Thursday, February 25, 2010

Full House!

The house was positively throbbing with activity the past several days, with two very different events on the weekend and another one last night:

Swap Party

Just so you don't think we're serious all the time, Erin threw a very wonderful Swap Party! Folks brought items to trade in for items that other people brought. People received a poker chip for each item they brought which they could then redeem for other items.

The living room was filled with tables of household goods, purses & shoes, knick-knacks and toys. I never thought my 2006 commemorative Burger King Bobble Head would find a home, but it was one of the first items to go. Erin warned me not to bring junk, so I almost decided against showcasing that one! The old adage is true that one person's junk is another's treasure.

While it was a fun, social time, it also served a purpose: In our modern society, we are trained to be independent. We often take for granted that the only way to get something is to buy it ourselves. Erin's swap party showed another way: People can simply share what they have. You may find something unexpected or perhaps you may find exactly what you've been looking for.

Ginger shares details of her recent trip to the Holy Land with Charla above.

Folks were thrilled to get rid of stuff they had around the house they no longer wanted. They were also equally thrilled to take home "new" items from others--and not a single cent was involved in the transaction! Leftover items were shuttled to the Catholic Worker Free Store, and perhaps kept until the next Swap Party. The main question that folks were asking was--When is the next Swap Party? The answer: Pretty soon! Stay posted for details as they unfold.

Erin was reunited with longtime friend Edna.

H1N1 Inoculations

We have long since wanted to offer health-related services through the Catholic Worker house. Columbus Public Health and Mt. Carmel Church Partnerships asked us if they could set up a clinic for free H1N1 inoculations, and we gladly accepted.

The event was a success with 142 people inoculated! There were folks from the parish and neighborhood. The majority of the clientele were from the 12:30 Spanish-language Mass at St. James the Less.

The building was packed, but the line moved quickly. Snacks of fruit, granola and donuts were moving quickly. Joan and I spent much time constantly mixing up new containers of frozen juice. The medical teams were 100% professional and did a classy job registering folks, shepherding the line and giving the inoculations themselves.

Clinics such as this one are often in uncomfortable or cramped quarters, based on where they are at. We were glad to help provide a homey atmosphere for everyone involved. Children in particular thoroughly enjoyed playing with the Thomas train set that Erin recently donated to us!

Nurses and administration personnel are setting up for inoculations in the picture above.

Children will need follow-up shots after a month, so we are looking into options to providing that clinic here, as well. Clinics like these are important, as the population is still not adequately immunized to offset the next wave of the "swine flu" which is expected to hit soon. Latinos in particular are high-risk for developing life-threatening complications from it.

Click here for a listing of upcoming vaccination clinics through Columbus Public Health.

Community Gardening

The garden steering committee decided to host three informational tutorials in the months of January, February and March. Last night was the second one. Both events so far were a wonderful time of community and friendliness. Jean is becoming famous for her creations out of the "Monastery Soups" book. Yesterday was cabbage, potato and chicken soup, last month was--believe it or not--Brussels sprout soup. Others brought fruit and desserts. At the January meeting, James and Etta brought the largest chocolate cake we've ever seen, and Debbie has baked a cake for both events, as well. We cracked open one of our few remaining jars of homemade salsa, too.

Last night, we were treated to a talk by Lisa, who is an inspector for The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). She is a prolific organic gardener both at home and work. She gave a wealth of practical information about how to grow and maintain an organic garden, including everything from maintaining the soil with compost, choosing organic fertilizers and pesticides, and managing pests.

This year's gardeners promises to be a stellar group. They are a mix of neighborhood folks, parishioners and others who have come through the Catholic Worker network. We are quite pleased at how it is turning out!

Jean also decided to brew a batch of our recently-arrived Just Haiti coffee. Folks were quite pleased at the flavor. When we announced at the end of the meeting that we have bags of it we can offer for a donation, two people quickly took us up on the offer. We certainly do not profit on this at all (in fact there is a small loss until we are able to buy in bulk quantities), but we are happy to distribute it for a very worthy cause. See the post below for more information.

