Sunday, June 29, 2014

Guest Editorial Submitted to The Bellingham Herald on 6/24/14

Originally posted by David Chen, June 24, 2014

Henry Bierlink published an editorial titled, “Whatcom Farm Friends back Sakuma Brothers in labor dispute,” on April 17, 2014 in The Bellingham Herald. Bierlink is the executive director of Whatcom Farm Friends, representing Whatcom County raspberry farmers. Bierlink’s article is critical of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the local union of migrant farmworkers that is demanding a contract from Sakuma, and is also demeaning to supporters of Familias Unidas.  Bierlink skates around the suite of complaints levied against Sakuma by the over 400 members of Familias Unidas. He acknowledges that “farm managers don’t manage every situation perfectly,” but insists that to “demonize” Sakuma and its customers is “simply wrong, irresponsible, and intentionally divisive. Watching a family that endured the WWII internment camps go through another fear-based torment is painful.”

To be clear, Familias Unidas is not attempting to demonize Sakuma; rather, as their name suggests, they seek justice for themselves and their families; they are publicly speaking a truth about systemic exploitation as Sakuma Berry Farms. Bierlink’s invocation of the Sakuma family’s Japanese heritage is inappropriate. He equates experiencing a boycott with suffering through internment camps, drawing from a history of discrimination in what seems to us a manipulative way. His phrase “fear-based torment” is not descriptive of a boycott situation, which is entirely different from an internment camp.

Furthermore, while Sakuma is painted as a local family farm, while in actual fact, Sakuma Farms is a large corporate conglomerate, spanning multiple states, with a huge California-based international root stock business in addition to the many farms of fruit it grows and sells under multiple labels.  This is a struggle with a large corporation, not a small-farm local family.

Bierlink then gives support to Sakuma’s attempt to receive foreign guest workers under the H-2A program, which they have since abandoned, amidst mounting public objection and lack of demonstration of a labor shortage.

Bierlink proceeds to mischaracterize the efforts of Familias Unidas and their supporters. He claims that the aim of their activism is “to aggravate the ever-present tension that exists between employers and employees. We question why anyone would support efforts to polarize communities rather than to unite them.”

In this statement, Bierlink fails to capture that Familias Unidas is operating within this very “ever-present tension,” attempting to guarantee the very basics of dignity and a living wage despite these being at odds with Sakuma’s financial interests.  Bierlink offers some utopic notion of uniting polarized communities, as if migrant farmworker activism is somehow responsible for the polarization in the first place. Farmworkers asked for months—years in fact— to cooperatively negotiate a fair contract with Sakuma and only resorted to a strike when Sakuma did not respond with good faith efforts.  We believe it that Bierlink’s claim that “farmers are willing to engage in responsible discussions” was repeatedly demonstrated to be untrue, as Sakuma did not follow through with or honor its agreements with workers.

As we are some of the supporters of whom Bierlink speaks, we find Bierlink’s closure disrespectful: “We resist the temptation to demagogue complex issues like farm labor and expect the same from others.” Bierlink, seems to use the word “demagogue,” to establish himself on moral or intellectual high ground, or as the calm voice of reason. In our view, the farmer workers and their supporters have been reasonable and patient, yet diligent in trying to stand up for justice when none was forthcoming after years of hoping and waiting.

As ethical people and people of faith who believe in justice, we find it unacceptable that the well-being of migrant farmworkers is being sacrificed in the name of profit. We are not alone in this stance as other faith communities, and even some local farm owners, have expressed similar support for the farmworkers. We wonder whether Bierlink can speak in a fair and balanced way on this matter, given his own financial ties in the farming community.

As Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel has written, “Philosophical intelligence is never so truthful, clean, and precise as when it starts from oppression and does not have to defend any privileges, because it has none.” In a similar sense, Bierlinks desire to defend his position of privilege seems to annul his argument. We are reminded that for Sakuma and Bierlink, a contract means a difference of profit margin; the farmworkers, a contract is the difference between a life of dignity and a life of great hardship;.

Acting from compassion, we continue to support Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and will do so until the well-being of the migrant farmworkers is respected.

Dussel citation: pg. 4, Dussel, Enrique. Philosophy of Liberation. New York: Orbis Books, 1985.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Originally posted by David Chen, June 12, 2014

"Like" Familias Unidas por la Justicia on Facebook:

What does the partnership between BUF and C2C look like on a day-to-day basis and what are upcoming plans? 
Answer: A monthly blog detailing partnership activities and plans will be posted to the website.  Also included with be opportunities for the BUF community to be involved in the happenings.

