Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Standing Together

By Susan Esther Barnes

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

- Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller

The poem above is a cautionary tale about what can happen when we don’t stand up for each other. On October 25 we will hold the Founding Convention for the Marin Organizing Committee (MOC), an organization of religious and secular institutions dedicated to standing together for the public good.

One of the issues the MOC has been working on for the past two years is the need for a permanent open shelter for the homeless in the County. Unfortunately, progress on this issue hasn’t been as fast as we would like, and there isn’t enough time left to put such a shelter in place before winter comes this year. As a result, about a dozen churches and synagogues in the County have agreed to step up and provide a rotating temporary shelter for the homeless for this winter.

The County supports the plan for a permanent shelter, as well as the plan for an emergency rotating shelter for this winter, as long as the churches and synagogues providing the temporary shelter in incorporated areas obtain the necessary approval from their own cities and towns. The only place where this appears to be a problem is the City of San Rafael.

Apparently, the City of San Rafael is the only jurisdiction in the County that requires a Conditional Use Permit to provide a rotating shelter for the homeless. This means that the five churches in the City which want to participate in this program each need to pay between $6,000 and up to an estimated $9,000 or more to the City in order to get the City to process their application. Even if they pay these fees, for a total of $30,000 to $45,000 or more, there is no guarantee that any of the permits will be approved. This strikes me as particularly ironic. Since taking care of the homeless is a public good, it seems the City should be paying the churches to do this; the churches shouldn’t be paying the City.

Last night on the agenda of the San Rafael City Council was an item to discuss the possibility of waiving the fees for these churches. Before the City Council meeting, the MOC held a pre-meeting to prepare for their presentation to the City Council. The room was full. When those who were there from the five San Rafael churches were asked to stand, less than half the people in the room stood up. Why? Because MOC is not an organization in which individual member institutions stand alone. More than half the people there did not attend in their own institution’s interest, but were there to support those churches facing this dilemma.

We agreed that, instead of a host of different people expressing different opinions and possible solutions to the City Council, we would have just two people speak. Those two people read their prepared statements to us. Not everyone in the room agreed completely with those statements. But we all came to the City Council meeting to support them. Why? Because we are practicing the discipline of standing together.

In the City Council meeting, we sat quietly while the City staff presented their case about why the permit process and the fees were necessary. When the time came for our two representatives to speak, about 80 of us stood to show our support. We stood respectfully and silently through their statements, and when they were finished, we respectfully and silently left the Council chambers. Unlike the infamous town hall meetings held throughout the country over the summer, there were no outcries, no shouting matches, nobody attempting to stop anyone from being heard.

In San Rafael last night, we stood together for decency and for the common good. And for the first time in my life I felt that if, God forbid, some time they should be foolish enough to try to come for us, it is possible that we may not stand alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment