Each night at YAV orientation the poem, Passover Remember, by Alla Rene Bozarth, was read by one or more of the small group leader. I had not heard this poem before, and honestly have not thought much of it since. But tonight, I was reminded of it’s opening line: “Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.” Pack Nothing, a similar title to one of my previous blogs, was not a reference to what physical items I was should leave behind for this year, but rather the mindset I should have for it. This has been a year of learning in, what has seemed as a year of turmoil in this country. This may not be the case, as I was the most uniformed during my college years. But working in a non profit, social services setting, has really opened my eyes to the issues in this country. When California voted on reducing non violent drug felonies to misdemeanors, my friends with the Lord’s Lighthouse program were effected. When protesting broke out around the nation over a deeply rooted racial issue, many of the guest spoke out. And most recently, the Supreme Court Decision to create marriage equality in all 50 states has created reason to celebrate for many in the community I serve with. And with all of these issues, I have seen and heard the other side speak out and act about the hurts they felt. The Facebook posts about the heritage of the confederate flag have filled my news feed and I most recently saw a post called “How can churches protect themselves” in the wake of the Supreme Court Decision. Within the last year I have experienced and read about the impact that these decisions have. I have had conversations with people who fall on both sides of very heated topics. When I think of “pack nothing” as it pertains to this year specifically, I hear the call to be open to the world I live and work amongst. I came into this year having very strong opinions based mostly on my parents beliefs and the basic understanding I had of the world. What I did not have, was the ability to listen to the other side. I was not open to this willingness to be free in the sense that I think Bozarth meant. Be free in a way that lets us be with one another, regardless of our ideas and beliefs. Be free in a way that doesn’t let us miss the opportunities for growth. Be free in a way that looks first to understanding and compassion as opposed to fear, hatred, and bitterness. It’s easy for me to think that my opinions are right, and if you don’t share those, you’re wrong. But I’m working on unpacking my preconceived notion of the other and come to a place where we can all sit at the same table together.
In this last year, my experiences have molded my political and social beliefs more than any other time in my life. Most recently, I finished Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. In this book, she outlines the history of repression among African Americans and argues that the War on Drugs is only newest form of this repression. The majority of inmates are in jail for non-violent drug possession charges. Studies have shown that all races commit all types of crime equally, including drug offences. In fact the National Institute on Drug Abuse states in a recent survey that white youth are 7 times more likely to use cocaine and heroin and 8 times more likely to use crack than black youth. But 80% of people sentenced under harsher crack cocaine laws were African American. Here is a list of facts and statistic that you might also be shocked to discover:
1. The war on drugs was announced by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, but crack cocaine was not introduced until 1985. Crack Cocaine was the most publicized drug when promoting the war on drugs and holds some the harshest sentencing.
2. Crack is is pharmacologically similar to cocaine, but is stronger so can be sold in smaller quantities for more affordable prices. However the mandatory minimum sentence is a “far more severe punishment for the distribution of crack.”
3.Since the beginning of the war on drugs, 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses. But in 2005, 4 out of every 5 drug arrest were for possessions and not sales.
4. “Between 1980 and 1985 FBI anti-drug a funding increased from $8 million to $95 million.” But National Institute on Drug Abuse went from a budget of $274 million to $57 million.
5. The United States imprisons more racial minorities than any other country. In Washington D.C. “three out of four young black men can expect to serve time in prison.”
6.Three-fourths of all people imprisoned on drug crimes are black or Latino.
7.There are more African American men under the control of the correctional system (probation, prison, or parole) then were enslaved in the 1850’s
8. Alcohol related deaths account for roughly 100,000 people a year while drug related deaths, such as AIDS, over dose, and subsequent violence, only accounts for 21,000 people per year.
9.” In Vousia County, Florida, a reporter obtained 148 hours of video footage documenting more than 1,000 highway stops conducted by state troupers. Only 5 percent of drivers on the road were African American or Latino, but more than 80% of the people stopped and searched were minorities.”
