2nd Sunday, November 15, 2020
We are grateful for our community, as the Thanksgiving Address so simply and comprehensively embodies.
In the quote by Martin Luther King Jr., we hear a simple truth: We live in a universe whose structure is relationships. Through the lives of plants and animals, and through the interactions of people with plants and animals—people who we may never meet–our needs are met.
This structure of interrelatedness gives some of us freedom to pursue careers, knowledge, art, recreation and mischief, hopefully, good trouble. Today I want us to have an opportunity to become aware of some of our frontline workers, to give them a place in our thoughts and hearts in order to give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Perhaps this will help us approach the Haudenosaunee statement, “We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”
Frontline workers is a new term we use to refer to those who are working during the pandemic to help us stay alive with food and other needs as well as those who are striving to meet the health sustaining needs of those who are sick with the Coronavirus.
I have read and heard stories from health care workers that portray that the frontline also means the place of life and death. The reality in our hospitals and care facilities is extreme. The balance and harmony seeming to be no longer attainable.
However, we hear how the workers can find a moment of release from this living and dying nightmare in waking life when restaurant workers and benevolent organizations bring them a hot, delicious, nutritious meal. For the moments they can grab some of the food, they feel their need for care is acknowledged and met. Some balance is made possible by the kindness of strangers.
Other groups of people continue working who are not as visible to the rest of us, and therefore often left out of the actions from kind strangers. They are far from the eyes of most of us, because their work is in agriculture on massive farms away from us city dwellers. Yet we depend on them, on their back breaking labor that they perform without protection, adequate housing, medical care or access to services that would give their lives honor and balance.
The truth is that to bring balance and harmony to people in the extreme farm labor force, you have to have heard about them. It reminds me of the lamps from last week in the parable of Jesus. You need lamps, light to see, and oil to keep them burning. The kindness of strangers depends on strangers who light their lamps and look into the reality of the interrelatedness of life.
It seems like that is even harder now with the political circus and the isolation requirements of the pandemic. Yet we can envision abundance for those who grew, harvested and packed, unpacked, prepped and displayed the food we purchased at the store and eat to sustain our lives. We can honor them with gratitude to begin a balance that we would like to manifest.
We can also, in our isolation, have an opportunity to get to know each other better. We can start in many directions in our circle
of connections and friends. One place I would like to bring our attention to is the garment workers. That sounds so general and far out there, almost like a farm outside the city. But the Earth and her plants and animals can’t fulfill our needs for nourishment and shelter without people who develop skills to transform the trees into building materials, plant fiber into fabric for clothing and animals and plants into meat, grains and vegetables for food.
Here at St. Hildegard’s we have been in relationship with the maquiladoras along the border between Texas and Mexico, as well as the textile workers in Chiapas, through the work of Josefina Castillo and Judith Rosenberg, who passed wholly into the Great Spirit, March 8 ’15 These communities and ours have been woven together in relationship for 16+ years, and we feel blessed by their lives of creating beauty and sharing their struggles with us. These communities are made up of people who work closely with the fibers of plants if not the plants themselves,
The women have skills and knowledge of the connection between the beauty that they craft and the spiritual world which sustains all life. Every year in November Josefina and the organization ATCF puts on a festival, Women and Fair Trade, where we all go and buy huipils, look over treasures from other countries and listen to beautiful live music.
Some of us know of another connection our community has with the garment workers in Los Angeles, Virginia Marie’s daughter, Marissa Nuncio, who brought our Sister Virginia Marie to Los
Angeles to live with her and her husband and two sons. She works to provide for the immigrant garment workers in Los Angeles, many of whom are working in unsafe conditions, lack the legal services they need to improve their conditions, and because they are undocumented, have more difficulty obtaining unemployment benefits when work shuts down. These women are not paid minimum wage, and therefore are subject to all the pitfalls of poverty, unsafe housing, lack of medical care and diminished possibilities for changing their situations. During the pandemic they are now sewing personal protective equipment, so the work of their hands is protecting the frontline workers.
They are skilled seamstresses who have the ability to create garments to industry standards at mass production speed. So much of our life is dependent on these women’s abilities, and the work they perform brings profits to corporations who do not respect them and care for their basic needs.
Marissa works through her nonprofit, Garment Worker Center to provide an organizing space for these women who are providing this necessary protection for frontline workers. The primary mission at Garment Worker Center is to empower and support workers to organize together to fight to transform their industry and workplaces themselves. To help the workers achieve their goals, the center offers a legal clinic, and tools for communicating their situations and needs to those who have the ability to contribute in a variety of ways to the change that the workers envision. The center works alongside the garment workers in the spirit of solidarity not charity.
In working with these women, the team at the nonprofit also campaigns for legislative initiatives for living wage, connects workers with medical providers and transportation and provides food and other necessities for those whose income does not pay for their needs and/or those who have contracted the virus and are not able to work. These kindnesses help these women survive while giving them the tools to create new opportunities, safer working conditions and social supports as they continue their careers.
When the world is so out of balance, the people of Garment Worker Center give what they have in knowledge, time, advocacy and love to these women trying to get a foothold in a country where there are safer living conditions and more opportunities than in their home countries.
Josefina and Judith were pioneers in finding ways to accompany those in difficult situations. In the trips to the border, volunteer participants were given an introduction to the practice of solidarity.
In a nutshell, this practice asks of the volunteer to arrive without an agenda of how to help the struggling workers, which means giving them the credit they deserve for living their lives and learning through their experiences the best avenues for change in their situations in life. This practice of solidarity was created by the workers at the border.
Josefina will be sharing with us next week about her work with those who in trying to immigrate to this country have become tangled up in the United States broken immigration system. She may have more to say about solidarity in her reflection.
Here is a link to a video that a garment worker made in solidarity with Garment Worker Center. It gives a comprehensive picture of the conditions under which they work to make our clothes and now the personal protective equipment. As I watched this video of her giving a tour of her factory, I found a face and voice to picture and hear when I stroke the fabric that the plants of Mother Earth provide. I can bring to mind the women and men who work under harsh conditions to create clothes to cover and protect us as well as create beauty in our appearance. Now I can hear the voices of the indigenous in my mind, “We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.”