On March 24, 1980, one day after delivering a homily in which he beseeched his nation’s military to cease their violent repression of the nation’s poor, Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador was slain by an assassin’s bullet on the altar of a small hospital chapel. Like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Romero foresaw his own death. “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people,” he said in an interview weeks before his assassination, adding:
“I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”
Thirty-five years later, Romero’s faith in resurrection is being borne out. Not only among the people of El Salvador, where he is revered as a national hero, and not only among Catholics who have come to see him as a holy martyr and a prophet who prefigured Pope Francis and his embrace of the poor. In many ways, Romero’s spirit lives on among all people of faith everywhere who have taken up the cause of the poor. His life thus holds special meaning for all us in the Interfaith Worker Justice family, and his example summons us to recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice. [Honor Romero's legacy by standing with workers in low-wage industries. Pledge to Fast from Fast Food.]
As we continue our work, we can draw three encouraging lessons from Archbishop Romero’s life:
First, if we believe in justice, we must not be discouraged or afraid. Inevitably we will experience the opposition of those who wield power. We must not let that opposition deter us. “Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?” Romero asked in a 1977 homily. “Here is the touchstone: Whom do you get along with? Who are those who criticize you? Who are those who do not accept you?” Those who defend the poor in the United States today do not face death squads, as Romero and his followers did. But they do face endless criticism of those with the largest media megaphones and wrestle a system that stacked against them, seemingly calculated to cause them to despair and give up.
Second, if we keep the cause of the poor at the heart of our work, we can renovate both our conflict-ridden society and our all-too-often somnolent religious communities. “The hope we preach to the poor is in order that dignity be restored to them, and to give them the courage to be themselves, the authors of their destiny,” Romero said. To recognize the dignity of the poor requires that we grant their demands for justice. And this requires a broad-based renewal.
Finally, Romero’s life reminds us that the fruit of justice will in the end be peace. “Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression,” Romero said. “Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity.” We should not forget that our work on behalf of justice for working people is ultimately work on behalf of the generous peace about which Romero wrote.
As we mark the 35th anniversary of the death of this good man, let all of us in the IWJ family rededicate ourselves to our work in his memory.
"No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination. ...In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."
- Archbishop Óscar Romero
Honor Archbishop Romero's legacy by standing with workers in low-wage industries. Pledge to Fast from Fast Food.
Joseph A. McCartin is a member of the Interfaith Worker Justice board. He is associate professor of history at Georgetown University and the author of Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America.
This blog post was adapted from a Lenten reflection by IWJ's Deputy Director Aina Gutierrez:
It was easy to sign up for the Fast from Fast Food, because I don’t really eat fast food. Sometimes when I travel or when the kids get a smoothie treat, but otherwise it’s not high on my menu options.
So the fast was a symbol of my support of fast food workers, but didn’t mean much for me personally. I haven’t sacrificed anything, and while I’ve been mindful to think of workers and their families, the fast didn’t have much to do with God and his call for why the fast—this fast—is so important.
That all changed when I realized I had to sacrifice one of my favorite treats of the year – the Shamrock Shake. Once a year, my family hits the drive-through at McDonald’s and each of us gets a shake. I love this tradition. I also love the minty cold goodness of the shake.
This year I had to explain to my kids and husband (who was almost more bummed than the kids) that we couldn’t get our traditional shamrock shakes. This year, we talked about why I had signed up for the fast, how companies can do better to their workers, and how this all ties back to God and how we fast as a part of our worship. The passage from Isaiah reminds us that a proper fast requires mindfulness, yes, but also sacrifice and good works to fight injustice and care for others.
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" —Isaiah 58:6-7
God is calling my family to worship him. The Fast from Fast Food is a call to action, an action that requires sacrifice of things that we love, and that we have to work to make our world a better place. Fast food workers, and millions of other workers, are suffering. Right now. But I, and my family, are with them and will support them in every way we can.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. —Isaiah 58:6-7
So, sorry Shamrock Shake. Not this year. Our substitute is to crush Thin Mints into vanilla ice cream, but no one is convinced it will be the same. Our hearts are light knowing that we are fasting for something that is right, and that God will answer our call. What have you sacrificed in the Fast from Fast Food? What else can you do during the fast to help fast food workers?
