Creating Sanctuary: Faith-Based Activism for Migrant Justice

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No More Deaths/Kate Morgan-Olsen

Migrants crossing the Southern Arizona desert can die of dehydration if they do not stumble across provisions such as these gallon jugs of water, which were placed near a migrant trail by the faith-based group No More Deaths.

THE SUN SHONE OVERHEAD as we walked through migrant trails etched into the mountainous Southern Arizona desert, looking for the body of a seventy-year-old man. It was a hot afternoon in July, five miles above the U.S.-Mexico border.

For months, I had worked with the faith-based humanitarian aid organization No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths), leaving plastic gallon jugs of water, easy-open cans of pinto beans, blankets, and other necessities along trails sprinkled with clothing, water bottles, food wrappers, cell phones, children’s toys, and toiletries discarded by the hundreds of undocumented migrants who risk the treacherous journey across the border every day. For months, we had found our gallon water jugs slashed and vandalized, and our cans of beans torn open and drained by agents of the United States Border Patrol intent on depriving hungry and dehydrated travelers of life-saving sustenance.

Walking through forbidding desert hills dotted with cacti and mesquite, I dreaded the moment when I would turn the corner and find the man’s remains stretched out under the unforgiving sun. Two days earlier, another group of humanitarian aid volunteers had found an injured seventeen-year-old boy on the side of the road. His group of ten travelers had been scattered by a low-flying Border Patrol helicopter, he said, and he had wandered for days with the seventy-year-old man and a forty-year-old woman. When his companions grew too tired to continue, he tied a pair of red boxers to a mesquite tree and left them underneath, promising to return with food and water. The day after his rescue, volunteers found the body of the woman.

We never found the body of the man, nor did we ever learn his name.

It is well known that Jewish tradition requires the deceased to be buried speedily after death. As the soul returns to G-d, the body must not be left to linger in the land of the living. A Jewish cohen (priest), though normally forbidden contact with a dead body, is commanded to render the honor of immediate burial to a corpse he finds on the street, even if he is on his way to enter a temple’s sanctuary on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Because the human being is made in the image of G-d, to leave the image of G-d rotting in the street (or in the desert) is to condone the desecration of G-d’s name.

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Creative Commons/Tomás Castelazo (tomascastelazo.com)

Crosses along the Tijuana–San Diego border wall remind would-be migrants of those who have perished in their attempts to cross over.

According to the Arizona-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), nearly 180 human remains have been recovered in the Arizona-Sonora desert since October 2011, bringing the total since 2000 to almost 2,500. The number of dead bodies never recovered is undoubtedly much higher. The remembrance of every migrant who has died in the desert — those recovered, and those left to dust — remains as a testament to the horror of U.S. border policy, and bears witness to the cruelest injustice perpetuated by our government on a daily basis.

In the last decade, the United States has been seized by a spasm of anti-immigrant sentiment remarkable for its ferocious nationalism and uncompromising xenophobia. The persecution of neighborhoods, the raiding of workplaces, and the breakup of families by federal immigration authorities has accelerated inside this country. Meanwhile, a policy of increased and selective militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, begun in the 1990s, has strategically sealed off urban hotspots such as San Diego and El Paso to funnel migration into the vast and treacherous expanses of the Sonora Desert in Southern Arizona, deliberately turning the parched desert into a deadly weapon of “deterrence” and casting nearby cities like Tucson into the crosshairs of the national immigration debate. Faith-based communities have a vital role to play in today’s struggle for migrant justice, and in Tucson, they have put their faith into action for decades.

 The Origins of the Sanctuary Movement

Throughout the history of Tucson’s migrant justice movement, faith-based communities have struggled alongside threatened communities in the barrios(neighborhoods), on the border, and in their houses of worship to effect meaningful and lasting social change. In the 1970s, a multi-faith coalition called the Tucson Ecumenical Council worked closely with a broad swath of community organizations to support undocumented families endangered by Border Patrol and INS persecution, lobby the city to establish social services and facilities for impoverished communities, and raise money to fund legal efforts to fight deportation. Most importantly, religious leaders and congregations cultivated and maintained long-lasting personal relationships of faith and solidarity with undocumented families and communities, involving themselves directly in the struggle to better the lives of neighbors and congregants.

