It was just another summer backyard barbeque. A few veggie patties followed by a few burgers on the grill. Some drinks. Some salads. Maybe a couple dozen people. There were neighbors, several community activist types, a couple of clergy and a handful of other religious folks, plus a few workers from a local hotel and some iron workers. Wait, who?
Yes, the gathering was called together by CLUE – Clergy and Laity United for Economic-Justice – in a supporter’s back yard. We met to share some summer food, deepen our friendships and to mark some victories that might otherwise go without notice – benchmarks that shouldn’t be forgotten so quickly.
One victory involved a Santa Monica hotel. Workers there secured a “labor peace agreement” with management that protects some basic worker rights. Employees can now post signs about the benefits of a union knowing they will not get torn down and destroyed.
Vivian Rothstein was one of four recipients of a “Giant of Justice” award from Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice Los Angeles (CLUE-LA) last week. She’s a longtime friend and mentor of mine, and was introduced at the breakfast by a longtime friend and mentor of hers, Rev. Jim Lawson. In his intro, Lawson invoked the concept of the “beloved community,” a well-worn phrase whose meaning is often either trivialized or simply lost. So much a part of the civil rights movement from which Vivian’s activism sprung, the idea of a beloved community is what Vivian has imparted to so many of us – that organizing must be rooted in a basic decency and love, and in being so rooted, is transformative well beyond whatever immediate victories, however substantial, may be achieved. We’ve reprinted her speech because it is a such a remarkably well-told story. Not captured here is how it ended,
I have been wading through the three volumes of Taylor Branch’s history, America in the King Years, and reliving the dozen years between Montgomery and Memphis. The Montgomery bus boycott catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr., into the national headlines; Memphis was where he was assassinated. Throughout that tumultuous time, the Reverend James Lawson stood just offstage, a key partner in the nonviolent campaign for full citizenship for African Americans.
While King spearheaded the campaign to desegregate the buses in Montgomery, Lawson trained students in Nashville in the ways of nonviolence. He led small workshops tucked away in church basements. He taught his students not to react to taunts and threats. He gave them tools to remain calm and centered while undergoing arrest or physical attacks. Lawson believed that only by enduring the blows of hatred could haters see their own humanity. He brought Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence to this country and he trained thousands of civil rights workers during those years.