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|Why Do I Fast?
Released 16 September 2004  By Terry Burke aka elbop
During the week of September 20-25, the New American Opportunity Campaign has called for national effort to focus on the achievement of Human Rights for Immigrants.
Read more about the Week of Action for Immigrant Rights at:
New American Opportunity Campaign
Why Do I Fast? by Terry Burke aka elbop | Pasadena DREAM Solidarity Fast Daily Journal:Day One | Day Four | Day Five
As part of that call in Los Angeles, The DREAM Team Coalition is going to hold a Fast from September 13th through the 25th. Every day there will be public events and days of Solidarity focusing on Labor, Interfaith and other community support for the goal of passing the DREAM Act in Congress.
Please read more about this here
and read the Daily Fast Journal from the Los Angeles DREAM Team here
The aims of the Fast are to secure improvements in the Human Rights of Immigrants and therefore of the society in which we all live together. The means to do so are embodied in our Constitution and our political process, which gives us the ability to pass laws such as the DREAM Act - Educational Access for Immigrant Students (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act). Please read more about this from the ACLU here
Why Do I Fast?
Personal Statement of Terry Burke aka elbop
From Monday September 20 through Saturday September 25, I will join in solidarity with the Fast for the Passage of the DREAM Act and other legislation that advances the cause of justice and fairness for Immigrants in this country. I will drink only water for these 6 days, while others are already in their second week of a Fast which begins on September 13th. The Fast is being organized by the Los Angeles DREAM Coalition. I am not a member of that group, but I answer their call to participate in this action as a member of my own group, the Immigrant Solidarity Network. The views below are my personal views and do not represent anyone but me. A Fast is an intensely personal action, and to take such an action, I must have strong personal feelings that motivate me.
I am the great-grandson of Irish Immigrants, on my father's side.
In the 1880s, when my grandfather's people came to America, they were despised, distrusted, hunted down and worked to death like draught animals. My great-grandfather worked 14 hour shifts in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. That coal built the industrial foundation on which the fortunes of Wall Street today are standing.
As an Irish Catholic, my great-grandfather Michael Burke was subjected to racist hatred and my people were targeted for murder and violent treatment at the hands of White gangs and Ku Klux Klan terrorists who operated in this land with the tacit approval of the law and mainstream society. Irish people were depicted in the mainstream press as ignorant invaders, lower than human, fit for nothing in this world but to slave at hard labor. Our women were allowed to perform duties in the homes of the proper White families as maids, cooks, cleaning women... doing the back-breaking work that White women considered to be beneath their dignity. Their labor provided the comfort in which the lords of the next century were raised when they were babes.
When they arrived, my people were conscripted into the US Army to fight wars against Native Americans, Mexico, Cuba and the Philippines, sent to work building railroads, in the mines, steel factories and other hard labor for pennies a day. Their status as light-skinned Europeans was manipulated to divide them and put them at odds with African-Americans and other minorities, pitting one class of serf against another. This so that the managers of the vast industrial operations generating immense wealth for the families of the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, Astors, DuPonts and the rest could continue without the threat of being interrupted the inconvenient expense of fairness to the workers.
All of this happened here in America barely over 100 years ago. In time, this experience has become nothing but a fairy tale, a cliché, and even a justification for the same treatment now being given to others who are living this American Nightmare today.
Why did my people leave their fabled and beloved land? They left as a result of the fact that a global economy had ravaged Ireland, stolen its forests to use for military construction, turned its fields into factory farms for the production of export crops which fed no one who actually worked the land. Millions lived in squalor and for their very survival were forced to leave, enticed by lies and offers of fortunes to be made in the "paradise" of America by profiteering "coyotes" who crammed my people onto boats that filled the sea bound for the tenements of New York. These people were the Immigrants of yesterday, and their suffering howls in the wind, groans under our feet and stares at us from the eyes of those today who are filling the same role in a modern version of this ugly story of exploitation and racism. All to benefit a tiny minority who again pretend that they have no responsibility in any of it.
