Christmas Update From Paul Engler & The Center

December 17th, 2012

The Center for the Working Poor, (aka the Burning Bush Community), continues to share in the wonderful mix of serving the poor, communal living, prayer and meditation, and nonviolent movement organizing that distinguishes our beautiful home. In addition to delivering food to impoverished workers, hosting centering prayer meeting for friends, and training young activists, the Center has launched 99Rise, a new campaign building the movement to get big money out of politics through nonviolent direct action. And if you are reading this update, I hope you read the article in The Nation, about start of this organization, called The Rise of 99Rise.

But the Center, as always, is buzzing with a mix of activities. Every Monday evening friends and community members gather for hot communal supper and centering prayer, a way to start off our week with serenity and clarity. During the day, the living room becomes the unofficial movement headquarters for 99Rise, as Kai, Alex, Dimitri, Guido, Devon and young student organizers gather to discuss how escalating nonviolent action can transform the struggle to get big money out of politics. Veteran activists from the labor, immigrant rights, student, and Occupy movement had been meeting at the Center how to take the anti-corruption momentum generated by Occupy Wall St. to the next level.

Since 99Rise launched out of the Center’s living room in June, we’ve trained over 200 activists in LA and NYC, shut down three banks who were secretly buying politicians with nonviolent sit-ins, and build strong teams of student leaders in two cities. And we’re just getting started. Thanks to generous support from our funders, movement leaders like Devon, Kai, Guido, and Dimitri have been able to work full-time on pushing the fight for a new democracy forward for the last 2-3 months. We are honored by the sacrifices they have made to work with us for a few months– many of them working for very small subsistence stipends, which is a fraction of what they would be paid by a traditional non-profit.

Guido, a student from Occidental College who left school to work in the movement full-time, will move into our home in the spring to continue his work with 99Rise and stay up late with Paul discussing how to integrate 200 years of social movement history into one brilliant campaign.

Amidst this hustle and bustle, Paul Engler runs from task to task like busy bumblebee he’s always been. When he’s not working at the lovely Relational Center, he’s training organizers for our efforts, discussing his upcoming book with his brother Mark, or writing a syllabus for his new community organizing class at Antioch University. Everyone at the Center is convinced Paul gains superhuman powers through his daily meditation (contemplative prayer), because no mere mortal could do this much work.

But Paul isn’t the only resident with superhuman powers. Los Angeles’ favorite 4th grade Catholic schoolteacher John Brekenfeld is grinding coffee every morning at 6:30 AM, prepared for another day of teaching and learning with his class. Although his kids love him (and so do we!) for his masterful teaching, he also still is so support of the Center in many ways. He can frequently be found reading George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones fantasy series, riding his fixie bike around town to build up his legendary calves, or watching a romantic comedy with Guido, Susan, and Stephanie on a quiet Sunday night.

Stephanie also loves romantic comedies, especially after being arrested in civil disobedience while standing in solidarity with striking Wal-Mart workers. This Black Friday, instead of shopping, residents of the Center drove out to Paramount to support Wal-Mart workers walking out of their jobs to protest low pay and abuse. Our very own Stephanie, along with eight other members of CLUE (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice), went to jail in support of this strike. Stephanie’s deep commitment to social justice goes beyond her civil disobedience; she spends her days organizing leaders in the immigrant rights movement and working with pastors at her church.

Veteran resident and Center leader Sam Pullen was married this year to his partner, Elizabeth Gonzalez. It was a bittersweet celebration: we were overjoyed to see Sam marry Elizabeth, but sad to have an incredible friend and ally leave the Center. But he is still incredibly supportive of the Center and shows up almost every week for coffee, or hoot-n-nanny, or meeting. Thankfully, a wonderful new resident, Susan, took Sam’s place and has fit right into our motley family. Susan cooks a mean teriyaki tofu that causes our vegetarians to run head over heels for a piece of her meal. We are so thankful to have her.

We are so grateful to everyone who has made the past year a success: our residents, our allies at the Relational Center, 99Rise, and beyond, the workers we stand in solidarity with, the churches and schools we work within. We are still in need of your support for our continued existence. For example, Guido needs a some money for food, even if he has agreed to work for free and to sleep and live on the floor of the laundry room. So please donate if you can here at our website. If you haven’t already, stop by for a centering prayer, a smoothie, or maybe even a protest! We look forward to seeing you.

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