Posts Tagged ‘Roma’

The Dawn after the Darkest

April 7, 2008

Martin Luther King spoke often about the night being darkest just before the dawn. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, King writes about a lawsuit in the Birmingham Bus Boycott as being one such night, “darker than a thousand midnights. It was a night in which the light of hope was about to fade away and the lamp of faith about to flicker. We went home with nothing before us but a cloud of uncertainty” (A Testament of Hope, 455).

April 1 saw Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waiving 39 laws to rush the construction of a border fence along our nation’s southern border. April 7, then, marks a return to law and a callback to conscience. Chairman of the Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) convened with 14 Members of Congress to submit an intent to file an Amicus Curiae brief regarding the Defenders of Wildlife case (which would bring the environmental law waivers to Supreme Court). These Congressman urge the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in this case, because they hold that the REAL ID Act’s waiver of laws is unconstitutional.

Grassroots groups like No Texas Border Wall, Border Ambassadors, and the Texas Border Coalition rejoiced today to hear Congressman echo our shock and disbelief at this massive waiver. Thompson joined these men and women in opposition to the REAL ID Act:

Chairman Thompson stated before these legislators that the Secretary of Homeland Security’s use of the waiver was “a direct challenge to Congress’s Constitutional role. The American people entrust Congress to ensure that the laws of this land are faithfully executed not excused by the Executive Branch” (Amicus Curiae). Grassroots organizers should feel proud at their efforts to raise this particular waiver to the national eye, while its use in Arizona went unnoticed and largely unopposed.

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) might well have walked with the 300 marchers this past March 8-16 from Roma to Brownsville. He understands with us that this wall is an environmental blight, a piecemeal political gesture, and an ineffective strategy. He stated that it is “our responsibility to be stewards of the earth cannot be thrown aside for the sake of an ill-conceived border fence. The Administration exempts itself from a duty to protect the environment, sacred burial sites, and centuries-old farms, but conveniently spares wealthy landowners from the bulldozers” (Amicus Curiae). We applaud the truth of his statement and welcome him or anyone on this Committee to come down to see this Valley, visit the people of Granjeno and Los Ebanos, swim in the beautiful river, walk the trails of endangered ocelots, and witness the wonderful coexistence of both sides of the broder.

Intimating that Congress has been worried about such disregard for law before this, Rep. John Dingell said, “Congress’ efforts to seek justification for this waiver from DHS have been stonewalled, which leads me to believe none exists” (Amicus Curiae). Much like J. Edgar Hoover’s refusal to release proof for his Communist accusations of civil rights leaders like Stanley Levison and Martin Luther King, Homeland Security’s Secretary has voiced the fact that it is unnecessary to explain this action or to study the wall’s effects on the environment and local communities. It does the Valley’s heart good to know that these Congressman and many others understand the gravity of this situation.

And so it is with much rejoicing in my heart that I write this. Though the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will still be a long fight and the REAL ID Act has not yet been overturned, we are moving in the right direction. Though the arc of the moral universe is long, it does bend toward justice. It is bending faster and more distinctly as of today. The conscience of this country and the minds of this nation’s residents are bending toward a place of reconciliation and true progress. We are beginning to communicate – may this nonpartisan committee be just a beginning.

Please write these brave men and women to congratulate them on their stance for Truth. Write your other state legislators to urge them to oppose both the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act.

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Insider, Outsider – Is that the question?

March 31, 2008
No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

During the No Border Wall Walk this part March 8-16, thousands of people honked encouragement as we walked 126 miles from Roma to Brownsville. Thousands of people smiled, dozens of people generously donated food and drinks for us, and scores of churches supported our efforts.

However, when a Brownsville Herald journalist interviewed me at the final Sunday rally, one of her remarks was that some people had been complaining that “Webster” is not a Mexican surname and that this was an event organized by “outsiders.” At first, I didn’t understand these individuals’ comments. As a high-school teacher on the border for two years, I feel invested and accepted by this border community in such a way that I do not feel as if I were a Pennsylvania Yankee or a New York native.

