Grace — La Segunda Semana (Week 2)

20 Jun

Hello again!  This week has been very busy for Stephanie and me.  Neither of us have had the chance to really sit down and write a post until today.

This week we have been surveying the area where most of the men wait for employers to pick them up in order to approximate the average number of workers and employers who may utilize the Center when it opens.  On any given day there are about 65 workers seeking chambitas (odd jobs) and 25 employers who hire them.  By keeping track of these numbers we hope to equip the Center with adequate resources and volunteer/staff management.  While we are on the street we talk to the workers and encourage them to attend meetings to decide how the Center will be run.  This set-up process requires that the men partake in democratic decision making, which we hope empowers them with the necessary confidence to stipulate fair treatment from their employers (including fair wages and safe working conditions.)  The Center will also be equipped with bilingual volunteers and/or staff who can help match skill sets with employers to help ensure quality work for the community.

A question someone recently asked me was, “Since the Center doesn’t yet exist, how is your work changing society?  What are the tangible results?”  It’s a very good question.  At this point, everything we’re doing has to do with sustainability.  Without the community empowerment and organizing work we’re doing right now, the Center would not be BY the workers or FOR the workers.  Our role in talking to them on the streets every day is to give them the confidence and support they need to make important decisions about how the Center will be operated.  I think building trust between people is just as important as tangibles like “building a resource center” or “helping X number of workers get employed”.  For those of us motivated to do social justice work, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the importance of — or hard to truly accept — the critical importance of baby steps.  I have come to embrace “midwife” as the most adequate term to describe what Stephanie and I are doing here this summer, helping to bring the Centreville Labor Resource Center to life.  And an essential quality of a good midwife is communication.  We are currently acting as “connectors”, moving slowly and laying the proper ground work for the parturition.

Aside from surveying the street we’ve also been doing hardcore office work!  We’ve drawn up some sample advertising flyers which have been translated from English to Spanish and Korean.  Because a large segment of the Centreville population is ethnically Korean, we do not want to limit employment opportunities for the workers by only advertising the Center in English.  In addition to creating advertisements and similar materials, we’ve also been drafting important forms and documents for the Center.  These require a lot of careful thought and effort.  We want to make clear that the Center will simply be a safe place for employers and workers to meet, not a hiring agency.  The Center is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that abides by all US laws.

Today we had a great church service at Wellspring.  Each week is something new and different!  A wonderfully talented guest musician came and performed for us.  The music itself was a really moving experience — very soulful and uplifting.  I was really moved by the sermon, too.  The people at Wellspring identify themselves in various ways — old, young, black, white, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, indigenous, gay, straight, sexy, strong, extroverted, introverted, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, etc. etc. etc. — but at the heart of it all we share a human spirit, and we come to church because it uplifts that spirit; while we may have differing personal identities day-to-day we come to church and celebrate life with a collective identity as human beings.  Wellspring is the most open, welcoming, and humanly affirming place I have ever known.  I feel so lucky to be here this summer.  Now I look forward to church on Sundays — something I’ve never really looked forward to before in my life!

I will try to provide a more timely update this upcoming week.  It’ll be meetings, meetings, meetings for the next few days.

Someone said something very interesting to me this week. I’ll leave their quote here, roughly paraphrased —

There are thousands of stars in the sky, but that doesn’t make any one star unimportant.  If one star fades away, that makes the entire sky one star less bright, one star less beautiful. 

The light of every star counts.

Grace

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