|By At The Threshold|
Jesus talked about the sins that came of the abuse of money and power more than anything else. The totalitarian abuses of the Roman Empire were at the forefront of his every thought, and those of the people who listened to him. For Christians, the authority granted to what Jesus called “the little ones,” and “the people of the land,” is not merely a matter reserved to isolated categories of “politics” or “government”; it is a crucial matter regarding moral theology and the role of religious imperatives for government.
This is the third in a series of presentations that examines some of the deeper issues and a bigger picture of the continuing attempts in the United States to roll back the “one-person, one-vote” decision of the Supreme Court in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – to increase the voting power of the wealthy few and their political minions, while minimizing the power of the vote by “the people.” What follows is a historical survey of the gradual expansion of the franchise to become fully available to all categories of citizens, with a focus on the confusion of the freedom to use money (unequally available to individual citizens and groups) with freedom of speech (constitutionally intended to be equally available to each citizen and group).
A New Idea of Government
The founders did not give serious consideration to a direct or pure form of democracy but placed the decision-making responsibility in the hands of elected representatives. Leaders are to vote and take action according to personal conscience and specially informed expertise. Leadership is accountable through elections. Which citizens and inhabitants, then, make up the electorate and form the pool of those qualified for election? How and to what extent is leadership accountable during the governing process itself, that is, between elections?
The exchange of ideas during the formative stages of the nation elicited a most exciting notion. The ultimate and sovereign authority of government is not in a person or an institutional body, it is “the people.” This was not an entirely new idea. Some earlier postulations came close, but suddenly it was new. It was new first, because the founders discovered the concept as a fact, a reality in the nature of things that could not be denied. The sovereign authority of the people had become obvious to the leaders of a colonial revolution and it had to be applied by inventing a new form of government.
But for the United States, the question of precisely what was meant by “the people” became the most dramatic, difficult, and peculiar issue – profoundly problematic and profoundly stirring. It provided inspiration for the living institutions of representative democracy and vitality for the expanding nature of the body politic. It provided creative compromises and the nation’s harshest conflicts.
When the founders had talked about “the people,” it was with a certain creative ambiguity, at once both inclusive of every inhabitant of the land and limited to those holding the franchise. The voters were white men of property. In that sense “the people” certainly did not include women, slaves, or the uneducated and financially unvested male population. Historians have periodically had to remind Americans that when President George Washington delivered his farewell address to his “Friends and Fellow Citizens,” he did not, in the way we may assume, picture everyone in the land. Joseph Ellis imagines that, “The core of the audience he saw in his mind’s eye consisted of those adult white males who owned sufficient property to qualify for the vote. Strictly speaking, such men were the only citizens.”(1) In other words, most citizens were not “the people.”
The founders nevertheless held a sense of “the people” as a whole that in many ways went beyond the official matter concerning elective processes. They recognized that it is the people at large who form a corporate reality and somehow serve as the sovereign source of all political authority. Washington specifically “…told Hamilton that his Farewell Address was aimed especially at the ‘Yeomanry of the country,’ the American people….”(Ibid) At the beginning, some people were elected as representatives and some people voted to elect the representatives, but it was the whole people who were represented.
Finally, it was not until a civil war was fought over the issue and the most decisive crisis in the conflict had been successfully met, that a president decided the propitious moment had arrived to say exactly who the people are and fully acknowledge what making them the sovereign political authority means. At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln approached this by tersely expressing the purpose of the Civil War. Soldiers were buried in the fields before him, not only for the preservation of the Union, but to fulfill the Revolution of 1776 and the Constitution of the United States of America. Lincoln spelled out what was implied in defining the sovereign as “the people” and therefore clarified the underlying authority that legitimates the American government. America, he declared, is establishing a “…government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
Slavery was abolished and the vote was extended in the constitutional amendments that followed, but still it was not fully extended to everyone. The slow but steady expansion of the franchise for all categories of people had to continue well into the 20th century. Despite the Civil War and the constitutional amendments it produced, the vote still was not available to those oppressed by the Jim Crow laws of the South and the prejudices of the North, and women had to engage the electorate and struggle to achieve their right to vote. Indeed, the expansion of the electorate reveals only the storyline. What truly has been at stake is the effect and empowerment that is supposed to come with the vote and with the right to residence, and for this to take place concretely. We too little consider the crucial importance of this form and this level of citizen participation.
