ACTION ALERT: This Workers’ Center Was Told To Cut Ties With Marriage Equality Allies, Or Lose $75,000. Show Them They Did The Right Thing.
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“When you love, you have to act.”
By Diana Pei Wu
“In this place, everyone is welcome.”
These were the words of Romeo Sosa, the Executive Director of VOZ this week, in front of the small trailer in southeast Portland, Oregon, where the local day laborer training and education center is located. VOZ held a press conference with about 15 day laborers, staff and allied LGBTQ, labor, and immigrant rights organizations. They announced that due to their support of an organization with a positive stance on marriage equality (the National Council of La Raza), they had withdrawn from consideration $75,000 in funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
The money was going to help cover salary and health care costs for staff and support the organization’s campaign for legislation targeted at prevention of wage theft in Oregon. Now, VOZ officials say they have until August to raise money to prevent any major cuts.i
“This truly hurts our organization. It’s going to impact our employees as well as our clients, which is a sad situation,” says Romeo Sosa, executive director of VOZ.
“But CCHD forced the question of marriage equality into the grant process. Marriage equality is not the focus of our work; we focus on immigrant rights. But we work with everyone, we don’t discriminate,” continued Sosa, “There may be gays and lesbians among our staff or workers, and we can’t turn our backs on them.”ii
Local labor, immigrant rights, and groups that support gay rights have vowed to fundraise for VOZ to fill the financial hole left by the grant’s loss.
The organization connects its workers to 22,000 jobs with a $12 minimum wage for the past five years.iii VOZ has also been a leader in a major immigrant rights victory that stopped sheriff collaboration with ICE holds earlier this year, and that has since spread to hundreds of counties in dozens of states.
Love in Action
As I said on a call last year, I am new to the organized Buddhist community, and grew up in what we might call a secular Buddhist or culturally Buddhist household – and both my grandmother and aunt remain active practitioners.
Many of you on Turning Wheel Media are also familiar with the popular culture stereotypes about Buddhists, and I was deeply and pleasantly surprised to find a community of social justice-oriented and actively engaged Buddhist practitioners over the last two years, and have been taking some time to learn more along the way. I am very new to this and so I ask forgiveness for the clumsiness and brevity of my thoughts:
Two years ago last December was the first time I heard this prayer read out loud, and it resonated with me in my belly and in my chest.
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting each other.
As an organizer, popular educator, trainer and facilitator, my heart swells when someone tells me they have moved from observing their feelings of anger or discontent at an injustice, to collective analysis, to feeling inspired, empowered and ready to take collective action, and this passage resonates deeply with the processes that we go through, that is always my wish for people I work with, train, support, love. That we get to bring our best selves into being through collective justice work with each other. That the work translates into relieving suffering and especially for those on the frontlines of injustice. The stress of not-belonging was relieved in realizing that a spiritual tradition that comes from the places of my ancestors also held space for my political work, that this political work could be traditional.
For me, Shantideva’s Prayer also offers us the opportunity to reflect on active solidarity – the practice that your liberation is bound to mine, that no one is free until we all are free.
For VOZ, and the dozens of other organizations around the U.S. that have returned or withdrawn from CCHD funding for the same reasons, their recognition of intersectionality – that we queerfolk are also day laborers and friends, staff, family, and community – is related to the recognition of interconnectedness – that in movement, our well-being is intertwined, that as Audre Lorde reminded us:
I am proud that a small immigrant rights and labor organization in the town where I live stood up to bullying from a funder, took a hit, and that LGBTQ, labor, and spiritual sistren and brethren are stepping up to support them in turn. For me, VOZ, the AFL-CIO, and Basic Rights Oregon are all moving beyond helping as charity, and supporting each other as a practice of freedom, and of relieving suffering for all beings.
By staying grounded and centered in their values, VOZ has given all of us the opportunity to witness and participate in co-creating a world where our social justice work moves towards self-determination and autonomy, and we co-create our mutual liberation. I am thrilled to be able to share their story with you. Let’s make it our story as well!
To watch a video of the press conference:
To make a donation to VOZ
and support their courageous act, visit