House Journal 2018

December 24th, 2018

Greetings from the Center for the Working Poor, aka The Center, aka the Burning Bush community! Things at the house have been settling down since the midterm elections. We jokingly say that two members of our community, Judy and Danielle, single-handedly won a House seat for Katie Hill, and an Arizona Senate Seat for Kyrsten Sinema from the clutches of demonic Trump Republican control.

In seriousness, both Danielle and Judy put in heroic efforts in the last month of 12-hour days, coordinating a small army of door knockers and phone callers to get out the vote as part of a massive movement effort to resist Trump’s agenda by flipping the House of Representatives and maintaining Democratic resistance in the Senate.

Of course, they were just two of many dedicated workers and volunteers that even included the last-ditch efforts of Paul and Alex, dropping in for the last hours of the last day to help mobilize primarily Latino voters to put victorious candidate Katie Hill over the top.

We sat around the night of the midterms at the Center watching the results come in with our community, realizing that elections are just one part of the resistance movement, and that our community is just one small part of the resistance to Trump, and what Dorothy Day calls “the dirty rotten system.”

But this has just been the latest in our community’s seasonal ups and downs of activity and contemplation, community and action, prayer and outreach, service and sustenance.

This past year, Paul Engler received an auspicious invitation to help two movement elders in the final stages of their life journeys, assisting them in handing off their legacy to a new generation of leaders. Paul, along with friends of the Center, spent multiple weekend retreats consulting with Richard Rohr’s organization, the Center for Action and Contemplation, to help them develop a strategic plan for their future. He also spent time with Joanna Macy, now about to turn 90 years old, assisting in her process of choosing her successors and creating a framework to hand off her incredible life’s work, called the Work that Reconnects.

Every year since the book This is An Uprising came out (2016), Paul has said he would limit the amount he travels, but this has never come to pass. Numerous requests for training, consulting, and speaking from all over — from a Black Evangelical conference in New York to the Bioneers conference in San Luis Obispo to the UN International Day of Peace at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Paul has been busy traveling almost every month this year.

Sara Kurtz has been managing the chaotic energy of starting Social Model Recovery Systems, a new and innovative program for rehabilitation for people with co-occurring disorders, which is a program for people with serious and challenging mental health problems, often including schizophrenia, who are commonly homeless and are also chronically addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, to build healthy, resilient lives in their communities, instead of being thrown in jail.

We at the Center have been moved by how personally invested Sara has been in building the new program, taking phone calls at all hours, and constantly strategizing/contemplating/reflecting on how to best serve these vulnerable people. Some have called her “the mother” of the program, but her official title is Program Director.

Judy Esber and Brandon Youndt officially got married! Their wedding was a whole-community affair, in which many of us spent the weekend in a sort of forested mountain summer camp. Many people from our centering prayer community and the Center had roles in the wedding, testifying at the ceremony, making flower arrangements, helping clean up and cook, transporting materials, and lots of other needed components of this immense logistical task that Judy and Brandon spent months executing. It was awesome! Brandon often reports how much he likes their new titles as husband and wife when he cooks for us every Wednesday (Brandon is known for his kale salad with parmesan and pine nuts).

We are sad to report that, after six years, Alex Stevens has decided to move on. Alex came to us from Occupy LA, where he was a group facilitator and accomplished nonviolent monitor during some of the most climactic Occupy protest moments, in which we were shoved with billy clubs in the back while forming a non-violent barricade between police and protestors. Alex later became one of the founders of 99Rise, and participated in the early days of founding the Momentum Training Institute, where he is now a trainer for Digital Momentum. Alex has always been a genuinely kind and supportive presence in all of the activities of the Center, even if it meant the chaos of dozens people crashing on our couch, enduring activist meetings in our living room, or maintaining silence during our centering prayer meetings. He’s always had a special gift at providing digital organizing and strategy support to activist groups across the country. Alex has shown his love and appreciation for the community for many years, and now he is ready to explore new opportunities. We’re sad to see him go.

Danielle Raskin, after graduating from Occidental College and spending almost a year working full-time with Paul as a fellow of the Center for the Working Poor, got a fancy gig helping run grassroots electoral campaigns for the labor movement in Los Angeles. We are very proud of all the media attention she got this summer for her historic protest during her ‘Birthright’ trip in Israel. Danielle has become a wonderful, engaged, intelligent leader in the local chapter of IfNotNow, a movement of young Jews trying to end Jewish American support for the occupation of Palestine.

Sara Semborski and Aaron Foltz, after a year of residence at the Center, needed more living space and a location closer to both Sarah’s PhD program for social work at USC and Aaron’s law program at Pepperdine University. They remain wonderful friends of our community and still attend on occasion our centering prayer meetings but now reside in a one-bedroom apartment in Culver City.

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