Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Acts of Resistance and Hope, Breaking the Barriers of Power

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Dec 22, 2010

In a restaurant in a small Midwest town last week three workers got fired for standing up for a new employee promised one salary and given significantly less after his first week on the job.  They took the injustice to one of the owners, asked that it be redressed, and were summarily dismissed themselves.  The story didn’t make the news; these stories seldom do.  After all, it’s business-as-usual in America these days, where workers—especially immigrant workers—are expendable “inputs” treated with impunity.

These three workers were, however, unusual.  For the past year they have organized their own crew and other restaurant workers in the community for better wages and working conditions, and have stood fast in the face of owner threats.  Most of them worked over seventy hours a week, and their meager pay came in cash.  While the owner often played them off with threats of calling immigration, they backed him off with threats of calling the IRS.

Their strength came in their solidarity and their keen strategies to keep their worker community strong and organized.  Their resilience came from their deep-rooted commitment to justice, honed in the grip of more challenging settings in their distant homelands.  The enduring strength of the human spirit will enable them to prevail.  The owner has not heard the last of these principled and courageous grassroots leaders.

As Christmas and the end of 2010 draws near, such stories of resistance and hope must be told and retold. In spite of the cultural captivity of Christmas, with all its retail trappings and glitz, the day, the birth, is about radical hope in the face of history that appears closed and without the possibility for change, for justice.  In the Christian community itself, such understandings have faded dramatically, except among those who live and struggle daily in the face of the oppressive economic and political power of our own time, and the dominance of the few over the many.

Even for those historically oppressed, the days ahead are going to be rough and rougher. Political power is dramatically and resolutely consolidating in the grip of wealth.  There is no will among governing elites to address, let alone tackle, the most pressing challenges facing the country. Capital has piled up to near-historic levels in the hands of corporations and lies unspent for expansion and job development in domestic settings.  Wars continue to drain us.

States, counties, and municipalities of all sizes face austerity.  The army of the permanently unemployed grows.  White nationalism is commonplace, even in the Congress.  The New Year looks to be just like the old one, and possibly worse.

So it is that small acts of hope and resistance become the seeds of movements of freedom, celebrated, lifted up, told and retold, spread far and wide, and breaking through the barriers of power.

So it is that the seeming unbreakable chain of history and power is challenged, cracked, and broken.

So it is that the peoples, destitute, poor, oppressed, landless, homeless, jobless break ground toward a radically different future, shaped and imbued with justice, in spite of it all.

So it is and so it will be. Three restaurant workers.  Living lives of resistance and hope, reflected in countless, similar stories of principled, courageous peoples everywhere, breaking the barriers of power. In spite of it all, theirs is indeed the future.

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