Join us on Saturday, March 13th from 1pm - 3pm for a Seed Starting Party! Joan and Orchlene will be leading the session. Bring you containers, pots, seeds or anything else you can think of, or just come to learn. We should have some materials to share, as well. In some cases, one package of seeds can grow dozens of plants, which can yield a tremendous cost savings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Just Haiti Coffee

We are proud to have on hand a large quantity of fresh coffee from the organization Just Haiti!

Pat and I discovered them while attending the recent Pax Christi National Conference in Chicago last summer. The coffee is grown in small cooperatives and fairly traded. In addition, it is organic and sustainably shade grown.

From their website: Just Haiti works to alleviate poverty, hunger, violence, illiteracy and disease in Haiti by fostering small-business development, education programs, employment opportunity, infrastructure improvement and environmental quality.

The coffee is quite good. We have on hand a regular gourmet roast as well as a darker, Haitian-style roast. We would be glad to distribute it to you for a reasonable donation. Our expenses are $9.95 for each 12 oz package plus shipping--well within a normal price range for gourmet, Fair Trade products. If we are able to move a large quantity, then we will be able to make bulk purchases to cut costs a bit, but for right now we are experimenting with smaller quantities to see how it goes.

I was impressed to discover how well established the Fair Trade market is in Columbus after doing some market research. Many churches and vendors sell quite a bit of Fair Trade coffee and other products. However, I was also surprised to discover no signs of Haitian coffee anywhere in town. That is a gap we intend to fill!

Just Haiti invests in sustainable development in Haiti--the kind of development that may have prevented many of the recent earthquake deaths through better infrastructure and a population more spread out in rural areas. While Just Haiti mostly supports communities near Baradères on the southwestern "arm" of the island (about 100 miles from the earthquake epicenter), they are taking in a surge of refugees from Port-au-Prince. In addition, some buildings have been damaged directly by the earthquakes in that area.

The organization Just Haiti not only distributes coffee, but it also takes donations directly through its website to support sustainable development and earthquake relief in rural areas. Check out the links above for more information!

Stop by the Catholic worker house to try out some Haitian coffee. We will be glad to brew you a pot! You are welcome to take home a bag.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Reflections on the Death Penalty Vigil Line

I finally got my clothing right.

There is something of a science when it comes to dressing appropriately to be outside for an hour holding a sign and standing in place. I've been getting frostbitten fingers and numb legs standing with Dave downtown the last couple of weeks. Today, I made sure to have long johns, thick gloves and my trusty mountain vest underneath my jacket. It also helped that the weather has broken for the better recently.

It has been hard to eat after these vigils, but on previous weeks that would have required a discipline that I don't have. Not having much more than morning coffee in my belly, I have been going home and eating ravenous portions of bacon and eggs or a fat sub afterwards. It is understandable after standing in freezing temperatures on an empty stomach, but it has never sat right. With the onset of Lent, I'm eating a sensible meatless breakfast and then fasting for lunch afterwards. There is something about standing in the reality of the death penalty that makes fasting seem necessary.

It is good to share time on the vigil line. Sometimes I feel I'm doing more to lift the spirits of long-time vigiler Dave, who usually stands alone on these Friday afternoons. I hope our conversations are not a distraction to the work we are doing, but good company probably keeps the movement going more than anything. In the spirit of Catholic Worker hospitality, being a friendly face to share the work fits right into our charism.

So we stand for an hour holding signs. I try to make eye contact with passers by and smile--I'm not sure what else to do. A couple of people approach us in an hour to express support, sign a petition or ask what we're doing. It is easy to imagine if these vigils could be on every day of the week and on multiple corners of the streets--if the movement to stop the death penalty could be a constant presence. There is a lot of traffic as people mill about to and from lunch. Do they want to be reminded of the death penalty on their lunch break? I wouldn't blame them if they didn't--the two don't mix well for me, either.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Buttons and Beads Have Changed the World

Remember those Christian hippie chicks back in the 1980s?

I can almost visualize a booth at an Earth Day festival or some peace rally: There would be a young woman peddling beads and trinkets from across the world. She'd be wearing fair trade buttons and have an array of pamphlets documenting the importance of fairly traded goods and the injustice of the current system. She was insistent and passionate about the cause.

