Empower Communities

 

CWJ is able to continue Social Change with the Social Justice and Racial Equity Grant that we received. We wanted to offer classes in which the students could learn new skills and apply them to their everyday life. We wanted to offer them skills that they could then use to help themselves become sustainable. With that goal in mind, we decided to start our fall sewing classes. The class became a ten-week program that consisted of each student getting their own sewing machine, along with them getting to know its parts and how it works. The class also consisted of small sewing projects that began after the students learned the sewing machine basics. At the end of the ten weeks, the students were rewarded with the sewing machines and were able to take them home to continue sewing and learning. Our first class began in September 2018 with 14 women signing up. For the women who didn’t speak English we had interpreters for them each week. Every week we could see these skills slowly start to develop through the small sewing projects and the women loved it.

Take a look at the video on the following link from the classes:https://youtu.be/bmM4DNjsMTg

For the Love of our Children

It was 2002, and the tragedies of September 11, 2001 were still fresh and raw in everyone’s hearts and minds. And I was reading, for the first time of many, Hannah Arendt’s classic study of the patterns of thought and behavior leading up to the Holocaust, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In particular, I had just finished reading a section on the ways medieval Christians had dealt with the high infant and child mortality rate of the time: by blaming the Jews. Stories of ritual child murder, sacrifice, and cold-hearted torture by Jews were rampant. Child disappearance and death, to many Christians, was too awful to contemplate, so when offered an easy explanation for it–an enemy, a place for their anger and grief–many accepted it.

I turned to my young husband, childless like me, and said, “Let’s make a promise. When we have children, we will never use them to perpetrate or excuse injustice.”

Real parenthood has a way of testing our ideals. Many of us are perfect parents before we have actual children. We swear we will not be the parents whose kids watch hours of TV, or make separate meals for each child because they don’t like what we’ve made, or send a kid to school with mismatched socks or unbrushed teeth. And sometimes parenthood tests even our highest ideals. What happens when we believe in diversity in education, but face the reality that our neighborhood school may be stressful and difficult for our kids for reasons outside of academics? What do we do when we believe that everyone gets to do what they want with their own bodies, but our chain-smoking aunt reaches for our medically fragile newborn? Or when exposure to a different culture also means exposure to values that might not match our own?

In 2006, when my son was born, I got to answer many of those questions for myself. I am a Quaker and a committed pacifist, and yet, before even leaving the hospital, I knew that if anyone ever came for my child, I would be willing to kill. When a person becomes a parent, their most important job becomes keeping their child alive, full stop. I have, thankfully, never been placed in that position, but at least at the level of ideals, my pacifism stops where direct threats to my children start.

People in power, especially those who face threats to that power, understand deeply the human instinct to protect children. For those of us who are parents, our single greatest fear is that our children will be harmed. This is not hypothetical–childhood illness, abuse, and murder happen on a regular basis. Parenthood can become our greatest vulnerability when it comes to exploitation by powerful people, because threats to our children are real and ever-present. When someone offers simple, clear-cut reasons for the awful things that happen, it can feel good, for a little while, to have a place to direct our anger and grief.

But while parenthood can become our Achilles’ heel, it doesn’t have to completely short-circuit our highest ideals or render us unable to use logic. When it comes to threats to our children, here is a truth that is hard to swallow: human beings can be awful. Across every race, ethnic group, gender, economic status, geographic location, and age, there are some people who commit atrocities. We love to talk about our commonalities in glowing terms. Isn’t it great that people in all groups the world over love music and enjoy a harvest meal? Sure. But it is also true that people murder and maim the world over, too. People in our own groups do these things, and people in other groups do, too. Are there elements of some cultures that encourage or make it easier for the harming of others? Yes. For starters, sexism encourages violence against women. However, just being part of a group does not make someone a de facto murderer. We know this because murder is, like the love of music, something that crosses all boundaries of identity.

We must be on guard for all attempts to exploit the love we have for our children to suit someone else’s agenda. Most of the people who cross borders without documentation or permission do so for the love of their own children, or for the love of their own precious lives. Are some immigrants murders? Yes. Are some established citizens murders? Yes! Unless we choose never tor to allow our children outside of our homes or to interact with other people, they will be at risk on some level. This is hard to face, but it is part of being human in the world.

