Posts Tagged ‘Cesar Chavez’

Teachers as Natural Social Activists

March 20, 2008

    Social activism begins the moment you feel responsibility instead of pity for others.

    While I have long been socially conscious, it wasn’t until I began teaching last year that I became a social activist. When I accepted the impressive responsibility of 130 souls, when I understood that I was entrusted to advocate for these young lives and the community they would inherit, I had no other choice but to begin to take action.

    Teaching has to be one of the best professions for becoming a social activist. Day in and day out, one is confronted with housing policies, welfare programs, child protective services, police, insurance policies, medical bills, immigration laws, educational reform, refugee policies, family reunification bills, literacy initiatives, and a host of other community services and government programs. The classroom is a crossroads of current events and a nexus of legislation and its effects on our most impressionable population – our children.

    I have been criticized from friends and family members outside of the teaching profession when I refer to my students as “my kids” or “mi’jos.” While I can appreciate their concerns, I don’t know if it is possible for a teacher to truly excel at their job if they do not feel like every single student is in someway their child. As I see past students in the hall and quiz them about their success in English class this year, it is more as a parent than a teacher. When I write recommendations for students like Jack, who recently was awarded a hefty scholarship at Our Lady of the Lake in Texas, it is more as a mentor than an academic instructor. When I speak with parents at open houses and conferences, we converse not as combatants but as co-guardians of this child’s future. It is impossible to be a good teacher without feeling this sense of responsibility and investment in students’ success beyond one’s classroom.

    This past spring break, while most of my students sat at home waiting for school to begin again, I had the privilege to march 126 miles against an unjust border wall proposed through my kids’ homes and lives. I was joined by countless other students and educators. I am sure teachers like Elizabeth Stephens, Elizabeth Golini, Andrea Guengrich, Patricia Flanagan, Mike and Cindy Johnson, and Cole Farnum all came to care about the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in much the same manner. All of us have students who have pricked our hearts; all of us feel a sense of responsibility for improving the community both because we see its shortcomings and because we see the enormous potential in each and every one of our students. We hope to help shape a community which will harness the potential for goodness that we have witnessed within every single young person.

    It is my earnest hope that, when I shake my freshman students’ hands on the graduation stage three years from now, that I will be able to do so as a person who has helped to change them and the world they are inheriting. As Cesar Chavez so eloquently wrote,

Once change begins, it cannot be stopped:

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.

You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

(“Address to the UFW’ 7th Constitutional Convention, September 1984, pg. 121)

Once my students have learned that “Words are Power,” once they have understood themselves and their own agency, and once they realize that they hold within themselves all they need to change the world – once they know this, I can rest assured that these students will take good care of my future children and grandchildren.

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UTB’s Esperanza or the Immediate Effects of a Nonviolent Campaign

March 19, 2008

    When in the course of human events, it sometimes seems that one’s voice is so small, one’s life only a seashell, one’s impact little more than a leaf here and gone. Some may have shouted the same about the No Border Wall Walk which occurred last week from March 8-16, decrying it little more than a symbolic demonstration. Many people we spoke to in communities like Granjeno, El Calaboz, and Los Indios had lost hope that the government would listen to la gente, the regular people.

    But the participants in the No Border Wall Walk persisted in both the symbolic and the pragmatic aspects of this nonviolent demonstration. One of our aims was most certainly to get national media attention to humanize the southern Texas which would be affected and highlight the beautiful river and wildlife which would be devastated by a border wall. However, we also came with a pragmatic aim to familiarize border residents with their rights and encourage them to avail themselves of the many law firms which would take their cases for free. We recognized that if we needed more than merely media attention; like Cesar Chavez said, “not recognition, but signed contracts; not recognition, but good wages; not recognition, bu a strong union.” We were seeking more than just a media blitz and recognition; we sought to unify and encourage the Valley residents.

    Because of the efforts of those nine individuals who walked the entire 126 miles, because of the more than 300 people who walked a portion of the walk, and because of 400-500 people who participate in the final rally at UTB’s campus on Sunday the 16th, we must claim some responsibility for the fact that today the U.S. government finally admitted the need to explore alternatives to a border wall. This admission came as a result of the settlement of a land condemnation suit between UTB President Juliet Garcia and the United States government. Garcia said, “They’re not allowed to mow a single blade of grass without our permission” (http://www.valleymorningstar.com/articles/university_21816___article.html/brownsville_federal.html)

    While President Garcia was unable to officially endorse the No Border Wall Walk or its final rally on the UTB campus because of her involvement in the lawsuit, she did seem to intimate that she hoped UTB students like Crystal Canales would participate in the walk and its mission. The main reason the nine-day march ended at UTB instead of the bridge or Immaculate Conception Cathedral was that we wished to show solidarity with the university’s efforts to curb the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Joining us in that walk and that show of unity was a UTB professor who was involved in a similar lawsuit of the government surveys and who actually filed a counter-suit. Eloisa Tamez spoke her encouragement for any and all affected parties, galvanizing them to take heart and take case with a government which has overstepped its legal bounds and forsaken its morality in proposing a border wall anywhere.