As I regained my composure, many thoughts congealed simultaneously. I probably answered her question too many ways for her to use it in any of the articles in the Brownsville Herald. One of my remarks was that this was not organized by outsiders. It was maintained and staffed and sustained by faith groups all throughout the Valley. Additionally, any one of us who was born in another state was passionate enough about these border issues to move to la frontera, and so even if our birthplace was different our hearts were similar. I also mentioned that this was not the cause of an outsider – I pray to God I would be as passionate about these same moral issues if I were still residing in farmtown Troy, Pennsylvania.

I continued to respond to these desparaging comments by stating that our inspiration for this march, the Selma to Montgomery March 43 years ago, was supervised by a great man who was also criticized as being an outsider. Martin Luther King responded to his countless critics by writing that,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” (Why We Can’t Wait, 77)

Dr. King realized that no one can ever truly be criticized for being an outsider if they are working to right injustice. If any injustice weakens the entire bedrock of Justice in the United States, it is everyone’s responsibility, “outsider” or indigenous, to strive for a more just system.

Lastly, as the reporter moved on to the next question, I circled back to the idea behind the border wall walk. I teach 130 high-school students every day, and while I do impart the fundamentals of vocabulary, grammar, and literary analysis, it is my utmost desire that they will be more ready for life when they leave my door for the last time, not just for 10th grade. These lives in my charge will be directly affected by a border wall, and so I cannot just simply ignore the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It is precisely because some individuals in this country have deemed certain people “illegal” and criminal, undocumented and therefore undesirable, that such a xenophobic act as a wall is even being discussed. The idea of any or all of the 300+ participants in this nonviolent demonstration being “outsiders” is precisely the idea the No Border Wall Walk targeted. If we were able to educate just a few individuals that the border wall is not going through barren wasteland but backyards, not desert but downtowns, not lonely no-man’s-land but through men and women’s lives, then our walk was a success. I pray we succeeded in bringing people back to a point where they could civilly discuss the issues of immigration and see the issue in terms of people instead of insiders and outsiders, those with rights and those without.

The question of “insider” or “outsider” should only be asked by navel-gazers staring at their bellybuttons. As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11 NIV) We must cultivate a national mentality that views people as assets, one which seeks to recognize that divine spark, that image of God endowed in each and every one of us. I wish my response to the readers and commentators of the Brownsville Herald had been, “Well, here there is no Mexican or American, Texan or Tamaulipan, illegal or extralegal, Spanglish Spanish or English, insider or outsider, but Christ is all and is in all.”

La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Entrance to UT-Brownsville- March 16, 2008

    We teachers often say that we learn much more from our students than we could ever hope to teach in a year. This took on new meaning as I marched this past spring break on the No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16. Though I can boast good high school teachers and an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State, my real learning started a year and a half ago when I moved down to la frontera.

    I knew no one. My nearest family was 2,000 miles away on the other border. I drove my Dodge Spirit from the Saint Lawrence of upstate New York to the Rio Grande of downstate Texas. It took me a while to reconcile a New York minute to a Mexican manana, and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with the new culture and my first year teaching. I quickly realized my few years of high-school Spanish class in Troy, Pennsylvania, was probably not going to cut it in a place where close to 90% of people claim Spanish as their first language.

    And so, thousands of miles away from my fiance and my family, my freshman high-school students taught me about family, about priorities, about volunteerism, nonviolence, and communication. When I was forced to condense my 16 years of education into a single lesson plan day after day, I quickly realized the important lessons I had learned over the years and those teachers who had done a great job. My students were patient, and over the semesters I have gained a working fluency from a multitude of one-on-one tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and after-school “Teach Mr Webster Spanish” classes.

    They must have been so proud when I went from monosyllabic responses to being able to understand when they used vulgarity in the class (well, at least most of them were happy). Some students still express surprise when they learn I have phoned home to their parents to tell them good or bad news about their child’s progress in my class; the other students chime in with, “DUH! Ya el habla espanol!”

    So, it was with great pride that I shared the following article with my students on the first Monday of classes back from spring break. It ran on in La Frontera on March 12, 2008.

