Sunday, October 28, 2007

Workbook for Our Times

Today, neighbors began donating books for our Hillsdale community book sale on Dec. 9. We gathered the books, which came by the bags full, in Larry and Sally McLaughlin’s white Isuzu pick-up parked at the entrance to the farmers’ market.

Several of the books in this first batch were remarkable. Experience with three earlier sales teaches that more will follow in donations at the next three markets.

Because I am one of the sale’s principal organizers, I get to sort through the books first. One jumped out at me today. It was a workbook from a class on non-violence taught by the Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center, which happens to be in Las Vegas. Whoever donated the large white handbook, titled "From Violence to Wholeness," clearly took the class because the text is marked with handwritten notations.

So much of the book’s content echoed my last Red Electric entry about renaming streets for heroes (specifically Interstate Avenue for Cesar Chavez) that it was eerie.

The workbook contains Cesar Chavez’s “Letter from Delano,” written in 1969 to his union’s adversary, E.L. Barr, Jr. the president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

The words capture Chavez’s humility, determination and willingness to fast and die for the cause of his people. The labor leader ends by saying, “This letter does not express all that is in my heart, Mr. Barr. But if it says nothing else, it says that we do not hate you or rejoice to see your industry destroyed; we hate the agribusiness that seeks to keep us enslaved and we shall overcome and change it not by retaliation or bloodshed but by a determined nonviolent struggle carried on by those masses of farm workers who intend to be free and human.”

In another section of this remarkable workbook is a prayer Chavez wrote. Invoking God, it reads in part:

Give me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

As I wrote yesterday, those who seek to honor Chavez, should honor his ideals and methods, which are so movingly conveyed here. They should honor him first by learning what he taught and did, and second living those words and deeds.

Naming streets after Chavez, does little or nothing to advance his cause. Indeed the symbolic gesture offers a false sense of accomplishment, sapping energy from the on-going struggle for economic and social justice. If you want to name a street, name it for the struggle and its purpose.

Tomorrow, I will share some of the section of the workbook that addresses consensus. Astonishingly, that was the other topic I wrote about yesterday as I looked at the utter failure of the City Council to address the issues underlying the street-naming fiasco.

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