Toma Lynn Smith

Heroes: Today and Yesterday

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This week, I traveled to Michigan with Kim Bobo, and I was able to see and be a part of social change. This week, I  learned from both young and older leaders in the movement.

“I was shot,” Richard Morrisroe, a long time supporter of IWJ, told me. Kim  and I had the honor of meeting him this week.  The former priest, Morrisroe and his friend and seminarian Jonathan Daniels answered the call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that white clergy to support those fighting for civil rights in Alabama in the 1960s. 

“In August 1965, Daniels and 22 others were arrested for participating in a voter rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama, and transferred to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. Shortly after being released on August 20, Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest, and Daniels accompanied two black teenagers, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a Hayneville store to buy a soda,” according to the Virginia Military Institute, Daniels’ alma mater.

“They were met on the steps by Tom Coleman, a construction worker and part-time deputy sheriff, who was carrying a shotgun. Coleman aimed his gun at sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales; Daniels pushed her to the ground in order to protect her, saving her life. The shotgun blast killed Daniels instantly; Morrisroe was seriously wounded. When he heard of the tragedy, King said, ‘One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.’" 

Daniels’ journey is featured in the documentary, “Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels.”

IWJ mission is to mobilize people of faith around injustices in the workplace. Those who are disenfranchised in our society are the most vulnerable and are taken advantage of the most—especially by employers.  It’s not by accident that women, immigrants and people from low-income communities are working the most dangerous and sometimes abusive jobs, and often command little respect from their employers.

Grand rapids

Before meeting Morrisroe, Kim and I were able to take part in an action and commission hearing in Grand Rapids, Mich. addressing wage theft in the city. At the action, Kim explained facets of wage theft including some dismal statistics about wage theft:

  • The average loss for a low-wage worker is $2,600 a year
  • A total of $106 billion stolen from low-wage workers 

The first step to address Wage Theft is to change policy. Lead by the Micah Center, the Wage Theft Task Force held a commission hearing on policy  recommendations this week to address wage theft. Similar policy changes have been won recently in Miami-Dade County, Fla. and Seattle. IWJ affiliates have worked closely local government officials on these issues.

At 80 years old, Micah Center director and founder Vern Hoffman is working with 28 year-old organizer Jordan Bruxvoort on the campaign. Together they are building leaders for the next generation of social change. I met Hoffman, and he explained how race effects wages and how at the end of the day it is how we treat one another that will make this world function much better.

The work in Grand Rapids was inspiring and reminded me how blessed we are in working the movement to learn and grow from the hard work of both young and old.

The 99 percent in Chicago

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A shrill sound pierced my ears yesterday as a young boy blew a whistle directly beside me. That boy was there to make noise with hundreds of others to cry out against the unfair tax breaks of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group. With Arise Chicago, an IWJ affiliate in Chicago, I chanted: “We are the 99 percent!”

"people's shareholder's meeting"

Prior to the rally, with other community activists, Shelly Ruzicka and Micah Utrecht from Arise were dressed in suits as “shareholders,” and shared their outcry at CME’s board meeting. “The demonstrators who disrupted the meeting were protesting a move last year by the Illinois legislature to cut about $85 million from CME's annual tax bill by 2014 after the massive exchange operator threatened to move out of state,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

The message was clear: the 99 percent pays their fair share and the one percent does not. Supporters watched as Chicagoans shared testimonials. An Arise member shared a story of her brother and sister, ages 47 and 48, passed away because of unaffordable and inaccessible healthcare. "The system is broken," she told the crowd.

Others shared stories including a recent war veteran unable to get adequate care for suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; another man shared how ravaged his Englewood community is by unemployment; another shared how he and his community are planning their own fundraiser to save a local park.

Then the crowd took over one side of LaSalle with a band of a baton twirler, players of drums, trombone, and trumpet pausing to sing, “Give back that money, money, give back the money.”  As we neared  the Chicago Board of Trade building, affiliated with CME, we sung, "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The people spoke, sang and played instruments yesterday, and it looks like the chanting and singing will continue as long as severe economic injustice exists. Help us continue to call for a more just economic system, support IWJ with a gift today.

Toma Lynn Smith is IWJ's new Individual Outreach Coordinator and part of the development team. Toma participated in the action with Arise Chicago yesterday and other community organizations.

May Day reminds us to stick together

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Yesterday, I joined hundreds of others in protest and we marched to the Federal Plaza from Union Park in Chicago for May Day.  With chants, music, signs, noisemakers and raindrops, we let our presence be known.  The birthplace of May Day was honored with several folks representing various community organizations, labor unions in solidarity with Occupy Chicago.

May Day ChicagoMay Day commemorates the anniversary of May 1, 1886, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, the predecessor of the American Federation of Labor, began a movement for the eight-hour day. Chicago with its strong labor movement had the nation's largest demonstration on Saturday, May 1, 1886, when reportedly 80,000 workers marched up Michigan Avenue arm-in-arm carrying their union banners, according Illinois Labor History Society.

However, on May 4th in continued demonstration, a bomb was thrown into the crowd, killing four civilians, seven policemen and wounding many. This event later became known as the Haymarket Massacre.

As we marched past where this horrific incident occurred we were greeted with military helicopters and cops on foot, on horses and on bikes as we took the streets of the West Loop to the Loop.  Standing for ones’ rights can be dangerous, but the workplace should not be a dangerous place to be.  I was honored to be amongst those who continue to fight for labor rights.

The action was a great reminder that we need to work at advancing the rights of working people, and that together as allies and advocates we can call for change. Support the work of IWJ today.

Toma Lynn Smith is IWJ's new Individual Outreach Coordinator and part of the development team. Toma participated in Chicago's May Day events with Arise Chicago, an IWJ affiliate, and other community organizations.