“De acuerdo con el profesor de inglés como segundo idioma de la Escuela Preparatoria Rivera en Brownsville y organizador de la marcha, Mathew Webster señaló que su razón principal de estar en contra del muro son sus estudiantes (en su mayoría inmigrantes), que llegan al Valle con sus familias para tener un mejor futuro.
“En mis clases todos mis estudiantes son inmigrantes y como entrenador de fútbol, también todos los jugadores son inmigrantes, los cuales tienen familias y una vida en ambos lados, manifestó Webster. “Por lo que creo que este muro es horrible y una falta de respeto a la cultura, la vida y a las familias”.
El agregó que la idea de reparar el dique y utilizarlo como muro sigue siendo algo negativo para esta región ya del lado de México se verá como un simple muro.
“El mensaje para la gente del Valle es tener esperanza, el muro aun no existe y tenemos la esperanza de que si unimos nuestras voces contra este lograremos impedir la construcción”, concluyó el maestro de inglés.” http://www.lafronteratx.com/articles/fronterizo_18389___article.html/marchan_muro.html

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

In this 15-minute interview, I was able to communicate in my newfound second language that because my students and soccer players are immigrants and have lives on both sides of the river, I believe a wall is a horrible symbol lacking respect for their culture, lives, and families. I was also able to impart that the message this March was trying to send was that the Valley must have hope, because the wall does not exist yet. We must have hope and unite our voices to stop the construction of this border wall.

    My students, barring the one or two who chuckled at my sometimes forced Spanish pronunciation, were overjoyed to see that I had made this much progress. 7th period even clapped for their maestro. I have rarely been prouder, and neither have they.

    After they said they would continue to give me more lessons, I shared the most important thing they had taught me. The primary reason I am against the wall is not the environment it will destroy, the economy it will cripple, the beauty it will abolish, the politics it will play, or the dollars it will disappear. The main reason I am against any sort of border wall is because my students deserve better than a border wall. Because they have taught me the plight of the immigrant in this country, I will campaign with the rest of my life for real immigration reform rather than symbols of evil like a border wall. Because my students and their families deserve to have the same opportunities as people in the rest of these United States, I am absolutely opposed to any border wall or border-levee compromise that distracts from the real, pressing issue of providing for immigrant students through legislation like the DREAM Act.

    To last year’s students of F210 and this year’s students of F114, thank you for the life lessons you have taught your teacher. I pray I have been able to impart some life lessons to all of you as well.

http://s239932935.onlinehome.us/index.php/brownsville-walk.html

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 9 or Triumphant Entry

March 17, 2008

End of March at Hope Park

    2,000 years ago, a young man came into a Middle-Eastern city astride a donkey. He came bringing a message of peace, of unity, of nonviolence, and la gente responded by laying palm branches in his path and crying “Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth!” His death and suffering five days later, and his resurrection a week later, spurred a nonviolent campaign of peace and social justice which continues to shape the world.

    The timing of this No Border Wall Walk, then, concluded on the perfect day. Its timing had been fortuitous thus far, overlapping the groundbreaking Selma to Montgomery March that was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But no amount of planning could have made it possible to march into downtown Brownsville on Palm Sunday, holding palm branches along with signs of “No Wall Between Amigos,” singing hymns and songs like “Don’t gimme no walls, no walls, just gimme that peace, ah, that frontera Peace.” Since the Bible speaks out so clearly on the side of the immigrant, and because Jesus’ own family was forced to be refugees for several years, this miraculous “coincidence” must have been more than that – we felt a pervading love for all humanity as we marched and sang down Central Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

 

    Many people were confused as we marched down main street, as they must have been in Jesus’ day as well. Our joy might have seem misplaced amidst all the tension and frustration and indignation generated by a wall which would be built but a few blocks south of our route. The abundant optimism of the 50 marchers might have seemed naïve to people resigned to cynicism regarding the United State government’s willingness to hear its people on its borderlands. And just as in Jesus’ time, perhaps some didn’t join us because they had lost faith in the power of nonviolence to create change for the good for good.

