Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sixteenth day of Lent: Never cross a picket line

Day trip to DC to lead workshop. Sign on wall in men’s room at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church: Bathing and shaving are not allowed in the restroom...
Uli and Bob
I leave a Presbytery meeting in Brooklyn Heights and hop on the 2 train to get to the Saigon Grill workers’ rally. My friend Uli meets me there. And Pastor Heidi Neumark of Trinity Lutheran as well.  It’s actually turning  into a movement to create a sweatshop free zone on the Upper Westside. The restaurant owners decided to close for the day. Although they do have counter pickets. 
Of course, the politicians are here. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. State Senator Tom Duane.  Latino elected officials. Representatives of various Democratic  neighborhood organizations. Local business people. Including my favorite, Juan Campos, of Mama Mexico.  Sr. Campos is not only a business person but a man of faith. He’s part of the Mexican Puebla community that has made the Upper Westside a Poblano diaspora.  He has quietly flown bodies of poblanos who have died in New York back to Puebla, back to their tierra. He speaks with quiet dignity and clarity, “No restaurant has to make a profit on the backs of its workers,” he says, “there is no excuse to oppress workers, especially immigrants. I am an immigrant myself.” He has supported everything we have ever done regarding the homeless. 
Every speaker references the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. My friend, Pastor Heidi, wove a passionate metaphor around the image of fire. And ended  with the chant, un pueblo unido jamás será vencido.
And then it was my turn. This is what I said:
I am the pastor of West-Park Church. Just down Amsterdam. For months , I’ve been watching the strikers on my way to and from work. Every day, regardless of the weather.Sleet, snow, rain, freezing cold, they are there. I walk by. Express my support.  But one of my members said, isn’t it time to join them? So she’s been out here on the picket line, marching with the strikers. And now, I am here.
I grew up in Pittsburgh. There, the first golden rule was do unto others as you would have them do unto  you and love your neighbor as yourself. But the second golden rule was, never cross a picket line. 
That Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the victims were women. Immigrants. They spoke   Italian, Yiddish. Nothing changes. Today it’s Chinese and Spanish. There’s no such thing as an illegal alien, people sin papeles, without papers. There’s just workers. Human beings. All deserving of dignity. Of decent wages. And working conditions. 
A few weeks ago, we marched in solidarity with Wisconsin. I saw a great picture from Tahrir Square in Cairo. “Wisconsin we are with you,” it said, “one world, one pain.” Yes the issue we deal with is global. But actions start here, right here, with the Saigon Grill, with our neighborhood. What can you do? We all have businesses that are part of our  daily lives. The grocery store, the bodega. The dry cleaner. Go to them. Tell them you appreciate them. And want to keep shopping there. And ask them to sign the pledge. To simply agree to follow fair labor practices. That’s all. 
I’ve heard myself in translated into Spanish before. And the translator does a good job. But it’s my first time to hear myself translated into angry chinese. Sounds good. 
Re. Brashear, Pastor Heidi and Council Member Brewer

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