IWJ Executive Director Rudy López accepts the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice from Dominican University.
Good afternoon everyone. It is a real honor to be here with you today. I know it’s a Tuesday but I want to take us to church for a minute.
From Malachi 3:5 — “I will be a swift witness against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages," says the Lord.
From Leviticus 19:34 — You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.
And from James 5:4 — Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord...and he is not pleased!
I added that last piece to it. I can go on and on with verse after verse that speaks to the just and fair treatment of the worker and our immigrant brothers and sisters. The bible is very clear about what the Lord demands, but unfortunately we don’t always live up to how we should be treating one another. These are just a couple examples of how a bible speaks to us and in truth; all major faith traditions have similar messages in their own books of faith that show us how faith and values are intimately linked. It is powerful when scripture is transformed into action and where the spirit is strong, transformation happens. I can feel that the spirit is strong here at Dominican and the fruits are all around us.
I am deeply humbled to receive the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice on behalf of Interfaith Worker Justice. We are a national organization dedicated to worker justice through a worker lead movement that engages diverse faith communities into action through grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels. We organize, educate and advocate for a just and fair economy where an honest days work, deserves and honest days pay.
I accept this award on behalf of our network as a whole and the tremendous work they have done over the past 19 years and as a down payment for the work to come. There is so much yet to do and our network of faith and labor groups and worker centers look forward to working with those who share our common values.
I’ve been in the social justice movement for nearly 20 years but have been the head of IWJ for less than a year. How did I get into this type of work? When I first started I didn’t know that organizing existed let alone that there was an entire movement connected to it. I did what today’s symposium “Caritas et Veritas in a Life’s Work” is asking you to do. I followed my heat and values in order to seek love and truth in my life. It’s been an ongoing journey that hasn’t been easy but I have to say it’s certainly been worth it. One of the key pieces to all this is taking the time to listen to what God is saying. When we take time to listen to what God is calling us to do, each one of us can do incredible things when we are aligned with our purpose of our life’s work.
Why do I believe in this? I believe this because I have seen time and time again that when we are connected to our passion and purpose; we are in sync with our own vocation no matter what it may be and it leads to good things. It’s important to remember that a vocation is not just about what kind of job we have but how are we living our life according to a set of values and sharing them with those around us. You can be successful and have lots of things, but if not aligned with your vocation does it really make you whole? What’s missing? We long for meaning and we long for purpose. It’s in our nature.
Now let me be clear, alignment with your vocation doesn’t mean you wont have hard times and struggle. In fact, if you don’t have to struggle you should be asking why not.
My own journey toward my vocation began where I grew up in a small scrappy little steel town called East Chicago, Indiana where my dad worked for nearly 40 years in the mill. Everyday I saw him work hard and I saw how proud he was to be able to provide for his family. I also grew up seeing family members in low wage jobs that would work just as hard, but sometimes not get paid what was owed to them. This is what we now know as "Wage Theft:" the deliberate and illegal underpayment or non-payment of wages which affect millions of workers across the country.
I also have felt the pain due to our broken immigration system. My cousin Martin crossed the border through Eagle Pass, TX in August of 2005 in search of a better life for his family. He and a group of 20 crossed, like so many others do, with the paid assistance of a "Coyote," a human smuggler. My cousin became sick along the way and was abandoned by the Coyote and left with two things: a gallon of water and a promise to return for him. That promise was never kept.
Several days later I received a call from the local sheriff at 2:30 in the morning informing me that they had found the decomposing remains of my cousin. He was left to die cold, hungry, and alone.
These aren’t the values that we have as people of faith. These aren’t the values that we have as Americans. Allowing senseless oppression and death like this is not who we are as a nation. Pope Francis reminds us that we are “the land of the free and home of the brave” and a place of dreams and high ideals. For those of us who are people of faith those values and ideals are rooted in our faith. It is through our life experience we find ways to give shape and life to it in the real world. Pope Francis gave us an example of this in the opening of his speech before Congress:
I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.
He reminds us of the need to look beyond the mechanics of our economy and remember its essence . . . the people who create it. The workers who are giving of themselves everyday deserve an economy that serves them and their families.
During his amazing trip, the pope also reminded us several times of the need reflect on our own history as a nation of immigrants and to see the humanity in each other.
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants . . . We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.
He challenges us to look at the face of each person and see his or her humanity. He also asks us to go deeper and see the divinity in each one of us. This is important because only seeing the human side of a person can lead us to charity — but does it lead us to equity? The kind of equity that is essential for the dignity of each person? As children of God, respect and dignity are the right of ever person no matter who they are.
The pope’s values laden statements give us a clear idea of how deeply held feelings can be beautifully amplified in a way that others can connect their own values. For the students present here today, I am very excited for what’s in store for you and honestly a little envious as well. You are at an incredible time in your lives and in our nation’s history. A time in which your journey towards your own vocation allows you to fulfill the promise of who you are, a beautiful child of God called to do good in the world.
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, we have much good to do together. Each in our own way according to the vocation we are called. It is indeed our Life’s work to share God’s love, which can be seen in many forms: justice, compassion, charity, empowerment, healing and much more. Whatever way you choose, we have a responsibility to share it with others. We all have tremendous gifts and if we work together to move a set of common values, rooted in faith or in our life’s experience, we can do incredible things and make incredible changes.
Thank you again for this honor and may God bless you all.