Poster representing boycott of grapes at Safeway stores, in support of farmworkers in the fields
Solidarity forever! Soledaridad pa’ siempre! These were the songs and chants I remember from early 1960’s organizing efforts to support the California farmworkers and Cesar Chavez in forming their union. The white middle class church I was growing up in, from Msgr. George Higgins on the national level to many priests in the Detroit area, was in solidarity with the rights of the poor to make a better life for themselves, thereby making us all a more Christ-like community. I was given the opportunity to live, and work in the fields, with Mexican-American migrants in Michigan. It changed my life, and still strengthens my faith.
Since that time, unions have fallen from grace in our nation’s estimation, side-lined by our society’s constant striving for financial profits for corporations, and then corporations leaving unions in the lurch with ever more lucrative deals in cheaper offshore labor markets. Some of this was certain of the unions’ own fault, in their mimicking the worst corporate behaviors. But our whole country has forgotten the concept of solidarity, that gave the labor movement its life breath. The unions were built by different immigrant worker groups passing on part of the small gains they’d made, to the next group in need. Individuality is now thought the key to success. Every man and woman for themself.
This is why we should all be so heartened by the renewal of solidarity called for by Pope Francis in his World Youth Day visits to the poor of Brazil’s favelas this summer. “ And the Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable. I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!” The text of the full speech is available from Vatican Radio and well worth reading. The pope continues, “Let us always remember this: only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied!”
Pope Francis with the indigenous in Brazil
This offers great hope for the “New Evangelization” that is being initiated in the U.S. Catholic Church. We can’t stay within the bounds of the dominant established culture, though we have much to do there. We must reach out to all groups and sectors with the Gospel, and share to meet the common needs—a multiplication of loaves and fishes to match the evangelical message, the words of scripture. Our Liturgy of the Word finds its solidarity, its best lived expression, in our Liturgy of the Eucharist, and our coming together more and more often with those we thought were not part of us. It’s a good time to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic …
This goes much deeper than social welfare programs, even deeper than the social justice measures that will result, to that real transformation that comes with crossing boundaries, while respecting each other as equals—rich/poor, complacent/evangelical, illiterate/educated, atheist/believer. All with our eyes of faith, are children of God, members of our ever growing family.
We will evangelize others if we are building trust and common cause with them even when they’re not of the same faith as ours, or of any faith. The Gospel must be both preached, and lived out. Joining unions, is one way to do so, though limited now by the scarcity of union jobs. The inspired risk is to find good ways to throw in your lot with others, even when it’s unpopular to do so [for unions it also costs you some $50/month dues you could avoid, in the growing number of “right to work” states]. Going to church, faces similar negatives in our why-bother-I’ve-got-mine culture.
Jesus was found among tax collectors, fisherman, the sick and the sinful. He was in solidarity both with outcasts, and anyone who would hear his word, and act on it. His way of solidarity, not always easy— but a happiness that lasts forever.
Robert Kennedy sharing communion with Cesar Chavez at end of one of Chavez' 40 day fasts for farmworker justice