    Hillary Clinton’s visit to UTB, and her subsequent televised statement of the absurdity of a border wall amputating part of the campus, surely helped bring this case to a favorable conclusion for President Garcia and the rest of Brownsville. Garcia said she hoped this victory served “to test the outer edges of the rights landowners have.” Hopefully, the outcome of this case and Professor Tamez’s lawsuit will encourage the hundreds of residents on the fence right now. Over the coming weeks, concerned citizens will continue to speak with local residents in these border communities, clearly relaying their rights and telling them about free legal aid. If protests and media coverage like that of last week can be coupled with hundreds or thousands of lawsuits, perhaps those parties concerned will finally be made to admit the shame of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and we can all begin to explore more sustainable, positive, lasting, and nonviolent solutions to problems which primarily stem from a lack of communication – precisely the communication which a wall would end altogether, precisely the sort of nonpartisan dialogue that was happening two years ago despite the Secure Fence Act legislation.

A Strange Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2008

    This St. Patrick’s Day is markedly different than all others past. I came to school today not clad in traditional green, but wearing overalls and a plain white t-shirt. Ringing in my ears were not the Gaelic jigs and Celtic reels but rather the worker chants and the pro-immigrant songs we sang over the past nine days’ march from Roma to Brownsville. I thought less today about the military Molly Maguire’s and their violent fight for worker’s rights and instead meditated on Cesar Chavez’s fasts for his people and Martin Luther King’s words of empowerment and hope. Today was less about nationalism and more about opposing nativism, less about drinking beer and more about living in such a way as to forward the cause of the immigrant, wherever he or she may originate.

    My great-great grandparents came from County Mayo, Sligo, and County Cork. They came to escape the ravages of the potato blight and the resulting famines. They came seeking a better life, and they found it buried deep in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Towns like Carbondale and Mauch Chunk welcomed them and buried them in their strip-mined hillsides. But, as is always the case with immigrants, they managed to survive and hew out a life for themselves in this America they helped create.

    It was their backs that fed coal into the iron-horses which shrank this vast country into a two-day trip. It was their leadership and collective bargaining powers which scared groups like the Know-Nothings, the first political party formed with the aim of opposing a specific immigrant group. They were able to overcome religious persecution, employer discrimination, and widespread xenophobia to become rightful heirs of the American dream.

 

    This past week, walking alongside many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I was reminded of the Batalia de San Patricio, the group of Irish soldiers who defected to the Mexican Army during the Mexican-American War. There was and is so many similarities between those Irish immigrants of yesteryear and the immigrants of today. Both groups rely heavily on their faith in a God who champions the cause of the poor and the sojourner. Both of these immigrants focus on family values and a strong work ethic. Both the Irish of the late 1800s and the Mexicans of the early 21st century are immigrant groups which are being slandered for their desire to come to this land for a better life. News about both of these groups has centered on an “invasion” or any number of natural disaster metaphors such as “flood of immigrants,” “drain on the economy,” and “wave after wave of workers.” None of these nativist metaphors are new – no, they have been around since people first started emigrating to new lands. It is this brand of hateful rhetoric that spurred the command in Leviticus 19:34, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

 

 

    As I teach my class today, I am standing in front of them not as a college graduate, a son of Pennsylvania, a Texas-certified teacher, or a social activist. I stand before them in overalls and my walking shoes as the son of immigrants. There is a solidarity here which we must not deny. I do not believe in otherness; if we believe that every man, woman, and child bears the indelible image of God and the spark of the divine, we can never separate ourselves from one another. We are inextricably caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality, tied up in a single garment of destiny,” and that means that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As King also stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter;” this happens for the sheer fact that in not speaking up for the rights of others we are not speaking up for the rights of ourselves and future generations.

    To all those immigrants, past, present and future, I impart this traditional Irish blessing: “Céad míle fáilte romhat!” or “A hundred thousand welcomes to you.”

No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 or A Day of Thanksgiving

March 14, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 with the Heedless Horseman from Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

    Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso, like so many other churches along our walk, absolutely saw the sojourner in us and welcomed us like a Good Samaritan. We came asking only shelter, and Yolanda and Father Thomas fed us snacks. We were looking for a place to lay our head, and they provided us much-needed showers and our only laundry services of the whole 9-day walk. As tired and beleaguered wanderers, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by this faith community, and one gets the feeling that an extralegal immigrant and his family might find the same welcome at the doors of Holy Spirit. Surely they are living the call of Leviticus 19:33-34 which calls peoples of faith to embrace immigrants, stating, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    Day 7 was at least 99 degrees, and by some accounts as hot as 102. Many of us got burnt, I suffered heat hives, and all of us slowed our 2-3 mph pace considerably in the sweltering sun. It was hotter than a human heart, the organ this entire walk has targeted. Believing that people are innately good, we feel that they simply must not know the wonderful people and beautiful places which a wall would destroy and immigration legislation could enhance. As members of the walk give interviews with local news stations or national newspapers, we are laying out the facts of the immigration debate and the logic as to why the United States should not build a wall. The real story, the story we pray is reaching the hearts of the world, is on display behind us, in the gorgeous palm groves and birding preserves and in the single-story homes and land grant ranches which will be devastated by the building of any wall.