Hannah Arendt shows us very clearly where parental fear can lead us if we don’t resist the temptation to direct our grief at entire groups of people. We can choose, as parents and as communities of people who love and protect children, not to walk down the path that leads to wider-scale, systematic violence that props up powerful people. We can choose to do the hard work of sitting with grieving people, not offering explanations or platitudes, but simply and powerfully be present in the face of tragedy. We can’t sidestep the process of grieving as a community when losses happen. We can do this–for the love of our children.

JLP, CWJ Ally

Immigration as our Legacy

One of my earliest memories as a little girl in the Midwest in the early 1980s is of the smell of graham crackers. But it wasn’t from our pantry–it was from the backseat of our car, where I sat next to a woman wrapped in colorful fabric, quietly looking out the window at her new country. My mother was driving a Vietnamese woman, a recent immigrant and refugee, to the fabric store to purchase material so that she could make clothing for family, likely facing a harsh Illinois winter for the very first time.

The scent of the blend of spices that infused the garments the Vietnamese woman–probably cinnamon and coriander–was at once familiar and foreign to me, as was the fabric she used to make her clothing. My mother, too, smelled of the things she cooked for us, and she made our clothes. These were tangible proof of her love and care for me as a child. I understood at a very young age the fundamental connection that mothers have with all other mothers.

I grew up with the stories of people who had undergone considerable hardships to gain the safety and security that I got for free just by being born in the United States to parents who were citizens and who looked like the majority of people around them. I heard of a boy, just ten, who had swum across the Mekong River, bullet scars on his back from the shots intended to stop him. And families did not always come to our community intact; often they had had to leave others behind, or had lost spouses, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins along their escape routes, with no time or space for burials and funerals.

The Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who settled in our communities and helped shape life in the Midwest in the 1980s were not strangers to us. They were fellow human beings in crisis. They became part of the fabric of our lives. We ate together, sewed together, laughed and cried together. Together we felt the cold wind of winter and huddled against the evils of greed, violence, and war. We connected their stories to the stories from our own histories, of great-great-grandparents hiding in caves in Germany to escape religious violence, of the sounds of soldiers’ boots and the ache of missing familiar smells and tastes handed down to us.

The rhetoric of the immigrant as a threat to our communities is unfamiliar to me at a visceral level, even though I understand that this is also, unfortunately, part of our legacy as well. My immigrant ancestors did not always greet the “other” with warm and accepting arms, but often with suspicion and even violence. The Midwest as it is today was made possible by the murder and displacement of millions of native peoples and the systematic oppression of the descendents of slaves.

We can choose which parts of our legacy as Americans we want to nurture, and which we need to be on guard not to perpetuate. Those who benefit from the suspicion and hatred of immigrants, either for political or financial gain, want us to feel threatened and afraid. But we know better, and we can do better.

 

As Ram Dass reminds us, we are all just walking (or driving) one another home.

JLP, CWJ Ally

 

Community Supporting Families Belong Together

Hundreds march in Iowa City supporting immigrants families on Saturday, June 30 as part of the Mobilization Day to denounce separation of families.

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CWJ is proud to have sponsored the March and Rally on June 30 and joined the National Day of Families Belong Together.

For more information, read the articles linked below Little Village and CBS/FOX

Hundreds in Iowa City march in nationwide ‘Families Belong Together’ event

Hundreds march in Iowa City for the Families Belong Together rally

Court Hearing

“On Tuesday June 26, I attended a hearing for 5 men detained in the recent Mt. Pleasant Raid. The experience confirmed something many already know, that ICE makes people disappear without due process. The courtroom was overflowing with supporters, both family members and allies. The federal prosecuting attorney said that 2 of the 5 detainees had not shown up for court. She said she didn’t know where they are and asked that warrants be issued for their arrests. They may be in ICE custody, she said, she couldn’t say for sure. Said it wasn’t her responsibility to get them to court.
Public record shows that the 2 men are being detained in the Hardin County Jail. Is there any way the prosecuting attorney didn’t know this? Most likely she was lying. If indeed, she wasn’t lying, she could have easily procured this information. It’s not very difficult. I checked the major Eastern Iowa detention center roster and found that they are being in the Hardin Co Jail. My feeling is that ICE is delaying their court appearance because this judge had previously stated, that with so much community support he was considering releasing at least one of the two men so that he could be with his son. I felt enormous grief for the cruelty and corruption in our system, and also experienced the joy of being surrounded by brave family members and supporters from Davenport, Mt Pleasant, and Iowa City.
By Aaron Silander (CWJ Allies )

Stop Tearing Families Apart

 

Tearing apart peaceful immigrant families is cruel, unjust, and devastating to our communities. Take action now! Fill out this form and click “take action to be taken to a sample letter you can review, edit, and send with one click to your Congressman and Senators.

