Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fighting Explotation- One Arrest at a Time

About a week ago a group of students from my former university, Loyola Marymount, joined a couple thousand other people in the busy hotel district next to the international airport to demand dignity and rights for the employees that worked in those buildings. Any more these days, the news I get from the United States is more depressing than inspiring. Perverted congressman and the equally perverted people who protected him. The announcement that the United States plans to build a wall all the way across our country to keep out immigrants, immigrants that want a better life and in turn add to the quality of life in our country. And so, it was with great joy that I came across an article in the LA Times about the protest for human rights and dignity, and in that article, came across a photo of a good friend, Charles Bergman, who joined a sit in on Century Blvd. and for his decisions, was arrested, along with 11 other students.

And so, I read these students explanations as printed in the Los Angeles Loyolan and was incredibly moved and touched. And so, I feel the words expressed by these students are so powerful I want to share them with all of you today, as our country is locked into a debate about immigration. To all of my friends who sat peacefully in the street and spent the night in jail, I am proud and honored to call you friends.

And now, onto their words...

We -- the twelve LMU students and one LMU professor arrested for civil disobedience on Sept. 28 -- are grateful to the Loyolan for their prominent coverage of our efforts on behalf of the Century Blvd. hotel workers. We also applaud the staff for their decision to use the board editorial to voice support for our actions.

Thanks as well to Jeremy Tratner and Brendan Busse, who demonstrated their commitment to this struggle with both their presence and their words in the Oct. 2 issue. In fact, the entire process that led us to spend a night in jail would not have been nearly as powerful if it had not occurred within a community such as LMU, where compassionate engagement with the wider world is prized as an essential component of our mission.

With that said, we would like to add to the conversation with some clarifications. First of all, the front-page news article by Katie Slack that ran last Monday, though admirable in most respects, did a disservice to the event by focusing so heavily on the "counter-protest" by Minutemen volunteers. It should be pointed out that this contingent was miniscule: from our first-hand view, it numbered about a dozen people, compared to over a thousand supporters.

Furthermore, the Minutemen's relentless focus upon the possible "illegality" of some workers ignores the complexity of the issues at hand. We marched and went to jail for the rights of immigrants, certainly. But we also took this action to demand recognition of the basic rights of workers to a safe workplace and a living wage, and to promote the health of families in the Angeleno community of which LMU is a part.

Above all, we were arrested in order to assert our collective opposition to the assumption that it is perfectly acceptable to exploit anyone, at any time and for any reason if it makes you or your company more profitable. It makes a mockery of human dignity to suggest that justice ends at a border fence.

Secondly, asserting again our gratitude for the Loyolan's support, we wish to add some nuance to the portion of their editorial that lumps SLEJ in with "other philanthropic groups." Philanthropy is a noble endeavor and a dire necessity in the non-profit sector, but it is not the intent of either SLEJ or other like-minded organizations (such as Underwings, Magis, Sursum Corda and MEChA, all of which channeled enthusiasm into the protest) to simply contribute money to a good cause.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. says, "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." We were motivated to embark on the dramatic act of civil disobedience precisely because the situation on Century Blvd. reveals the structural sinfulness of a situation in which human beings are continually degraded. Xenophobia, racism and fundamental inequalities are not addressed by merely throwing money at the problem -- though we would certainly love to see the airport hotels cough up more money to their employees.

Philanthropy may also, if not pursued in a conscientious manner, bypass the transformational opportunity available in openhearted encounter with the poor and oppressed. Each of us among the arrestees had been prompted to pursue this path at least in part because of our prior experiences of meeting the poor face-to-face and on their own terms.

While we consider ourselves allies of anyone who contributes time, energy or money to tackle the many ills of this world, we believe that our greatest hope resides in our willingness to enter honestly into the suffering endured by the vast majority of our fellow humans. When we are transformed by that encounter, we may then begin to genuinely seek transformation of unjust social structures.

Thank you again to the Loyolan and the entire LMU community for not only their support of our actions, but more importantly, for their support of our sisters and brothers who labor within our very own backyard. It is their story that we hope to bring to light and their struggle with which we stand in solidarity.

This editorial is meant to express the collective opinion of the twelve LMU students and one LMU professor who participated in the act of civil disobedience on Century Blvd. on Sept. 28.

Marian Alonso, Psychology/Music '08
Charles Bergman, Film Production/Theological Studies '07
Erika Cuellar, Liberal Studies/Spanish '08
Richard Espinoza, Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies
Andy Etchart, Business '09
Anthony Garcia, English '08
Colin Gilbert, Theological Studies/Spanish '07
Michael Gutierrez, Chicana/o Studies '09
Nicole Gutierrez, Sociology '08
Amanda Johnstone, History/Spanish '07
Sandra Nuñez, Psychology/Chicana/o Studies '07
Melissa Salter, English/Education '08
Nathalie Sanchez, Studio Arts/Art History '07

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