One of the most historically fascinating parts of the trip came at the Rio Rico historic landmark. Sipping some much-needed Gatorade (donated by yet another church), we learned that when the international boundaries were moved from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and everyone to the north was given citizenship status, some people took their rights into their own hands. The people of Rio Rico dug a canal in the 1800s, changing the course of the river so it would flow south of them and give them certain “inalienable rights.” Though this met with some opposition, all 200 of them were finally given full citizenship status and are now proud to be called Americans. People have been subverting unjust immigration laws for a long, long time…

This Friday’s march was another great opportunity to dialogue with the amazing people who have pledged 9 days of their lives and 120 miles of their feet to speak out against the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Some new recruits to the group were discussing political figures who have let down the American public, either through faulty promises or mismanagement or the profit motive. Hearing this rhetoric, though, I could see many of the through-walkers bristle at its negativity. We are not waging a campaign against people, because people are never beyond redemption. In his speech “Loving your Enemies,” our hero and mentor Martin Luther King said,

…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…

We are working to change oppressive and unjust systems in our nation and in the world, but our struggles can never be directed at a single person because it becomes hate and cyclical violence. So, I spoke up to him as he was bashing a man who has waived 19 different environmental laws in order to build the wall in Arizona. I said that it is fruitless and ultimately violent to direct anger at people. If we have a problem with someone, we should not even say their name. Our conflict is not with them but with their actions. On the other side, however, when someone deserves praise, we should use their names in the most intimate way. Praise should always be extremely personal and direct; critiques should always be directed at fixed systems or established actions rather than people, because people possess the power to change.

With that in mind, I would love to praise Laura and Jonathan Loveless for their generous providence of another homemade lunch today in the tiny town of Santa Maria – your surname is clearly a misnomer. I wish to praise the heedless horseman Vince for riding his horse Tocallo and enlivening us with his sage vaquero wisdom and his cowboy guitar-playing. I would like to thank Gene for riding his bike from Brownsville to join us for most of the day’s walk. Jose, your calm discussion about the border region and your work with UTPA students kept me walking when I was most affected by the heat. To all the ladies at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias, God bless you for your tambourines and noisemakers as we hobbled home to your fish dinner and your old-time Spanish praise songs. God bless you Nenna for sharing the lives of your eight children, your land along the levee and the site of the proposed border wall, and the encouraging shower at your house. Father Albert – we are so grateful for our kind reception at your church. You and Father Thomas from Progreso, both immigrants from the Congo, illustrate the beauty and the love and the potential immigrants can and do offer if only given the opportunity through our immigration system. Thanks to all 250 of you who have walked even a step of this march thus far; your footsteps give us the faith that we are not alone.

Continuing in the same vein of praise, I would also like to thank the individual members of this walk. These people have dedicated nine days of their lives, 126 miles of their feet, and 24 hours of every single day to the purpose of protesting the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, supporting the sanctity of all border regions, and respecting the divine spark of humanity in every single immigrant. I am eternally grateful to Mike and Cindy Johnson, both educators from the Brownsville school system who devoted their entire spring break to an issue in which they believe. Mike’s endless energy has uplifted our spirits on many a long day, and Cindy’s heart for each house we pass reminds me of why we are walking. Thank you Cindy for talking with each of these landowners, informing them of their legal rights, and encouraging them with the faith that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Matt Smith

Thank you Matt Smith for your love of the communities on both sides of the river. Your work in the maquiladora factories in Mexico prove that you are willing to work at righting injustice, and you bring that same moral indignation to this No Border Wall Walk. Your guitar-playing and IPOD-blasting have kept us dancing and singing and positive all 100 miles so far, and they are sure to see us all the way to Brownsville. Thank you also Domingo Gonzalez; your offer of transportation has been invaluable, and your happy car honks always seem to lift our spirits. Cesar Chavez, your fellow UFW mate, would be proud.

Crystal Canales

I have to thank Crystal Canales for her limitless energy, her youthful idealism, and her passion for people. Crystal is the only UTB student who sacrificed an entire spring break to protest a border wall in the Valley she has always called home. Her words of support and positivity, both in Spanish and in English, have been truly profound and have made the most cynical of us act in love.

Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth Stephens, we owe you so much thanks for your organizing skills in Progreso and your understated leadership on the march. Bearing blisters since Day 2, you have found a quiet reserve of strength and managed to “mount up on wings of eagles” when others would be plummeting like sparrows. Perhaps it has something to do with your button which states, “I am loved.” We all pray you will continue your activism here in Brownsville and the greater Rio Grande Valley for many years to come.

Nat Stone

Nat Stone, every single member of this walk is grateful for your constant encouragement and your affirmation of our work. Your daily documentary film-making reminds us that our protest is not here in the Valley but in the hearts of our nation. We all pray that your talented filmography manages to prick our country’s conscience. Seeing you leap-frogging us again and again has kept us walking when we would just as soon take yet another water break. We also thank you because no other documentary makers would be calling the Obama campaign office everyday, nor would they be handing out legal information to local residents, nor would they stop and be a first responder at a car accident. You make us all proud to live on la frontera.

Jay Johnson-Castro – your 600 miles of walks before March 8 made our march possible. Your guidance from walks past, as well as your teeming knowledge about this issue, have guided our thinking and our planning on this walk. You have brought media attention to the Valley and to the issues we confront, and we pray you will continue to nonviolently campaign for justice on the border.

Kiel Harell

Kiel Harell, how can we ever thank you for the days and days of accumulated time you spent on the phone rallying support for this March Against the Wall. Your quiet strength, your welcoming persona in your down-home overalls that harken back to the SNCC days of the civil rights movement, your conversational tone with reporters and recalcitrant locals, your well-read understanding of nonviolence and your recent exploration of faith – we are thankful that you canceled your plane ticket home and are campaigning for the homes of thousands along our nation’s southern border.