What is Community to Community Development?
Answer: There is a section in the history posted on the partnership’s page on the website that summarizes C2C’s work and its connection with BUF in 6 short chapters.  Their web address is: and Facebook page is ___.  A brief description: C2C is a women-led, grassroots, Whatcom County organization working for social, environmental & economic justice and healthy communities.

How often does C2C use our space? 
Answer: We can't specifically answer this question, as it depends on what opportunities arise.  See the blogs for the history of how the partnership has used BUF’s space. What we can say is that co-sponsored activities will continue, making use of the meeting spaces, kitchen and occasionally the sanctuary and social hall. 

How does C2C care for our space and community? 
Answer: C2C members have been very accommodating in all building use negotiations.  They are trained to clean our Bamboo floors and have and will clean them when needed.  They have participated in deep cleaning of the kitchen, including ovens, cupboards, drains, refrigerators.... They have cooked for Community Night Dinners and are open to being on our annual cook rotation. They provide us with educational forums, workshops and have done an annual sermon at a Sunday service.

What does the partnership cost BUF financially? 
Answer: While the answer to this question is uncertain, as costs will be related to opportunities as they arise, we have decided to handle this uncertainty by placing a cap of $5000 on the in-kind type of financial contribution that BUF offers C2C.
         To give a better idea of how these costs will be calculated, we share the example of the first year.  In 2011, C2C used our kitchen for 46 hours which, if rented at our member rate*, would equal an in-kind donation of $690.  They also used our social hall for 40 hours which equals an in-kind donation of $1,600.  Additionally, they used our van for 9 days in the summer.  We don't currently rent out our van, rather, we allow our members to use it and we request a donation that directly funds the van maintenance line in our budget.  C2C uses our van at no cost to them and is covered by our insurance policy at no additional cost to us and poses minimal risk.   These kinds of space uses are likely to continue and increase some as time goes by.. 
         *Using the discounted member rate is a compromise of estimating value.  For any given C2C use, the space might have been used by a full paying group, which would be the same as a financial loss for us.  On the other hand, the space might not have been rented for another use, so then C2C's use costs us very little--less than the discounted rate.  So, the discounted rate is a middle ground for estimating value. 

Is there a language barrier issue? 
Answer: Most people who work or volunteer at C2C speak English fluently or well enough to have a meaningful conversation, so we haven’t seen a language issue when it comes to managing the partnership.  Many of those C2C serves, some of whom may be at BUF from time to time, may not speak English well.  Though this does create some challenges in building relationships, we also see this as a meaningful challenge which offers the opportunity to build bridges with people we might never have had in our lives.  Perhaps some of us will learn (more) Spanish?  Perhaps we might have a monthly service in Spanish?  Perhaps we could teach each other our languages?  The possibilities are many.

How long will the partnership last?
Answer: According to the Partnership Procedure document: if approved, partner organizations and sponsoring BUF ministry teams will be required to monitor, track and report the following for our annual (bi-annual after the first year) review:
a.  Dates, times and descriptions of projects and events
b.  Financial expenditures
c.  Any other resources/in-kind services
d.  Documentation of progress toward goals
e.  Description of future plans and changes in program
This information must be submitted every other spring, and the appropriate leaders will arrange for presentation for congregational approval at the May meeting.  This way the partnership is continually reviewed and re-established.

What has our involvement been with C2C in the past? 
Answer: Our past relationship was reviewed in detail in six chapters that came out in the mid-week updates in Spring 2012.  These are posted in the history section of our partnership page on the buf.orgwebsite.  After that, there are a series of blogs that describe the history of the partnership’s work.  Also, there is an annual report posted every year reviewing that year’s work.

Looking Back at a Full and Significant Year for the C2C-BUF partnership (2014)

Originally posted by David Chen, May 31, 2014

What a momentous year it has been for farmworkers and food sovereignty* in our region!

*Food sovereignty considers all the aspects of what is on our plate: How was the environment treated in producing it? What is the food itself (organic? GMO free? soil health? humanely treated and healthy animals?)? How were the farmworkers treated who produced it? Is it locally produced from sustainable economies?

First off, our Partnership and the BUF congregation did major work to support the striking farmworkers at Sakuma Berry Farms in their efforts to secure fair wages, decent living conditions and fair working conditions  Between donating food, supplies and funds; supporting a Sakuma Farms boycott in various ways; writing letters and making calls; and giving toys to the children of the strikers at Christmas—BUF helped move the strike towards a successful resolution.

