This morning, I was fortunate to be able to attend the annual Faith-Labor breakfast sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice (ICWJ). It was a well attended event of a few hundred faith and labor leaders and supporters as well as low wage workers encouraging support for the Fight for $15 campaign to increase the minimum wage.
The guest speaker was the Rev. Michael Livingston, the Executive Minister of the famous progressive Riverside Church in Manhattan.
In discussing his campaign to support federal contract workers earning less than $10/hour, Rev. Livingston encouraged each one of us to put ourselves in his shoes. He coined the term “policy violence” when he discussed the many ways our legal system institutionalizes poverty, racism and injustice.
While struggling for justice for people who are oppressed by the rich and powerful is often daunting, Rev. Livingston was able to confirm for us that many battles can be, and indeed, are won. After multiple strikes of low wage federal contract workers, President Obama announced in his 2012 State of the Union address, that he was signing an Executive Order which compelled all federal contractors to pay their workers a minimum wage of $10.10/hour. While this is still a poverty wage, it is significantly above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, which Congress refuses to increase.
When Rev. Livingston took questions from the audience, he provided a good recipe to those questioning how they can hope to achieve their goals for worker justice in the face of so many obstacles. Quite simply, he affirmed what I have believed and wrote about many times. The foundation of systems change is community building. He want on to say that in order to build community, we must “deepen the ties that bind us in one human family.”
Rev. Livingston opened and closed his remarks with the encouragement that in our work to improve the world we, “open holy doors.” I was proud to sit next to my Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, at a table of my fellow congregants from the Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, which co-sponsored this morning’s event. I am equally proud that my Rabbi’s wife, Rabbi Renee Bauer, is the Executive Director of the ICWJ. Together, Rabbis Laurie & Renee open holy doors on a daily basis and welcome all who are prepared to roll up their sleeves to improve the world.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.