10. In 1994, President Bill Clinton, endorsed the “three strikes your out” policy and authorized $16 billion for “state prison grants and expansion of state and local police” making the Clinton administration the time of the largest increase of prison inmates in American history.a
I can’t possibly retell all the points from this incredibly, eye opening book, and I won’t try. But if the recent months and even last few years have not shown that racism is alive and well in this country, then this book does. It shows that we as a nation have created a type of caste system which makes it possible for us to continue to discriminate against African Americans by labeling them as criminals. Once you are under the control of the criminal justice system, either in jail, or on probation or parole, you become ineligible for public housing. You cannot get food stamps and other government relief opportunities. Most housing options will deny you because you have an felony, and so will most employers. You are not eligible for student loans. Many higher educations will not admit you based on your criminal record. You may owe the government money for public defenders, court cases, and other fees. Many states laws currently say that you will not be allowed to vote until they are paid off (sound like a poll tax to you?). In the 1970’s, criminologist theorized that the prison system would be almost obsolete in 30 years. Instead, mostly due to the war on drugs, the prison population has quintupled.
In the two weeks since the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, six predominately African American churches have been burned down. There is hate and anger in these communities. But in light of the atrocities in Charleston, the families of the victims killed by Dylann Roof, forgave this young man, as we are called to do by Christ. This young man was afforded love and grace by this community that he devastated. This group of people truly know what it means to share Christ love better than most. It is often said the the Bible is the greatest love story ever written. When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus responds with two commandments, one old and one new. “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.” I am disheartened by the way this country is continuing to live with one another. We are suppose to be this great melting pot of beliefs and ideas. We are country that is suppose to be based on freedom. We are suppose to be one nation, under God. And yet we spew fear and hatred as our main message. We have to remember that we are one people, united by the fact that we dwell on this earth for a limited amount of time. We are human beings and we are responsible for each other. Jesus ate meals with tax collectors, prostitutes, leapers, and fisherman. He chose to walk beside all groups of people. He set the table that we are all invited to. It’s time that we set that table again, we need to be reminded of the love that exists at the table and we need to share it with all, not just the ones we agree with.
I can’t end a post about sitting at a table without posting a meal to serve at it! A few weeks on one of our weekly community days, I made breakfast for my housemates. I decided to go all out, so I learned how to make egg Benedict with all the fixins. Now to start, I have never poached an egg before. My mom has this great little insert for a pan that has these little cups that sit over water and it poaches the eggs. But once again, I am in a semi-well stocked kitchen without my own utensils. The poaching of the egg is the reason I have been hesitant to attempt to make this recipe before. There’s a scene in Julie and Julia, where Julie is learning to poach an egg, and she basically just scrambles it in water. I am not yet brave enough to attempt this. But as if by magic, a Pinterest post shared with me a great tidbit of information that said I could use aluminum cupcake liners in a pot of water to poach them. So that’s what I did. It makes them a little thick, but it works in a pinch.
As the eggs cooked, I started on a Hollandaise Sauce. For the 6 of us, I used 1/2 cup of butter, 4 egg yolks, juice from half a lemon, a dash of salt, and paprika. I really like paprika, so I tend to add more as I cook. Whisk it all together and set on the stove top on low heat. Keep whisking as it thickens. If it starts lump whip faster and constantly. Leave it on the the heat until it thickens up.
The great things about Eggs Benedict is that you can basically put anything on them. I cooked eggplant, spinach, bacon, and smoked salmon for ours. Ham, mushrooms, and tomatoes are also great. I also toasted English muffins as the base for the egg. Once everything is ready just plate your eggs. There is not really a wrong way to construct eggs Benedict, but I like my English muffin on the bottom and the hollandaise on top.
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has demolished the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” –Ephesians 2:14-19
I could not possibly put all that a learned and experienced in the 5 day retreat in this blog post. The joint YAV retreat to Tucson/Mexico gave me a whole new insight on an issue that I have been feeling pulled to for over a year. After graduation last year, I went on a service learning trip to Guatemala. The trip focused on many social justice issues within the country, one of which was the violence and subsequent migration out of Guatemala. For years, the government has been inflicting mass atrocities to try to smother out any uprising amongst the general population. This fear is what led many people to try to move to the United States by any means possible. We visited a migration center in Guatemala that would attempt to dissuade people from making the very dangerous quest across our border, but also provided the resources to make the trip safer if people were determined. When I returned from this trip, a national crisis in the United States was occurring, in which tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America were crossing the boarder illegally and being detained. The children had most likely either been sent by their families, in hopes that they would be safe in the U.S. or had come looking for parents that had left them behind until they could make enough money to come home or bring them along. This issue of immigration had reached an all time high, because we weren’t just dealing with adult capable of caring for themselves, but suddenly inundated with children. I remember a news story about a detention center, that was going to house some of the children until we as a nation could plan a course of action, that was near my home town in Virginia. There were protesters waiting at the center with hateful message towards the children and another group their protesting those protesters. I am not a politician, nor do I know as much as I would like about the logistics dealing with migration, but I am active in the church, and if YAV has taught me something very important this year, its that we cannot be the church and allow social justice issues to pass us by because religion and politics don’t go together. Jesus came into the world to stop the injustices that were occurring. Jesus was the most political person with his faith, and in order to be more like him each day, I must also use my faith to back my political beliefs and I must be outspoken in those beliefs. You may not agree with what I have to say in this post and that’s okay. The great thing about this country is that we are allowed to form and have our own opinions. I will lay out in this post why I feel the way I feel about the issue of immigration based on what I have read, what the bible tells me, and what I learned in my experiences in Guatemala and more recently, Mexico. I welcome feedback and even push-back, because that’s how we learn, but please let it be from a place of love, grace, understanding, and education. This is a tense and personal issue for so many and I hope we can all respect the different opinions and journeys that have led us to them.
On our first day of the retreat in Tucson AZ, we met with John Fife, a Presbyterian minister, former Moderator of General Assembly, and a Co-founder of the Sanctuary movement in Tucson in the 1980’s. During that time, the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador were equipping death squads to put an end to citizen uprisings. It was common for people who were merely suspected of being a part of these uprisings, to disappear and never be seen again. Droves of refuges fled for the United States seeking asylum. The United States refused the majority request for asylum, claiming that the migrants were not fleeing from unfair persecution, but rather poor economic situations. They were labeled economic immigrant and refused legal entrance to the U.S. This is possibly because the U.S. was financially supporting the governments executing the death squads. “Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow writes “The CIA admitted in 1998 that guerrilla armies it actively supported in Nicaragua were smuggling illegal drugs into the United States … [and] blocked law enforcement efforts to investigate illegal drug networks that were helping to fund its covert war in Nicaragua.” While Alexander is using this fact to support her argument that the War on Drugs being created in order to regain a sense of a racial caste system(which I will be writing another blog about), it also supports the notion of the U.S. aiding mass execution of Central American citizens. All this being said, John Fife and many other religious leaders began the Sanctuary Movement in which they were helping migrants into the country and to safe houses. The religious leaders were all tried for violating immigration laws and sentenced to 5 years probation. John Fife told us that they sentenced a Catholic nun first. The judge said that he would sentence 5 years probation if she promised to stop doing the same work with migrants. She responded with this “You clearly have not been listening the last 7 months of this trial, because if you let me walk out those doors, I will be going right back to what I’ve been doing.” The judge left the courtroom and returned a few minute later and gave everyone the same 5 year probation sentence. The coverage of the Sanctuary movement and the trial spread and churches and college campus joined in the movement and laws actually got changed. They have unfortunately been overturned and our immigration laws even more of a mess. John Fife left us with two pieces of encouragement; the first “How can the church be faithful under these circumstances,” and the second “Welcome to the struggle, I’m glad for your involvement and I hope you don’t forget about it when they stop calling you a YAV”
Later that same day we witnessed Operation Streamline in a Tuscon courtroom. Operation Streamline began in 2005 as a “no tolerance policy” to immigration in which those who enter the U.S. illegally. Migrants are tried in groups of up to 70 people at once. The whole process takes about 90 minutes and all those prosecuted are sentenced to 30-180 days in jail. Each client, most of whom do not speak English, meet with their public defender for maybe 30 minutes before the trial and each public defender can have up to a dozen clients each day. They are all put in shackles and given headphones for translations. I watched as 70 men and women were given their “due process” and sent to jail. We then spoke to a public defender thoughtfully frustrated with the assembly line model of “justice”. It was completely random which people were picked up by border patrol and which ones border patrol offered voluntary deportation. Because the cases are tried in federal court, the prosecution does not have to share evidence before the trial, making a plea bargaining the safest bet in amount of time served. The U.N. has listed 25 issues in which the U.S. breaks international human rights law, one of which is immigration. In 2010, the U.N. urged the U.S. to investigate the detention and deportation of migrants, as they are currently failing to meet basic human rights. The United States has failed to make changes and Antonio Ginatta,US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, states “Governments at the Human Rights Council should press the US on mass surveillance, police violence, and detention of migrant families. The US should take the opportunity to make a serious commitment to roll back these abusive practices.”