Tucson pastor John Fife, a long-time Sanctuary activist, offers this description of the movement’s origins:It initially involved some families that needed help, and of course the church was a place where folks were to help with housing, or with food, or with clothes, or with a family crisis, or whatever it was…. There were then, as there are now, many mixed families, where, for example, the parents were undocumented, but the children were United States citizens. So our efforts to legalize or regularize the status of members of those families, who often were also members of our congregation, represented vital work to protect the integrity of our families. But basically what made it all possible were the many solid relationships developed between community-based organizations and faith-based organizations in the barrio.Communities of faith also took a direct role in protest and activism. In 1970, when the Barrio Hollywood neighborhood held a series of marches, protests, and occupations to demand that the vast acres of the elite El Rio Golf Course be partially converted into community-oriented parks and facilities, religious groups sprang to action, holding regular prayer services on the ninth tee as a disruptive act of protest.

Because close relationships had already developed between religious congregations and migrant communities, faith-based groups working in Tucson’s largely Latino South Side in the early 1980s were quick to notice the growing number of refugees arriving in the barrios to escape political violence in Central America. As congregations like Southside Presbyterian Church worked to provide emotional, legal, and material support to refugees, they came to realize that the United States was funding and assisting Central American death squads with one hand, while working to deny asylum to political refugees with the other. A group of the faithful found themselves called upon to act. “Immigration judges were turning down everyone that we would take in to apply for political asylum, and refugees were dying in the desert,” recalls Fife, who was at the time the minister of Southside Presbyterian Church. Fife says Jim Corbett, a congregant in his church, came to him and asked him to consider two historical moments: the emergence of the slavery abolition movement and U.S. churches’ decision to help form an underground railroad to help slaves cross to safety, on one hand, and the almost complete failure of churches to help and protect Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, on the other. Fife says Corbett then declared, “We can’t allow that to happen on our border in our time,” and added, “I’m going to start a small group of folks who can help Central Americans cross the border safely without being captured by Border Patrol, and I believe that’s the only ethical position that people of faith can take under these circumstances.”

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No More Deaths/Hannah Hafter

Volunteers provide basic medical aid to migrants injured while crossing the desert.

Six months later, when Border Patrol discovered that networks of worshippers were helping refugees cross the desert and housing them in Southside Presbyterian Church, Fife, Corbett, and the entire congregation decided to publicly defy federal law and declare their church a site of sanctuary, where refugee families could seek shelter while applying for political asylum. Citing as historical precedent the role of the church in the Middle Ages as a site of sanctuary for individuals seeking legal arbitration or protection from state persecution, the Sanctuary Movement also drew inspiration from the ancient cities of refuge of the Hebrew Bible, where individuals could escape from blood feuds or obtain a fair trial if accused of a serious crime. During a 1984 gathering of international Sanctuary activists at Temple Emanu-El Synagogue in Tucson, Dominican Sister Renny Golden said “the locus of G-d in history is discovered among the poor and the oppressed,” affirming that the theology of Sanctuary recognized the Torah itself as a document of migration and exodus, and sought to bear practical witness to its commandment to “welcome the stranger in your midst, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

To explain their work, the pioneers of Sanctuary in Tucson developed a philosophy of “civil initiative,” which they defined as “the legal right and the moral responsibility of society to protect the victims of human rights violations when government is the violator.” The decision to declare Sanctuary was a collective one, assumed by a congregation united in faith, solidarity, and compassion. “Whenever a congregation that proclaims the prophetic faith abandons the poor and persecuted to organized violation,” wrote Corbett, “its unfaithfulness darkens the way for all humankind. And when it stands as a bulwark against the violation of human rights, it lights the way. The congregational obligation to protect victims of state crimes extends beyond our individual civic responsibilities, because only in this kind of covenant community can we provide sanctuary for the violated.”

By 1986, over 560 synagogues and churches across the country had declared Sanctuary, and seventeen cities— including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco— had declared themselves “cities of sanctuary,” instructing public employees not to cooperate with federal immigration agents. By that time, undercover federal agents had infiltrated the movement as volunteers, collecting secret tape recordings of church meetings, conversations with pastors, and worship services. Priests, nuns, and other religious leaders and community activists were arrested, indicted, and charged with federal crimes, only narrowly escaping lengthy prison sentences thanks to an international outpouring of support.