With the right to vote should come certain other rights, opportunities, and responsibilities. These should adhere regardless of race, color, class, creed, gender, sexuality, or handicap, and regardless of wealth, power, privilege, or status. Each citizen should have as much an opportunity to exercise her or his right to vote as anyone else, each person’s vote should count as much as anyone else’s, and each voter should have as much possibility for being elected to representative office as anyone else. And, each citizen should be responsibly engaged in the decisions and execution of government in between elections. These indispensable implications of voting have been hard to come by, their effective establishment has invariably required a significant and determined struggle over a long period of time, and we have not seen the end of it.
Archibald Cox, serving as President John F. Kennedy’s solicitor general, successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court that finally established the principle of “one person, one vote.” The issue is relatively simple – however controversial and painfully difficult to institute – it is the ability of each citizen to participate in representative democracy by voting and influencing their elected officials, and to do so equally with anyone else. The new idea of government had finally been established: the people are in actual, as well as “natural” fact, the ultimate and sovereign authority, through the vote and citizenship participation.
(1) Founding Fathers, The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph J. Ellis, Vintage Books, New York, 2002, p 156
Permission to publish this piece was given by Bishop Joe Doss retired Bishop of Diocese of New Jersey. Please feel free to follow At The Threshold on Twitter, Facebook, or Subscribe to their eblasts at the below links.
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As I leave the Kansas City area heading towards Jefferson City and then on to St. Louis, where I will be meeting with Senators Roy Blunt and Clair McCaskill to urge them to co-sponsor S.J. Res. 15, l give serious consideration to this past week. But before I get ahead of myself I want to make sure that I get the word out that we are holding a Prayer Vigil & Rally at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, MO on November 8, 2014 at noon to 2pm. The Old Courthouse is where the Dred Scott Decision was issued March 6, 1857.
Please be sure to JOIN, INVITE, SHARE and POST this Facebook Event Page everywhere https://www.facebook.com/events/358964354268940/
After the St. Louis vigil my grassroots organizer Portia and I will head out with a small group of women as we walk into Springfield, the state capitol, to call on the Illinois State Assembly and Governor for Illinois to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Women will walk with me into Springfield, Illinois will demonstrate that like Ghandji this can be accomplished peacefully while chaos surrounds us. Many women will be gathering at the Illinois Prayer Vigil and Rally we will holding in Springfield. It is important to note that the Illinois State Senate ratified the ERA in about 36 hours from being dropped into the hopper and being voted on the floor. Which is simply amazing!
I am praying to God that all come together and that everyone everywhere helps and co-ordinates with those that have been working so long and hard to move Illinois to be the first state in 21st Century to ratify. I know we can do it! I have faith and I believe, “That if ye have faith of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible unto you.” Matthew 17:20
But back to this past week, it has been one of rest and recuperation and also great excitement. I arrived worn and weary my backpack strap broke in Tulsa, OK and I had been making due but the backpack has caused me great pain in my left arm and shoulder, and the storms that delayed me in Fort Scott lead to my sitting for longer than I should, and my Post Deep Vein Thrombosis Syndrome flared up. So when old family friend Marion Dyer picked me up and took me to her home in Lawrence, KS, I was suffering from exhaustion. I slept the entire three days I was there. As the saying goes,” No rest for the weary”
Marion and I meet with Geoff Jolley, an aid to Congressman Emanuel Cleaver to ask that he co-sponsor H.J. Res. 113. And Portia made the arrangements for the telephonic conference portion of the meeting. In attendance was Zoe Nicholson, who fasted for 45 days back in 1982 in Illinois; and Sandy Oestreich from Florida of the Equal Rights Alliance, Inc.; and Candy Graham co-founder of Women Matter, and Jencelyn King-Witzel from Illinois from 3WF – Third Wave Feminism; and Cathy Kaelin from Ohio of ERA Action and Progress Democrats of America’s ERA Three State Strategy Issue. The meeting went extremely well and I anticipate that Congressman Cleaver will come on board sometime in November… God Willing.