John Moore

Brother John Moore, this walk was your dream some two months ago. You have lived in San Diego, El Paso, and now Brownsville, and your triangulated perspective on the border gives purpose and far-reaching unity to our efforts here. We are not alone, nor are we simply campaigning for the rights of these people within a 120-mile stretch of this snaking Rio Grande. Our efforts are for the 5,000 mile Canadian border, the largest international border in the world, just as much as they are for the Mexican border. Thank you for directing our anger into purposeful, nonviolent ways; thank you for reminding us of the power of redemption and the promises of our God. Thank you for turning me on to nonviolence and its application to every part of my life.

The thanks could go on indefinitely. We have been brimming with gratitude for the opportunity to hear the stories of this Valley and the opportunity to participate in a story of redemption here on the border. Contrary to the opinions of many, this border wall has not been built yet, and although it is a law right now, so was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1924 Immigration Quota based on nation of origin. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable; it has only as much mandate as we give it. Please write your Congressman and convince them to vote for the Grijalva Bill which begins to bring the border wall discussion into environmental accountability, and also urge them to vote against the other bill which would set a certain date for the beginning of construction on this destructive symbol of division. Any prayers and support you can offer this march in its final days would be precious.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 or the Day of Reflection

March 13, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 at Santa Anna Refuge

    I was confronted with our reasons for the No Border Wall Walk yesterday when Javier asked me to ride his pride-and-joy bicycle for him. It was a gorgeous day on the tranquil Rio Grande, and for a minute, I couldn’t imagine why he would ask me to ride his prized possession. His simple answer – La migra.”

    Whether Javier was illegal or not was not the question; the simple fact remains that our U.S. immigration policies would pounce on a Mexican-American man riding his bike on the levee, while the U.S. Border Patrol and the legislation they represent smiled at me as I ride recklessly with my Canadian tie flapping and Hecho en Mexico belt buckle tapping on my Border Ambassador button.

    Today was a long Thursday. March 13 was the day which made us reflect and ask ourselves why. Our walk was the smallest it has ever been today, but it was also more focused and more determined than ever. Leaving the beautiful Saint Francis Cabrini Church and heading out on Highway 281, the wind was full in our faces and the going was hard and long. We walked 17 miles, far and away our longest day. En route to Progreso, we passed fertile Valley farmlands which would be dissected with Hidalgo County’s border-levee wall compromise. Rows and rows of onions cresting the tilled soil, walls and walls of sugar cane bordering this byway, patches and patches of cabbage – a border wall would mean that produce on this side of the levee would be American, the rest would be hecho en Mexico. This is the land we are campaigning to save; today reminded us once more of this beautiful borderland.

    People once again showed that they are looking for ways to utilize their potential for positive actions. At our nadir of the afternoon, just as we had ceased singing carefree songs and our spirits were sagging, a car pulled over on the side of the road. All 6 women got out of the tiny car. Their green shirts said they were from Father Albert; their gifts of water and kind words proved they were angels. Apparently Father Albert and his parishioners are not content to house us only on Friday night and Saturday night, but also felt compelled to meet us along the way and inspire our sore soles.

 No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 with Father Albert’s Angels from Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias

    The high point of the day came right after this water break. Marching on to Progreso, we soon passed an onion field in harvest. Mexican men and women were working the rows, bringing the white bulbs to light with a hoe before bending tired backs to lift them into a crate. We sang as we walked by, singing “No al muro, la frontera cuenta! NO Border wall, the border matters!” The field-hands were quizzical at first, stopping their work to see what we were about. The small group, already energized by this point, began dancing and singing “Ven con nosotros, ven con nosotros, a la Progreso a las seis! Come with us now, come with us now, to Progreso at 6:00” to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” Now they were listening. My heart leaped to see an older woman in a red workshirt begin dancing despite the oppressive heat and her back-breaking work. This is our why…

    Walking alongside my idealistic brothers and sisters who are testing their ideals in the fire of nonviolent direct action, I am struck by their tricky situation and exploited work. Our country needs more than a wall; it needs immigration laws which gets rid of quota systems, rework the current rubric for refugee status , the DREAM Act which could give students the opportunity to follow their educational dreams, and gives the 12 million or so extralegal residents some way to move toward legal citizenship.

    Our country does not illegal immigrants. These men and women in the fields should definitely be working – but they should be given real means to acquiring citizenship. We do not want illegal immigrants who are without rights, without hope, without help – we do need more legal immigrants who can participate fully in society. Immigration, which is the primary basis of our opposition to the borer wall, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our country has 12 million extralegal workers living and contributing to our GDP, and at least twice as many people who depend on their working power and hope to keep the extralegal residents “illegal.” We must come to a point as a nation that we see people as assets and not liabilities – that will be the day we finally take the necessary bold step forward and begin to seriously diminish the amount of “illegals” in our country while increasing the number of legal immigrants.