Today the world is crisscrossed with interlocking enterprises that are mostly based in the US and Europe, whose wealth dwarfs that of the richest men who ruled in my great-grandfather's time. These enterprises include production of the meat that goes into our hamburgers, the minerals that form the foundation of our technology, the shoes we wear on our feet and the shirts we wear on or backs. In fact, almost everything we see around us today comes from some far-off country, where people are unknown except as fanciful "natives" who dance strange dances and wear strange costumes in National Geographic documentaries. Or more commonly, and more maliciously, they are presented as teeming hordes of angry ignorant primitives to be feared for their alleged intent to invade us and rob us of our riches while we sleep.
The US media is filled with "debate" on the question of "Illegal Aliens" and how to stop the "destruction of America" by the invasion of workers "swarming" across our borders. The Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O' Reilly's, the Issa Hutchinsons and Dana Rohrbachers, the FOX News and the Pat Robertsons... all trumpets of doom and terror, preaching a gospel of fear and hatred directed against those who are here for the same reasons my people came here and do the same labor they did. All for the benefit of the same minority who still profit from the misery of millions while they slander those who toil.
The attacks of 9/11 are being used to justify an escalation of the fear directed against Immigrants today. It has always been bad for these hard-working people, but now the harsh conditions in which they struggle here are magnified. The 9/11 attacks are being used to justify an all-out attack against the basic human rights of people who are cynically being used to do the work at the foundation of our economy while being accused of posing a "terrorist threat." It is an outrage.
The attackers who committed the atrocity on 9/11 were 19 individuals working as part of a military operation that had its roots in the foreign policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 80's. They were not "Immigrants," they were secret agents working on behalf of interests that have close ties to the same wealthy men who exploit the world for their fortunes. The Saudi Royal Family has long supported the work of these terrorists, and the US elite has long supported the Saudi Royal Family. The blame for 9/11 lies with the terrorists and their supporters, not with the poor millions who have been thrown into our country by the actions of an economic system that ravages their homelands and wracks their native countries with wars and corrupt governments who serve none but the multi-national corporations. The blame lies with those that fund and support despotic military dictatorships from Pakistan to Colombia to Indonesia to Sierra Leone who violently enforce low wages and the subjugation of entire continents to the will of the few against the needs of the many.
There is movement today that rises out of these truths, calling each of us to take a part in dispelling the falsehoods put forth to justify the exploitation of the poor. Attacks against the human rights of Immigrants based on lies need to be confronted.
I am fasting in solidarity with the truth. The dignity of human life and justice demand that I take part in actions that engage this truth and demand and end to injustice. In solidarity with the memory of my own people who suffered from exploitation, racism and violence, I fast. I fast to dramatize the struggle of those who today seek fairness, who ask nothing more than to be treated as brothers and sisters in our midst.
Immigrant Solidarity Network
Pasadena Solidarity Fast: Day One
September 20, 2004
by Terry Burke aka elbop
I began a 6 Day solidarity Fast today, joining dozens around the nation and at USC where the Los Angeles DREAM Team has been fasting and calling attention to the DREAM Act since September 13.
This witness is being held "off-site" because of work committments that keep me close to home, including updating this website and others such as the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (icujp.org) and Progressive Christians Uniting sites.
But there is another reason. I feel that it is of great importance that I act locally, in the community where I was raised and have lived since 1963. As a middle-aged "white" man, I also feel that it is important to make my support for Immigrants and People of Color known here in this upscale and racially diverse city. The location I have chosen is in front of the Downtown Pasadena Post Office -- a spot where eventually it seems, almost everyone in town shows up at some point or another.
The Post Office also sits across the street from a large brand-new shopping complex called Paseo Pasadena -- ironically named so, because the great majority of Spanish-speaking people who are present there are those who hold the low-end jobs: the cleaning staff, the cooks, dishwashers, maintenance and other jobs. These are the silent, invisible people who keep the place beautiful for the largely white clientele busily absorbing all that "Spanish" atmosphere and ambiance. I don't know how many of these workers are undocumented, but I do feel the chasm between the life they lead and that of those who shop and eat there. For some, life is about pleasure and privilege, for others, work and sacrifice.
