For close to forty years, the people of Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. have fought to dismantle the racist structures and systems that oppress those who are Black and Brown. These systems degrade all of us, telling us that ultimately, no lives matter.
The ongoing violence against people of color yet again appears before us, as we watch the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The foundation of these deaths was built at the beginning of our Country, and the ensuing years have built upon this foundation a structure that divides, denies and destroys our humanity.
Rural & Migrant Ministry’s efforts to seek the equality of farmworkers, the backbone of our economy, under the New York State Labor laws, was a response to a four hundred-year racist exploitation of slave labor. For a brief moment in history, with the passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, we in New York State were able to stand up against history and affirm one another as we brought about systemic change.
Now, as the Pandemic wreaks havoc across so much of the land, it also exposes the legacy of this long history and reminds us how much more needs to change. We witness farmworkers and workers in food processing plants deemed “essential workers” but not essential human beings. We need the food, and we have gone to great lengths to get it, but we have not gone to great lengths to protect those who feed us. The systemic racism, their poverty, their vulnerability, their working conditions and their legal status – are all exacerbated by the virus and our response, or lack of one, to it.
Our choice in the face of racism is the same as it has been throughout our history. We can ignore racism, and take advantage of it, or we can say that Black Lives do Matter and refuse to participate in this oppressive system.
On Sunday, May 31st Rural & Migrant Ministry, joined by a coalition of farmworker organizations, unions, faith groups and community organizations will sponsor Caravans of Solidarity and Dignity for Farmworkers and Food Chain Workers.
Tomorrow is also the Day of Pentecost in the Christian tradition – where Christians celebrate the power of the Spirit that is shared by a diversity of people, all equally considered Children of God.
The Caravan is a simple but powerful gesture. It is a statement of affirmation of a righteous way of living.
Fr. R.C. Witt