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Yesterday I showed up….

I have been to so many rallies, protests, marches, vigils, civil disobedience actions, and other public witness events that it is hard to keep count. I have had friends ask me sometimes if I feel like they are making any difference. I mean, just in support of passing just and humane immigration reform alone, I must have attended dozens of marches, rallies, and vigils and I have been arrested several times in acts of civil disobedience over the years, but yet, Congress has yet to take action and bring citizenship to our undocumented siblings. Is it worth it and is it effective are the two questions I get most of the time when it comes to engaging in public witness.

 And I get the questions. I tend to be pragmatic when it comes to public witness events. I want my engagement to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Yet, there is something too analytic and cold in the questions that I try to avoid answering them. Rather, I tend to answer with, “I cannot remember a single time I joined with others in a public witness event that I did not see God move.” And while history shows that rights are protected and justice is achieved through a myriad of creative ways among both activists and decision-makers alike, perhaps the most faithful response we can make to the movement of God in the world is to show up.

So Thursday I joined with our good friends at United We Dream for a small event outside the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington DC. The goal is to urge the Senate to at long last pass immigration reform that grants citizenship to ALL undocumented people. And right now, the odds on that happening, given the political rancor between Democrats and Republicans and the bipartisan obsession of both sides to gain control of the Senate, are very low.

 As a result, attendance at the event was minimal and I could only count one other faith leader who attended. But hey, I get it. I used to work in a denominational office on Capitol Hill and providing leadership to massive though declining institutions takes a heck of a lot of time. Too much time if you ask me. But what can be gained by showing up and watching mostly undocumented students sit in the middle of the street until they are arrested, chanting for Senate Leader Schumer to do his job and prioritize the rights of immigrants? Again, the questions, of effectiveness and whether it was worth it were creeping into my mind as I drove to Capitol Hill for the action.

 And then God showed up. As the UWD activists sat down in the middle of Constitution Avenue as an act of civil disobedience dozens of police surrounded them and got ready to arrest them. Think about it, while I was considering the number of things I needed to accomplish that day which almost kept me from attending, undocumented students were getting arrested in order to call attention to the injustices committed against other undocumented people across the country. Their commitment is stunning and challenging to me.

 

So Thursday I joined with our good friends at United We Dream for a small event outside the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington DC. The goal is to urge the Senate to at long last pass immigration reform that grants citizenship to ALL undocumented people. And right now, the odds on that happening, given the political rancor between Democrats and Republicans and the bipartisan obsession of both sides to gain control of the Senate, are very low.

 As a result, attendance at the event was minimal and I could only count one other faith leader who attended. But hey, I get it. I used to work in a denominational office on Capitol Hill and providing leadership to massive though declining institutions takes a heck of a lot of time. Too much time if you ask me. But what can be gained by showing up and watching mostly undocumented students sit in the middle of the street until they are arrested, chanting for Senate Leader Schumer to do his job and prioritize the rights of immigrants? Again, the questions, of effectiveness and whether it was worth it were creeping into my mind as I drove to Capitol Hill for the action.

 And then God showed up. As the UWD activists sat down in the middle of Constitution Avenue as an act of civil disobedience dozens of police surrounded them and got ready to arrest them. Think about it, while I was considering the number of things I needed to accomplish that day which almost kept me from attending, undocumented students were getting arrested in order to call attention to the injustices committed against other undocumented people across the country. Their commitment is stunning and challenging to me.

I was struck by the image of the police hovering above the students, pictured above, like storm clouds. I thought about the time in Mark 4 when Jesus and the disciples were crossing over the Sea of Galilee and a storm came and threatened them. Jesus boldly stood up and commanded the waves and the wind to be still. The disciples were amazed at the authority and command of Jesus. I was like the disciples and the UWD activists were Jesus; being led to arrest, but willingly and boldly refusing to succumb to injustice and instead, insisting that their voices be heard and that decision-makers finally use their power redemptively.

Once again, God showed up.

Now, I am not sure I have too many talents. I can’t sing and dance and I am not that eloquent. But the one thing I can do is sometimes the best thing I can do. I can show up. I can be present. I can lend my voice with those directly impacted by injustice who refuse to be ignored and insist that people in decision-making positions use their power for justice rather than for themselves.

The first rule of organizing, I have been told, is to show up. You know what the second is? Keep showing up. And if it takes the rest of my life, I am going to keep showing up to support my immigrant siblings.

Bill Mefford

Bill Mefford is the Executive Director of The Festival Center. He is a connector, innovator, and visionary. From living and serving in poor communities in Waco, TX, Lexington, KY, Cleveland, and Chicago to working for national non-profits on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Bill has always sought to creatively bring together people and organizations from all walks of life to work together to achieve real and lasting change. Bill has led experiential-learning simulations on poverty and has created a national network of United Methodists passionate about immigration reform and ending mass incarceration.

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