On May 12, 2015, Witness, a social justice action group recently formed at CTU, joined with over 600 religious leaders and community members for a ‘Day of Faith’ at the Capitol, in Springfield. Organized by the Community Renewal Society (CRS), the day included prayer, face-to-face visits with legislators, and a demonstration in the Capitol building. As students of theology and ministry at CTU, we undertook this day aware that our faith calls us to work for justice, and open to what the day would teach us about how to live out this calling.
The day began at 6am for the trip to Springfield. Sporting bright orange t-shirts or religious habits and armed with information about upcoming legislation, we would be advocating laws to remove barriers for people with felony records, establish clear guidelines for police accountability, and stop the drastic budget cuts proposed by Gov. Rauner. This being my first ‘action,’ I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was surprised at how inclusive and meaningful the day’s activities were. Each church group (sometimes broken into two groups) had one state Senator and one House member to try to find to speak to about our points of interest. CRS organizers used the bus ride to train us on how to speak quickly and intelligently about the bills we were advocating and their importance in our communities. While some legislators proved more evasive than others, it was inspiring to see small groups of people in orange shirts dialoging with state lawmakers in the corridors throughout the day.
The second part of the day included a rally inside the Capitol building. Starting off with ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with lyrics tweaked to include references to the day’s key issues of employment, the budget cuts, and police accountability, any legislator who had escaped his or her group, surely came to know why this sea of orange had flocked to his/ her office that day! Testimonials from individuals directly impacted by these issues followed, echoing throughout the rotunda as narratives of truth and accounts of injustice that propel the call for change. Interwoven by hymns and even the visit of two legislators thanking the group for their passion, hard work, and prayers, the rally ended with a ‘die in’ that took over all three floors of the building. At a pre-determined time, we all died—lying down on the floor to symbolize how unjust laws, discrimination, and sinful social structures are literally killing the most vulnerable members of our society. Splattering the marble floors with orange and skin, we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ using our voices to sing of hope despite being bodies on the ground. The movement of it left me with a gut sense of feeling connected—connected to the hundreds of demonstrators who had come from all over Illinois, in solidarity with our fellow Illinoisans suffering from injustice, and under the same imperative to act as the legislators we were calling upon.
Throughout the rally and the day as a whole, faith was just so obviously the reason for coming to the Capitol. The event brought together a diverse crowd—Christians from different denominations and all parts of the state who had made the connection between living a Christian life and fighting for the wellbeing of their neighbor at the policy-level. As a member of Witness I felt inspired to be among so many informed participants, community organizers, and religious leaders that day. As new social justice action group at CTU, Witness roots itself in the principles of Catholic Social Thought and prayer to engage in education, theological reflection, and action around social issues. Earlier in the semester, the group had held an educational event about structural racism, particularly about housing practices in Chicago. The ‘Day of Faith’ not only allowed us to call for systemic change around important issues, it also provided an opportunity to dialogue and listen to those engaged in the struggle for justice each and every day.
Cornel West once said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” As persons, and especially as Christians, we are called into relationship with the incomprehensible mystery of Love who creates and sustains us. Our witness to that Love necessitates working for justice, endeavoring for a society in which the dignity and beauty of each person is respected. In responding to this call, we strive to open ourselves to act humbly and hopefully, singing in faith, “We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace, some day.”