Desert Aid and the Militarization of the Border

By the end of the 1980s, the Department of Justice agreed to end all deportations to El Salvador and Guatemala, grant all refugees from those countries work permits and temporary protected status, and reform the political asylum process. But as the first incarnation of the Sanctuary Movement drew to a close, a new human rights crisis loomed on the horizon. The inauguration of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 made the Mexican economy, and in particular the production of corn, dependent on American imports, sending countless destitute small farmers across the border to find work. The United States responded to these effects of its own policies by cementing key urban sections of the 2,000-mile border with eighteen-foot steel walls, vastly expanding the Border Patrol, and hyper-militarizing the border with state-of-the-art surveillance technology at taxpayers’ expense. These attempts to deter migration by forcing migrants to cross the treacherous desert have not deterred migration, which continues to oscillate in tune with the ebbs and flows of the U.S. economy, but have instead resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 migrant workers and the injury of tens of thousands more.

In response, faith-based communities in Tucson created the organization Humane Borders in the year 2000 to place water stations, marked by flagpoles, in critical areas of the desert. Today, Humane Borders continues to place over 20,000 gallons of water in the desert each year. Two years later, with the death toll rising, the Samaritans were formed as a brigade of medically trained, Spanish-fluent volunteers sent to patrol the desert on four-wheel-drive vehicles loaded with food, water, and medical equipment. Today, groups of Samaritans from cities across the borderlands descend daily into the desert, treating men, women and children suffering from dehydration, malnourishment, broken bones, rattlesnake bites, and, in some cases, sexual assault. Finally, in 2004, No Mas Muertes was formed to establish a permanent humanitarian aid camp in the desert. No Mas Muertes also staffs aid stations on the Mexican side of the border, in partnership with the government of Mexico, to treat migrants deported from the United States.

In 1984, the first international gathering of Sanctuary activists in Tucson affirmed that “Sanctuary is a dynamic movement that is no longer just place but more than place. . . . [it is] an event and a community.” Just as the practice of Sanctuary spread beyond Southside Presbyterian Church into a nationwide movement, so today’s desert aid movement has spread beyond communities of faith, as independent organizations in border towns most impacted by the crisis mobilize resources and form coordinated networks of solidarity and resistance.

In June 2012, a grassroots organization called People Helping People opened the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office in the 700-person town of Arivaca, Arizona, thirteen miles above the border, to offer resources, information, and support to a close-knit community that, in the last decade, has become a battleground of America’s war against migration. The residents of Arivaca, who have lived for decades without a police force or town government, now face the constant presence of drone helicopters overhead, Border Patrol vehicles and checkpoints in the streets, and migrants knocking on their doors day and night, begging for food, water, or shelter.

“I think it’s disgusting living in a war zone,” says Leesa Jacobson, an Arivaca resident, People Helping People volunteer, and Samaritans activist, “and that’s basically what we have here. It’s very incongruous to have so much natural beauty around, and then to have so much human ugliness. . . . It almost gets to be normal to have to go through a checkpoint every time you go to the grocery store, and that’s no good. It almost gets to be normal that Black Hawk helicopters are flying over your head, and they fly low, and you know that people are running for their lives, and getting lost, and that these are the people you will later see turning up at your front door, hurt and sick.”

The Humanitarian Aid Office promotes community-based discussion, education, support, and outreach, and works to spread legal information, material resources, humanitarian aid training, and other services to unite the community in resistance and solidarity. “We have know-your-rights trainings with an ACLU lawyer that are wildly popular,” says Arivaca resident and community organizer Sophie Smith. “We have regular meetings at the office that are incredible magnets for community involvement. And this community resists border militarization in a thousand small ways. People offer their homes for hospitality and respite to travelers in need, people stop on the side of the road to give food and water. . . . Now, having an office in the center of town means that people have a place to go for support when they have issues. The idea is to have a community response rather than a state-based response. Instead of calling Border Patrol, we can help each other.”

Migrant Justice in an Age of Economic Violence

Today’s migrant justice movement in America faces a vastly different political context than that faced by organizers in the 1980s — one marked not by the immediacy of death squads and military dictatorship but by protracted neoliberal economic exploitation. While the refugees who crossed the border then were fleeing U.S.-orchestrated political violence, today’s migrants are fleeing U.S.-orchestrated economic violence. While many of yesterday’s refugees came temporarily to escape brutal dictatorship and sought ultimately to return to their countries of origin, many — though certainly not all — of today’s migrants cross the border to find work and build new lives in the United States.

