Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interfaith Action for Worker Justice

Yesterday morning I joined others at the Marin County Civic Center to confront the Board of Supervisors about their neglect to fix Marin's Living Wage Ordinance, guaranteeing minimum wage and health care benefits for homecare workers. The ordinance was passed a year ago, yet through administrative sleight-of-hand excludes from its protection 1,000 homecare workers. Homecare workers allow elders to stay in their homes. Shamefully, Marin, one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country, has one of the lowest pay rates for unskilled laborers* in the nine Bay Area counties.

My colleague in Marin Interfaith Council, the Rev. Pamela Griffith Pond, a Lutheran minister who heads Marin Interfaith Worker Justice, solicited help with this effort from members of MIC, and on Monday asked me if I would do a reading as part of the program. I was rushing out the door when she phoned, and I really wanted to help and was honored that she had asked, so I said yes. Then when I got home after my birthday dinner with Patrick & Barbara, Corby, my daughter Deirdre and her boyfriend Matt, I started looking for a suitable reading. Well, ya know, we Pagans don't have readings. We have no holy scripture. We have the seasons and the tides, the Wheel of the Year, the counsel of the cowry.

It was late and I was tired and I wanted to be prepared. So I surfed around the Net for inspirational material of any kind on the subject of worker justice. I found lots of practical resources for people engaged in that effort. I found lectionaries. I'd never heard the word lectionary; it's "a list or book of portions of the Bible appointed to be read at a church service." No, lectionaries wouldn't do. I combed through books on my shelves, felt too weary for inspiration. Then I decided that the best of reading from a Pagan perspective is poetry. Yet finding something both relevant and beautiful left meager pickings.

Once again, I found myself turning to my friend Patricia Monaghan's poetry, from the same collection as the poem I selected for Brigit, Seasons of the Witch.

Standing in a group near the South entrance of the Civic Center, holding signs, with people coming in and out, riding up the escalator, with blasts and other truck and traffic noise just outside the open doors, I read:

You descend the stairs at midnight.
You walk through the sleeping hours.
Light surrounds you in the silent dark.

Was it a nightmare woke you?

You pour a glass of water.
You sit by the window, beside that
cobalt vase filled with blue flowers.
Into the dark blue center of sleep
you slip again, into the blue
blackness of true forms, into
the fragmented pool of meaning.

There, on the boundary of
boundlessness, you dream
and, dreaming, remember what
you have not utterly forgotten:
how your kitchen always has at least one
witch's broomstick, how clove and garlic
are domesticated on your spicerack,
how everything has power.

But you remember only how, not
why. And so your power finds
its limits: You can raise
the bread but you cannot
tame the nightmares that
pasture in the silent house.
You have forgotten the way
to the wildness within you,
to the instinct for order.

Now as you sleep you dream
of a half-remembered house: bedraggled
as old lace, its stairs rot into wooden
filigrees, its attic suffocates in private
dust. And in its flooded basement
the rivers, the sewers of the world
breed terrifying marvels. Because
the house grows wild, disorderly, all
the gardens in the world turn treacherous
and forests strangle on themselves.

But in this house all change is possible.
Some corners--left or right, dining room
or pantry--grow shiny with significance.
A ladder leans against a wall.
Sheer white curtains billow.
A floor creaks. A door closes.

When you wake in the blue hour
before dawn, you remember
am old house with stairways that
lead to attics that connect to trees.
You remember all the paths.

And remembering, you know how
to make the necessary changes
to pull the day towards night, to
let all things revel in meaning,
dreaming the world's secrets like
the favored habitat of blueberries,
like the seasoning of rosehips,
like the uses of lichen and moss.

On a bureau you collect
a chipped mirror with a
woman's face, a stem of bed-
straw that died aslant, your
sister's candlesticks,
an old pot with a mother's
belly, a box covered with
dusty embroideries.

Then, in another room:
rocks in a spiral pattern,
a branch that sang in a
mysterious and certain way,
a whitened bone.
A gray owl feather,
a small pile of seeds.
All in a certain order.

Now, when you sleep
you build a round tower,
you cut new windows,
you carve a pool in shade.
A candle burns beside you
as you dream. It flickers
sometimes in the cool breeze.
Outside your window, a single
leaf breaks against stone
as it falls from the gnarled oak.

And you dream of being in the power
of grasses, frail patched lace,
filigree seedheads, mist of renewal,
reckless with shedding. You dream
your hair full of seeds, your hair
a cushion for seeds to rest on,
you dream you were born to move
seed to new lands, you dream
purposes and reasons, you are
full of thoughtless utility.

And sleeping there, you feel
your dream and the world's
dream join. A path stretches
out before you, the path from
childhood: at its end, a new
trees is taking root, its taproot
drinking your heart's blood.

And, when you wake and move
through the dim silent room,
you know that the wind of your
daily dance brings a storm to
an old forest on another continent,
and that the fall of its giants
leaves room for new growth.

Midnight: You open the door.
A horse comes galloping.
There are no horses where
you live. But she is there,
wearing no saddle, no reins.

With blueblack eye she invites
you. She kneels as you mount.

This is where the dream would
end, if this were a dream.
But it is not, and so
the next thing
you feel is
the rush of wind
in your hair.

* * *
Following the program, we carried our signs up the escalator and around the escalator wells while singing "Oh, when we win a living wage...When every worker has a job...When healthcare's free for you and me..." to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Pamela carried a stack of letters written to the Board in support of their putting the health care for homecare workers back on their agenda and passing the resolution they'd promised. The letters were from individuals and groups. I had mailed one a earlier. It turned out that, in spite of the fact that a Board meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday morning and that was why were were there when we were, there were no Supervisors on the premises. Pamela gave the letters and her card to the receptionist with instructions to give the letters to Supervisor Hal Brown on the labor committee.

We left the Supes' offices and filed down though the building singing another filk, then dispersed. Some of us went to the cafeteria for coffee and feedback. The discussion yielded some interesting and useful information. I found I had a lot to offer from my Pagan and activist background, tame though it may be. I found that my sense of ritual informed my observations.

At one point, I said that 'we' (meaning Pagans in general) had a few more interesting chants than the usual filk, and that one that had come to me in this situation was a chant known as "Summer Solstice Power Chant," by Starhawk. Surely many readers know it. Grace, one of the other demonstrators did. It begins, "We are the power in everyone..." and ends, "...We are the turning of the tide." I said that I was reluctant to suggest it because to me is sounded maybe a bit more je ne c'est quois than they'd want. To my surprise, they liked it. Carol, one of the home care workers, said that she was a born-again Christian and she would be happy to sing that song.

A Supervisors' meeting is now set for the same time next Tuesday, and we will repeat our protest. Pamela has more letters of support to deliver and wishes to make a public statement to all the Supervisors. In the meantime, however, our message has resulted in a meeting next Monday between Pamela and Supervisor Brown.

* Coincidentally, Marin has the lowest salaries for legal secretaries in the Bay Area as well. Legal secretaries have special skills and knowledge, far more than just typing letters. I'm sensitive to this because I was a single mother trying to make ends meet as a legal secretary in the '80s and '90s. In order to reduce the constant stress of paying bills by triage method, to earn a decent salary, I ended up commuting back to San Francisco and leaving my latchkey child on her own more than I would have liked.

1 comment:

Pitch313 said...

Hey, when you were hunting around for the reading, did you come across any of the Wobbly songs, chants. Some of them might suit the theme of rich bosses and nevermind politicos letting workers go without.

Joe Hill wasn't a bad songwriter:

"Are you poor, forlorn and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back."

Just a thought!