Leading a Protest?

I have been to a protest or two in my time.  I’ll never forget marching with my family and other United Methodists to bring the Confederate flag off the state house.  But it’s real different going to something organized by other folks and going to something where you’re supposed to be the “organizer.”  That is a little scary. 

I think I’ve written on here about some of my favorite put your money/time/lives where your mouth are people – the folks of the Jubilee House Community that live outside of Managua, Nicaragua working with some amazing people in Ciudad Sandino in one of the poorest areas in the second poorest country in our hemisphere.  Winthrop Wesley has been visiting JHC/the Center for Development in Central America for over a decade now and over the past three years, three of our delegations have worked alongside the Genesis Cooperative.  Genesis is a group of mostly women who have worked for close to four years to build a better life for themselves and their families.  They have been building the building where they are going to house their spinning cooperative by hand.  And it looks great!  Except there’s no equipment.  Really, really long story short and much better explained on their blog (http://jhc-cdca.blogspot.com/) an American company has taken their money ($150,000) and has yet to deliver.  This American company happens to be in our great state of South Carolina and within driving distance from Winthrop.  So off we go on an adventure today and off we will go on an adventure on Friday…

Again – never led a protest before.  Wisely a beautiful 70 year old fellow protester brought some noise makers (ie. tamborine and drum) and we did bring some signs, but we’re going to work on making them bigger so people can read them.  Again – never led a protest before.  We’ll be ready on Friday – don’t worry.  Now we’re prepared.  To be honest, in pulling all this together it would have been easy to think of a gazillion reasons why driving to Greenville and back today was not the greatest use of our time…but in thinking about the women that we have worked alongside – making cement, using a giant machine to make them into blocks for the walls, twisting rebar and shoveling dirt, doing more digging, wheelbarrowing, and shifting than I’d like to remember – we had to go.

These women have stepped out in faith for close to 4 years as they have worked to make a sustainable future for themselves and their children.  I know that times are tough in our country, seriously, I know.  But I also know that we talk about this American dream where people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, where people can work hard and build a better life for themselves, where people can create something that’s not just temporary, but can give them new life.  These women are trying to do that.  They’re not asking for a hand out.  This isn’t going to provide just one free lunch to someone (even though for many that is a significant act of love).  This is going to provide them a means of living – a way to provide for themselves not just for a couple of days but for a lifetime.  You know the teach the person to fish story…

I’m not arguing this politically, I’m not arguing this economically, I am not even entirely arguing this theologically – I’m just saying that I believe amazing things can happen when people give voice to the voiceless.  And I’m saying that it is not just a convenience, but a responsibility to have a voice.  We may not have all the answers and we’re certainly not lawyers, but we do know the Jubilee House Community and we do know these women – and they are worth speaking out for.

Here are some pictures of some Winthrop Wesley students working on the spinning plant alongside the amazing people of Genesis.

As Mike (JHC Mike, not husband Mike) has said – the JHC/CDCA would survive if this deal fell through and this guy totally crooked them out of the money/equipment, but these women – this Genesis Cooperative – would not survive.  The close to four years without any compensation that they have worked would have been for zilch.  I can’t even comprehend that.  That’s why they and we are fighting.  That’s why the call has gone out to us – people with a voice here in the US – to speak out on behalf of these beautiful, tenacious, and strong women.  In a world of spending, spending, spending and shopaholics galore – we have got to put our money, our hearts, and our voices where our mouths are and not just talk about truth and justice, but we’ve got to live it.

Thanks for your prayers for these women!  And for these JHC folks!  And for all those both around the world and right around our corners that are worried about where their next meal will come and how they will provide for their families.  We are not just helpless even in the face of what seem like insurmountable and giant problems – we have voices, we have mighty prayers, and we have all sorts of means and resources whether it be poster board and markers or a phone call.  May we use them.

6 thoughts on “Leading a Protest?

  1. Here’s the one page summary and it includes the address – Coker International on White Horse Road in Greenville –

    September 20, 2010

    A group of women and men have worked almost four years without pay to organize, train, and build by hand the spinning factory they would own and operate as a cooperative in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. Jubilee House Community (JHC), an NGO that has been assisting people to create their own businesses as a path to self-reliance (for such work, one JHC member, Mike Woodard, was the runner up for the prestigious 2008 Opus Award. Opus Film Clip), has been working with this group of Nicaraguans to help bring their hard work and dream to fruition.

    As the factory neared completion in mid-October 2009, JHC contracted with Coker International (2721 Whitehorse Rd., Greenville, SC 29611, United States
(864)287-5000, USA (864)287-5300 fax, Coker International for the purchase of equipment for this spinning factory.

    The purchase price of the equipment was $230,000. The majority of the equipment was to come from a factory in Venezuela, Guatire Textil. The remainder of the equipment was supposedly in Coker’s warehouse in the US. A deposit of $100,000 was given to Coker with the promise that equipment would begin to move in three weeks. In early December 2009 Coker requested another $50,000 saying it was necessary to assure shipment of the equipment in early January 2010. JHC deposited the $50,000 with the agreement that no further funds would be requested until shipment was made.

    Repeated delays ensued with ever more incredulous explanations for the delays. Repeated requests were made by Coker for more money, but JHC refused until delivery was made. Finally at the end of July four containers (out of a total of 16) shipped from Venezuela.

    Currently they are still being held in Costa Rica as Coker International has not paid the shipping bill, nor has it paid over $21,000 in fines and fees incurred in Venezuela or approximately $10,000 in penalties in Costa Rica as of this date.

    JHC is receiving pro bono legal counsel from the Wake Forest University Law Center. A civil suit and criminal charges are being prepared again Coker International. As a result of recent information from Guatire Textil that they have never received payment for the equipment, JHC is attempting to negotiate the purchase of the equipment in Venezuela directly with Guatire Textil. However, it is unlikely that an agreement can be reached because JHC’s funds are already tied up in the original purchase contract. JHC is in contact with Pedro Luis Penso Sanchez, Business Laison and acting Ambassador of the Venezuelan Embassy in Nicaragua. Mr. Penso is trying to be helpful in this situation.

    What we need:
    • Pressure on Coker International of Greenville, SC to deliver equipment or return deposit without delay. Perhaps US government influence could encourage Coker International to honor its commitments.

    • Help from the Venezuelan government to expedite movement of the remaining equipment when we have possession.

    • Financing for Venezuelan equipment.

  2. Proud of you and the Wesley students for speaking up for justice and doing what you can to help the women who don’t have a voice of their own. I agree it is very different to participate in a protest started by someone else and to start a protest on your own – it takes courage and faith. I will write a letter, share the news with others and keep the points you outlined as needs, you, your Wesley group and friends who are standing up with you and the women of JHC in my prayers.

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