Today, a plurality of organizations such as Humane Borders, the Samaritans, No More Deaths, and People Helping People work tirelessly to alleviate suffering at the border and in the desert, while broad-based initiatives work throughout the country to strengthen and support undocumented families and communities.

In Tucson, recent xenophobic public policy has banned Mexican-American Studies from the public school system and has authorized police to demand proof of citizenship for even the most routine traffic stop, as the Border Patrol continues to terrorize the city’s proud, vibrant, and resilient barrios. In response, grassroots organizations such as Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty), El Cora zón de Tucson (The Heart of Tucson), and countless others offer legal representation, support networks, and other vital services for families threatened with deportation, while advocacy organizations such as We Reject Racism, U.N.I.D.O.S., and Fuerza! work to raise awareness and influence public policy around specific issues. Activists and organizers continue to pressure the Tucson Unified School District to lift their ban on ethnic studies courses, while shops, restaurants, and homes throughout the city proudly display “We Reject Racism” posters to passersby, affirming their solidarity with Tucson’s Latin American community.

From the Sanctuary Movement to No Mas Muertes, faith-based resistance in Tucson, too, has changed within this evolving political context. While yesterday’s congregations openly defied federal law, today’s religious activism in Tucson, from faith-based desert aid organizations like No More Deaths to church-based day laborer centers like the Southside Worker Center at Southside Presbyterian Church, commits itself primarily to community support and humanitarian aid within the parameters of law. Nationwide, the New Sanctuary Movement functions as an invaluable organizing platform for congregations to resist the criminalization of migrants, support undocumented communities and advocate for political reform.

“Today, the war in poor countries is more economic than military,” said California Sanctuary veteran and New Sanctuary Movement activist Ched Myers shortly after the New Sanctuary Movement’s founding in 2007, “but the casualties are the same: families pushed and pulled from their homes by the displacing forces of globalization. . . . We are again confronting a painful landscape of human suffering, which again offers our religious congregations an urgent opportunity to practice our faith.”

In the 1980s, faith-based communities in America practiced Sanctuary with a long-range perspective. “Today,” they reasoned, “we provide shelter for the refugee in the hope that tomorrow, through the combined efforts of the entire movement, justice may prevail.”

Today, faith-based migrant justice activism in America — whether it takes the form of a gallon jug of water in the desert, a day laborers’ center in the barrios, a protest on the streets, or an entirely new social movement — continues the tradition of civil initiative, bearing witness to what Sanctuary founders described as “the legal right and the moral responsibility of society to protect the victims of human rights violations when government is the violator.” Like the Tucson Ecumenical Council in the 1970s, congregations today must apply themselves directly to the issues facing their local undocumented communities. Through forming interfaith coalitions, building networks of material and spiritual support with community organizations, raising aware ness, and taking direct action against deporta tion, racial profiling, and all other forms of anti-immigrant xenophobia, faith-based communities can amplify the movement for comprehensive immigration reform, bearing prophetic witness to the words of Leviticus: “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

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JFREJ Versus Stop-And-Frisk: Turning Jewish Radicals Into Radical Jews

Published in the Summer 2013 issue of Jewish Currents

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On a Monday evening in early March, about forty Jews of various ages, gender identifications, sexual orientations, and shades of leftism crowded into a room at the Workmen’s Circle in New York City for a meeting convened by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Passover was fast approaching, and the city was in the throes of a struggle to hold the New York Police Department (NYPD) accountable for discriminatory policing and racial profiling. One question was on everyone’s mind: How does the story of liberation from the repressive regime of Pharoah relate to the world in which we live today, a world marked by economic inequality, racism, persecution, and systemic injustice?
Ideas were traded over cookies, chips and hummus, and a vision formed to enact a “Seder in the Streets,” a ritual-as-public-spectacle that would connect the Passover seder to the growing campaign against police racism. Should we portray New York’s Mayor Bloomberg as Pharoah? Could we compare the enslaved Israelites to the underprivileged communities in New York plagued by systemic poverty and racial profiling? Might we collectively part the Red Seas of discriminatory policing?

Three weeks later, inside New York’s federal courthouse, the Floyd vs. City of New York trial began to unfold. The case was a challenge to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which police applied more than half a million times in 2012, 87 percent of the time to detain, question, and search African-Americans and Latinos, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. More than than 89 percent of these stop-and-frisk incidents yielded no criminal charges of any kind. (Data is available at www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data.) In the plaza outside the courthouse, drumbeats and chanting heralded the appearance of giant blue horse puppets, surrounded by a radical marching band and a crowd of Jews chanting an old Russian revolutionary anthem, “Daloy Politsey” (“Down with the Police”), originally written by the Jewish Labor Bund to protest the rule of the tsar in Russia.