This year, we're passing on the shakes. Instead of spending $10 on four Shamrock Shakes (those tasty little concoctions cost about $2.50 plus tax!) for me and my family, we've decided to donate that money to IWJ in support of the Fast Food Fast. I invite you to join me in this small contribution of solidarity and support.
On Wednesday, #FastFoodFast, we gathered around the Twitter "Table" to share experiences & thoughts on bringing justice to the fast food industry. On Wednesdays at 6 p.m. CST during the fast, we come together in an online community for #TableTalk. Join us next week!
I was born and raised in Wisconsin and had a lovely childhood. I attended Madison’s Robert M. La Follette high school but am embarrassed to admit that at the time, I had nary a clue as to who he was. I knew his nickname was “Fighting Bob” and maybe I could have told you he was a Senator, maybe, but that was it. Here's a refresher for those who need it.
In his fascinating article about Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette, John Nichols paints a vivid picture of this man who he calls “the most courageous political leader this nation has ever produced.” He describes one of the most pivotal speeches in his bid for reelection in the 1921 U.S. Senate race:
The reelection campaign that loomed just a year off would be difficult, he was told, perhaps even impossible. Old alliances had been strained by La Follette's lonely refusal to join in the war cries of 1917 and 1918…
The place to backpedal, La Follette was told, would be in a speech before the crowded Wisconsin Assembly chamber in Madison. Moments before the white-haired Senator climbed to the podium on that cold March day, he was warned one last time by his aides to deliver a moderate address, to apply balm to the still-open wounds of the previous years, and, above all, to avoid mention of the war and his opposition to it.
La Follette began his speech with the formalities of the day... Then, suddenly, La Follette pounded the lectern…. Stretching a clenched fist into the air, La Follette bellowed: "I do not want the vote of a single citizen under any misapprehension of where I stand: I would not change my record on the war for that of any man, living or dead."
LaFollette won his reelection bid by an overwhelming margin. Nichols attributes it to his “militant faith in the people” – the same people who admired and respected this “man so fierce in his convictions that he would risk consignment to political oblivion rather than abandon an unpopular position.”
So now it pains me to think that, almost 100 years after this great legacy La Follette left behind, we are today seeing the current Governor of Wisconsin sign into law one of the most destructive and divisive means to limit workers’ voices. I am confident La Follette would be loudly rolling over in his grave (and clenching his fist) to hear of this dismantling of the already-emaciated worker rights in his state.
This deceptively-named “right-to-work” law makes the payment of union dues optional for union-represented workers. It also means that if a non-paying union member is illegally fired, the union must use its time and money to defend that worker. It has been shown that workers in states with “right-to-work” laws have lower wages on average and are less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance or pensions. These laws are not meant to grant workers any rights; on the contrary, they are written with the purpose of keeping workers divided and powerless, to weaken unions and thereby stifle the voice of working families.
Yes, it’s a sad day in Wisconsin when with the stroke of a pen, one governor instantly undoes the lifetime work of another governor, when corporate power trumps the voice of the people, and when one Wisconsin-born woman is now ashamed to call Wisconsin “home.”
Today we honor the Jewish Fast of Esther, commemorating the three-day fast observed by the Jewish people in the story of Purim. Along our own Fast from Fast Food, we remember the power we wield through this mindful sacrifice. We're honored to share a reflection by Rabbi Renee Bauer, Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin:
Today is a Jewish Fast Day called the Fast of Esther. It immediately proceeds the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. The Fast of Esther mirrors the fast that the Jews conduct to support the brave actions of Queen Esther in the Book of Esther. In this book of the Hebrew Bible, there is a royal decree that all the Jews of the Kingdom of Shushan be killed. Queen Esther, a Jew married to the King, has access to power but is fearful to speak up for the Jews, lest she loose her life. She knows that if any person enters the king's presence without having first been summoned, that person will be put to death.
When Esther refuses to take action her cousin Mordechai encourages her saying, "Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king's palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father's houses will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained the royal position for just such a crisis" (Esther 4:13-14). Queen Esther considers these words carefully and tells Mordecai to have all the Jews in the land of Shushan fast on her behalf. With the courage of knowing her people are fasting in solidarity with her, she approaches the king and saves the Jews.
