Monday, February 28, 2011

Protests, civil disobedience, and revolution

This has certainly been an interesting few weeks, for anyone who pays attention to the worldwide (and local) social and political scene. From Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio - we are witnessing shifts in the landscape ranging subtle to seismic. Amazing to watch the power of mobilization and mobility in play, perhaps unlike any time yet in history. Tweets and texts have added to the tools of those who instigate, organize, and orchestrate all forms of political action from peaceable protest to violent upheaval.
On a much more limited scale, I was fortunate to take a very small part in such activity this evening. At tonight's meeting of the South Bend Common Council, a resolution was to be introduced that would voice this community's concern about legislation that is pending in the Indiana Senate (S.B. 590, which would toughen restriction and regulations around the issue of immigration policy, etc., a la recent news items in AZ). Such a morally outrageous step would be detrimental to our community and region, beyond the economic factors that have been stated. These kinds of anti-immigrant moves (coming from a generally bigoted perspective) go a long way to denigrating and de-valuing the people involved.
The local Hispanic community, which has been working to create a network through which to address its concerns in the public sphere, did an admirable job in mobilizing a supportive presence to attend the Common Council session. I was asked to attend by a fellow member of our congregation (who, in addition to being our Social Justice chair, serves on the Reform movement's Commission on Social Action. Together we have been working to build bridges in our broader community that cross religious, racial, and socio-economic lines).
By the time we arrived, the Council chamber was already packed to standing-room-only. No one was being admitted, and a very large number of additional people filled the lobby area just outside. We cocked our heads, trying to hear inside, to little avail. After some time, an entire team of firemen appeared, expressing concern for the potentially hazardous situation of so many people possibly blocking safe access or exit. We were told to leave the area, and congregate in the main lobby downstairs. At this time, the officers closed the door to the chamber - which of course was a visually disconcerting gesture, as if to say to the crowd we are disallowing your participation in the process of government.
The entire group did gather in the lobby, very patiently and peacefully awaiting news from the Council chamber. Eventually, the results were reported - the Council passed the resolution unanimously, 8-0. Cheers erupted and the organizers addressed the crowd. There was a sense of accomplishment and pride that on this occasion our community, no matter what its challenges, declared its solidarity with ALL its residents, and will strive to support fair and just immigration policy.
Looking around, and noting clearly that I was one of just a handful of non-Hispanics in the assembly of several hundred people, I was awed: it's not usual that, even as a Jew, I feel in the minority. Typically being called upon as a community leader, it was again eye-opening, and even refreshing, to be overwhelmed by my sense of smallness - not even being able to understand the words of the organizers (as I do not speak Spanish). Yet the positive vibe was powerful, and the feeling of being part of something good was undeniable. As we left the building to make our way back to my friend's car, we shared these thoughts - both of us knowing, even more than before, that we are fortunate with the lives we have: our families of origin, the opportunities we've been given, and the generation in which we were born have made sure that we have never known disadvantage or bigotry on any significant level. As we parted with our Hispanic friends, I was reminded once again of my responsibility to all my fellow human beings, friend and stranger alike, for we were strangers too.

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