The protestors were guided through an interactive reading of the hagode: “We wash our hands of the injustices of stop-and-frisk”; “we eat bitter herbs to commemorate the bitterness of discriminatory policing.” They discussed “The Four Questions of Stop-and-Frisk” and “The Ten Plagues of Discriminatory Policing” (“the 603 percent increase of stop-and-frisks between 2002 and 2011,” “police harassment of homeless queer youth of color,” “police using possession of condoms as evidence to accuse people of sex work,” “police filling quotas rather than keeping people safe”). Finally, they affirmed “next year in a world free of discriminatory policing!”

This Seder in the Streets is the latest in a long line of exuberant political spectacles organized by JFREJ. Formed in 1994, JFREJ aims, in the words of its website, “to pursue racial and economic justice in New York City by advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in peoples daily lives.” Since its inaugural action — a Jewish reception for Nelson Mandela’s visit to New York — JFREJ activists have joined picket lines, initiated and supported boycotts, risked arrest, and stood in solidarity with Chinese, Latin American, and other workers seeking to unionize throughout Manhattan. JFREJ has partnered with myriad progressive organizations to fight Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism in all its forms, and to organize vocally against Republican attacks on welfare, affirmative action, and immigrants’ rights. The group also holds forums, presents awards, and sponors events that celebrate progressive Jewish history and honor present and past tzadikim of the progressive Jewish community.

JFREJ’s Campaign for Police Accountability started in October 2012, when JFREJ partnered with Communities United For Police Reform and other organizations involved in the fight to end stop-and-frisk and NYPD surveillance of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. On a Saturday night in February, JFREJ’s eleventh annual Purimshpil brought hundreds of costumed Jews into a Brooklyn warehouse space to watch an extravagant and politically charged recreation of the Purim story, “I See What You’re Doing: Purim, Puppets, Politsey,” complete with puppets, a brass band, and a message of police reform. JFREJ organizers are also working to bring together rabbis and leaders of the Muslim, Arab, African-American and Latino communities to discuss the Community Safety Act — a landmark police reform billbeing weighed by the New York City Council  that would protect New Yorkers from discriminatory policing and establish an NYPD Inspector General Office to provide accountability and oversight of police activity.

JFREJ’s history of resistance to police brutality stretches back to 1999, when a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, Amadou Diallo, was shot to death outside his apartment by four NYPD officers. In a dramatic display of solidarity, one hundred and twenty JFREJ activists, including thirteen rabbis, were arrested along with others on the steps of City Hall in response to the acquittal of the officers in their murder trial. “That was definitely a moment where JFREJ provided a very, very visible Jewish presence against police discrimination in New York,” says Executive Director Marjorie Dove-Kent, “and that was a key turning point for people within and outside the organization to see the role Jews could play in multi-racial coalitions within the city around issues that weren’t so obviously issues of Jewish community concern.” Fourteen years later, Dove-Kent insists, “it’s really important that JFREJ is once again a Jewish presence in the issue.”

JFREJ hopes to mobilize rabbis, their congregations, and the broad Jewish community against not only against police profiling of New York’s African-American community but also against the intensive and invasive police surveillance of Muslim communities. The organization’s anti-Islamophobia work started immediately after 9/11, notes Dove-Kent. It reached a height in protewst of Jewish blogger Pamela Geller 2012 subway ads that depicted the World Trade Center in flames next to a quote from the Koran about “casting terror into the heart of the unbelievers.” The ads proclaimed: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Geller’s organization, Stop Islamization of America, has been identified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Still, “there are some Jewish organizations,” says Dove-Kent, “that see a growing and thriving Muslim community in New York . . . as a threat. Some of that Islamophobia comes from 9/11 and other events, both international and the national. The historical and the present-day get confused, and we want to be part of parsing out that confusion.”