    The night ended at Smokin’ Joe’s Barbeque, a tasty little bbq shack on 281. This establishment had Border Ambassador buttons and posters all over, and they treated us to juicy brisket, delumptuous ribs, and rich turkey legs. Beneath their awning live oak trees, we spoke once more about why we were walking along the proposed trajectory of such a wall. The levee-wall compromise intended for this section of Hidalgo County is less a levee and more an 18-foot concrete wall with sloping earth on the American side and sheer cliff on the Mexican side. The marchers on this walk take issue with the nomenclature of such a “compromise.”

    “They call it a levee because it ‘sheds water,’” Elizabeth Stephens said. “Walls shed water too, and so do raincoats.” The only real difference between a levee-wall compromise and a full-scale border wall is that it will look more aesthetic to American passersby. It would still send the same message of distrust, the same message of flippancy for environmental refuges, We were reminded that it is the express point of this march to counter this message of violence with a positive message. By walking along the border and having seen the connectedness of each town with its neighbor cities stateside and in Mexico, we must be continuously involved in re-educating the people en la frontera and in the rest of the world.

    After a long day of walking in the brutal Texas sun, I remember that I am walking to show my students the difference between Pancho Villa and Cesar Chavez. I remember that I am walking because this is the way adults civilly disagree. I remember I am walking because I love the glimmer of river that would be outsourced to Mexico, the refuges which have taken 20 years to conserve and protect but only months to override. I am marching because bills like the Grijalva Bill could begin to restore some sense and morality to the proceedings here on the border. I remember I am here to be “voice for the voiceless;” I am here because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Border Wall was close to 600 pages in English and under 100 pages in Spanish. I remember we are walking to unite communities, educate individuals, and highlight humanity. I remember now – Javier, George, Michael, Jay, John, Kiel, Roberto – we are all assets.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 or The Day of Pilgrimage

March 12, 2008

Marching with College Students

    The beginning of today’s march was a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage from the beautiful river to the hot pavement of industrial parks south of McAllen, a pilgrimage through the small land-grant town of Granjeno past welcoming gas stations, a journey from our lowest numbers to our biggest turnout for the walk thus far. The journey was shortened as we learned the stories of this Valley, the stories of La Lomita, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Las Milpas, and Pharr, as well as the stories stories of each other and those to whom we wave our tired hands. As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales,

                    You each, to shorten the long journey,

Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury. (“General Prologue)

Today was our shortest day of walking so far, coming in at only 12 or so miles. We took it slow, though, especially as we gave and received hope in the tiny town of Granjeno. Families like the Rendons were extremely welcoming, and they were wholly supportive of our efforts against the wall. They have boldly decided to stand up to the federal government by refusing to sign government survey waivers. Many of them are involved in the class-action federal lawsuit being launched Peter Schey, and many of them are vowing civil disobedience if bulldozers come to their front yards. Each of us on this walk will stand beside them in solidarity.

    Leaving the shade and encouraging multilingual words of encouragement from grandmas and children, dogs and roosters, cats and swaying trees, the sun could have discouraged our positivity. Instead, it gave us some much-needed time to reflect and connect with each other. Walking down a lonely road with like-minded people, one is drawn to Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Walking with these worthy women and men, I have been consistently challenged by their calls to the higher plane of nonviolence and encouraged on this March Against the Wall. Men and women such as the steadfast Jay Johnson-Castro, the tranquilly wise Nat Stone, the perceptive Elizabeth Stephens, the questioning Cole Farnum, the united smiles of the Johnson famiily, the motherly care of Beth Golini, the passionate dancing of Matt Smith, the quiet strength of Crystal Canales, the extremely personal encouragement and candor of Kiel Harell, the dependable leadership of John Moore. These people have challenged and will continue to make the entire nation listen to our moral indignation at this issue.

    At our usual 2:00 lunch stop at a Valero gas station, we were once more showered with blessings. News crews found us, and so did workers from the G & G Auto Wrecking Company, who graciously donated a case of Coke and a box of waters. This support from la gente, the everyday men and women of this Valley who would be most profoundly impacted by a wall between their families and heritage and culture and land, is really what empowers us day after day. We left with renewed vigor.

    The most powerful moment of the day came as students from the Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed their solidarity with our efforts and joined us for the hottest part of our march. Their showered and beautiful faces marched alongside our trail-weary souls, and we were all enriched and comforted that this is an issue which all people of faith, from all over, can rally behind with confidence. We sang “Father Abraham” and “And the Walls came Tumblin’ Down.” http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

    And just as they left and we were resigned to walking the final 2 miles with our 15 through-walkers, a group of 50 spring-break students from Miami, Texas State, St. Mary’s, and many other universities, joined us after a long day volunteering at Cesar Chavez’s LUPE organization. Their energy was all we needed to bring it in to the Las Milpas rally with style. We blocked off a whole lane of traffic, and our sheer positivity even won over a police officer who looked as if he were about to write us a citation. He asked for all my information, but when I told him a resounding thanks for all the police officers’ support along our walk so far, he smiled and told me to call him for tomorrow’s march to Progreso.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 College Alternative Spring Breakers

    One of the most amazing things about walking with these idealistic college students is the misinformation that is currently circulating our good country. If we truly believe that all people are inherently good, then we must also believe that the conscience of this nation has been miseducated about this issue. Well-intentioned college students who were devoting their whole spring break to help out the Valley’s people, thought that people on la frontera were united in support of the wall. How they couldn’t be more wrong! It was encouraging to see each honk of a car horn and each index finger pointing to the air educate them more and more that no one in the wall’s proposed trajectory wants this symbol of disgrace and division. The border wall would not go through barren wasteland but through backyards, not desert but downtowns.