It is with the future of both groups in mind that I come to fast, because I believe that this chasm is in danger of swallowing that which is decent and good about our nation. For some to have so much, to benefit so richly from the efforts of others, while denying those who provide them with these benefits the justice of fairness and opportunity makes us all less than American, and less than we can and must be.
I have been joined today with the company of my partner Pamela and a friend named Carol. Both came and spent the hours between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm greeting passers-by and helping hand out flyers. (download the flyers I'm handing out here). These are the hours of my daily witness from Monday through Friday this week. On Saturday, I'll join the LA DREAM Team at the closing ceremony, keep an eye on this site for time and location of that cermeony and join us!
The hours passed quickly with many good conversations, mostly positive. Almost everyone at least sees the point that it is unfair to hold the children of undocumented people responsible for their immigration status and it is unwise to waste these youth's futures in a vindictive policy that makes them criminals instead of scholars and professionals. There is awareness that the whole question of Immigration policy is tied to many larger issues, such as US Trade policy which negatively affects so many economies in the world and creates millions of economic refugees who are coming to the US to survive and prosper simply because they cannot at home.
The one critisism I found difficult to answer was from a Black man who angrily said "We need to take care of justice for ourselves before we open up the border and give benefits to immigrants..." I tried to say to him that he was half-right and half-wrong, that the two goals were not mutually exclusive, but he was angry and left. I felt that it would have been good for me to have flyers on the table supporting a bill to raise the minimum wage, or to guarantee affordable housing to all... but focus is also a virtue, and all these issues are difficult.
One conversation lead a man to ask me "So what is your solution?"
To that I replied that there is no single solution to any of our problems, that in fact, any proposal has its failures and weaknesses which make it hard to know what to do. But I said that there can be no standing still either, and that ultimately change will come from the combined efforts of many people and ideas. I said that one thing that might help that change to happen sooner would be a change in the attitude of the public, away from the meanness, the anger, the quickness to blame. I'd like to see us learn to see each other as partners in each others progress, to accept that no one is perfect. We all have a part to play in gaining for ourselves and each other those things that we all need and want. We can all help each other to make life not just a game of survival, but a journey of hope and potential that fulfills us and gives us meaning that we can be proud of.
Pasadena Solidarity Fast: Day Four
September 23, 2004
I'm on my fourth day, feeling pretty weak. I've fasted several times in the past, but this one is harder for some reason...
I'll be happy to be at the closing ceremony, its been pretty lonesome out here in Pasadena. Pamela and a couple of friends came for the first two days, but yesterday and today I'll be tabling alone. Well, not quite alone, I share the spot with two homeless women one of whom sits directly across from me and offers critical commentary about Jesus and how what I'm doing is at odds with God. Or not, depending on her mood.
Anyhow, I've been getting pretty positive responses from people and pass out about 70 flyers a day... wearing the white shirt and tie definitely gets me accepted by many more than would otherwise take a flyer I think.
I did have a strong disagreement with one man, a Mexican immigrant in his sixties, retired. He was very eager to turn the discussion into a general discussion on overpopulation, the deficit in California, the immorality of crossing borders illegally... he really did not want to consider that the DREAM Act is for these very reasons very narrowly focused on aiding a particular, and small, group of people. The children of undocumented people whose lives have been largely spent in the USA, who do not really "come from" somewhere else, in whom has been invested a full high school education already by the taxpayers and from whom it is demanded that they be "of good moral character" and be enrolled in college courses and other requirements to qualify for the right to seek citizenship. All of which results in new tax-paying, educated citizens helping to solve our problems instead of adding to them. But the gentleman took the Act as a means for more "illegals" to sneak their kids into the country and continue to destroy our society.
