How can we go around the world and saying that we’re the bastions and the light of freedom throughout the world, when we marginalize people within our own country and our own society?
–from Baldemar Velasquez in an interview with Bill Moyers about the ongoing David vs. Goliath struggles to ensure fairness for American farm workers
I want to live in a world where the George Zimmermans of the world run to help the Trayvon Martin’s of the world, not hunt them down.
In Sunday-school class at the First Unitarian Church, we take off; in fact the entire church congregation takes off in June, July, and August. We believe that we are the only denomination that God trusts to behave in the summer. Whether or not that is true, it seems like a fine idea: And then for three months, the Unitarians rested. This respite does not keep us from seething about politics and social justice in the humidity and the 110 degrees that is our heat index even on the inside with air conditioning and vodka in our lemonade and iced tea. We sweat out contempt as often as dogs seek shade on sidewalks. It is the one thing that Unitarians can say they have in common all over the world: we notice bad events and we debate their issues. And like other religions, we do nothing about the problems except to grouse effusively and chomp at the bit.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy involved an armed man hunting down an unarmed minor. The jury had no choice but to acquit George Zimmerman because the people of Florida put a bad law on the books which is the main and the most problematic issue we face today: the US government sanctions the arbitrary use of weapons and justifies murder for the profit of the greedy and the maintenance of the powerful.
My grandmother would say that you can’t close the barn doors once the horses run out. In other words, we must stop bad legislation from becoming bad laws before tragedies occur.
In place of Trayvon Martin’s teenage face, we can substitute the face of a Cherokee child, a slave, a Kent State student, Emmitt Till, a Vietnamese mother, Patrice Lumumba, a sanitation worker, Andrew Goodman, a suffragette, a marcher, Medgar Evers, a few faces among millions of protesters in spite of centuries of the bureaucratic justification to manufacture and sell guns so that the powerful few can rule over the masses, oppressing others from cushy tufted arm chairs for as long as possible, resolute in not looking at faces hooded by poverty.
Until we see others as individuals, we will not change bad laws. And those wheels to overturn inequalities are mired in corruption and bureaucratic chaos. And suppose we live far away from Florida? So what can we do instead? We can march around and rouse awareness. Yes! We can boycott Florida. Maybe–but what about people who depend on the tourist industry who need to pay bills and feed families? Let Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen take their concerts elsewhere. But what else can we DO that will make a difference in a life of someone we might have a conversation with?
My friend, Ann Mary, has managed All Saints Clothing Room for the homeless in New York City for the last eight years. She worked every Sunday with her husband, Bob.
The place gets some great donations from the people of the church as well as the neighborhood. But the two things they need that they don’t get very often and need desperately are men’s socks and men’s boxer shorts. Over the years they have had over 5000 volunteers to work Sundays to give out new and clean clothes to people in need. In a speech she gave soon after her husband’s unexpected death, she stated:
When we couldn’t conjure up jeans we could pull out a pair of new socks like little rabbits. Socks became our peace offering. Socks proved that we were not middle class lemmings wanting to give back because it was the right thing to do. Socks said we truly meant to understand what it meant to be poor in the greatest city in the world. It also gave us the confidence to say to a guest: What’s your name?
So can buying and shipping socks solve the problems of the world? Probably not. But you can see where a gift of basic clothing would help thousands of people rearrange and restructure the integrity of their lives, as volunteers and as visitors.
Shakespeare reminds us that a kingdom can be lost but for a nail for a horseshoe. Could the gift of socks give a comfort that fits to a more positive attitude about the world? Maybe. Rowling writes that the gift of clothing is the key to freedom, and the gift of a sock allows Dobby to be grateful enough to save others.
We lean back in the heat of summer, running around in our bare feet, whining and complaining about the injustices of the world. Talking does not solve our problems. Find a place to send money or goods to people in your own community, or if you don’t know of place that serves others (and why don’t you?), send some socks to Ann Mary and her volunteers so that they can send people out to run safe and free.
Here is their address: All Saints Clothing Room, The Church of St. Francis Xavier, 55 West 15th Street, New York, NY, 10011.