Though the key goal of having a fair contract for the workers this year has not yet come about, there have been many small successes along the way.  A Federal court decided with farmworkers on the issue of housing, protests of Sakuma’s guest worker application led to Sakuma’s eventual withdrawal of the application, and the workers recently won a class action lawsuit awarding back pay for unpaid work.  Also, farmworkers have had their first ever meetings with the sate legislature this year.  Most significantly, farmworkers all over Whatcom County report improved working conditions (breaks encouraged, farmers coming out to the fields to talk with workers, etc) as a result of the strike.

At BUF, C2C participated in a number of activities.  Rosalinda Guillen, the Executive Director, gave a sermon one Sunday, and staff of C2C did three adult forums.  C2C cooked a community dinner for the congregation. C2C cooked food for and hosted a booth at the BUF Fall Festival.  C2C prepared organic, GMO free tamales in BUF’s kitchen for sale (fundraiser) over the holidays and several months after—several BUFers volunteered, and many BUFers purchased tamales.  C2C members also participated in BUFs annual Posada dinner.

Also at BUF, we hosted a couple larger partnership events open to the wider community.  First, the forum “When LowWage Workers Rebel,” with several panelists from the workers’ rights movement. the partnership also hosted at BUF one of the films for the International Human Rights Film Festival, “Rooted Lands” about a small community in new Mexico standing up against fracking for natural gas.

BUF members also participated in several C2C sponsored community-wide events.  We took a lead coordination role at C2C’s annual Cesar Chavez dinner (thank you to our many volunteers!).  C2C gave BUF a Seeds of Justice Award at this event.Many of us walked with farmworkers in the annual Guide Meridian Farmworker March and Rally for Dignity that C2C sponsors every year.  BUF members (a tie with BUFs Reclaiming Democracy Team) attended the People’s Movement Assembly in March and the MLK Conference at Whatcom that included presentations by C2C. Finally, many of us attended C2C’s open houses at their offices this year.

Other happenings included: welcoming our partnership’s new intern, David Chen, onto the Team; the Partnership contributing an educational Filipino dinner to the BUF auction; starting a partnership blogspot; BUF donating a monthly special collection to C2C; and finally, involving UUs at the state and national level in our partnership. Both Jolinda Stephens of WA UU Voices for Justice and D.D. Hilke of NW UU Justice Network came down to visit the C2C/BUF Partnership team to explore what our partnership was about and to find ways to support the team’s efforts and to help in establishing solid UU networks throughout Washington State in dealing with immigration and migrant worker issues for the future. Also, initial discussions took place with UUSC as well as the UU College of Social Justice, who are also very interested in visiting us and talking about their Border Links projects. 

May 2014

Originally posted by David Chen, May 31, 2014

Dear BUF Community,

My name is David Chen and Im a student at the UW doing my senior thesis on how religion and spirituality play into the lives and activism of migrant farmworkers. I am thrilled to be a part of your most loving community. (I listened to the service for which Rosalinda gave a sermon, so I already know.) Unfortunately I am not sure if I will be able to meet the people to whom I write as I live two hours away.

The goal of this letter will be to keep the community informed about the struggle for migrant farmworker justice, and I will write it once a month at least throughout the summer.