I first remember learning about Fair Trade products at those peace & justice events in the 1980s, as I was coming of age. I was immediately sympathetic to the cause. However, I must also admit that I was almost embarrassed by those efforts. These were the Reagan-Bush years, when social justice was a terribly unpopular thing. Considering the unbelievable size of the world's markets, what would a few fairly traded beads, crafts and soap do? It was such a minuscule amount, the tiniest fraction of a drop in the bucket.

This feeling of futility has always hung like a shadow anytime I would think about social justice activities, including vigils against the death penalty, civil disobedience to close the School of the Americas or any number of other important causes. In college, I became involved in direct service to the hungry and homeless, and the immediate benefits to all involved were captivating. I put my attention there.

Fast forward to today: Our Catholic Worker community has been looking into ways of serving the Haitian people. The sheer devastation of the recent earthquakes have made it impossible not to take action, as we've all been in agony over the issues it raises. It seems every church and community group has been active in this cause, and much assistance has been raised for emergency efforts. In light of that, we've been looking at options to support long-term, sustainable development in Haiti--the kind of development that might have prevented a lot of those earthquake deaths.

Pat reminded me of the group Just Haiti, who were selling fairly traded coffee at the recent Pax Christi gathering in Chicago. He bought a package and brewed it this past summer, and it was good. Ideas started circulating about distributing this coffee locally--perhaps we could be a vendor of some kind.

I started researching the local market by visiting numerous churches and shops like Global Gallery and the Clintonville Community Market. I was amazed at the well-established infrastructure that churches already have with fair trade vendors. One church with 600 members moves 50 lbs of coffee each month! These efforts are strong across denominational lines, as I visited Unitarian, Methodist, Mennonite and Catholic churches and I saw the same wonderful activity.

It is hard to get accurate statistics on the market share of fairly traded coffee. Much depends on how the terms are defined and who regulates and certifies it. Just to get a broad sketch, though, one report shows the market share of fair trade coffee in the US to be about 0.2% in the year 2000, growing to 1.8% by the year 2004. By anyone's calculation, that is a significant rate of growth in such a short time! This other report picks up where the other leaves off and show the market share rising to 3.1% by the year 2006. Now, national supermarket and coffee shop chains have begun selling fair trade, as well.

I had to admit: Those Christian hippies in the 1980s changed the world!

When virtually no one else was talking about it, when it was almost laughable, those brave folks, in the thickest point of the Rush Limbaugh years, setting up those fair trade tables 20 years ago started a new conversation. They first convinced the churches, who have since been educating their congregations. People kept talking about it, urging their churches, local shops and big chains to take on fair trade products. Those buttons started a groundswell and created pressure so that today fair trade is a significant--and still growing--market force.

I'm reminded of the famous Margaret Meade quote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

We have heard it before and know it to be true. Still, it is hard to believe it when we feel like such a small David versus such a large Goliath. Like many others out there, I have been sympathetic to social justice causes by paralyzed by the sense of futility. In researching fair trade coffee, I came face to face with the reality that IT WORKS! A few people brave enough (or perhaps silly enough) to pick up a sign and talk the truth about injustice really can and do make a difference.

Those fair trade tables remind me how much we should never discount our efforts for justice, no matter how small they may seem at the time. Dorothy Day talked about how monks offering hospitality in the so-called Dark Ages had a lasting impact on society--they changed society without violent revolution or total acquiescence to negative circumstances.

Back to the coffee: I could not find anyone else in Columbus distributing coffee from Haiti, so there is room to grow for sure. The good and bad news of the market in Columbus is that it is so well-established. Asking churches and co-ops to temporarily halt their orders in order to try out Haitian coffee seems counterproductive. It can be argued that the circumstances in Haiti can demand such an action, but those Peruvian, Salvadoran and Ethiopian farmers have also come to depend on our market and to break relationship with them in order to help Haiti is a tough item to discern. It might be best to break new ground in the market.

We'll keep you posted on how this develops, and please don't hesitate to share ideas with us if you see a direction this could go. Perhaps the next time you visit the Columbus Catholic Worker, you may see a table of fair trade beads, buttons, coffee and chocolate on display.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

There Again, This Time With The Columbus Catholic Worker

The following post is written by Jean, our newest community member:

Almost 25 years ago, my brother David and I stayed at the Catholic Worker house on First Street in NYC, camping in the container garden on its roof and, with our Village-ite sister Joan, joining us to help in the kitchen.