The next two days we spent time on and around the border itself. We started on the U.S. side where a memorial was set up for a man caught climbing the wall back to Mexico was shot and killed by border patrol. The man was driving a car with drugs, but was unarmed. Mexican citizens saw the young man trying to climb over the wall and threw rocks at the patrol officer to help him do so, which may be why the officers shot the man several time in the back. This extreme use of force by the border patrol is only mirrored in our national news right now with the treatment of young black males. The fence that currently exists in Douglas AZ is made of rusted pieces metal 20 ft tall that were left after the Vietnam War. The wall is only this tall until you get farther into the desert, then it turns into vehicle barriers that are easily crawled over or under. At one time most of the individual cities are responsible for their own section of the wall. So each city built high fences to the city lines, which pushed migrants farther out and forced them to wander farther into the desert. Not only is this not solving any problems with migration, but is actually causing more injuries and deaths due to extended time in the desert. The second day we were on the Mexican side of the wall with an organization called No More Deaths. They attempt to provide water and other resources to make the dangerous journey somewhat safer. Many migrants making the journey to the U.S. are mislead by coyotes and guides, saying that its only a day’s walk to the states, when in reality its several days or weeks. This often means that the migrants are ill prepared with few resources. We started our walk at a water station set up by this group for the migrants. We then walked to the fence through the desert. When we got to the wall, many people started climbing it, including a 13 year old. The wall is high, but easily climbed. There are also gate opening at the bottom of the fence in this particular section. During monsoon season in desert, the previous walls were blocking the natural flow of water, and eventually, the water destroyed all the walls. In the new wall, which has been up for 3 years, they built in areas that could be opened to allow more flow and less destruction. Not only is human migration hindered by the imposing wall, but nature is actively resisting it. Animals that use to go between countries are now stuck on their respective sides. Kids use to be able to go back and forth to play baseball and other games with each other, and border patrol use to give out popsicle to the kids. The fear of the “other” has created not only a physical border, but a border within us, letting us forget the humanity that exists on both sides of the wall.
Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” No one tells this message better than Jesus in the story of the Good Samaritan. I know I have used this before in talking about radical hospitality, but I think this story, as used as it is, is not fully grasped in means of solidarity. Christ is talking about an unconditional type of love that unites all humans. In Luke, Christ tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what it means to love your neighbor. In the story, a Jewish man was attacked and left for dead. The religious leaders left him and it was a Samaritan who cared for him. The Samaritans were despised and he still cared for the man who would in most context, not treat him with the same care. But solidarity and loving ones neighbor is not about how others treat you, or would treat you. It’s how you show God’s love daily. In the case of our border, it is our physical international neighbors, that we as a nation are constantly saying, our love does not encompass you.
The last day in Mexico happened to fall on the day of Pentecost, which was perfect timing. In Genesis, God decided to scatter the languages of the world, disuniting the people. The people were now divided by a language barrier and a geographical barrier. Genesis 11:8 “In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world.” It is here where the idea of nations and differences between the nations seems to take place. But, on the day of Pentecost, God rectifies this in the book of Acts. “And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” Now granted, we don’t all understand all languages, but we are united by many common threads. We are united by humanity and love. We are one people, whether or not a fence divides us. It’s time we started treating each other like we belonged to each other. One more over used passage to get this point across. “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
I have much more to say about this trip, but I believe this post is long enough. Keep a look out for more about Mexico and my reflection on the amazing book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Also I will be posting more picture from the trip so look for those! Thank you so much for your continued support in my year of service and growth!