Last week, I was one of 22 people arrested on Fifth Avenue in front of the Westin Hotel while hundreds of hotel cleaners and allies, including a large group from my congregation, marched in a picket line. We were not alone.
Over a dozen actions took place across the country in front of Marriott-owned hotels. All together, thousands marched and over 100 people were arrested for acts of civil disobedience. Marriott is one of the largest and richest hotel conglomerates in the world, with a new location opening every 18 hours. Last year, the company was so flush with profit they made a massive stock buy-back, which enriches stockholders. Meanwhile, they have proposed an increase in workload in exchange for a 25 cents per hour raise to the underpaid and overworked room cleaners at their Westin location here in Seattle.
Each room cleaner whom I have met has told me that she suffers daily from physical pain due to the demanding nature of the work. Now their employer wants them to work harder. The cleaners are one face of Seattle’s displacement epidemic. They are virtually all women of color, many of whom live in South Seattle. Their wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living, so they are being pushed farther south.
The cleaners are one face of Seattle’s displacement epidemic.
So we confront Marriott’s immorality with displays of collective power. Such displays do, in fact, bother those in charge. I accompanied a delegation of Westin workers to speak to the head of HR a few months ago, and when she saw us coming, she literally scurried away. We followed her and she asked for a moment alone in a neighboring room to calm down. After a minute of giving her space, we entered the room and she had run away.
I believe in the gospel of grace. I believe that God, the artist and the fabric of the universe, is unconditional and infinite love (recognizing that all verbal definitions of God are incomplete). I believe in compassion. So, I take no pleasure in chasing a fellow child of God, even if they are a corporate executive choosing profit over people. I get no thrill from disrupting business-as-usual, being handcuffed and incarcerated until 3:30 a.m.
I take no pleasure in chasing a fellow child of God, even if they are a corporate executive choosing profit over people.
However, by participating in collective action to disobey a system that consumes the vitality of my neighbors for unlivable wages, I do find my spirit strengthened. As I anticipated arrest and sat in jail, my prayers felt more real, earnest and true than they had in a long time.
The work of the prophets, the Table-Turner, and the revolutionary lovers of life, show us that solidarity must take place in both our pocketbooks and our souls if the world is ever to change.
Rev. John Helmiere convenes Valley & Mountain.
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