But this is tempered by the other people, occasionally one who has heard of the DREAM Act and is grateful for the 1-800-369-0315 number to call Sen. Frist and get him to move the bill through the Senate. And the opportunity to represent on behalf of a positive attitude toward Immigrants is also fulfilling. It is so needed. There is so much propaganda disparaging Immigrants and it is high time folks stood up and said "enough."
Pasadena Solidarity Fast: Day Five
September 24, 2004
The week went well, I spent about ten hours tabling in front of the Pasadena Post Office and spoke with at least 100 people about the DREAM Act and Immigration issues in general. I found a very polarized and racially divided community. In general, White people are full of invective and spite for Immigrants, blaming them for loss of the California budget surplus, rising crime, loss of jobs... and claiming that Immigrants take more than they contribute to our economy while at the same time "stealing our jobs." There were also several people of Mexican descent with the opinion that there is no excuse for people "who don't want to do it the right way" and that these "illegals" should not expect any benefits at all - to the contrary, they should be penalized.
Another anti-Immigrant group I found was among Black folks who were convinced that fairness to Immigrants comes at the direct expense of fairness "to our own people," meaning that until all US citizens enjoy real health care, education and living wage conditions, no Immigrants should be granted those benefits, especially illegal ones.
The other side of the question, the side I was promoting, was supported by a cross-section of people, but mostly Latino people. A few Latino folks mentioned how grateful they were that a White man would be taking the trouble to speak out for Immigrant rights. In fact, my white shirt and tie, and the US Flag on my table, made some Latino people visibly hesitate before examining my poster and flyers more closely. They said that my "look" gave them the impression that I was promoting anti-Immigrant views.
All of the above in the end made me feel sad, and a little weary. My whole life has been spent in recoil at the racism in our nation since watching Watts burn on the TV when I was eight years old, through the dozens of further race riots of the sixties, the assassinations of ML King, RFK, the murders of Black Panthers, the military occupation of South Dakota during Wounded Knee, the launching of Ronald Reagan's 1979 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Bakke case that began the assault on Affirmative Action, and most recently the denial of voting rights to Blacks returning in force in the 2000 elections in Florida and just this summer in southern Texas... in fact, though much progress has been made, social indicators on quality of life for minorities in general have declined over these decades -- in some cases, minorities are in worse shape now than at the time of the civil rights movements of the sixties. Now I see another division -- between US citizen poor and Immigrant poor working people. This division is cynically manipulated by an elite of wealthy employers such as Wal-Mart and the huge industries, such as the poultry industry, who make profits from the labor of undocumented people and support "conservative" political movements that vilify Immigrants and cut services for US citizen poor working people at the same time.
I see a demoralizing willingness of the White community to accept injustice while ignoring their own participation in the politics that create the problems that they experience. Large numbers of Whites put fault on victims of the "bi-partisan" Free Trade, Three Strikes, Budget Cutting policies that penalize the weakest members of our society. There are too many who are quick to place the blame on Immigrants while ignoring the root causes of the injustices they actually suffer from themselves -- the overcrowding, the cut-throat competition that keeps their wages down, the fees, taxes and regulations they must adhere too while big business skates through all forms of responsibility with ease. Too many are willing to adopt a heart-hearted meanness toward Immigrants while allowing their politicians to continue to recreate the US into a virtual economic vacuum cleaner that sucks all wealth to the top 5% while leaving the bottom 95% to fight over the leavings.
My fast was done to demonstrate that I am committed to the cause of changing this situation. I don't think the fact that I was fasting meant much to others on the street, but to me, it was a focusing and humbling experience. The society I know we can make is out there. As I said, I found polarization on the street, with about half and half support/rejection. We are riding on a razor's edge. The forces who would recklessly force our society further away from an egalitarian, inclusive, pluralistic character toward a highly regimented, separatist, fearful and uni-polar one are strong and persuasive. I hope that my small voice made some contribution to a counterbalancing force that will in the end help us materialize the long delayed society of Justice and Peace that must prevail if we are to in fact survive.
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