Palm Sunday- John Moore and Matthew Webster ending No Border Wall Walk

    But that didn’t stop our march as it concluded in Brownsville, nor did it stop any of the more than 300 people who joined their feet and their hearts with our march over the past nine days. Marching slowly through town, past the ropas usadas and the thousands of Mexican shoppers visiting on Laser visas which are being threatened by the restrictive immigration laws on the coattails of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we stopped periodically to dance and encourage those people to raise their voices with our own. Waving palm branches and our hoarse voices to the historic downtown facades, we were jubilant, because an idea whose time has come is the most powerful force known to man, and we were all raising our voices in a cause for which we had sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice.

 

    After marching some 126 miles over nine days, and after meeting thousands of people and broadcasting the message of this beautiful borderland and this Valley’s families, we arrived only 15 minutes….early. We were strengthened by churches like Church of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brownsville, who provided lunch for our cause. We were also strengthened by all three Methodist congregations in town, who gave us water for our weary voices and a seat to rest our feet before the final push into town. Yes, as we came into this city on the border by the sea, with a police escort of 5-6 cars at any given time, the overwhelming support for this march and its cause was made plainly evident. Every person of faith, every congregation, every politician, and virtually every organization in this border region is united against the invasion of a border wall and the backwards thinking it embodies. The message of this march can be summed up in two phrases – We are not alone, and Si se puede! (Yes we can!). Milling around in Hope Park, waiting our triumphant entry into the No Border Wall Rally in front of Jacob Brown Auditorium at of UT-Brownsville, I was overwhelmed with the divine Providence which had protected each and every marcher AND had made every phrase coming out of our mouths one of nonviolence not bitterness, one of hope and not cynicism, one of positive change and not discouraging negativity.

 

    Yes, standing on a truck trailer “rostrum” in front of hundreds of like-minded individuals, I was a proud man. One of my freshman students had walked 4 of the nine days, and four of my other students had helped organize the rally and man the food booth. I was overwhelmed to have been part of a statement of faith and purpose coming out of this Valley, one which is now echoing throughout the United States into Mexico, Canada, and hopefully throughout the world. The speech I gave was an attempt to encapsulate that hope for harmony and our need to continue campaigning for immigrant justice.

 

Our walk began at the birding bluffs of Roma, a national treasure that would be severed by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we walked this historic downtown, we began to see all the history that would be “history” if an 18-foot border wall were to cut a wide swathe through southern Texas. And our moral indignation was aroused, but we didn’t stop there…

And after being refreshed at Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, we set off once more with a full police escort. It is not often that a political protest enjoys the support of police officers and poets, faith leaders and public officials, mayors and manual laborers, Republicans and Democrats, but we began to see in the hundreds of honks and thousands of thankful smiles that the entire border region is unified agaisnt the invasion of a border wall. But we didn’t stop in Rio Grande City either…

And we stopped at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla, a tiny town the border wall might not affect immediately. We were reminded that the entire border region is interconnected. As our mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” La Grulla residents must speak out if their neighbors are threatened with a border wall. We must not fall into the trap of dividing ourselves on this crucial issue. I have heard some cynically suggest a wall in Canada, but how can we hold the moral high ground if we would wish this blight, this evil upon any other community near or far? Despite the fact that La Grulla has no planned wall as of yet, six little girls aged 10.5 to 16 marched 14 miles with us to let other little boys and other little girls know they cared and would not be silent. And we were all empowered by their youthful audacity, but we wouldn’t halt there…

No, we kept on marching past Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, where we were joined by members of the Lipan Apache tribe and by a Brownsville high-school student of mine. Yes, we stood in awe of the only man-powered ferry on our international borders, and we realized that all America – South, Central, and North – must use our hands to connect humanity and reach across barriers, rather than thicken divisions and entrench misunderstanding. Yes, we marched right on to Father Roy and the historic La Lomita Chapel, and we swam, swam in that river that brings nations together instead of dividing them. But we would stop there…

No, we kept on marching through the tiny community of Granjeno, which has agreed to face bulldozers and prison in nonviolent civil disobedience, should it come to that. Yes, we marched and our voice was strengthened by 75 other college students from all across the United States. Their youth invigorated us, and we had a powerful rally in Pharr, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, our pilgrimage continued through “the valley of the shadow of the wall,” past rows of onions and undocumented workers, past pristine palm groves and flocks of fascinating birds on wing. We were reminded of the men and women for whom we march and the place we hope to preserve. We were reminded that God did not create this world with walls or divisions. We walked along Highway 83 and 281 to nonviolently protest the border wall and encourage this law’s many victims. In return, we were given hope and happiness from the beauty of the Valley. But even after those 17 miles of blacktop, we still wouldn’t stop…

