“April 21 is the MOST IMPORTANT DAY in Philadelphia IN THE LAST 5 YEARS.” — Councilman Curtis Jones, 4th District, to a community meeting Tuesday night, April 9, 2013
All of us have signed petition in the hopes that showing our support for this or that cause will help make a difference. Advocating for changes we think are important, we are willing to put our name on paper.
Then whoever has collected our’s and other’s signatures… gathered pages of petitions can use them creatively to convince, pressure or enable the decision-makers to make the right decision. Sometimes even a hard decision. At least that’s what we hope happens with our fairly modest effort and contribution.
But have you ever thought about being a “living petition?” Offering more than your signature. Offering yourself. Showing up for the cause. Standing shoulder to shoulder with sisters and brothers before the leaders who you expect in response to make a stand– perhaps calling them to stretch that in order to move a situation, maybe even to move our world closer towards the way things should be.
Imagine Martin Luther King at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” It was August 1963 and President Kennedy earlier that summer had introduced major civil rights legislation that, when later enacted, was to become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But first, the President and his legislative initiative needed a push, some visible support to push our country ahead into desperately needed territory, but in a direction that also engendered loud and vocal opposition.
There on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King spoke before the 250,000 civil rights activists who had come to stand with him. Their message was clear and hard to miss: it’s past time to end racism in this country.
Their immediate “target audience” for their event was not even present. Both politicians considering the legislation proposed and the rest of the country facing changes in how we understood race and one another. But it was too big a crowd, too visible and loud a gathering to miss.
On Sunday afternoon, April 21, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims; Whites and Blacks and Latinos and Asians, all God’s children are gathering in North Philadelphia. Not quite “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” We might call it “The Gathering in North Philly for a City that Works.”
We’re only aiming for 4,000. But we need that many to stand together to say, to pressure leaders who will be there, and maybe even more, those who will not be…
~ the mayor and city council to create a jobs agreement wherein Philadelphians needing work will get more access to jobs at the city-owned airport;
~ our representatives in Washington to create legislation which will provide a pathway to citizenship for the many undocument neighbors;
~ the schools superintendent to welcome empowered parents to the table in the desperately needed attempts to improve our schools and the education the children of this city receive.
All three positions are desperately needed to begin moving Philadelphia towards becoming a city of opportunity that works for all. But there are also voices of opposition. And they can be loud too. Folks who think city workers aren’t worth courting. Or that immigrant neighbors shouldn’t really be welcome. Or that parents should just leave their children’s education to the beauracrcy at the school district.
You could just sign a petition. Or you can take some real time out of your real life to join others in taking a stand. If we turn out enough people, if we make enough noise, if we are clear we’re watching, and we’re not going to go away… Then we begin to see how community organizing creates power for people and their interests that often get overlooked. Together we can:
~ exert as much influence on the mayor as the business community does. Or we can get a veto-proof majority in City Council. And begin to make more jobs available to people in this city who desperately need work to support their families…
~ send a strong message to the PA delegation in D.C.: we support leaders for immigration reform. There’s a warning also for those who stand in the way: this is an issue that’s important to Philadelphians who are not even directly affected. And the religious community is organizing for pathways to citizenship.
~ pressure the schools superintendent to transform the process for school reform: we want parents involved on the front end — in thinking about what their children need and in making decisions about how to improve our schools, instead of only when the bureaucracy is trying to sell their latest plan…
Sunday afternoon, April 21 will be akin to our being — when we work together well as the church — the “Body of Christ” — we become so much more than just ourselves …except that we’re working with folks of other faiths too. So maybe we could say that together we’re going to be a sign of the visible presence of God.
Again, it’s too much of a Christian image to use for interfaith work, but come out for another experience of Easter…
YES, I will be boarding a bus at Old First about 1:30 pm as we head off together to become “a Living Petition.”
P.S. I often ask for your all’s help, to do all kinds of things that are beyond me. But on this one, I need to ask EVERYONE’s help: we need to turn out a crowd if we really want to begin to see change for the better in this city.
See you in church,