Now, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get some Republican Groups on board!
The following day I was shuffled over to another dear family friend’s home Carole Plesser who fondly recalled days past when Katrina and George, my husband William and his brother Olof would drop by every Christ Mass Eve to sing Christ Mass Carols. This was especially touching to the Plessers’ who just happen to be Jewish, as it was their wedding anniversary. On Saturday Marion came by and off we went to speak on Sharon Lockhart’s Every Woman radio show. Sharon exemplifies what we at Katrina’s Dream wish to see – more woman be an empowered woman with a voice. We had a great time after the show hanging out with all the folks dropping by for the fundraiser.
Sadly though the lyrics from Meet Me in St. Louis seem all to fitting.
In church sat a man near the door,
asleep, he was starting to snore,
The Minister rose,
and he said, “We will close
singing, Meet on the Beautiful Shore.
The man in the back then awoke,
he caught the last words that he spoke;
He said, “Parson White,
you can meet me alright,
but The Beautiful Shore is a joke.
While I don’t think Heaven is a joke I do find what is happening in Ferguson, MO is despairing. It is not to going to be easy over the days and weeks ahead. While the terrain was much more demanding on the west coast crossing vast desert regions without water or food the only thing to really fear was poisonous insects and creatures. In the mid-west where I am now it is racially divided. There is rioting and the many people are getting killed.
Several weeks ago a young black man, Michael Brown, was shot by a police officer. Please see http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting Police officers shooting black youth is not uncommon in fact it is epidemic. William, my late husband and I were actively involved with the Oscar Grant Committee which formed after a BART officer killed Oscar Grant on New Years Day. Oscar was handcuffed at the time. Fruitvale Station is a movie, which chronicles the killing and I recommend everyone watch it. So I have been following the events in Ferguson, MO closely. When I head into the region known as the Deep South where the custom was to lynch black people and hang them from trees or worse. http://www.idsnews.com/article/2014/09/lynching-young-black-boys-without-ropes-and-trees I admit I am little concerned.
So, I will need your prayers more than ever for there is not one issue, which is not a woman’s rights issue. We as mothers love our children and seeing them killed is horrific.
Unfortunately, many turn a blind eye to the way women are treated here in the United States. Yes, our standard of living is good here but the way women and children are treated is deplorable. Be sure to read https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf Women in the US are attacked by the police as well.
However, very few care or dismiss women’s issue stating our needs are not a priority I was recently told that my pilgrimage was bad timing for Missouri and I was being inconsiderate and there was not a enough “bandwidth” that maybe later when things in Ferguson calmed down. When I became passionate I was verbally attacked and my every word was picked a part. I wonder how can things calm down in the US when we are divided by our given sex and sexual orientation.
So, America what is it going to take for folks to realize that by empowering women we can change the world. Some joke that if women were in power there would be no war (folks is that really a bad thing), the PBS Series Women War & Peace demonstration just that. I believe that if women were empowered then maybe, just maybe, we just might also stop raping and plundering Mother Earth. Have you ever thought if Earth were called Father Earth instead of Mother Earth would folks be so willing to destroy the planet and the environment?
I believe that when the Equal Rights Amendment were passed here in the US that men and women will live longer happier lives as the work load would be evenly distributed, imagine children having quality time with both parents. I have had this dream for a number of years… since my earliest days. So with this I will leave you with a little something from my American Concerto: The Women’s Rights Movement.
It seems like there are not enough hours in the day but in God’s Time where we all live in peace and harmony there is Eternity. Eternity, a concept that Einstein attempted to define which his Theory of Relativity, a concept as a young scientist I pondered when I worked at the Mercury Test Site in 1978 under the Department of Energy and Reynold’s Electrical Engineering Company’s Summer Science Student Program, a concept I play with when I find my asking if not now God, then when? When will we on this ball of dust lay down the sword and pick up the plough and plant seeds of Love and Light in Christ.
Ahh… but there I go again getting lost in thought as I often do. This is post on God’s Inclusive Love that I promised myself I would write weeks ago as I left Joplin, MO. So guess I should stay on track as the trains that whistle by remind me that I to must stay on track. For several days now I have been thinking of that last night in Joplin, MO. I have been juggling my understanding of inter-faith relationships, ethnicity, individual background, culturation, nurture versus nature, and just how closely the treatment of our friends who are LBGTQ mirrors the treatment of women around the globe.