Another JFREJ campaign, since 2003, has been Shalom Bayit (Peace in the Home),which has organized synagogues, rabbis, Jewish legislators, Jewish community organizations, and employers of domestic workers within the Jewish community to fight for a living wage, dignity, recognition and protection for domestic workers. As an unorganized, informal, precarious, predominantly immigrant and often undocumented workforce, domestic workers are frequently underpaid and almost completely excluded from the protections of labor law. They usually work without a written or oral contract. In the worst cases, live-in domestic workers are subject to abuse by employers and, afraid to report wage theft or other problems for fear of deportation, are made to endure what Domestic Workers United (DWU) calls “conditions indistinguishable from slavery.” In partnership with DWU, JFREJ helped pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, a landmark piece of New York legislation that gives domestic workers the right to overtime pay, protection under human rights law, a legally mandated day of rest, and other rights often withheld from this vulnerable population.

JFREJ works to publicize the issue in the liberal, middle-class sector of the New York Jewish community, where many families employ domestic workers, to raise awareness of the rights outlined in the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and to cultivate networks of support among Jewish families to ensure that the law’s mandates are implemented. Shalom Bayit’s focus on synagogues has its limitations: “A lot of Jews, including a lot of Jews within JFREJ, don’t feel affinity with synagogues,” says Rachel Schragis, one of ten organizers in the 2012 JFREJ Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship, a leadership development program that builds and trains effective organizers within the Jewish community. Nevertheless, she says, “synagogues are a physical space where you have resources, you have programming and events, a relationship to ritual, social groups that want speakers and activities, youth programming that needs content — it makes alot possible.”

Schragis, an arts educator, brought the Shalom Bayit campaign to a mitsve art project class for the bney mitsve students at Congregation Beth Elohim, the largest synagogue in Brooklyn. Students learned about the plight of domestic workers and the need for immigration reform as they created works of art, which were then sent as postcards to New York Senator Charles Schumer, himself a member of Beth Elohim, and the rest of the “Gang of Eight” currently involved in the Senate’s Bipartisan Framework for Immigration Reform. The proof of steady employment required by the Senate’s current immigration overhaul bill threatens to exclude many domestic workers, who are paid in cash and cannot furnish a record of employment. “Our message to the Gang of Eight,” says Schragis, “is to please include domestic workers in immigration reform!”

Schragis’s curriculum makes use of visual art to educate the entire synagogue community, as she experiments. The Hebrew school class, for example, held a bake sale and circulated petitions, and students took their artwork home to middle-class families, many of whom employ nannies, cleaning ladies or home-care workers. “People feel a lot of tension around the issue in privileged communities,” Schragis says. “In saying, ‘Let’s all treat domestic workers with respect,’ you are implicitly accusing someone of not treating a  domestic worker well. My mother often says that she feels a lot of pain about not have been able to give my nanny health care, because as an individual employer, health care is completely unaffordable.”

Parents of students are drawn to get involved, and JFREJ connects them to Hand In Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, a national network built to educate employers of domestic workers about their responsibilities as outlined in the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and to organize employers to fight for reform. “Organizing,” Schragis adds, “requires a transformation of individuals. Being able to use education and family relationships to make those transformations happen is very effective.” Now, students are creating a Tumblr site to post personal stories about “My Immigrant Nanny,” and JFREJ hopes to form youth groups to help mobilize the community around the issue.

Like New Jewish Agenda in the 1980s, JFREJ allows Jews to engage in progressive politics both as progressives and as Jews. Schragis was first drawn to JFREJ during the Occupy movement, and saw it as “the perfect way,” in her words, “to think about identity politics and spirituality from a Jewish perspective…it allowed me to affirm my Judaism, and to affirm my radical politics, at the same time”. Through JFREJ, Schragis transitioned from what Arthur Waskow in a 1969 essay called a “Jewish radical” — a radical who happens to be Jewish — to a self-identifying “radical Jew.” “At first, I was very intimidated” by the idea of an explicitly Jewish progressive organization, she admits. “I thought, ‘This must not be right! I shouldn’t be organizing around being Jewish!’” Being Jewish, she had been conditioned to think, “was inherently conservative and old fashioned, so if I was going to be progressive and radical, I couldn’t identify as Jewish.”

Schragis also drawn to JFREJ as “a very queer space…which helped me think about, and served as a platform for building a queer community for myself in New York, as well”. Indeed, JFREJ serves as one of many focal points and safe spaces for New York’s vibrant Jewish LGBTQ community to organize around LGBTQ issues, and to affirm the intersectionality of progressive struggle. At anti-stop and frisk-themed events such as February’s Purimspiel- a celebration of what JFREJ called “a favorite Jewish holiday for feminists, young people, queer folks, and party animals of all stripes”-  activists were quick to point out that transgender and queer people are often profiled by police with the assumption of being sex workers.  NYPD officers currently treat possession of even a single condom as evidence of prostitution, and grounds for arrest.