    The Las Milpas rally was amazing. We had the pleasure to witness 4 members of the ARISE student ballet folklorico, and their dancing feet made our spirits light; my soul was dancing with them, even if the only part of my body I could mobilize were my clapping hands. It was encouraging to see schoolbuses and kids playing on the playground, seeing that Pancho Villa is not our hero, but Cesar Chavez. Joe Krause did an amazing job organizing this community event, even getting the 36h District Representative. Our meeting broke with chants and excitement. We are together, we are solidly united.

    And so ends this 5th day, a March day of pilgrimage that called out the entire community to join its voice with ours. In his “Letter from Cesar Chavez to Friends,” Chicano activist and social organizer Cesar Chavez wrote,

But throughout the Spanish-speaking world there is another tradition that touches the present march, that of the Lenten penitential processions, where the penitantes would march through the streets, often in sack cloth and ashes, some even carrying crosses, as a sign of penance for their sins, and as a plan for the mercy of God. The penitential procession is also in the blood of the Mexican-American, and the Delano march will therefore be one of penance—public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of all lesser motivation.

As we approach Semana Santa, the Holy Week, we are most assuredly marching for many reasons. We walk for penance that we did not speak out sooner when walls were being built in California and Arizona, we walk to rid ourselves of that self-defeating bitterness and hate which piles up if direct action is not taken, we walk on a pilgrimage to encourage the people of this Valley and renew our call to campaign for justice for both the immigrant and the border region.

 

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:


No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 or Overcoming Fear

March 10, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 Ebanos Entry
The motto of this march, of all nonviolent demonstrations in fact, can be summed up with my favorite Bible verse: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..” (1 John 4:18 KJV)

The third day of the No Border Wall Walk, March 10, it became very clear that we are in a struggle with fear. As people who have decided to sacrifice spring break to walk 120 miles, all of us have had to overcome the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of not being strong enough or of giving up 9 days of relaxation at nearby South Padre Island, the fear of sacrificing and having no impact, the fear of being ignored. We have had to overcome the fear of sacrificing time, but we have all come to agree with Cesar Chavez that, “the rich may have money, but the poor have time.” We are fighting fear with our sacrifice of time.

As we walk, we hear thousands of honks a day. Those honks are truly uplifting as we trek along Highway 83, but if each of those families in their cars would get out and walk with us for merely a mile, there would be a moratorium on the border wall in weeks. If everyone on every border would raise their voice and put feet to street, we would get real immigration reform and not destructive distractions like the Secure Fence Act of 2006. We are in direct opposition to fear.

Flyering the community of Los Ebanos trying to give them information about free legal aid, we saw the fear on their faces and in their eyes. So many people are afraid because they have no idea of their rights, no concept of their ability to nonviolently demonstrate and change reality. The fear could be seen from the dogs to the tired houses along el rio. We are fighting fear. We are fighting fear at this, the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border, this Los Ebanos ferry which stands as a monument to mankind’s “We can” and a testament to the human capacity to use our hands in creating community and reaching across divides.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3

And the purveyors of this legislation, legislation which avoids the real issue of comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform, are also acting out of fear. The wall would be violence, in its very nature of division and disrespect, and all violence is based out of primal fear. How interesting it is that society today posits violence as the strong, the powerful, the courageous, the path to victory. On the tragic death of JFK, King wrote we are all guilty,

By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the techniques of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 237).

All officials involved in the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who voted for it, were acting out of fear – fear of being labeled “weak” on immigration or national security, despite the fact that the wall would admittedly, at best, merely deter such issues. We are fighting fear in ourselves and others; enemies are only friends who don’t know it yet, who aren’t yet acting out of love rather than fear. We are at war with fear.

And so we walk en contra miedo, against fear. On our walk from the gracious hospitality of Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla to our warm reception at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, we were joined by 8 primary and secondary school students from local schools. These girls, ranging from 7-16, walked with a courage that inspired all our tired feet to keep on truckin’. We sang classic and original marching songs and these girls, all in ROTC, amended some of their marching tunes to fit the cause. Their fearlessness in the face of speeding semi-trucks, a strong headwind, and 14 miles of black-top walking was a victory over fear. Kids in vans stuck their heads and hands to the windows, wishing they could join us. If only we can continue to show each passerby the efficacy and power of nonviolent resistance, everyone in this Valley will be able to face fears in ourselves and others.

Today also saw the media arrive in droves. The first two days saw just a few media press conferences, but today we had the opportunity to voice this all-important message to Valley television stations like Channel 4, Spanish-speaking television stations like Univision, and papers like the Rio Grande Guardian and The Dallas Morning News. Seeing our younger walkers handle themselves with the maturity of time-hardened nonviolent activists was astounding. They voiced the human element with grace, stating, “This whole Valley is interconnected” and “I don’t want to see kids separated from their moms.”