Not being a learned theologian but working on it I regularly turn to my dear friend, Spiritual Director and fellow Katrina’s Dream board member, Rev. Kathryn A. Piccard. She is always there to help me along as I come to understand scripture and just how inclusive it is. I had been experimenting with my “talk” since leaving the Oklahoma City, which surprisingly and to my delight had a LBGTQ neighborhood. Upon arrival in Tulsa, OK I met a Martin and Juantia Mayberry, who were initially thrilled to meet a fellow Christian on a pilgrimage, but upon learning I had no desire to promote homosexuality as a sin but instead felt that God made everyone just they way they are imperfect perfect – in short unique – they decided I was misled Christian and challenged my belief system. (We are friends on Facebook and I enjoy thier posts as we move forward by dialoguing). So natural as I often do it was a call to Rev. Kathryn for a review of scripture and God Inclusive Love. Kathryn patiently went over the scripture again and shot off an email to me of her Sermon on the Ethopian Eunuch, little did I know just how important this sermon was going to be in the days ahead in Joplin, MO.
I had a great time in Joplin, I met amazing people, like Seattle Charlie the worlds most literate hobo, and Elisabeth Earhart who opened up her heart to me, and I met a group of young men at McDonald’s who recognized me from a the local news broadcast in which Reporter Felicia Lawrence interviewed me regarding my quest for Equality for All. I felt a little bit like Socrates speaking to these young people as they hovered around me asking one question after another, “Why are you walking? … Do you believe in Jesus?” Where do you sleep? What is the Equal Rights Amendment?” And then the zinger, “Wait, are you saying that you believe that God is ok with Gays?” We spoke for several hours. And dear Connor Badgley the first lad to approach me concerned for my well being who continually texted his pastor begging that he help me with lodging for the night. So out came Kathryn’s sermon – they listened intensely – the whole restaurant hovered around me. As I was finishing up reading her sermon Pastor Joe came in and announced that he and his wife had reserved a room for me at the local Motel 6. I gladly accepted this most generous offer, as I had not showered in about week and half. I said my good-byes having fronded many on Facebook urging they to say in touch. I must admit I felt horrible getting in car I smelt so terrible. But it didn’t’ seem to phase dear Pastor Joe who said he had a gift for me and presented me a cupcake from the dinner he attended where Sarah Palin had spoken. I asked what he thought of Kathryn’s sermon and invited them to check out the Just Words? and he said it had given him much to think about and that he was going to give this week’s sermon considerable thought –I was floored.
Allen Mitchell, Helene Swanson, Tyler Sprouls take a moment at McDonald’s where Helene spoke to a group of youths regarding the Pilgriamge for the Equal Rights Amendment and God’s Inclusive Love. Photo Credit” PIlgrimage Supporter
When we arrived at the motel and the lads were taking my things upstairs for me. I asked Pastor Joe for a blessing for the pilgrimage for the Equal Rights Amendment. The lads stopped dead in their tracts to hear his response and as he laid his hands on me to bless me they turned their backs and I noticed their steps were a little more spirited.
Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.
It is not often that I am awestruck. But I just had my socks blown off by a quiet spoken woman. We met over a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s on Main Street here in Joplin, MO. I had engaged her as she had a bright red T-shirt, which had caught my eye. There was an immediate connection. But somehow I think Elisabeth connects with a lot of folks she is a woman on a mission, she believes that prayer is a choice and that the concept of quiet time at school as a time to pray or reflect if one does not want to pray.