No, we kept right on walking from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso to Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias. We were welcomed by women of faith, who followed the command from Leviticus 19:34 to treat the immigrant the same as a resident. “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.” Yes, in the loving eyes of women like Nenna and Alma, you could tell they recognized the very image of God in every single one of us. Surely they would see the face of God in any immigrant who came to their door as well. Yes, they welcomed us with songs like “Junto Como Hermanos,” and we were treated just like brothers and sisters by this border town. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about these border town in way of the wall, it is that they are welcoming and warm. And even though it may be as hot as a human heart out here, that is precisely the organ we are aiming at as we highlight the homes and humanity of la frontera. But no matter how welcome we felt, we would not be stopped there…

No, His Truth is Marching on, and so we followed Jesus’ call to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It led us along the levee to Ranchito and El Calaboz, the home of 72-year old Professor Eloisa Tamez who is resisting the federal government’s attempts to take her land. We stood with her in solidarity at San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, and we all supported her justified opposition to a government which would allocate her lands and erase her way of life. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of this border town, too, with its Beloved Community and its emphasis on faith and family, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, we walked right on in to Brownsville, down Military Highway to end the militarization of our nation’s borders. We were fed by Church of the Advent Episcopal Church here in Brownsville, as well as the Methodist Churches, just some of the dozens of congregations and organizations who physically supported our weary bodies on this March Against the Wall this March. It felt good to dance in the streets singing songs like, “No Al Muro, La Frontera Cuenta” and “We don’t need no border wall, we love people one and all,” as we approached this city on the border by the sea. We were overjoyed to be bound for this rall tonight where so many people are united together around a common purpose on this Palm Sunday of peace. But we won’t stop here…

No, so long as my students lack hope-giving legislation like the Dream Act, we will not stop marching.

So long as students getting A’s in my English classes and A’s in their Spanish classes are denied the right to attend our nation’s universities, universities they deserve to attend because of their academics, we will not be stopped.

As long as our immigration laws continue to separate families and discriminate based on quotas of national origin, we will not be silent.

So long as extralegal residents in these United States are not treated with dignity and not given a means to earned citizenship, we will not have arrived.

No, as long as more than 12 million people are criminalized by unresponsive immigration laws and the only piece of immigration law we can come up with in the last two years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we will not be stopped.

And so long as our government plans to build a border wall not through barren wasteland but through backyards and not through desert but downtowns, we weill march on…

We mustn’t stop because we believe that people are innately good and that this nation has a conscience. It is this conscience which Jesus pricked on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and which Dr. King touched 43 years ago on his famous Selma to Montgomery March. Yes, we believe all people are created good, and so if unjust laws are supported by the people, it must be because of misinformation or miseducation. The purpose of this nine-day, 126-mile sacrifice is to educate the nation about the issues of all borders and all immigrants.

We urge politicians to vote for bills like the Grijalva Bill and against bills like the Finish the Fence by Date Certain Bill. We beseech the people of these United States to appeal for a moratorium on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, so we can begin discussing the need and consequences of such a negative symbol as a wall.

People of faith, Border Patrol officers, government officials, students, teachers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters – we urge you to join us on this march against the wall and for our immigrants and borders. We will not be stopped.

And yes, “Soon we’ll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of Peace…

And yes we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at this river,

that flows by the throne of God…”

Speech at UTB

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/walk_85224___article.html/ground_protesters.html

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=615257032897

No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

March 15, 2008

Got Hope- Matthew Webster and Kiel Harell

Today began with chorizo and eggs, huevos con papas, and pan dulce sweetbreads. The eight church women who initially welcomed us to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias with tambourines and noisemakers were all there to see us off this morning in style. Everything was delicious, and it felt just like having 8 grandmothers as they watched us eat with sheer delight.

