Faith in service to worker justice

Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein, Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-Los Angeles (CLUE-LA), spoke on May 22 at their annual Giants of Justice breakfast in Los Angeles. To introduce his remarks to 500 CLUE-LA friends, activists, and supporters, he showed a video of President Lyndon Johnson. (Eric A. Gordon edited his talk for publication.)

Notice the date stamp? Fifty years ago today, President Johnson shared his vision for creating a Great Society. Within his next four-plus years in office, this country witnessed a sweeping progressive agenda second only to Roosevelt’s New Deal: Medicare, Medicaid, Project Head Start, Upward Bound, Social Security expansion, the Teacher Corps, the 1964 Civil Rights Act; in 1965 the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Services Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities; in 1966 the Child Nutrition Act, and the Endangered Species Preservation Act; in 1967 the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR), cultural centers, the expansion of transit policy and capacity by establishing the Department of Transportation; in 1968 the Truth-in-Lending Act. The list goes on and on.

That era of bold federal leadership, of vision and a focus on “the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit,” as Johnson said, seems so far away. Whatever happened to Johnson’s Great Society, when workers were protected, and we could dream of fixing the world?

While Johnson’s Great Society sounds almost unimaginable today, CLUE-LA’s Just and Sacred Society is being built right now. We seek justice in this city, and we pray. President Johnson asked if we will “join in the battle, to give every citizen the full equality, which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin,” and we say, “Amen!” “Yes!” “Sí se puede!”

CLUE combines a Jewish Commandment, a Christian Calling, a Unitarian Lighting of the Chalice, a UCC God Still Speaking, a Catholic Mass in the Streets – a hammer of justice, a bell of freedom, a song about love. It is our duty to imagine a Just and Sacred Society – not just hollow rhetorical promises of doing good, but a close, open-hearted examination of the ills of society and a strategic, thoughtful, active, day-in-day-out, in-the-trenches response, working in collaboration with earnest partners in this city; not dualistic, simplistic, sloganistic or impulsive activism, but a heartfelt response, not standing idly by the blood of our neighbors, like David carrying a slingshot in one hand, a harp in the other.

Our nonviolence is more powerful than the hoses in Mississippi, than corporate financing of government officials. We shall overcome some day, because we seek not just a just society, but a sacred one, in which connectedness and love and a holistic relationship with the planet and its inhabitants triumph. We still believe.

CLUE-LA has been busy creating that Just and Sacred Society:

  • Over 20 carwashes host union carwasheros without fear of retaliation!
  • The TRUST Act brought millions of Californians out of the shadows!
  • Long Beach hotel workers earn a living wage!
  • Loyola Marymount, Cal Lutheran, La Verne, Whittier and Pomona College food service workers are safe and thriving!
  • Walmart workers know we’ve got their backs!
  • Toll truck drivers are safe, and many more are on their way to safety!
  • People will soon be able to get all the way to Century City with mass transit!

Our work is bountiful, meaningful, creative, and a blessing. We are wherever people are invested in turning a rich society into a Great Society, into a Just and Sacred Society. The day is short and the task great, but CLUE-LA is the premier organization to roll up its sleeves, identify what’s broken, and apply elbow grease for justice!

President Johnson asked the nation, “Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?” I ask you, “Will you join in the battle to build a Just and Sacred Society, in which all are treated with the inherent respect befitting anyone created in the Divine Image?

And will you pause to remind yourself why we fight? Why do we seek justice in our city? Because this is a beautiful, fantastic, interconnected planet with a rainbow of people, plants, and possibilities!

CLUE-LA organizes people of faith to support workers in their struggle for a living wage, health benefits, respect and a voice in their workplace. It partners with community organizations, elected officials and the labor movement to ensure support for working people and their families, and to establish worker-friendly public policy. CLUE-LA also endorses immigration reform and restorative justice as important measures to lift people out of poverty.

Photo: CLUE-LA Facebook page.