We (Rabbi Lerner, Cat, and others from Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives) participated in an interfaith action in San Diego today with over 400 faith leaders and activists representing an extremely diverse range of spiritual traditions - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Native Americans, and secular humanists.
The day began at the offices of the American Friends Services Committee, the organizers of the march and action. We met new and old friends alike, picked up supplies for the day, and took photos with our communities and friends before boarding buses to Border Field State Park.
The action began at the park with prayer led by a Native American and then a press conference with a few speakers. The demands of the group are:
-- respect for the human right to migrate and seek asylum
-- an end to the militarization of border communities (which was on vivid display today)
-- an end to immigrant detention and deportation and the defunding of ICE and Border Patrol
During the press conference, we were happy to hear Imam Zakid Shakir speak about the need to deal with the influx of refugees (in our country and around the world) by addressing the root problems of poverty, violence, and oppressive regimes, in those countries, many of them created by the US and other western countries – the very reason why we have been advocating for the Global Marshall Plan. We were also inspired to hear many speakers throughout the day speak to the need to respond with generosity and care – aligning with our vision of a caring society based on a New Bottom Line.
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We walked about a mile from the parking lot of Border Field State Park to the beach. The procession was over 400 people long. The energy was uplifting even while you could feel the power of what we were doing.
As we walked along the path to the beach, avoiding slippery mud and water, I felt a deep connection with the refugees who walk miles and miles through this terrain in the hopes of reaching a safe haven. May these waters become goddess-infused waters bringing us all to our liberation together. The reflections in the water are powerful reminders to ask ourselves when we look in the mirror, what is the image we see looking back at us? When we look at someone else, the ‘other’, are we able to see in their eyes, the reflection of the divine looking back at us? If not, what makes us harden our hearts to their humanity?
At the beach, those who were risking arrest participated in a prayer service and ointment of oil and the rest followed behind in support.
We walked another half mile along the beach to the border wall where faith activists sat, kneeled, and prayed together facing Border Patrol who were fully armed and wearing military gear to show solidarity with our sisters, brothers, and others who are seeking refugee here in the US like so many of our ancestors and family members did before us. We were standing close enough to the border to see people on the other side of the wall, blocked by barbed wire and the Border Patrol.
At one point an officer announced, "they are throwing stones from the other side; we're just letting you know for your safety." We looked up, no stones. I looked over to the other side of the border, no stones. Only birds with the freedom to fly over all boundaries, the same boundaries and borders that corporations cross with impunity. Corporations that trash our environment, exploit local workers, steal indigenous lands, and silence and sometimes participate in killing activists in those communities. The same boundaries and borders that our government crosses and invades daily to impose a capitalist and military order that will serve the interests of the ruling elite, here and abroad, giving rise to the refugee crisis we are “protecting” ourselves from.
As I stood near the activists with nothing but my phone to take photos and a backpack with a few provisions witnessing the activists sit in front of the officers towering over them with batons and weapons ready to fire pepper spray, tear gas canisters, and live bullets, I couldn’t help but notice our vulnerability. A vulnerability I could feel when sudden movements happened and we ended up in the water, or quickly moved back to avoid being pushed down as the officers pushed against the line. This vulnerability is nothing compared to the vulnerability the refugees experience everyday making a choice whether to stay in a dangerous situation or leave without knowing what lies ahead. This momentary shared vulnerability allows us to tap into our shared humanity and to realize that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to be safe.
Looking in the eyes of some of the officers, I could see their humanity, imagine this is the job our country offers them with good wages and benefits and see how they too are caught in this military industrial complex, wishing for a way out. And then, when one of the officers shouted "move back," I could see and feel the energy shift – perhaps in me, perhaps in them, likely both. Suddenly they’d lift their arms and put them across their chests, weapons and all, and begin pushing against the line of nonviolent protestors, forcing some back, arresting others – all in a very haphazard fashion. I wondered in that moment if their hearts hardened. Did their humanity leave their bodies and their robotic training take over. Were any of our peaceful protests, songs and prays able to break through their armor and touch their hearts? Or are their hearts so hardened and obstructed with their heavy weapons, masks, and gear. What does that do to them? To us? How do we stay in our hearts and open to the humanity of all of us?
This action, which ended with a closing prayer circle, was grounded in prayer and represented the best of spiritual activism – singing spiritual songs and prayers. It was deeply meaningful and moving to be there as a witness.
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