It’s been horrifying to watch parents torn away from their toddlers at the border and criminalized for seeking asylum and safety for their families. Meanwhile, the small Iowa town of Mt. Pleasant is still reeling from the recent ICE raid, in which armed agents descended on a factory with helicopters, dogs, and tasers to round up 32 peaceful workers – orphaning children and wreaking lasting damage for this interconnected rural community. We cannot tolerate this kind of brutality. A humane and just immigration system is possible and urgently needed.

Send a message to your Congressman and Senators TODAY
Take Action Now and Sign this Form: https://cwjiowa.salsalabs.org/stopseparationsoffamilies/index.html

We Are All Immigrants

Speech by Mark Schmidt on Cedar Rapids Rally calling for Immigration Reform in front of Senator Grasley’s office on May-14-2018

My great-great-grandfather came to America as a stowaway in a cattle ship in the late 19th century. He came because of prospect of work. He came because he was fleeing the violence of war and poverty. He came for the American dream.
My ancestors were simply hardworking, God-fearing, families trying to survive, caring for their loved ones and communities. Their story is almost identical to the story of today’s immigrants; here for a prospect of a better future. But because of fear and xenophobia our human dignity was denied much like it is denied to immigrants today. During the anti-German fervor of WWI period, German nationals were required to register at a local government office, to carry papers at all times, and could be stopped, detained, and interred without evidence of wrongdoing. Depicted as blood-thirsty apes threatening white womanhood and American liberty thousands were detained and, collectively, millions of dollars of their possessions and assets seized. Lives were destroyed. Families were torn apart.
But my ancestors, like millions of other immigrants, persevered and have helped to make America what it is today.
Senator Ernst has acknowledged that our state economy needs migrants to fill job openings that our aging population cannot. Our state and our nation benefit greatly from the gifts of migrants, both documented and undocumented.
We are here to ask our senators and all elected officials to recognize the failings of our current laws, to help them see how our current laws harm the dignity of the human person, how they are an assault on the common good and we ask them to change them based on the virtues and principles of love, justice, mercy, human dignity, prosperity for all by caring for the common good and not just the good of some, and a spirit of radical hospitality. Continue reading “We Are All Immigrants”

Iowa City Students Frustrated, ICCSD Cancels Social Justice Course

Blaming too few students signed up for the class, the Iowa City Community School District has decided to cancel the Ethnic Studies elective course scheduled for the upcoming trimester.
 
Brought about amid protests last school year, the student organization Students Against Hate and Discrimination (SAHD) negotiated the addition of this Social Justice class with the School Board after instances of racial discrimination prompted a school walk-out. “We were devastated because we’ve been demanding and begging and pleading [for the class] and they said yes and got our hopes up,” stated student Lajayn Hamad to KCRG 9 News.
 
Yet despite their promise to students, the district has decided to cancel the class, Kingsley Botchway, ICCSD Director of Equity and Engagement stating the “district requires at least 24 students for a new class.” Student Lajayn Hamad reported to KCRG News, however, that “other classes at City High have as few as five students [and] the district has made exceptions in the past.”
 
For the full article, click on the link below:
http://www.kcrg.com/content/news/Students-upset–475465933.html

Racism is Not Welcome

 

 
Here at the Center for Worker Justice, we value and celebrate diversity in our community. After receiving reports from multiple community members of racially-charged messages and harassment, the CWJ participated in a forum as a member of the Johnson County Interfaith Cluster that met with city leaders, faith groups, and local police to address this unacceptable bigotry.
 
“We believe that we live in a progressive city and that we have values so it’s important to talk about that,” said the Center for Worker’s Justice Executive Director Rafael Morataya to KCRG News. “We definitely need to send a message to those hate groups.”
 
After hearing from the community during this forum, city leaders and police reaffirmed their commitment to condemning all forms of racism and bigotry.
 
For more information, read the articles linked below from KCRG News and Press-Citizen:

http://www.kcrg.com
https://www.press-citizen.com