Whether you agree with Elisabeth on quiet time as reflection for prayer is neither here nor there. After all life has put on her table she is still a loving and compassionate Christian. I invite you to watch this video where she shares her life and how being raped affected her and the family discord that ensued. Please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6rtlMNF-iQ&feature=youtu.be
For the past few days I have been pondering a number of things, in particular, how much coming to Oklahoma has meant to me. Every time I start to write I fondly look down at my wedding ring, a family heirloom. My mother-in-law Katrina gave the ring to my husband to give to me to demonstrate the family legacy, a family duty to serve God and the Church. The ring once the wedding band her grandfather the Rev. Samuel Gardner Welles gave to her grandmother. This same grandfather who had a parish in Chelsea, Oklahoma who under the threat of being tarred and feathered was later run out of Oklahoma for giving Holy Communion to a Black priest at the alter rail. They left in the middle of the night under the cover of a moon light sky. My husband shared that whenever I was troubled to know that many before us had also made great sacrifices. Social justice has always been important to the family. Another relative, a great great uncle had been run out of antebellum Vicksburg for preaching abolition.
Picture of moon over the Arkansaw River by Jenk, Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Helene Swanson
So following a long line of social justice activist this pilgrimage comes naturally to me. My pilgrimage is part of my discernment process as I too step into the family shoes. For those of you unfamiliar with the nomenclature of The Episcopal Church discernment is the process one uses to explore their calling to the priest-hood. So as I walk through Oklahoma the connections run deep, and the beauty of both the landscape and her people inspires me.
Windmill on the backroad from Prague to Jenks. Photo Credit: Helene Swanson
I have met a number of folks and from a wide variety of backgrounds, one fellow a dear gent who identified himself as a former bad boy who got into trouble in his youth was very clear on how he felt about the government being involved in an issue of privacy. His thinking is inline with the Supreme Court which made the ruling in Roe v. Wade, a woman’s health decision one of privacy which is why when those who claim that the Equal Rights Amendment will give women the right to have abortion is a false statement. I invite you to watch this provocative video of An Oklahoma Outlaw Speaks Up.
Oklahoma Outlaw Nazi Tattoo Photo Credit: Helene Swanson
Next many thought that we would not get traction here but we have. Thanks to the assistance of a number of folks who stepped forward. So I am happy to report that the folks who participated in the coalition’s meeting with both Senators Colburn and Inhofe gave a superb presentation. In face Senator Colburn’s staff member Craig Smith said that the Senator was for gender equality. But when pressed if he was going to co-sponsor S.J. Res 15 – the Three State Strategy for the Equal Rights Amendment he said it was broad and they were looking into the issues it would affect.
The Oklahoma Coalition of Equal Rights Amendment Activist. Backrow Erma Steward, Nathaniel Batchelder, Frontrow Pat Riegler, Helene Swanson, and Margaret Cox. Photo Credit: Sarah
As a follow-up to these meeting Katrina’s Dream will be forwarding Eileen Davis of Women-Matter’s paper on Roe V. Wade and as we identify other misconceptions that were used in the past to promote fear and are completely unfounded we will continue to pass these on to all we have met with thus far.
State Senator Connie Johnson and Helene Swanson join forces at the August 26, 2014, Women’s Equality Day Vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City, OK. Photo Credit: Margaret Cox
Also thanks to the staff of Senator Al McAffrey and Senator Connie Johnson it looks like we have a resolutions that will be introduced in the upcoming sessions that will call for Oklahoma to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. I’m delighted to say that our new found friends will be working hard on moving Oklahoma forward.
Lastly a piece of trivial – Oklahoma is the only state where a Broadway musical is the official state song. The words to the first two lines are appropriate as it relates to the Equal Rights Amendment.
There’s never been a better time to start in life-
It ain’t too early and it aint too late!
Mural on a Freeway overpass in Oklahoma City. Photo Credit: Helene Swanson
Oklahoma is simply amazing. What I have come to know of the folks of Oklahoma is that they stand for progress. I was so warmly received by the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, and the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral that it has renewed my spirits.
As many of you know the incident that resulted in the loss of my iphone in Salt Lake City hit me hard. And it was a most difficult personal journey coming to terms with all that I came to understand about just how hard it is on women here in the USA, in particular women who are homeless and my brothers and sister in the African American community. I promise to share more on this later. For now I must focus on the pilgrimage.
