God Our Liberator Acts Through People: A Continuing Story
A Reflection on the Migrant Justice May 1 ‘March for Dignity’
By Sylvia Knight | Member, Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
May Day, May 1st, or International Workers’ Day grew out of a massive protest action during three days in 1886 by 180,000 weary but determined American laborers striking for an 8-hour day. The struggle continues for human dignity and justice.
Moses, you called long ago for justice and liberation of your people from Egypt!
May Day 2017 saw a vibrant, energetic, colorful and peaceful March for Dignity in Burlington, a gathering of immigrant farmworkers and other workers sponsored by fourteen organizations and many allies for solidarity and dignity. Hundreds of allies came to show solidarity for farmworkers, the very backbone of our conventional dairy industry: workers, students, people of faith, clergy, older people, young people, black people, gay people. I was thankful to see a good number of courageous farmworkers present to tell their stories and to enjoy the energy of support and solidarity.
Loving God, you are the source in each person of our innate dignity and worth.
Gathering on North Winooski Avenue across from the Vermont Workers’ Center, we held colorful signs with messages of dignity and justice and chanted in English and Spanish. We listened to farmworkers tell us of their experiences of injustice working on Vermont dairy farms supplying milk to St. Albans Cooperative for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and heard one of our clergy speak of justice in Spanish and English,
As we began moving down North Winooski Avenue, Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA) clergy, Bishop Ely, and lay people gathered to carry their banner, a sign of solidarity from people of faith.
Isaiah, you called for God’s justice and new life among your people in their release from Babylonian captivity; you are calling for justice and liberation now!
Orange and black butterfly “signs” carried on poles seemed to hover in the air over us, raising up hope, transformation, and resistance to oppression. Two people with sinister-looking hoods marked “ICE” ran around with nets on sticks trying to “capture” the butterflies, a reminder of the harsh and dehumanizing policies tearing immigrants from families, livelihoods and communities. A band of horns and drums helped keep our energy up as we marched –with a permit – down Winooski Avenue and other thoroughfares and into the center of town. We stopped at Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop on Church Street to hear testimony of farmworkers about human rights violations in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain, a contradiction from corporate claims of ethical sourcing, still balking from making good on a promise two years before. Several of us with Bishop Ely still held the VIA banner. Other allies created a block-long string of hundreds of signed cards addressed to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim, asking him to sign the Milk with Dignity contract with Migrant Justice after two years of negotiations. A delegation presented them to the store manager while most of us stayed outside chanting.
Amos, you decried the injustice of those who seek riches at the expense of the poor; you speak to us now of the Lord’s justice!
Our procession then moved with signs and chants to Elmwood Avenue in front of the Federal Building for more testimony by young men and women in the immigrant community who had been arrested, shackled, and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A few people appeared at the windows in the federal offices to watch us. We closed with a hopeful song, “We have just begun”, loaded our banners, signs and butterflies into a van to go back to the Migrant Justice office, and went our separate ways, knowing that we are not alone in the struggle for justice.
Jesus, you knew systemic injustice and named it in your way in your time. You yourself had no place to be safe, and suffered death at the hands of unjust empire. Overcoming death, you call us to create and live into your Kin-dom of compassion, justice, and solidarity with the marginalized.
“The Son of Man who has no place to lay his head lives in these actions that manifest the breakthrough of the reign of God into the present age. That reign is meant first and foremost for the poor and then, through them, for every human being…The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is… in the gratuitousness and universality of God’s love. (p.57, p. 136, Gustavo Gutierrez: Spiritual Writings. Selected with an Introduction by Daniel G. Groody. Orbis Books, 2011)
To learn more about Migrant Justice and Milk with Dignity, please visit http://migrantjustice.net/milk-with-dignity