Between this invigorating youthful energy and the excitement of this media frenzy, we made great time and finished the 14 miles in about six hours. Our lunch was provided by a Lucio Middle School teacher Rosie Perez and her daughter. Home-cooked dinner was graciously provided by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County, while a lavish spread of snacks was donated by Our Lady Queen of Angels. We had a police escort from La Joya, and they delivered us right to City Hall. We passed white cranes in the fields, horses which heartily whinnied “Nay” to the wall. We floated on the only hand-pulled ferry on a U.S. boundary at Los Ebanos, where we saw a man back-stroke back to Mexico on an inner tube. What place does fear have among such acts of love and positive support?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said

“In Connor’s Birmingham, the silent password was fear. It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. Certainly Birmingham had its white moderates who disapproved of Bull Connor’s tactics. Certainly Birmingham had its decent white citizens who privately deplored the maltreatment of Negroes. But they remained publicly silent. It was a silence born of fear – fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people” (Martin Luther King Jr. Autobiography 172-3 emphasis added).

Dr. King also said that we never need a negative peace, which is simply an absence of violence, but a positive peace. Through this No Border Wall Walk, all people and organizations involved are striving for a positive peace, which is the presence of love in both the means and the ends. Walking through these communities it is impossible not to love the people, the small ranch towns, the scrub-brush fields of los ebanos and mesquite trees, the hand-pulled ferries which scoot across a shifting, tenuous border. We are nonviolently advocating for this place, trying to vocalize the humanity of these communities which will be directly impacted by a border wall and would immediately benefit from the real immigration reform it has so far displaced.

The Border Ambassadors and I invite you to fight fear wherever you may be today. Whether that may be reminding people that the border wall will go through irreplaceable wildlife refuges not deserts, or whether that is writing your senators or calling Presidential candidates, please overcome the fears you may have or the fears you may recognize in those around you. Whether you choose to overcome the fear of walking in the sun for 7 hours a day or if you openly oppose the xenophobic fears of nativists at your school or workplace, please step out and create a positive peace wherever you are. Love is casting out fear down here in the Valley – join us with your prayers, support, donations, or your presence.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 2

March 9, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 2

  Wake this morning to snoring, fit enough to wake the dead. Make my way over to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Rio Grande City for an inspired message by el padre. The lectern forgotten somewhere behind him, this Padre walked the center aisle like the evangelical preachers of my childhood. His message about Lazarus woke me up far more than a cup of joe.

    “Levantante, Lazaro – Rise, Lazarus! Levantante a vivir, levanantante a caminar – Rise up to walk!”

    He could have been speaking to me and the 20 others waking up in the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall, readying for Day #2 of walking blacktop and tasting diesel because we feel compelled by a force every bit as compelling as Jesus’ voice outside the tomb that Sunday. There was a jounce in my step when I came down the front steps in the pre-dawn.

Sisters Fran, Nancy, Luella blessed us with a blessing we could taste. Their contribution highlights the philosophy of Cesar Chavez, the philosophy we are trying to follow. Chavez writes in 1978’s “He Showed us the Way,”

We can gather the support of millions who have a conscience and would rather see a nonviolent resolution to problems. We are convinced that when people are faced with a direct appeal from the poor struggling nonviolently against great odds, they will react positively. The American people and people everywhere still yearn for justice. It is to that yearning that we appeal.

A group of people, young students and idealistic teachers, mothers and fathers, filmmakers and journalists and people of faith – a diverse group making a positive statement on a crucial issue at a crux in history cannot but call out sympathetic positive outpourings of love from all those around them. The Valley is an extremely warm place, but add to that the positivity of a unified nonviolent statement, and people react with offerings of love.

    The widow’s mite is powerful because it demands great sacrifice. Everything someone has, no matter how small or miniscule it may seem – that is true involvement, true dedication. That zealousness is what will make causes powerful. But the widow’s mite is also powerful because it begs a community of such widows. One cannot eat on merely a widow’s mite – one needs hundreds, thousands of mites. If we had received a generous donation from the UFW or the Mennonite Central Committee covering all the costs of this march, we might have been beholden to their interests out of a sense of gratitude. Plus, we would not have had the community support, investment, and involvement in our efforts; we would not have had to seek it out, we would not have needed la gente, the everyday people.

    As it is, we are receiving support from at least 3 churches in almost every leg of this trip. Today we had at least three cops from Rio Grande City, including Lieutenant Rodriguez, and then we were passed off to a constable and a sheriff for the next remaining stretch. The Beloved Community requires all people to give a little, not one or two to give a lion’s share but all to give a widow’s mite. For dinner tonight, a journalist from the Spanish-speaking El Informador treated us to pizzas. The Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla graciously opened their church facilities to us, and their large youth group gave us a warm welcome. Nancy Rivera from the Mennonite Central Committee and Andrea, who is a Mennonite Brethren board member, treated us to snacks and then came back to provide us dinner and stay for the evening’s discussion about Cesar Chavez, nonviolence, and the Mennonite Central committee statement on immigration.

Grassroots. Grassroots movements like this March Against the Wall are powerful because you talk to people at the BorderTown Foods grocery store when they generously let you use their staff restrooms. Grassroots movements involve people pulling off the highway, curtailing their Sunday drive to walk a mile in protest of an unconscionable absurdity such as a border wall. Grassroots nonviolent demonstrations mean that you interpret every honk as a smile, every wave as a slap on the back, every head nod as the most compassionate gesture of a Tejano cowboy. Nonviolent grassroots demonstrations mean that you make up songs like “It’s the end of the wall and we know it” to the tune of REM’s “It’s the end of the world” and “No al muro” to the tune of “Sha-na-na-na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye.” Grassroots nonviolent demonstrations mean you make your own signs on the back of bookcovers, you wear overalls and Canadian ties and Hecho en Mexico belt buckles.