The Very Rev. Justin Lindstrom and The Rev. Canon Susan Colley Joplin pulled off an amazing Women’s Equality Day Vigil in less than 48 hours notice. State Senator Connie Johnson her passion and commitment to serve all moved me beyond words and Margaret Cox a die-hard activist who has lead the way on many social justice issue here is most impressive, in particular her commitment to abolish the Death Penalty. I thought of my beloved William when she spoke of her work. Especially when Organist H. Scott Raab played the National Anthem. Dean Lindstrom’s sermon brought home just how important it is that everyone come together to move our nation forward in passing the Equal Rights Amendment. I invite you to watch the service on our YouTube Channel.
But for now I need to concentrate on my upcoming meeting with Senators Coburn and Inhofe. So, I am asking that everyone put the word out that I need folks to join me at my meeting with Senator Coburn this coming August 29, 2014 and my meeting with Senator Inhofe the following Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 9:00 am to discuss their co-sponsoring of SJ Res. 10 and SJ Res. 15. My personal preference is SJ Res 15, which is the “Three State Strategy”. I will also be asking that they work on moving our US Congress to back CEDAW.
Please give me a hollar at (415) 233-2048 or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
Finally I hope you enjoy this music video from the production of Oklahoma, “All Er Nothing”
With you it’s all er nuthin’.
All fer you and nuthin’ fer me!
But if a wife is wise, she’s gotta realize
That men like you are wild and free.
So I ain’t gonna fuss, ain’t gonna frown,
Have your fun, go out on the town,
Stay up late and don’t come home till three.
And go right off to sleep if you’re sleepy,
There’s no use waitin’ up fer me!
Let’s help ‘Annie’ and “Will” move all of Oklahoma into the 21st Century – Where Men and Women are Equal
So here I am in Salt Lake City, capital of the third non-ERA ratifying state of the 15 non-ratifiers I’ll pass through before I reach Washington, D.C., next March 8, 2015, on my coast-to-coast pilgrimage to press for full equality for women. My heart leaped up at the warmth of the reception I received in Nevada and Arizona before I got here. Women in those states are on the move along with the men who support them. And outposts of my beloved Episcopal Church in Nevada and Arizona were, for the most part, incredibly supportive.
Utah is Mormon country, and top officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (as the church is formally known) are vigorously opposed to admitting women to the priesthood, a role to which virtually all male Mormon adults are ordained. In fact, the church recently publicly excommunicated a woman, a lifelong and dedicated Mormon who urged them to reexamine the policy. Whether that second-classing of women spills over into Utah’s secular politics remains to be seen. I will be seeing Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah’s senior senator, a Republican, at his office here next Tuesday, the 40th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Eleven. I’ll be pressing him to support the ERA amendment in the U.S. Senate. We’ll see how it goes.
On a side note, my iPhone was stolen five days ago, forcing me to learn just how dependent I’ve become on this kind of link to the wider world. Hey, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews didn’t need an iPhone to feel awe-struck at how great a cloud of witnesses surrounds us as we move through this pilgrimage of life. I need to remind myself of that. The cloud of witnesses surrounds me too, whether I can phone them up or not.
This post was penned by William R. MacKaye, fellow Board Member of http://www.KatrinasDream.org.
When I embarked on this Pilgrimage for the ERA I knew it would be difficult. Difficult is an understatement! As I slowly make my way from the Golden Gate bridge to Washington D.C. I pray for those whom I care for and those I have met in the course of day to day affairs. My dear friend, the Rev. Kathryn Piccard, has taught me to pray for those who have harmed me in some way, shape or form.She advises me to pray honestly, even explicitly, for these people, every time I think of them, for up to two weeks. But if others around, I have to do it silently! And it helps.
This pilgrimage is testing every aspect of my being and my faith in God. And it is affirming my faith in God as well. As a person who believes in the law of attraction I put my focus on accentuating the positive in all my relationships. My time in Arizona is a testament to my beliefs and my evolving relationship with God and her people. I had always believed that I understood and had compassion for those who live alternative lifestyles, in particular, the causation of those who live outdoors un-housed. My time in Phoenix has given me the gift of walking in the shoes of the economically disadvantaged and sharing the pain of my Hispanic friends who are treated differently because of the color of their skin.
