Lessons from Arizona
Arizona won a significant victory yesterday when Russell Pearce, author of SB1070, lost in a first-ever recall election. It was not without great effort. I’m reflecting today on the lessons of the work and how we traveled from the darkness of SB1070 to the hope we feel today.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero are our heroes. So much they shared in common: both were ultimately focused on being obedient to God and his call on their life and as such they were both, first, ministers of the Gospel. King and Romero were both fixated on justice, in love with poor people and hurting communities. Both searched for middle ground while others stayed safe inside comfortable margins; both were agents of reconciliation, in other words. And, finally, both were martyred for their message.
There is a seeming discrepancy I want to highlight:
Oscar Romero called us to take the long view; King discussed the fierce urgency of now. Romero essentially prays: Trust God, be faithful; King preaches: now is the time, act forcefully. There is tension in these two precious messages for me. While I believe God doesn’t simply ‘help those who help themselves’ and that God is at work in the world with or without me, I also believe that people need Justice yesterday and that “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10). It is hard to both understand and trust in God’s larger plan where we are often insignificant and simultaneously act with determination in the moment trying to affect great change.
Romero, in the prayer ascribed to him:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision…. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
King’s message in one of his lesser-known speeches delivered in 1967 to a group of ministers:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now… Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity…. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect… We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation… We must move past indecision to action.”
April 2010: Arizona is knee-deep in the national news cycle due to its historically punitive immigration legislation. The Reform Immigration for America team led by Petra Falcon and Raquel Teran has asked a few of us to pray at 7:00 a.m. at the State Capitol for the Governor to make the moral choice and veto SB1070. We knew she wouldn’t veto. But still we prayed. Because it was a good visual for the TV cameras and because, I really wanted to try and trust God. I wanted to believe that God could soften the Governor’s heart to keep us from this hard and hurtful thing.
But she signed the bill as expected. Russell Pearce gloated. The students in my youth group cried. I got mad at God.
I hear Romero saying to those of us in this work: “I know it’s hard to pray and trust God that He is at work. I know it feels like we are losing all the time and like we might even be moving backwards. But trust: God loves you and is in control; you don’t have to solve everything. Do what you can. The seeds you plant today will bear fruit; be faithful.”
We kept that prayer vigil for 103 more days. Day and night we stayed at the Capitol; I kept trying to pray. My church was represented every hour of every day for 103 days by somebody, I am proud to say. Something was happening to those of us at the vigil and out of this conflict and tension birthed a new organization and movement, which we named, Promise Arizona. Leaders began asking what to do with all of this energy and momentum. By the end of the year, using local young people and volunteers, Promise Arizona had registered over 13,000 new Latino voters.
King adds punctuation to Romero’s prayer. There is no option but to join God in His work, today. In fact, God is constantly inviting us to join him. Dr. King was calling those preachers to finally have courage, to be bold. We have to do something! We have to act now! There is an urgency we feel when we see our 19 and 20-year-old outstanding and undocumented young people working diligently through college with no potential to use their degree when they graduate. We are running out of time. Our faithful response must be aggressive and begin immediately.
Promise Arizona has been canvassing Latino neighborhoods literally since the summer of 2010. Young people as young as 14 have knocked on thousands and thousands of doors. They have walked for miles in the middle of the Arizona summer registering people to vote and reminding them to vote. These volunteers have signed people up to receive an early ballot in the mail, wandered Wal-Mart parking lots asking shoppers if they are registered, and made phone calls asking folks to volunteer or to remind them about Election Day. We were hot and discouraged much of the time. But our work is beginning to bear fruit.
Last night, the results came in. Russell Pearce lost in the historic recall election. Two grassroots Latino leaders won seats on the Phoenix City Council. Voter turnout in the recall and municipal runoff elections was historic. Latino voters are being given credit for much of this electoral outcome. A year and a half ago we never could have imagined any of this. Romero & King remind us together: Trust God, Act Now.
Romero calls people of justice ‘prophets of a future not our own.’
King knowingly says that we ‘might not get there with you.’
We have seen a glimpse of the mountaintop and the beauty of the Kingdom calls us to act even with the knowledge that we may not always see the final outcome. And so we work with a sense of urgency, clinging to hope, trying to pray.
Ian Danley works for Neighborhood Ministries as a youth pastor and community organizer in the same central Phoenix neighborhoods where he grew up. Ian facilitates a youth advocacy project where students are engaging their own leadership and spiritual growth; he also looks for ways to reach out to new constituencies in order to build a larger, more diverse faith voice on the immigration issue. As a member of the advisory board at Promise Arizona, Ian works to find ways for local and young leaders to engage systemic change addressing root problems of poverty. Ian is married to Shiloh and recently completed a Masters in Public Policy from Arizona State University.