Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A unique organizing model is emeging

The day begins with a burst of activity. Deacon James has arrived and is sweeping. Hope is here. John and Teddy from Occupy Wall Street are here ready to get to work to help  us get ready for the upcoming gala. They’ll start in the Chapel, fixing the hole in the floor, scraping some peeling paint off the walls, fixing bathrooms. Anthony and his partner Gary are sitting like sentinels on the steps. 
The representatives of the National Movement Against Sweatshops, Justice Will Be Served and Sweat Shop Free Upper West Side have gathered in our sanctuary to prepare for  meeting with a representative from the New York Foundation. We’ve applied for a grant to fund an organizer for this project. 
The group includes a veteran union organizer, Chinese and Latino workers, a Barnard grad student organizer. We talk through our strategy. 
The foundation rep arrives. We make our case. This has been a unique organizing story. It began with the Saigon Grill workers demanding justice. They attracted the attention of a Chinatown based union. Which reached out and connected with NMASS. Mexican workers in the neighborgood noticed what was going on and wanted justice in their workplaces. As the coalition grew across racial ethnic bounds, Justice Will Be Served emerged as an umbrella. 
The concept of a sweatshop free neighborhood began to grow. Members of the faith community began to be drawn in. And then as the outreach to businesses began, locally based small business people joined in. The only demand was to get businesses to agree to just obey the existing fair labor laws. Other issues, like closing escape routes for owners like the Saigon Grill owners would emerge. 
The Foundation is impressed that what we are developing is a community based approach to joining labor, the faith community, small businesses and residents together to build a more just and humane world in one neighborhood. In some ways, it just happened. But what is emerging is a model that can be replicable in other neighborhoods in the city. Competition will be tough, only 7 out of 17 applicants will be funded. But what we have here is special. It’s living out the vision of Occupy right where we live. 
Meanwhile, Sandy has come back to furhter pursue the vision of a community of Occupiers in residence that could develop a presence in one local neighborhood. Where a new kind of community could be built. Where we could begin to build models of what a new way of relating  economically might be. 
The vision almost makes my head swim. I could see the church being a place where the Occupiers could meet the workers could meet the faith community, the neighbors, and engage in serious conversation and dialogue. And maybe even theological reflection. Hope joins the conversation. Brings a cautionary note that none of us knows where we might be come January. Life is that tenuous. And then we return to concrete, practical plans for the day’s work. John will supervise. Sandy will remain as well  throughout the day.  Later Jason of #OWS will arrive to discuss possible meeting place arrangements. I feel excited that this is moving from political theatre to serious discussion of alternative models. 
The boiler work has progressed to about 75% completion. We just might make it by Monday. All that’s left is to devote the afternoon to an all court press to get people out  to Monday night. 
As I leave to go home in the dark, the doorways are filling with homeless people settling in for the night. Our independent environmental entreprenuer  has his shopping cart of bottles and cans with him.
The temperature is dropping, it’s getting cold. 

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