Henry Bierlink published an article, “Whatcom Farm Friends back Sakuma Brothers in labor dispute,” in which, to give you a taste of the paternalistic tone with which it was written, claims:“…to demonize their farm, family and their customers is simply wrong, irresponsible, andintentionally divisive. Watching a family that endured the WWII internment camps go through another fear-based torment is painful” (emphasis mine). It baffles me how some individuals can justify the oppression of one racial group by another on the premise that that other was oppressed too. Furthermore, in Bierlinks equation, demanding dignity is not only “wrong, irresponsible, and intentionally divisive,” but also a form of “fear-based torment.”
Bierlink closes his article, “We welcome a respectful dialogue with farm workers and their advocates in the spirit of mutual problem solving. We resist the temptation to demagogue complex issues like farm labor and expect the same from others.” How frustrating is it that the very thing the farmworkers are asking for is that which he declares has already been offered? And aside from“demagogue”—which means “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument”—being a noun (not a verb), his use of it is highly offensive: it suggests that the farmworkers are irrational and so are all those who support them. I would replace “demagogue,” the grammatically and contextually incorrect descriptor, with“oligarchical,” which would rightfully point out that Bierlink and his middle-class friends are using their power to patronize and exclude the voice of societys marginalized. I am again reminded that among the biggest challenges we face, as people who believe that we are all equal, is bridging the socioeconomic divide that has been so carefully crafted and meticulously maintained by those whom it benefits—but only materially.
Bierlink is the executive director of Whatcom Farm Friends, which lists C2C as a sustainable farming resource. In the past he has been supportive of Rosalinda, so it is no surprise that he tiptoes around any mention of her.
Bierlink published his letter in The Bellingham Herald. We at BUF composed a letter to the Herald in support of the farmowrkers last fall, and Julie Shirley replied: “We don't run letters to other people in letters to the editor. Also, it's a Skagit issue, and there's more than enough news to keep us busy in Whatcom County. You might try the Skagit Valley Herald.” Shirley doesnt comment on how Bierlink has a right to voice his opinion while BUF does not, and her reasoning that letters cannot be addressed to others suggests a severe limitation on an individuals freedom of speech.
In response, we want to request a meeting with The Heralds editorial board. We want to do this in concert with the Bellingham Democracy group, who has had the same problem of having their voice excluded. We also want to invite other faith groups to bear witness during the meeting. Aside from the meeting itself, we want as many people as possible to sign the letter.
On a different note, the worker’s march in early May was a really good time. Though there were not quite as many people than last year, likely because of the rain, there was nonetheless a great turnout.
Rosalinda gave a recent sermon at BUF, which can be accessed at  “Worship”  “Recent Sermons.” We anticipate that Rosalinda will find a third career as a pastor, and are jealous of whichever congregation she chooses to join.  Edgar has been offering Adult Education forums recently as well.
We want to have a dinner night at BUF sometime, and perhaps even make it an every-other-month or biannual event. The dinner would be mainly educational, but we hope that if there is any profit—which there could be if we could get it sponsored—it would benefit C2C. Ramón Torres, the President of Familias Unidas, wants to learn o farm organically, so it would be amazing if we could use his food in the meal.
Looking ahead to the Day of the Dead (El Día de Los Muertos), which is during Halloween, Kara is thinking about hosting a murder mystery fundraiser for C2C. Despite her initial concerns, due to a desire to be respectful of Mexican culture, Rosalinda assured us that the cemetery was a childhood playground and the fundraiser would not be in least offensive. Now we need talented writers who are skilled in the ways of murder mysteries to develop the story that will be used for this fundraiser.
Other items of note:
       Tamale and Tortilla sales are "on hold" for a while. It was profitable but new leadership is needed.
       Cesar Chavez Dinner was the most successful of the 10 years. 
       Kara wrote an article for BUF's spring newsletter that can also become our first blog.
       Though national immigration legislation failed, there seems to be a wave of improvement in the situation on various fronts
       Community Gardens are expanding as well as presently growing, very quickly.
       Adam Smith has introduced legislation to create oversight of private prisons. Could this be an attempt to redeem himself from his namesake?
       16 Sheriffs in Washington State will not hold prisoners for I.C.E. Whatcom's Bill Elfo just joined them.
       A new Border Patrol chief is expected soon. The antagonistic Chief Bates has been removed.
This is why the still-alive Adam Smith, mentioned above, needs to work so hard: “The man whose life is spent performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment.” – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 2:302-3.

Report from the Community to Community (C2C)-BUF Partnership* Team

Originally posted by Kara Black on May 31, 2014

*A description of the nature, goals and history of our partnership will be posted in the next couple of weeks on the revamped BUF website for those wanting more information

Change is in the Air—Let’s Lead the Way

Nonprofit organizations led by working-class women of color are rare in our area, and we are pleased to be able to partner with this powerful, grassroots, active social change organization that works locally, regionally, and internationally.

Our committee has been buzzing with activity--from on-the-ground social action to planning events to organizing educational opportunities.

Direct Action:

Many of you have likely heard about the on-going hunger strike at the Tacoma Detention Center.  Our Team has been involved over time in vigils and other efforts to improve this facility.  The C2C staff have been actively involved in organizing to support the strikers.  As one of the hunger strike leaders told us at our recent Cesar Chavez event, it was the protesters outside who inspired them to act.  The private corporation that runs the detention facility provides poor food, poor medical care, $1/day wages for work in the laundry or kitchen, and exorbitant prices in the commissary (plus the detainees are protesting the deportation process itself).  Hundreds went on hunger strike, leading to visits to the Center by media, the ACLU, and state and national legislators—and the initiation of a review of the detention centers/detention process by the Obama administration.

Also on a national level, our Team closely watches immigration policy and legislation and initiates signature/letter/calling campaigns at key moments of potential change.  Thanks to all the BUFers who have made calls, signed petitions or written letters on behalf of immigrants.