For the greater part of the last decade, the Ithaca, NY Catholic Worker community - out of which the "St. Patrick's Four" action against the second Iraq War grew - were my neighbors and my fellows among the people gathered for the sumptuous community meals at Loaves and Fishes. I remember clearly the first time I ran into Danny Burns at our neighborhood coffee shop and, later, Clare Grady when each came home after being released from prison: my chest fills even now with the realization of the love and gratitude I felt for them, for their willingness to speak and act so powerfully and simply what was in my heart.

For most of my adult life, whenever I moved to a new city, I would look around for a CW, and the idea of living in community and of "doing my work" (I have been a social worker for 20 years) in community would tug at me. Then, I would get distracted and that desire would go underground again . . .

Pictured to the left is Jean and friend Trooper, who is mentioned below.

And then, in 2005, in the days immediately after the levees broke in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, I travelled to south Louisiana to run a shelter for the Red Cross (I was the social worker at its homeless shelter in Ithaca). A Catholic community, the Cursillo Center in Prairie Ronde, had opened its doors to the Red Cross and, at any given time, 150 to 250 evacuees from New Orleans and St Bernard Parish. I described my experience in this September 16, 2005 e-mail:

I am just now getting to e-mail for the first time since the levees broke in New Orleans. I am in Prairie Ronde, just outside the town of Opelousas, north of Lafayette. Joanne – my co-worker at the Red Cross in Ithaca - and I are co-managing a shelter with a team of men from the Cursillo Center, a Catholic retreat center here.

I know everyone is exhausted, but the anxious, frightened energy is finally dissipating - in our shelter, at least - and families are beginning to look to the future. Many of the older black women from New Orleans have told us that now their babies - their beautiful black children - might survive because the rest of the world may finally pay attention to what it has ignored for so long.

We are awakened each morning to be welcomed by people who are rebuilding community and hope right before our eyes. It is hard to be tired in the middle of that. The experience of working as a team with the Cursillo community has been extraordinary: we meet nightly to review what is working, what is not, and to collectively coordinate and strengthen our work together and with the evacuees. For the last week, we have held our meetings at bonfire, Jupiter and the moon rising above us. And, then, last night, I sat in the dormitory with Trooper (our real mainstay in the partnership between the Red Cross and the Cursillo Center), my hands held tight in the lap of Miss Juanita, an eighty year old blind woman who is living away from New Orleans for the first time in her life. She and Trooper sang 'That Old Rugged Cross' . . .

Six years ago at this time, I had just returned to Portland from Romania, having seen a total eclipse of the sun from a rooftop in the very center of Bucharest. That afternoon, I went to Vespers at a small Eastern Orthodox Church (Biserica Stravropoleos) and then to hear Placido Domingo sing in an open air concert in the horrifically beautiful and deeply hated People's Palace, built "by" Ceausescu. I have saved a note from that time: 'Having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world, I cannot be the same'.

Trooper says that 'Hurricane Katrina' means 'healing wind' (how he got there I do not remember). And, this morning, I see: Having been sung to by Ms. Juanita on the other side of tragedy, I am grateful . . . and I am changed forever."

Trooper (he and his family now my dear friends) and I call that experience my first Cursillo: a three week "walk with Christ", rather than the usual three-day "short walk with Christ". And I fell in love with that walk. I went home to Ithaca and, when my dog Rocky died at 14, I packed up and moved to Louisiana, the first step on my way to discerning a life lived in community, a life lived with those simple, challenging and life-losing-and-finding ways I learned after Katrina.

Four years later, I am unspeakably grateful to be here with the Columbus Catholic Worker community, and to be discerning with the Dominican Sisters of Peace, a warm, loving group of Catholic religious women I met while rebuilding houses in St Bernard Parish just weeks before the 4th anniversary of Katrina.

So grateful to be living the life I had glimpsed at the First Street Catholic Worker 25 years ago; the life I fell in love with during those three life-changing weeks with the loving, hopeful people of south Louisiana as they welcomed me, as we worked together, ate together, lived together.

Server and served increasingly indistinguishable. Hospitality offered and received, received and offered. Community.