I thought that it would be easy when I arrived in Phoenix. Easy like it was when I was going through Nevada. It wasn’t. I arrived late Sunday afternoon and made my way over to the Cathedral just in time for Compline. I was deeply moved by the service and thought I would wait ’til the following day to reach out to folks at the diocese. A big mistake, most of the folks at the Diocese of Arizona were leaving on vacation since it was the week of July 4th, 2014, so I was left in a lurch. Fortunately, a young man with some mental health challenges befriended me. He showed me around and suggested that I go to Grace Lutheran Church for clothing and food. So I did. I wound up sticking around and volunteering all week. I grew close to community of the Respite Cooling Center. I came in every morning around 7:30 am and helped out all day until 5:00pm. It was a deeply moving experience. I observed first hand in a way I had not done before, as a homeless person with no place to go and insufficient monies due to budget constraints to get a hotel room or a decent bite to eat. It was humbling. The volunteers and those they serve at the center became “family” taking me in.
“Shorty,” a Latino born and raised in Tuscon shared his story with me. Reared by his grandparents and uncle, he took to becoming a young gangster by the age of eight, dropping out of school. At the age of 11 he married a young Mexican girl he snuck across the border. By 15 he was a father of three. At 19 he killed a man in a bar room brawl in self-defense. He fled the country to live in Mexico but being a devout Roman Catholic came back and turned himself in. The judge who sentenced him said had he not fled he would only be giving him seven years but he was to be an example, so he got the maximum: 25 years. He served the full 25 years, day by day. While in prison he was cornered in the bathroom where his jaw was broken and he subsequently lost all his teeth. Upon release, not having a proper education and being illiterate and a convicted felon he was unable to find gainful employment. He has lived the last 15 years on the streets of Phoenix. He never developed a relationship with his children although his daughter lived in the area. Shorty took me in. He shared his campsite with me. At the end of each day we headed over to the public library where I worked on reaching out to various organizations in anticipation of my meeting with Senator McCain. Shorty worked on word puzzles attempting to sound out the words he was searching for to increase his vocabulary, a hobby he picked up in prison. Shorty is also known as “Pa” by a number of the younger folks who go to the Grace Lutheran Summer Respite Cooling Center. One young couple who stayed at Shorty camp during the dust and rain storms of monsoon season is expecting their first child together. The young lady grew up in foster care having been taken away from her mother as one of her mothers many boyfriends had molested her. Her foster mother saw her as “Cinderella” and she was put to work taking care of the other foster kids who the woman was receiving a good amount of money from the state to house. She said she would clean up after everyone and each night go out to wander the streets. As long as she was back by morning no one cared that she was gone all night. Her partner arrived in Phoenix a few months ago from the Midwest. He deals with his childhood traumas by doing a drug called spice, an easily acquired street drug in the same family of bath salts. One night he begged her to hit him over and over again, claiming that would teach him a lesson. That it would help him to not to spend the little money they had on drugs. It was a difficult night for all. Shorty would shake his head, the young man begging over and over to be hit, and the young woman complying with her punches. I prayed for this family, my Phoenix Street family. I was quickly bought into the fold and asked to volunteer being a friend of Shorty. Each day the program director gathered us together to go over what we needed to concentrate on. We discuss what went wrong the day before and how to best prevent it from happening again. Occasionally, when there was a problem such as someone being too intoxicated or being too argumentative Carlos, the program director would address the issue immediately. He would clearly state that they would have to leave, but only for the day. Always saying, “See ya tomorrow.” At the end of each day when it was time to clean-up the bathrooms, wipe off the table and chairs, vacumn, we all pitched in, and no one had to ask to do anything. We all just worked together in quiet. And when we were done putting things up, again Carlos would say, “See ya tomorrow!”
I met the other volunteers. One husband and wife came in every day. He ran the movies while she prepared the food. He also fixes everyone’s electronic gadgets, being a retired computer programmer for a banking institution and former professional baseball player. Their tireless dedication was truly an inspiration. Another took her day off from the local military base to serve in the kitchen, and yet another came to lead the prayer service. And even more to staff the clothing room.
I could see myself serving this community for the rest of my life. It was hard leaving them to prepare for my meeting at Senator McCain’s office with other concerned Arizona voters organizing for the ERA. But I had to move on. I will carry the promise of another day to serve God and her people as we say at Grace Lutheran “See ya Tomorrow.”