In 1943, A. J. Muste, one of America's great social activists, wrote an essay on the Biblical Exodus in which he called Moses the labor organizer of "Brickmakers Union Number One." (Muste took part for half a century in nonviolent efforts to seek peace and justice (from support for textile workers in the "Bread and Roses"strike in 1919 in Lawrence, Mass., to helping organize the first great march against the Vietnam War in 1965).
Phyllis and I quoted this passage on Moses in our newest book, Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia (just now being published by Jewish Lights). Even before the great upheaval in Egypt and the one in Wisconsin, we were applying the lessons of the Exodus to today. (E.g. The transformative role of women in the Exodus; understanding the ‘plagues” as eco-disasters brought about by arrogant Pharaoh.)
In honor of Moses and in joyful memory of the years we spent as students in Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1950s and 1960s; in memory of our teachers Howard K. Beale and Merle Curti and Hans Gerth and Selig Perlman; in honor of Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier, for whom Arthur worked as legislative assistant, 1959-1961;in honor of Rabbi Max Ticktin & Esther Ticktin of UW Hillel in those days; and in strong support of the right of workers to organize unions as a crucial part of democracy, we vigorously support the present freedom movement in Madison and all across the State of Wisconsin.
We are delighted to join with many members of a wide variety of religious communities who have vigorously supported the public workers and students who are demonstrating.
The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice (ICJW) of South Central Wisconsin, 2300 South Park Street, Suite 109 Madison, WI 53713, 608-255-0376, has taken a central role in mobilizing religious support for the workers and students.
They are providing food, water, warmth to the protest. We encourage you to send donations, through their website, here:
ICJW's Director is Rabbi Renee Bauer, 608-320-1144, firstname.lastname@example.org She writes: Their intern is working with protesters to have a continual presence at the State Capitol, and any financial support would be greatly appreciated. The ICWJ is also organizing clergy and congregations to speak up in favor of the protests and the right to organize.
We at The Shalom Center also applaud the members of the State Legislature who have courageously prevented passage of the Governor's attempt to smash the rights of workers –- so reminiscent of Pharaoh's response to Moses' first efforts to protect workers' rights in ancient Egypt.
Just as the midwives Shifra and Puah, Miriam and Pharaoh's Daughter carried out nonviolent resistance to Pharaoh's tyranny, so the State Legislators of Wisconsin are carrying it out today.
We are living through intense efforts by the modern Pharaohs of Big Banking, Oil, Coal, and other industries, and their governmental allies, to radically shift power and wealth away from the middle class and workers in favor of those who are already powerful and extremely rich.
They are aiming not only to destroy unions but to shatter women's health centers (defunding Planned Parenthood), smash even mildly independent media and cultural centers (defunding NPR & PBS and the National Endowments for the Arts & Humanities), and treat Hispanics and Muslims as pariahs.
Much of this class war against the middle class, the working class, and the poor has been justified by alleged "budget shortfalls" in the US & state budgets.
But in fact the budget deficit is caused by a trillion dollars spent on unconscionable wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of billions in slush funds for the Military-Corporate Complez, and hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the top super-rich of America.
And if the deficit were to result from money being spent on providing jobs for 15 million desperate jobless workers, it would be a valuable tool to get our economy going again for everybody – not just Wall Street (as Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate in economics and NY Times columnist, has been wailing into the heedless ears of Washington for two full years).
Just as when Moses organized workers who had been turned into slaves in ancient Egypt, this is a religious question, a moral question, not merely political and economic. Nonviolent resistance to Pharaoh then and to Gov. Walker now is obedience to God's command: "Justice, justice, must you pursue!"
Here is the ICJW statement: