We are neda...

I don't pretend to understand the opposition protests in Iran that have broken out after the fraudulent elections of June 12th. But I DO get it when thousands of women and men take up the call to stand vigil on behalf of their fallen sister - and I get it in SPADES when they tell the world that they, too, are Neda (the woman killed during recent protests.)

There is something noble and heroic in taking up this vigil. There is something holy, too. I AM NEDA. Cesar Chavez taught me - and many of us - that there is always a place - regardless of race, age, gender or class - for people to stand together against injustice and oppression. He learned that first from the Alinsky organizers like Fred Ross - and also the witness of Dr. King and Gandhi. And when I worked with those who had trained with Cesar - this time in rural Mississippi - that same reality was true: there is always a place to stand together with those confronting evil.

When my daughters were tiny, we lived in San Francisco when St. Harvey Milk was gunned down and the GLBT community - and their straight allies - gathered to sing, "We are a gentle, angry people... and we are singing, singing for our lives." They were saying: I AM NEDA.

The African American poet genius, Langston Hughes, said it, too when he wrote, "Let America be America again (it never has been for me...)" back in 1938:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

I heard much the same thing - but in a different language and context - when I was in Costa Rica during the early 80s. The young Sandinistas used to shout, "Presente!" when the names of those who had fallen during the good fight were mentioned in prayer. "They are present" they proclaimed - part of that great cloud of witnesses - who surround and encourage us all towards the true and compassionate. And when Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down during the celebration of the Eucharist... they would claim he, too, was "presente." He was NEDA.

Years later, sipping strong tea in East Germany, the heirs of Bonhoeffer told me that they chose to return after WWII to face both the shame of the Nazis and the agony of the Communists because that is what it means to serve the God who becomes flesh. "If we didn't remain in solidarity during the anguish, what right would we have to join the celebration?" So they worked faithfully for years until... the wall fell and feast became public. I heard the organizers of Poland's SOLIDARITY say exactly the same thing as they brought down their regime.

And our friends in South Africa made the same bold prayer during the horrors of apartheid and Nelson Mandela continues to bear witness to the fact that those who died are still within and among us... because as our Iranian sisters are telling us once again: I AM NEDA. As she died in the street an old man reassured her: "Don't be afraid, Neda, don't be afraid." May they all be in our prayers and hearts as the repression intensifies.

When did we see thee, Lord, and not feed thee... or clothe thee... or visit thee? Whenever you forgot - or chose to ignore - that I am Neda.


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