Monday, March 11, 2013

Reflections on organizing and what I wrote for the celebration of the workers victory over Saigon Grill

Today in Phoenix, the weather feels Biblical...cold swirling winds and torrential rain turning into pelting hail...
Meanwhile, back in New York City, there is snow. And gathered in front of the Saigon Grill, the Sweatshop Free people and National Movement Against Sweat Shop people and Justice Will Be Served have gathered to celebrate a victory. The court ruled in favor of the workers over against Saigon Grill. One million dollars in back wages and penalties. Over two years of picketing, organizing campaign and coalition building have resulted in a victory. Notice has been served that workers, documented or not, must be treated justly. All we ever demanded was that the Fair Labor Law be obeyed. 
I wish I were there. I remember passing the pickets on a daily basis, greeting them, encouraging them. In every kind of weather. Until that cold Christmas Eve when  I walked by with my son Micah, the workers in Santa Claus hats. Micah stopped and spoke with them and asked me, so why don’t you join them? and a new relationship began.
Speaking at rallies in every season. Reaching out to clergy colleagues. Drawing in the Religion Labor Coalition and Rabbi Michael. Bringing in Teddy and #OWS. Hosting the neighborhood canvassing efforts from West-Park. Meeting with foundations. Celebrating smaller victories. And now, finally, this part of the struggle has come to fruition. 
So I send my friends a statement. To be read at the rally.Here is my message:

Brothers and Sisters....

I regret that I cannot be with you in person today as we celebrate the long and
hard fought victory over Saigon Grill. Know that I am here with you in
spirit. The celebration today is well deserved.  Through long years,
you have fought this battle in the streets, on the picket line and in the
courthouse. You have walked this line through every season of the year
and in every kind of weather. You have rallied in  sunshine and in
cold pouring rain. You have created a community of solidarity and
support that includes workers documented and those without papers, union
workers, the faith community, neighbors, politicians and small
business owners. You have been fearless and tireless and been a beacon
to all vulnerable workers in our community that standing up for one's
rights defeats fear and that the workers united will never be
defeated. You have brought us a step closer to making real the vision
of ONE sweatshop free neighborhood in one community that can be a
model for ALL the neighborhoods of this city. Today we can not only say that justice
WILL be served but that justice HAS been served. This victory is a
signal that we will not rest until all workers have won the  fair
wages they deserve and will be treated with the the dignity that is the
God given right of all people. Let us celebrate this victory today and
then continue the struggle....until the victory that will surely

With thanks, commitment and solidarity
The Rev. Dr. Bob Brashear
West-Park Presbyterian Church

Even from Phoenix, the victory feels good. 

I do an afternoon workshop with my colleague John on Community Organizing. And our PHEWA grassroots model. The Sweatshop Free story and the Occupy Sandy story are great examples to share. 

Issue organizing says everyone in favor of this issue follow me.
Movements have one cause, a law, a war to end, one goal to achieve. No long lasting life. 
Ideology says we’ve got the right analysis, if everyone agreed, things would be OK. 
Charity, programs do for.
Liberal advocacy speaks for. 
The golden rule of community organizing is never do for anyone what they can do for themselves.  We are not to be voices for the voiceless. (Though we may be ears for the earless..) We work to help others to find their own voice and speak for themselves, becoming in Freire’s terms, the subjects of their own history. Strong organizations, built on solid public relationships, are built to last, to shift and change as circumstances change through constant listening. In PHEWA, our advocacy grows out of the daily doing of ministry. And that makes all the difference.

It’s always frustrating to me that I know this so well, teach it so well, and have had such a difficult time doing it in my own church. Part of that is the tension between roles of leader and organizer. You can’t be both at the same time. Like being a Presbyterian minister where your job with your Session (IE, board) is that of Moderator. On the one hand, you are expected to lead. On the other, if you go too far ahead, you are reminded that it is the Session who is really in charge. I am a Teaching Elder. They are the Ruling Elders.

In short, as my mentor, Philip once taught me, leaders are people who have followers. Organizers find leaders and build strong organizations. It’s that simple. 

One last chance. Have to try one more time. 

The storm continues. The power has gone off. To get to the restroom, you must pass through the courtyard. As people go out and return, it's now Shakespearean.  Returning,  the storm raging outside, it's like the climactic scene of King Lear. 

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