The Sakuma Farmworker strike of last summer has had wide-ranging effects through the whole West Coast of the US.  The local goal is for the Sakuma farmworkers to be rehired this spring with a fair contract.  Even though there the strike was in Skagit, rather than Whatcom, County—there has been marked improvement in the treatment of farmworkers in our County following the strike. Regionally, there has been an effort that has garnered larger farmworker union support to prevent guest workers from being brought in when there is no labor shortage, and fighting efforts on the part of Sakuma and other large corporate farms to fabricate labor shortages.  The local Sakuma farmworker group has also inspired a larger farmworker group “Ferente Indijina” made up of primarily Mixtec and Triki-speaking farmworkers up and down the West Coast.  With large union support, they are actively boycotting Sakuma berries and Haagen Daas (who uses Sakuma Berries) in large urban areas. Our Team has been organizing local boycott demonstrations as well.

BUFers who wish to show their support of farmworkers in our area, please come join the March for Dignity on May 4th.  Starting at La Gloria’s Market on the Guide at 10 am (the farmworkers actually start walking much earlier from Lynden), we will march to Maritime Heritage Park for a rally, speeches and good food.  Last year, there were a few hundred of us who marched, many were farmworkers.  It was an inspiring experience, and we would love to have you come along!  For those who can’t walk well, please come join us for the rally and food at the park in the afternoon.

Our Team is also supporting C2C in initiating and passing a Whatcom County ordinace to prevent local law enforcement from detaining people on behalf of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  There was a state bill proposed to do just this state-wide, but it died in committee and can’t be reconsidered for another year.


C2C’s annual fundraising and inspirational event, the Cesar Chavez Community Potluck, happened at the end of March, with the tremendous participation of many BUF’ers.  Our congregation was honored with a special “Seeds of Justice” award at the event, and Erika Shepard, Board Chair, and Ann Stevenson spoke in accepting the award.  The organizers reported that they could not have done the event without the support of the BUF volunteers, who coordinated the potluck, the drinks, the compost & recycling and much of the clean up.  We were an integral part of the event on multiple levels.  The event also honored the local democrats (they were also critiqued by the independent socialist keynote speaker from Kshama Swant’s staff in Seattle).  We also heard inspiring stories from people in the midst of great struggle, including one of the men who initiated the hunger strike in the Tacoma Detention Center.

C2C’s Cocinas Sanas (Healthy Kitchens) project has been busy in BUF’s kitchen making organic, non-GMO, seasonal vegetable tamales for sale once a month. They are also hand-making fresh, organic tortillas for sale each week.  Speaking of food, our Team is also starting to plan Koan na!—a Filipino dinner (one of the C2C staff who works with us closely is a Filipino immigrant) to be served to a large group of BUF folks who bid to participate at the BUF auction.

On the social action front, our team is supporting an upcoming dignity dialogue focused on reducing racial profiling in our area. We also supported the first ever legislative reception for farmworkers in Olympia at the end of February, which was attended by the speaker of the house and several legislators.  We are developing a process to coordinate with the UU Justice Network and UU Voices on these types of state-wide activities and initiatives.

Educational Opportunities:

Rosalinda Guillen, the Leader of Community to Community, will be giving the sermon at BUF on April 27th on the topic of economic justice and food sovereignty. We have been hearing from C2C staff throughout the year at the Adult Sunday Forums.  The next will be by Edgar Franks on May 18th on the topic “Another World is Possible”—about the social forum movement that C2C uses as its organizing model.

This month, C2C will be hiring an intern to staff our committee and provide an educational function including keeping up out board on the kiosk and writing blogs for the congregation on what we are up to.

Recently, our Team sponsored “Rooted Lands” at BUF, a film that was part of the Whatcom Human Rights film Festival.  We also successfully encouraged many BUF’ers to attend C2Cs workshops that were part of the WCC MLK conference in January.

Our Team is planning a farmworker art reception, and exploring the possibility of hanging some art by farmworkers at BUF.

Other Updates:

*Rosalinda Guillen, Leader of C2C, has been elected to be Vice Chair of the local Democrats

*Rosalinda is also the Co-Chair of the Domestic Fair Trade Association and has the goal of getting at least on farm in Whatcom County certified as fair trade this year.

*The C2C staff  have been supporting the Justice Department’s investigation of the local border patrol’s practices, and Rosalinda has been meeting with the local border patrol chief to improve relations.  C2C already has a very good relationship with the Whatcom County Sherrif’s office.

*The Raices Culturales youth group has established several new, organic community gardens, and they will be selling and giving away starts and produce.

Our Team is open to any who wish to join in this fun, inspiring and critical work. We’d love to have you.

Yours in peaceful Justice, Kara Black (676-2300)