    Grassroots nonviolent movements only work when people like you become passionate about the issues. It is not enough for one zealous high-school teacher to oppose the border wall because he is indignant that his students will be disrespected by such a symbol of division. It is not enough for a soccer coach to wish that his A+ students and soccer captains could actually attend the great universities they deserve to attend if only they weren’t trapped in the immigration lottery system. We welcome your support, in prayers and in car honks but also in donations of pizzas and votes of confidence. Most of all, we welcome you to walk with us, be it a mile or a day. Levantante a vivir, levantante a caminar.

Check out Day 2 on Youtube at:

Speech for an Education Club at UT-Brownsville

February 25, 2008

    I was asked to come speak here tonight on the No Border Wall Walk, issues of immigration, and my occupation educating high-school ESL students. As an English teacher, it is always heartening to find a common theme, and there most certainly is a vein running through all of these somewhat disparate topics. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way in his essay “Loving your Enemies”:

An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…”

The concept that man is innately good and will do good if educated, encouraged, and allowed to do so by law – this concept shapes my hopes and my dreams and demands my participation in immigration, education, and nonviolent demonstrations such as the No Border Wall Walk.

 

    Unlike many teachers, I had not always dreamed of being a teacher. True, I had excellent teachers and mentors who shaped my young life, but I always thought they had shaped me to be a writer, an artist. It wasn’t until I actually set out to be a freelance writer in New York City that I realized the hard truth – not only was it next to impossible to get a job without first having a job, it also would bore me to death to stare only at words all day long. So, I applied to Teach For America and was accepted to teach English in the Rio Grande Valley.

    At this point, my audience must know that one of my favorite verses comes in Esther 4:14, “…And who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?” That is precisely how I felt, coming to Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the United States, just as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. Teaching English-as-a-Second-Language students caused me to experience firsthand the immigration process, the excruciatingly slow wait of approved immigrants awaiting their lottery number, the pained reality that for some families, to leave Brownsville would be to leave their loved ones, huddled just across the river.

    ESL education is my job, and I try hard to equip my students with the skills they need to be literate. My goal is for them to be able to mean what the write and write what they mean, but also to be discerning of any message they encounter. However, I also realize my job as a teacher is only one part educator. The role of mentor has been paramount to my students and to my job satisfaction.

    In an effort to impart the ideas of social activism and nonviolence, while also readying my students for college, we spent a 6-week grading period reading inspiring documents by King, Chavez, Gandhi, Thoreau. Every 6-week marking period, students are required to internalize this spirit of volunteerism and community service. Because I feel most people are just waiting for an excuse to do good, it is easy for me to ask this of my students. And most of them have responded with impressive results. Many students attended school-sponsored service outings to the Gladys Porter Zoo, Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, Boca Chica Beach, and Vermillion Elementary School. Some students even invented their own good turns, from mowing lawns and babysitting to cutting hair and painting a house.

 

    Teaching also excited my passion for immigration issues. Over the years teaching ESL students and other recent immigrants, I have become a staunch advocate of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a border wall of any thickness or design, our nation and the globalized world need the United States to lead with progressive immigration legislation which decriminalizes immigrants, vastly remodels or replaces the current quota system, and which allows current residents viable means to earned citizenship.

    This passion for immigration puts me at odds with the border wall, for moral issues as well as social, economic, and environmental ones. Because I feel that people are good but sometimes make wrong decisions, I feel that liberalizing immigration reform would allow both American citizens and the 12 million extralegal Americalmosts a chance to do “good” by immigration. Given the opportunity and the hope, would-be immigrants would try the legal means which have previously been denied or delayed them. Given the right laws, Americans could welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms into our diversifying communities, our flagging economy, and our cultural melange.

 

    And that is what finally brings me to espouse nonviolence as the proper and only means of advocating against the border wall and for immigrants and the border region. Nonviolent demonstrations, unlike any other form of protest or persuasion, allows both sides of a conflict the opportunity to live up to their absolute best. The nonviolent protester advocates in a way that encourages goodness, and the opposing groups are challenged to compromise and/or amend their thinking to the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV).

    There are thousands of people in these United States simply waiting to speak out and leave behind the silent majority. Dr King wrote in his Autobiography that, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” and there are countless Americans stateside and abroad who are trying to end the tragedy. “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This Victor Hugo quotation which Dr. King riffed on many a speech sums up the importance of my life philosophy. The time for immigration reform has come, the need for nonviolent protests is readily apparent, and the necessity to educate our youth “in the ways they should go” (Psalm 32:8 NIV) – all these are upon us.

    Let us work diligently under the assumption that our brothers and sisters are simply waiting for the right opportunity to act on the good. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear, is necessary to be successful in life’s meaningful endeavors. As former SNCC Chairman and current Congressman John Lewis writes in Walking with the Wind,

It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This sense of love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness, and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence. (76)

May “perfect love drive out fear” as in 1 John 4:18, and may everyone begin to work towards their ideals with the inspiring epiphany that all men are not only created equal, but also good. For extralegal immigrants and multi-generational citizens, Christians and agnostics, Republicans and Democrats, all we need is the chance.