After our hearty breakfast, we went into the church and discussed nonviolence and immigration under the watch of the crucifix and the palm branches for Palm Sunday. These Catholic women, like almost every other denomination, firmly believed in loving humanity regardless of definitions or distinctions. They nodded and added their affirmation to our discussion. We left singing “Juntos Como Hermanos,” and we did leave with a sense of brotherhood and togetherness. Looking back at the church, all those women were still out front, still singing, still waving to us.

It was a great way to begin Day 8, and this send-off made today’s 10-mile walk go even faster than expected. Our four new recruits all sped up our beleaguered pace, and so we made it to the next church, San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, at the early hour of 1:00. I came in holding the sign of the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” how fitting as we received yet another warm welcome from this parish, despite the fact that we were five hours early.

I was a Stranger and you Welcomed Me- No Al Muro with Crystal Canales

After a lunch of watermelons and cantaloupe, a few of us ventured into the local communities. The levee runs close to the road here, and hundreds of houses have yards adjutting the levee where the wall is proposed. It was encouraging to engage in this, the pragmatic aspect of this No Border Wall Walk. We got to discuss legal options with local residents, many of whom didn’t know their rights or even that an eighteen-foot wall was intended to be built directly behind their lot. If our visit inspires even one of them to oppose the federal government or encourages even a singly family to refuse to sign away their property rights, this walk will have been more than worthwhile.

We returned to San Ignacio for a delicious dinner of chicken mole. Local resident and UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez said the prayer for us in this, her home church. Eloisa, looking all of 55 despite her 72 years, has partnered with Peter Schey and is continuing to fight the federal government’s attempts to survey and use her land for the building of a border wall. Her story has inspired the community and the entire border region to stand up for what is right, regardless of how indomitable the opposition may seem.

Thinking about this sleepy town and its national importance at this precise moment, it is clear that there are several different reactions to conflict. Each border community has had people respond in various ways and with varying degrees of success. As Dr. King laid out in his speech, “Loving Your Enemies,” there are three ways to respond to oppression and resistance. One is violence, though “[v]iolence creates many more problems than it solves…and unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” No, violence in words or deeds cannot be the way, because we seek not a negative peace, or merely the absence of a wall – no, we desire a positive peace, the presence of something greater than a wall such as immigration reform and real security measures in our ports and airports.

In the towns of Ranchito and El Calaboz, many residents have chosen the second response to opposition of which Dr. King speaks. King states that acquiescence is evil as well, “because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” The Catholic churches which have housed us this past week classify sins in two categories – sins of commission and sins of omission. Acquiescence is ultimately the sin of omission, because, “for him who knows the good that he ought to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Simply being silent or choosing not to act on personal principles because of fear is to aid and abet the side of wrong.

But there is one last way, the way of Eloisa Tamez and this 126-mile sacrifice from Roma to Brownsville. Martin Luther King said that nonviolence was the only way to create lasting, positive change that would ultimately benefit both the oppressed and the oppressor. Nonviolence is the only strategy which can bring about true love and peace, because the ends are preexistent in the means. King states that, “love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”

It is this force we have sought to channel this week through a sustained, nonviolent demonstration through communities bracing for the effects of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As it stands now, the border wall is federal law, and so to counter this legislation, we must begin to change the hearts of the constituents who voted in politicians who would espouse such an atrocity on our southern border. We must positively and nonviolently educate our brothers and sisters here and throughout the United States. We must appeal to that conscience with which our Creator endowed all of us. May God continue the work he has begun this week in the Valley and the ripples of morality that have pulsated out across the waves of media. His truth is marching on, and may it bring justice and education and action to this pressing issue.

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 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 1 or A Lesson in Solidarity

March 8, 2008

    No Border Wall Walk- Day 1

The pins were white with red sequins. A junior high-school student at Rivera High School made them to show the unity between the United States, Canada, and Mexico throughout the common colors of their flags. The pins were worn today by everyone walking the 14 miles from Roma to Rio Grande City, Texas. Overalls and cowboy shirts looked great with these ribbons sparkling on them. Button-downs and floppy fishermen hats looked unified with these ribbons flapping solidarity in the westerly wind.