For Marjorie Dove-Kent, the Jewish struggle to organize and resist oppression stretches back, in the last century alone, through the multi-issue progressive mobilization New Jewish Agenda in the 1980s, to the self-defense and food networks of the Warsaw Ghetto, to early-1900s Jewish radical socialist organizations like the Bund. “Jewish political activism has been one of the things that has kept Jews alive, safe, and strong throughout history,” she insists. “Leaving that space and moving to a depoliticized or politically conservative place in the U.S. has not helped us and does not serve us.”

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Brazil Is Waking Up; Mass Arrests in ‘Moral Monday’ Protests; Bulgarian Demonstrators Win Reforms

Brazil Is Waking Up: Hundreds of thousands rallied across Brazil yesterday on the biggest day yet of the largest protest movement to rock the country in 20 years. The protests, which began over the exorbitant cost of hosting the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, have mushroomed into a wider call to end government corruption and improve the quality of public services such as education and healthcare. Slogans such as “Brazil, country of corruption,” “enough, it’s time to speak” and “Brazil is waking up” echo in major urban centers throughout Brazil, as police and protesters face off in a burgeoning movement that has made extensive use of social media.

Bulgarian Demonstrators Win Reforms: Over the last week, tens of thousands have protested in Bulgaria against the appointment of lawmaker Delyan Peevski as head of the security service of Bulgaria’s newly-elected, Socialist-led coalition government. Protesters charged that the appointment of Peevski, whose mother owns several newspapers and television channels, was motivated by private interests rather than the public good. In response, Bulgaria’s Parliament dismissed Peevski from his post on Wednesday, backed government plans to raise the minimum wage and state pensions, spearheaded public consultations to pick his replacement, and planned to reform an outdated electoral system in an attempt to assuage public opinion.

Mass Arrests in ‘Moral Monday’ Protests: This Monday, 1,000 protesters rallied outside the North Carolina legislature in Raleigh to protest extensive Republican legislative attacks on workers’ rights, equal access to education, healthcare, environmental regulation, and more. The North Carolina NAACP has so far organized seven such ‘Moral Monday’ protests, which have mobilized thousands and resulted in 480 civil disobedience arrests so far.

 

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10,000 Protest Closure of ‘Greek BBC’; Carnival Against Capitalism; Brazilians Fight Fare Hikes

Closure of “Greek BBC” Sparks Mass Protests: More than 10,000 protesters are rallying today outside the headquarters of Hellenic Broadcasting Corp (ERT), Greece’s public broadcasting station, in protest of government plans to close the station. Workers at the station have been occupying the building since the government pulled ERT off the air late Tuesday. Nearly 2,700 jobs will be lost. Greece’s two largest unions have staged a 24-hour general strike in protest, and thousands of citizens have rallied in cities around the crisis-torn country. Left-wing political parties have decried the government’s decision to close public television, while the government claims its cost-cutting measures are necessary, and that the channels will reopen later with a smaller staff.

Anti-G8 Demonstrators Stage “Carnival Against Capitalism”: Thirty-two protesters were arrested in London on Tuesday as demonstrators took to the streets to protest the world’s largest corporations in preparation for next week’s G8 summit in Ireland. Rallies outside of the headquarters of BP and Lockheed Martin coincided with a “Carnival Against Capitalism,” which saw protesters take the streets in a city-wide day of action. On June 15, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will gather a coalition of organizations together for a “Fairer World Festival” in Belfast, featuring cultural and political events calling for an end to tax evasion for multinational corporations, food, housing and land justice, and more.

Brazilians Fights Fair Hikes: On June 12, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Sao Paulo, Brazil to protest planned increases in public transportation fares. Twenty-five demonstrators were arrested in the action planned by Free Fare, a group which advocated for free or cheaper public transportation. Police in riot gear set off tear gas in Brazil’s largest city, in the third and most violent demonstration held so far by Free Fare.

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Firefighters vs. Austerity; Anonymous Hacks Hate Group; Occupy Istanbul Launches

Anonymous Hacks Hate Group: On Wednesday, hackers linked with Anonymous released a list of the full names and addresses of members of the far-right, anti-immigrant English Defense League (EDL), including phone numbers of senior members and records of criminal convictions. Following the May 22 murder of soldier Lee Rigby by an individual with reported links to Muslim extremists, England has seen waves of anti-Islamic protests and attacks, including the attempted arson of a mosque. On June 1st, more than 50 demonstrations across England have been planned by the EDL and the British National Party, in what anti-racism activists call a “day of hate.”