I am so glad to be "there" again, here, with you all.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This Morning

At approximately 10:20 this morning, the State of Ohio executed Mark Brown.

It was business as usual for most people downtown this morning. I walked by a couple of guys in suits talking about their cell phone plans. A cashier of a local soup shop came out to scold me for using the restroom without patronizing. In fact, I saw no awareness of the execution at all until I came upon the small, huddled group of sign-holders, gathered to witness and pray, who I came to join.

Like most Ohioans, I don't know much about Mark Brown, either. It is amazing how insulated we all are from an execution being sponsored in our name. I do hope that he rests in peace. While I am always surprised how God can bring peace to the most impossible situations, I imagine that Mark Brown had many moments without peace. Guilty or not, his life was one of tragedy. I'm told his case has all the usual trappings of death penalty cases--inconsistent witnesses, lack of credible eye witnesses, you name it.

I felt awkward picking up a sign. I consider myself more suited to working for justice over a cup of coffee and conversation, but there is a time and a place for this. When the group circled up to pray, I knew I was where I needed to be.

It was hard to eat after the vigil, but I forced down a sandwich. I'm glad Ginger invited me to noon Mass at the Cathedral.

I pray for the Governor and those directly involved in this execution. I can't imagine all the walls they must have built inside of themselves to go forward with something like this. I say this not with anger but with compassion and sadness for what I believe they are doing to themselves. The terrorists really do win when the killers turn us into killers. I hope that no act of violence in my life can take away my respect for all life.

I also really hope I'm never tested on this.

Monday, February 01, 2010

New Laws Affecting the Immigrant Community

It has suddenly become a lot harder to be an immigrant in Columbus, OH.

Franklin County just enacted a law where every time the police take fingerprints, they immediately compare them with the national immigration database. This is called the Secure Communities initiative. This is a new program that just started in two counties in Ohio, but it will probably become statewide soon. It is already in effect in several states, most of them on the border with Mexico. Prospective citizens are fingerprinted as part of the application process--so if someone is picked up who either is--or isn't--in the immigration database, it could alert authorities to further investigation.

On top of that, there is also another law recently passed where a person has to be a legal resident in order to register their vehicle in the state of Ohio. So far, the LULAC has tried to fight it, but "public safety" won out. Apparently, the case was argued that there is no good reason to own a vehicle if one is not going to drive it, so the only people who can own a vehicle should be the people who can legally drive and hold a drivers license. Others feels that this is an indirect way to enforce immigration laws.

I recently attended a session hosted by the newly-formed chapter of the ACLU in Columbus as well as LULAC (a Hispanic advocacy group). The meeting was held at St. James the Less.

The first speaker was a Latino police officer and he did a tutorial about what to do if stopped by the police. Next up were two ACLU lawyers. Some of what they said was very ivory tower--It is good to know that all people in America have constitutional rights, including the right to a safe workplace and minimum wage, but it presents few real-world applications to someone who is here undocumented. However, they also gave good advice to folks to learn how to live in America given the immigration policy we have--be upstanding members of society, keep a low profile, etc.

This is good advice, because if immigration reform does happen, the people most likely to stay are those who have a clean criminal record as well as some skills in English. All these presenters spent a lot of time telling people what to say and what not to say if Immigration knocks on their door or if the police stop them.

The Director of Latino Ministry got up and urged people to get power of attorney so that if they are deported, someone will have legal custody of their children and their home, car, business, etc.
The good news is that since the earthquakes, any people from Haiti who are here in America illegally will be granted a form of temporary asylum. However, that is poor consolation for the many other people who are also here fleeing impoverished countries and politically oppressive regimes.

As a friend of mine put it, immigration is a reality. Whether Americans like it or not won't change the fact of the matter: Many immigrants have arrived without documents and they are here to stay. They are contributing members of society, and our culture is much richer for their presence here. As members of Christ's body, it makes sense to welcome the stranger and provide save harbor for the refugee.

As a people of hope, let us hope for a safe, sane, humanitarian immigration policy in this nation. As people of work, let us put our feet to the pavement and use our hands and mouths to phone, email, petitions and urge anyone and everyone to consider this issue. Change happens when people get motivated enough to talk to their friends, family and coworkers about it. If everyone talk to people in their circle of acquaintances, we can build pressure and momentum for change.