be in solidarity with people who suffer at the margins of our economy. The Christian Scriptures say that we will be judged for what we have done for those in poverty.” Amen! I, too am compelled to stand in solidarity with the marginalized, but not in response to some fear of the final judgement. I am compelled to work for justice & peace because I believe it is the right thing to do, and I can do nothing less. What a warm memory I will carry with me of our conversations that chilly night, and our singing “back-up” to Gerardo’s rendition of “Under the Boardwalk!” “Fue en un cafe-e-e!” Rev. Michael had asked Gerardo to teach us a song so we could sing in Spanish, too. This is what we sang somewhere between 2 & 3 in the morning. I’m sure it sounded terrible to the Publix manager who paced the parking lot until 3:30 am, but it sounded pretty good to me!
All throughout the vigil Gerardo, Pedro, Melody, Oscar, & the many others who spoke referred to our presence in Lakeland not as a protest, but as a celebration. A celebration of the many achievements of the CIW and the Fair Food Program over the years. A celebration of the 12 corporations who have joined the program. A celebration of the many Florida farms who have signed onto the program. And a celebration of the new day for the workers in the fields & for their families. The musicians who played throughout the afternoon & night were the best! They kept us awake & kept our spirits up. To me it really did feel like a celebration, and I’m so glad I joined this party!
Back at school on Monday & Tuesday my 7th & 8th graders asked me how we passed the time for 24 hours. I showed them some pictures & videos that I took during our celebration. Lots of singing, dancing, praying, chanting, and getting to know each other through conversation, laughter, tears, and simple solidarity in a just cause.
More reflections next week on the tense delegation to meet with Publix managers, the early morning vigil hours, the 3-mile march & the final rally in Kryger Park. Meanwhile, enjoy some of these moments in pictures from 3 pm to 7 am. I have some video, but I’m not sure how to download & link that. I welcome any help with that one!
PEACE & JOY,