Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on Neighborhood Ministry’s blog. Permission was given by the moderator to repost.
Our young leaders at Neighborhood Ministries began to get public visibility in their own right during the 103 days of the 24/7 prayer vigil that they manned at the Arizona state capitol during SB1070. As they fasted and prayed–with many of us with them–they began to get a glimpse of the importance of their own voices as advocates for immigration justice. They were growing up as advocates, as righteous workers for the cause of Christ, taking on the broken system we/they believed was horribly harming their families and communities. When SB1070 ended as a loss, they decided that giving up was not an option.
Today, our cause remains elusive. We know that the legislative window for comprehensive immigration reform is closing. We saw spectacular legislative losses in 2006 and 2007, and the DREAM Act fail in 2010. We know these legislative windows are short, precious, and fragile.
Our team sat with a small group of grassroots leaders asking the burning questions: “What can we do at this eleventh hour to convince our elected leaders to not fail us?” It became clear that it was up to us to do something: We would lead. We knew the history of movements, that so many were youth led. It was almost as if history was repeating itself.
Some members of Congress are trying. Some operate in good faith, and work openly and honestly with others across the aisle, committed to common ground. They listen to DREAMers (like our young people) with tears in their eyes and seem to truly understand the humanitarian crisis caused by the failures of the current immigration system. They work to find new language to communicate policy ideas in ways palatable to wary colleagues and constituents. They still push for smart, humane solutions. But, it has not been enough.
So, as a band of Arizonans, we made a choice. We would step into this leadership vacuum as young, yet seasoned leaders and we would go to Washington on a bus to make our stand. We had no budget, no backing, and no organization. We had our stories, our pain, our prayers—we had each other.
At eight o’clock on Saturday night, we left St. Matthew’s parish in Phoenix with 44 people (3 were children) and arrived 43 hours later in Washington, D.C. Singing started spontaneously in Flagstaff, got louder through Amarillo, continued through Memphis, and the joyful noise exploded in Arlington.
Tuesday morning, we arrived on the steps of the Longworth building and approached the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner. We thought if he would listen to the stories, hear the pain, be touched by our faith, he might agree to place a piece of bi-partisan legislation on the floor. As we arrived, the staffers locked the doors, but not before telling us that no meeting with the Speaker would happen, that day, or any day, even though we had gone through proper and formal requests weeks earlier. A meeting with the speaker would surely help, but that was never the only goal. We could speak just as loudly to his closed door. We prayed until the office closed for the evening.
Wednesday, we arrived again to pray in what had become “our hallway,” and as we have witnessed over and over, our prayers were breaking through. Speaker Boehner, in a private meeting, said he was “hopeful” about immigration reform’s chances this year. Wednesday night, the White House made the decision to have the president speak about immigration the next morning in the East Room. A handful of members of Congress came to pray with us at our hallway vigil. And then, it was as if all heaven broke loose, and we became the youthful voice for immigrants. We were given by God multiple face-to-face meetings, telling our stories and praying with over 80 Members of Congress in the halls of Capitol Hill.
On Friday, we followed Speaker Boehner in our bus to his home district in Butler County, Ohio. We peacefully prayed outside his gated community, and then were met by local police, some of his staff, and more closed doors at his office.
Our prayers were sincere but firm: 1,100 people will be deported today and every day we wait. Nearly everyone in our delegation has a loved one deported or detained. We cannot wait any longer.
As the Freedom Riders of old used to say, “We are faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Our group made a sacrificial and passionate trip to stand in the gap, to be the leaders this desperate, yet great, country needs and deserves. Was it enough? We can only hope and pray–which we have learned to do! Pray with us and help us, if you feel led by God. We have another trip planned the end of the month, by God’s grace.
Two buses, this time, perhaps.
*Note: Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and following years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The widespread violence provoked by the Freedom Rides sent shock waves through American society. People worried that the Rides were evoking widespread social disorder and racial divergence, an opinion supported and strengthened in many communities by the press. At the same time, the Freedom Rides established great credibility with blacks and whites throughout the United States and inspired many persons to engage in direct action for civil rights. Perhaps most significantly, the actions of the Freedom Riders from the North, who faced danger on behalf of southern blacks, impressed and inspired the many blacks living in rural areas throughout the South. They formed the backbone of the wider civil rights movement, who engaged in voter registration and other activities. Southern blacks generally organized around their churches, the center of their communities and a base of moral strength.
Dr. Kit Danley is the Founder and President of Neighborhood Ministries. She and her family have been living in and serving the urban Phoenix community for more than 30 years. She has her DMin from Bakke Graduate University.
Ian Danley has a degree in Urban Planning from USC and a Master’s in Public Policy from ASU. He is the director of Neighborhood Ministries’ senior high youth programs, including Emerging Leaders and Social Justice.
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