January 2014 – “Sleepless in Solidarity” – Leader’s Message

I had to wake up at 4 am, so I had to fall asleep. But I couldn’t. I had to fall asleep, so I drank hot cider with a stick of cinnamon and a shot of bourbon. Delicious, but it didn’t work. So I read. The novel on the top of my nightstand pile had done the trick before, but it wasn’t working. I still couldn’t sleep. I could have easily finished the book, but I couldn’t. I had to wake up at 4 am.

I lay awake in bed, eyes closed, thinking about . . . everything. Nothing escaped my attention; nothing was too small or insignificant to ponder and analyze. A parade of people marched under my eyelids, and every one of them had a story that I was forced to replay, like running a projector on the screen of a darkened and empty movie theater. I was mostly thinking about the workers who would soon be going on strike at fast food restaurants all across the country.

Just relax, I kept telling myself. You’re lying down, your eyes are closed. Even if you’re not sleeping, you’re relaxing. Only I wasn’t. I kept going through the next day’s (now this day’s) agenda:
• Meet clergy colleagues on the corner of 52nd and 8th Avenue in Manhattan at 5:30 am
• Combine forces with workers and community organizers at 6 am and head to the McDonald’s on Broadway
• Enter restaurant by any means possible and take it over by 6:30 am
• Start the program with Ethical Culture Leader Algernon Black’s Invocation and line up the speakers: workers and clergy
• Leave when the police arrive and reconvene on the sidewalk
• Be prepared with living wage chants – and let the politicians speak (but not too much)

Easy peasy. But what if we can’t get into the restaurant? What if the police are already there and arrest us? What if no reporters show up? What if I fail? What if?

Enough already! Relax! Oh, yeah, that’s gonna work. I get up to make some more notes, go to the bathroom. Don’t look at the clock! You don’t want to know how late it is and how little sleep you’re going to get. I have to sleep. I have to wake up on time. People are counting on me.

But I’m not the only one; I’m part of a team: The Clergy-Worker Justice Table. We all support one another through breakfast meetings, teleconferences, emails and texts. This is not our first fast food action; we are pros. My heart breaks whenever I hear workers tell their stories about walking to work because they can’t afford public transportation; long shifts or reduced hours; children to feed, clothe and educate; sleepless nights wondering how to pay all the bills. Sleepless nights, just like this one.

The alarm goes off, and I wake up, so I must have slept after all. What was my last thought before I drifted off? Whose face did I see? Now I see my own in the mirror as I brush my teeth. Soon I’ll get dressed, pulling on my Ethical vest over a warm sweater, and head out the door to the subway. I’m ready.

The photographs accompanying this piece document the workers’ strike at McDonald’s early on Thursday, December 5. When I arrived, two NYSEC members, Meg Chapman and Elinore were already there and quickly learned the chants, falling into line for the march and storming the store with scores of other people. It was pure joy to hear the words of Algernon Black’s Invocation repeated back in classic Occupy Wall Street “mike check” fashion and to clear the way for workers’ voices to be heard. Here’s the link to Democracy Now’s video: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/12/5/we_cant_survive_on_725_fast

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