People continue to ask why I marched in the Women’s March. Here is another reason.
We have some significant justice issues that impact our little Community of Hope at Joe’s Addiction. It is difficult to know the line between quietly “blessing those who curse us,” and standing up to the oppressors—speaking truth to power—and demanding fair treatment. One of the places we have drawn the line is when those of us with privilege in our community see the poor being oppressed. A frustrating and painful aspect of poverty is a lack of power. No voice. Who is going to listen to “them”?
Recently, a justice issue rose to the top. I became infuriated as I saw authorities (over which our people have no influence) abusing their power and inflicting physical and emotional pain. One of my associates and I decided to make an appointment with an ACLU attorney to find out if we even have a hope of stopping the abuse.
As our meeting day drew near, I wrote an outline of what we needed to say. My colleague and I discussed between us which of us should speak to each aspect, so as to be concise and quick. I knew that our time would be limited. This attorney most certainly is VERY busy and has cases that I am sure he would consider much bigger and more important than ours. I was very aware that I have no legal experience and understand little about laws and policies of government. I also knew that as a pastor, I might not really have the best reputation for coming to the ACLU for help, and I would need to quickly convince this man that our case has merit.
The day came, and we had our “elevator speech” ready. When we entered the door, we were met by a middle-aged, male receptionist. I was surprised. I know. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was. He greeted me and asked if I wanted a drink of water. He showed us around the office. There was a conference room in the center. The doors were open and a group of young people (millennials) were standing around the large table, discussing and pointing at papers. They looked up and smiled at us. The receptionist said, “Some of our attorneys working a case.”
I had expected to feel nervous and intimidated, but the atmosphere was open and welcoming. The decor was hip, casual and warm, almost like a trendy home. Not at all what I expected of an a legal office. The attorney came out of an office. He shook our hands, and called us by name. He said, “I’ve seen you in the paper and in the news. You run Joe’s Addiction coffee shop, right?” I was shocked. He knew who I was. We sat down opposite of his modest desk with our chairs pulled right up close, and he asked how he could help us.
We gave our prepared speech in under five minutes and then asked if there was anything the attorney felt that he could do for our people. I half expected he’d be checking his phone or get interrupted by a message. He’s a busy man. But he listened attentively, nodding his head and making understanding and affirming noises. When we finished, he said, “This is not right. It’s just not right.” My friend and I looked at each other and we said, “We know!”
The attorney then began asking *me* questions. He wanted *me* to tell him stories of our people and what they have experienced. He asked *me* for details. He threw out a couple of ideas of how we might be able to proceed, and then he asked *me* what I thought. He asked if *I* had any ideas of how we might be able to take legal action. I was shocked. Of course I had ideas! I had thought about this a lot! But he was the attorney. I was just a pastor—and a woman.
I was sitting in a room with two men. The attorney did not ask my male colleague. My male colleague did not assume that he was the one to do the speaking. They did not speak to each other and ignore me. I didn’t have to work hard to make my voice heard. I didn’t leave the meeting feeling like I had not said what I came to say.
We bounced around ideas. We discussed our frustration with the powers that be and their abuse of those who have no ability to defend themselves or call them to accountability. He filled me in on information only he could know. Then *together* we came up with a creative, multi-step plan to begin applying pressure and calling for accountability. He met with us for 45 minutes!
Of course I am excited that someone with power cares about our people. Someone wants to do something to help. But what struck me as I left our meeting was that I have NEVER been treated with such respect in ANY business meeting with men EVER before. I have been in “ministry” and “business” meetings my whole life. (I was elected to the church board when I was only sixteen. We can debate the wisdom of that another time!) Often I am the only woman present. Often I’m seen as “the wife” of my husband who is also in the meeting. Often when I begin to speak, I am interrupted and talked right over. Sometimes I’ve been asked to take the minutes or make the coffee, while real deliberation is being made by the men. I was just glad to be in the room where it happens.
I wasn’t even conscious of what I was missing, until it wasn’t missing. Sometimes we are unaware we are under oppression, until we come up for air. It’s an atmosphere, an energy, a tone of voice, a manner interaction. Leave it to the ACLU to consider us all equal. Paul declared it 2000 years ago: ”In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free man, no male or female,” and yet I am afraid that “in Christ” (the Church) is where these distinctions remain so clearly separated—and not equal.
I knew when I marched it would cause some ruckus. I knew that church folks would wonder why, and I knew just maybe I’d have an opportunity to simply say, “It’s time.”