Occupy Istanbul Takes Off: Protesters occupied Taksim Gezi Park in the center of Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday to protest its imminent destruction. The public park is reportedly slated to be replaced by a shopping mall. After setting up tents and sleeping in the park, protesters were attacked with tear gas on Wednesday morning, prompting them to manufacture homemade gas masks and physically block police and demolition vehicles in their attempt to prevent the clearing of trees. Though Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has affirmed that the park will be demolished as planned, political leaders have voiced opposition, and the Occupy Taksim Park movement continues to grow.

Firefighters vs. Austerity: On May 29, firefighters in Barcelona, Spain clashed with riot police in a demonstration against austerity Catalonia. Hundreds of public employees burnt coffins labeled “public services” as they gathered in front of Catalonia’s parliament building. Firefighter unions charged that proposed staff and spending reductions jeopardize the safety of Catalonian workers and community members.

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Party-Crashing for the Climate; Indignados Turn Two; Bus Ads Promote Equal Rights for Palestinians

Party-Crashing for the Climate: On Monday, over 500 protesters gathered outside of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, where a fundraiser for Obama was underway, to demand that the president reject the permit to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. The crowd also expressed their opposition to local natural gas pipelines such as the Spectra and Rockaway pipelines. Representatives from Hurricane Sandy relief organizations, asserting the connection between climate change and disasters like Sandy, and demanding that local and national government commit to a transition to clean energy. The event was sponsored by a broad coalition of local and national environmental and social justice organizations, who have begun turning out large crowds to nearly all of Obama’s public events to demand that the president take a stand against the proposed pipeline.

Bus Ads Promote Palestinian Rights: Public buses throughout Seattle have beenemblazoned this week with messages advocating “Equal Rights For Palestinians: The Way To Peace.” The messages are sponsored by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, whose ad campaign stretches back to 2010 and also run in local Seattle print weeklies. The campaign has also taken aim in the past at Israel’s segregated transportation and education systems and denounced American aid to Israeli military occupation, sparking controversy in Washington state and around the country.

Indignados Turn Two: On May 12, thousands gathered in Madrid, Barcelona and 30 other cities throughout Spain to mark the second anniversary of the nation’s ‘indignados’ protest movement. Last month, unemployment hit record levels of near-30% in the debt-scarred country. Protesters carried signs on Sunday insisting “the fight continues” and asserting “together, it’s possible.” The movement, which sparked Occupy and similar protests around the world, continues its resistance in the face of planned austerity measures, including tax hikes and pay cuts for public sector workers.

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Hawking Joins Boycott; Foreclosing on Wells Fargo; Cooper Union Gets Occupied

Stephen Hawking Joins BDS Movement: This week, Professor Stephen Hawking threw his weight behind the academic boycott of Israel pioneered by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, refusing to attend a June conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. In a letter written to Peres, Hawking announced he had decided not to attend the conference, in the words of a statement published with Hawking’s approval, “based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.” In 2009, Hawking visited Israel and the West Bank and denounced Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, remarking that “the situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”

Foreclosing on Wells Fargo: Protesters in downtown Los Angeles briefly shut down the branch of a Wells Fargo bank on Tuesday to draw attention to its foreclosure practices. About 80 activists, some of whom were owners of foreclosed homes, blockaded the bank’s entrance for half an hour in an action organized by Occupy Fights Foreclosures, an Occupy Los Angeles subcommittee. The group, which has been defending a home in East Los Angeles for six months, pressures banks to negotiate with underwater homeowners. In several cases, it has taken dramatic direct actions to keep families in their homes, such as barricading the houses to prevent law enforcement and mortgage companies from entering .

Cooper Union Occupation: On May 8, students at New York’s Cooper Union occupied the President’s office, days after the startling announcement that the historically free school would begin charging tuition to undergraduates. At least 50 students took over President Jamshed Bharucha’s office and signed a statement of no confidence, which has been circulating among students and faculty. The Students For A Free Cooper Union have been waging a war of publicity and direct action against the administration’s fight to erode the full scholarship it awards to every student, which activists claim is a hallmark sign of the neoliberal trend in education.

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