“The Shutdown Won’t Stop Us”

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), an Alinskyian organizing network that works directly with clergy, seminarians, and unions,i sent out an e-letter titled “The shutdown won’t stop us.”

Their point was that even if the government isn’t working, IWJ is still on task, helping to organize rallies around the country for comprehensive immigration reform. The term has a specific meaning for the IWJ:

“Now is the time, this is the moment to do what is right and just, what the God of all people requires of us a nation and as people of faith. At this very moment the work is waking up and shaking up Congress to act, to vote, to legislate. Yet a small cadre of selfish and reactionary party activists and John Boehner, the House Majority leader, are standing in the way of what a majority of the nation wants: a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people who are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters.” ii (Emphasis added)

One of those rallies was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One group, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, held a big banner with drawings of hot air balloons on which were written “Respect” and “Path to Citizenship.” “Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, was on the roster of speakers at the event. ‘The Pope is with you. The Catholic Church is with the immigrants,’ Sanchez said to cheers. ‘Congress: No more playing games. You are playing games with people’s lives.’ Sanchez also criticized the partial shut-down of the federal government. ‘We got to be building bridges, not burning them, and the shut-down of government is burning bridges..,’ he said.”iii

Alternative plans for immigration reform, that don’t include citizenship, are rejected by the protesters: “Nothing less than a path of citizenship will be acceptable to our families and workers,” according to Rachel Lazar, El Centro’s executive director.iv

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) had himself arrested at the Washington D.C. rally that included some of the nation’s top Democrat Party and union leaders.[v] The arrest was staged, that is, it was planned in advance to attract media attention. “An immigration campaign organizer for the Center for Community Change (CCC), a liberal grassroots organizing group working with a Hispanic advocacy group and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), sent an email this week asking for at least 200 people to volunteer to get arrested at an immigration rally in Washington, D.C. in acts of civil disobedience.”vi

Others among the arrested were Juan F. Soto, the director of Gamaliel’s Civil Rights of Immigrants campaign (and also director of Gamaliel of Metro Chicago and Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.); Michael Okinczyc of VOICE-Buffalo in New York, another Gamaliel affiliate;vii Gamaliel is another faith-based Alinskyian organizing network.

Curiously, the National Parks Service, which otherwise restricted use of the National Mall during the government shutdown, approved this rally, causing critics to see this as “special treatment for the administration’s allies.”viii

Other Alinskyian organizing networks supporting these rallies included the PICO National Network,ix the Industrial Areas Foundation,x National People’s Action,xi and Citizen Action.xii “Simultaneous events in dozens of cities across the country – with common demands and slogans – don’t happen spontaneously,” one supporter proudly explains. “These events – as well as the large rally planned for Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington – happen because of the existence of a network of national and local organizations and activists that includes paid staff and volunteers.”xiii

Faith-based Alinskyian organizing networks: your church dollars at work.


[i] All other faith-based Alinskyian organizing networks organize by institutional membership. IWJ is a little different although it has recently started the “Worker Justice Congregation program” for congregations and faith communities in which IWJ becomes a “congregational partner,” providing resources to support a “ministry to and with workers.” Congregational partners receive “information about wage theft, immigration, minimum wage and health and safety campaigns” as well as “special discounts at respected businesses and services, like Costco, Forest Printing, Just Coffee, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers.”
[ii] Rev. Michael Livingston, “This is the moment for justice for immigrants,” IWJ blog, 10-9-13: www.iwj.org/blog/this-is-the-moment-for-justice-for-immigrants
[iii] Kent Paterson, “New Mexico, Nation Rally for Immigration Reform,” Frontera NorteSur, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, 10-7-13.
[iv] “New Mexico, Nation Rally for Immigration Reform”
[v] Gutierrez website, “Gutierrez: Today We Sacrifice Our Freedom to Win Freedom for Those Who Have None,” 10-8-13.
[vi] Tony Lee, “Immigration Organizer Asks for 200 Volunteers to Get Arrested at DC Rally,” 10-3-13: www.breitbart.com
[vii] Gamaliel press release, “Chicago Man Arrested at Immigration Rally,” Christian News Wire, 10-8-13.
[viii] Neil Munro, “Obama OKs illegals’ march on Mall, still blocks Americans,” The Daily Caller, 10-7-13.
[ix] David Nakamura, “Immigration advocates announce plans for demonstrations across country,” Washington Post, 9-26-13.
[x] Sam Womack, “Austin Interfaith hosts immigration reform event,” American-Statesman, 10-6-13.
[xi] Press Release for Oct 5 Immigration Day of Action: www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/10/04/18744377.php
[xii] National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities press release, “Oct. 5: More than 80 Pro-Immigration Large-Scale, Major Mobilizations Planned to Move DC Logjam on Reform With key Republicans and Democrats pledging to work for reform, Immigrant Rights: Groups escalate activities for legalization that leads to citizenship for 11 million and call for the immediate end to deportations,” 9-24-13.
[xiii] Peter Dreier, “Missing Movements?” Huffington Post blog, 10-7-13.

This article, “The Shutdown Won’t Stop Us” is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

Stephanie Block

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