The response from communities along the Rio Grande was phenomenal. With nary a permit, police forces from Roma and Rio Grande City escorted us as we left the scenic birding bluffs by the international bridge (a section of historic downtown and environmental treasure which would be cut off by the Secure Fence Act of 2006). The Rio Grande City police force crossed town lines in order to tell us they would be waiting just inside the city limits. For much of the march in their city, we had 3 police cars. Shutting down an entire lane of traffic through the gorgeous downtown district, cars were honking as the entire group chanted “We don’t need no border wall, we are people one and all” and “No al muro!” Every honk, every hand wave was interpreted as a positive gesture because we were intent on conveying a thoroughly nonviolent message in opposition to the border wall. As Titus 1:5 states, “To the pure all things are pure.”

After a long day of sunburn, calloused feet, tired eyes, and bloated bellies thanks to Father Amador and his wonderful welcome at Immaculate Conception Church, we sat down to discuss the purpose of our walk in terms of opposing the border wall and advocating for immigration. We came to realize that we are looking at a Rubik’s Cube, a single facet of a much larger immigration issue with global repercussions. We in the Rio Grande Valley are a pivot point for real immigration reform. This border wall, while it can be defeating and discouraging, is our golden opportunity to show the golden rule to those seeking the land with streets “paved with gold.” Esther 4:14 states, “…who knows but that you were have come to [this] position for such a time as this.” U.S. Congressman and former SNCC chairman John Lewis put it this way.

“…I began believing in what I call the Spirit of History. OtSmart Borders › Edit — WordPresshers might call it Fate. Or Destiny. Or a Guiding Hand. Whatever it is called, I came to believe that this force is on the side of what is good, of what is right and just. It is the essence of the moral force of the universe, and at certain points in life, in the flow of human existence and circumstances, this force, this spirit, finds you or selects you, it chases you down, and you have no choice; you must allow yourself to be used, to be guided by this force and to carry out what must be done. To me, that concept of surrender, of giving yourself over to something inexorable, something so much larger than yourself, is the basis of what we call faith” (Walking with the Wind 64).

Few people raised concerns when parts of the wall were constructed in Arizona and California. That is our fault, and we are guilty for our complicit acceptance of this immoral action. We must raise our voices now, because this is on our watch. Victor Hugo wrote, “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Our backs are against a wall – the time is here, and we have a united community with which to nonviolently oppose the Secure Fence Act and all it symbolizes.

This is our chance to show solidarity on all fronts, to show the image of God and the spark of the divine in all peoples, both these residents with lands and lives on la frontera endangered by physical walls and also in the lives of displaced peoples and refugees the world over who are being denied a fair chance at citizenship. Perhaps the ribbons that high-school student made for us to wear should be rainbow-colored, to reflect the wide array of immigrants in every nation queued in quotas and waiting refugee status. Come join the walk tomorrow as we walk to Holy Family Catholic Church and have a rally as we arrive at 5:00. We have a ribbon for you as well.

A Call for Prayer and Participation

March 7, 2008

    Tomorrow begins the March Against the Wall. Hundreds of People will be participating in the 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas. This interfaith nonviolent demonstration is campaigning for a moratorium on the border wall and calling for support for immigrants and borderlands.

    Please pray for all individuals involved in this walk and for a change of heart for those individuals currently opposed to real immigration reform and currently in favor of a border wall. Please pray specifically for:

  1. Safety as we walk 12-14 miles a day along busy Highway 83 and 281.

  2. Love as we seek to convey a nonviolent message and positive demonstration against the border wall but for immigrants and border towns.

  3. Solidarity as we aim to embody Martin Luther King’s idea of the Beloved Community by uniting all people in the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of the United States.

  4. Guidance as we interact with international media and local communities.

  5. Real Outcomes as we encourage landowners to legally oppose surveyors for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and as we appeal to the conscience of the nation.

Your prayers and support are a vital part of this endeavor, and I earnestly ask you to uphold us in your thoughts and prayers. If you are interested in being involved in a more direct way, please return to this site where I will be blogging daily about the walk. We are still seeking volunteers, endorsements, comments, and donations. It is never too late to get involved.