by Orlando Lopez, Bus Riders Unite Organizer
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto California. This is an initiative that Pope Francis has been working for the past several years, one that tries to address the issues that affect many folks around the world: Land, Labor, and Housing. The meeting in Modesto included those issues as well as the issues of Racism and Immigration. Over 650 folks from community, labor, and faith-based organizations came together to share the work that they do and to build relationships based on our region and those doing similar work.
At the beginning of the conference, the bishops shared a letter from Pope Francis. In his message the pontiff urged us to fight back against institutional racism and prejudice. He acknowledged that the ecological crisis is real, that our immigration policy is unjust, and that racism must not go unchecked. His message was further magnified by Bishop Robert McElroy who stated:
“In our reflections in these days, here, we must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge, and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by a cultural current which leaves us isolated, embittered, and angry. We must make the issues of jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities, and the environment foundations for common efforts rather than of division. We must see prophetic actions which produce unity and cohesion and we must do so in the spirit of hope which is realistic. For as Pope Francis stated to the meeting in Bolivia: ‘You are sowers of change’ and the sowers never lose hope.”
In Modesto, 97% of the farm working community is undocumented. Farm-workers are forced to work in temperatures that sometimes reach 110 degrees during the summer. They are paid pennies on the dollar for the food that is found in our local groceries store. The issues raised at the gathering are not just present in Modesto. These stories of struggle are facing people all over the country and all over the world.
As a son of former farm workers, who worked side by side with my parents and my community during the hot summer months, this message hit home. It reminded me of the times baking in the sun picking berries, for low wages, and in poor working conditions. It reminded me of the stories that my parents told me of when they came to this country as undocumented workers looking for a better life and opportunity for our family.
Now, organizing with OPAL and Bus Riders Unite, I have the opportunity to fight to address these very issues that are affecting our community. We are tackling the housing crisis head on by fighting for Rent Stabilization and an end to No Cause Evictions. We are fighting to make transit more affordable by pushing for a Low-income Fare. And we will stand with our immigrant community by demanding accountability from local governments to make our sanctuary status a reality.
Today I am a part of an amazing organization that has been working on these issues for quite some time. We are challenging the institutions in our city, state, and country to be more equitable, based on justice, and inclusive. We are working to move away from an extractive economy to one that is regenerative and living. And we’re going to win, because we’re on the right side of history.