In our day and in our land fast food, retail and home care workers like Queen Esther are taking the risk to speak out even when they fear losing their livelihood. They are speaking out in order to stop the injustice of low wages that has spread throughout our land. Today let us, just as the Jews of Shushan did, fast in solidarity with those courageous workers, so they know they are not alone as they walk the path towards fairness and justice.
“A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
I called a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he asked me how work was going. I told him it felt ambitious, we were gearing up to ask folks across the country to pledge to Fast from Fast Food in support of fast food workers who were taking big risks to stand up for their rights at work.
Knowing I'm an avid lover of Wendy's and everything fried, he asked, "Whoa, are you gonna do that too?"
I half-heartedly said, "I guess, it'd be really awkward to ask a bunch of other people to do it, and then they catch me sitting in McDonald's one day during the fast."
As we spoke with others about the fast (how to make it happen, how to include everyone we could, and most importantly why we should even attempt it) it became increasingly obvious that it made sense for me to join the fast. Why would I not join an action to draw attention to the bold moves fast food workers are making?
I spent a couple days last week in Atlanta, meeting with fast food workers who were a part of the Fight for $15 National Organizing committee. We listened to folks talk about the disrespect they endured at work, and how they were treated when they called it out. I reflected on my own days in retail, being intimidated from talking to other unionized workers at one job, and being unjustly fired from another. Most of the workers on the committee were regular folks like me (except one who is a low-key superstar, and took the mic later in the meeting) who were easy to connect with.
Although I casually expressed this in 140 or so characters via Twitter, it is my genuine belief that it doesn't take much for me to give up my beloved Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers for a little while. Especially given that these leaders are risking their livelihoods when they talk to their co-workers, sign petitions, and walk out on strike. The organizing committee spends hours after work talking on conference calls, planning at strategy meetings, going out talking to other workers, and speaking in public spaces...and then they head back to their regular jobs and continue to face their managers each day.
They've seen other fast food workers removed from the schedule or get their hours reduced, and even facing that threat and knowing what it could mean for them at home, they still fight. They take these risks not only for themselves and their families, but for an entire industry of people who are constantly disrespected at their jobs. Bearing this in mind, I'll proudly be forgoing my post-meal frosty for the next 40 days.
Yesterday, a district court judge in Brownsville, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the implementation process of the new immigrant deferred action programs, announced by President Obama back in November.
The programs were designed to offer relief for many hard-working immigrant families from the threat of deportation. Immigrants and advocates pushed hard for a comprehensive solution to this country’s broken immigrant system. Congress ignored their cries for reform. The president answered with relief for nearly 5 of the 11 million undocumented people in our country.
But back in December, governors and attorneys general from 26 states (led by the state of Texas) sued the government to block the directives. This immoral attempt to stop or slow this application of justice was motivated by GOP lawmakers aggressively pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda.
Since then, 12 states, D.C. and 33 cities (including the largest cities in the nation like Houston) cited a myriad of benefits to the programs.
We at Interfaith Worker Justice will continue to work towards and pray for a legislative fix to our broken immigration system that provides the country's 11 million immigrants with an opportunity to live and work in the U.S. as active and full members of their communities.
We’re hopeful that the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals will reject this lawsuit.
For several years, battles have raged in religious schools about whether or not their adjunct faculty had the right to organize unions. Mostly Catholic universities had argued that their adjunct faculty should not be able to organize into unions because they were religious schools – despite incredibly strong Catholic Social Teaching in support of unions.
On Dec. 16, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision about Pacific Lutheran University, a Lutheran school claiming a religious exemption for its adjunct and non-tenured faculty. The decision laid out a new test for schools to meet in terms of being able to exempt their faculty from National Labor Relations Act coverage. The first test is whether the schools provides a religious educational environment. This is a relatively easy test to meet for most religious schools.
The second one is more significant. To be exempt from coverage, “the petitioned for faculty members are performing a religious function.” The universities promote themselves as welcoming diverse students from other faith traditions and hire faculty with little regard for faith backgrounds.
The decision said that Pacific Lutheran University’s adjunct and non-tenured track faculty, 176 of them altogether, did indeed have the right to be in a union if they wanted. Then last week (February 12, 2015), the National Labor Board told the regional boards to review the cases filed by Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, Saint Xavier University, Seattle University and Manhattan College using the new test as outlined in the Pacific Lutheran University decision. Good news for adjuncts at all these schools.