The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Permanent Protection For 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants

By Kaitlin Campbell

In January of 2015 I attended a Momentum movement-building weekend training at a former espousal retreat center in Waltham, MA. At the close of the weekend, I sat in on an hour-long breakout for a nascent immigrants rights movement called “Cosecha” that was—over the course of the weekend—shrouded in intrigue. About twenty people—mostly middle-aged Latinx, then young Latinx, a small number of white twenty-somethings, and two or three black women—gathered around an easel with butcher paper and Carlos Saavedra Diaz, holding a marker. “We are left with two options,” Carlos said  “We can wait for the same immigration reform that Obama promised us 8 years ago, or that Bush promised us 16 years ago. Or we can strike.” He drew a horizontal line across the bottom of the page and above it four dots from left to right, each one two inches taller than the other—El Plan Cosecha.

May 1, 2017, the “Day Without an Immigrant,” was the second national strike held this year, and 400,000 pledged to participate. Upcoming are massive boycotts that will be supported by local Cosecha circles, which are cropping up in cities across the country, and more strikes, all leading up to a seven-week immigrant strike and boycott—La Huelga. When I attended that breakout session, there was one buddy Cosecha circle in Boston, one in Lawrence, MA, and I sat next to the man who would start a circle in Newark, NJ. Today, there are fifty three Cosecha circles in twenty-two different states in every region.

Momentum is a training institute that gives organizers tools and frameworks to build massive, decentralized social movements (https://www.momentumcommunity.org/about-momentum/). Momentum mixes the strong elements of structure-based organizing (e.g. Saul Alinsky, Ella Baker) and mass protest (e.g. Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street) into a “hybrid model” of organizing that relies on a “cycle of momentum” in which active popular support (voting, marching, persuading, donating, and generally not cooperating with the status quo of the ruling class) and passive popular support (“I agree with their message”) are repeatedly built upon, sometimes lost, and repeatedly built upon again. Cosecha is one of two purely movements incubated entirely within the “momentum” model (The other, IfNotNow, deserves its own post).

I left that breakout session with the explicit thought that Cosecha was “sort of like building the kingdom of God” and also that Jesus, the original kingdom of God organizer, sort of started a momentum-based movement. So, to answer the grand question posed by this Theological Shark Week, Jesus would organize how Cosecha does. Here are seven ways how.

  1. Teach a social view of power with authority

Cosecha organizers hold that leveraging a voter base to push politicians running on “comprehensive immigration reform” does not work but mobilizing mass non-cooperation to leverage the power of immigrant labor and consumption and force a meaningful shift in public opinion will. This is a social view of power, and it requires more than a small base turning up to an action but sustained mass participation. This is a challenge to the assumption many of us hold that power and authority is held by leaders.

Jesus did not teach to the leaders, he taught to crowds who were often left in awe at his teaching, as they were after his sermon on the mount because “unlike their scribes, he taught with a note of authority” (Matt 7:28-27). In that sermon, he laid out who the kingdom of heaven is for: from the poor in spirit to those who hunger and thirst for justice to those who show mercy (Matt 5:3-5:10). He told the crowd he did not come to “abolish [the law and the prophets] but to complete them,” and he continues to simplify this distinction between the law of the scribes and the law of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:17), with the latter focusing on simple things like “Always treat others as you would like them to treat  you” (Matt 7:12). Jesus cautioned against “false prophets” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” or people who claim to speak in His name but do not follow him in action (Matt 7:15).

  1. Polarize the public and build active support

Actions can have symbolic or instrumental demands, depending on the target audience. Instrumental demands include legislative or policy changes, and are not intuitively understood by the public. But symbolic demands—“no more deportations,” or “a living wage”—can sustain momentum. Cosecha demands “permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.” Through small scale civil disobedience—like Salsa Shutdowns, Campus Walkouts, undercover rallies in supermarkets (pretend to buy groceries; drop baskets, rally), banner drops, and street theatre Cosecha uses all methods to ask the public “Which side are you on?” and mobilizes more supporters in the process, all to effect a shift in the “common sense” about the undocumented immigrant community.

Jesus too made symbolic demands oriented to the broader public and intended to convey a big story, and big ideas, as laid out in his teachings, and discourses—mainly, that God’s kingdom was at hand, and it was going to be very different than the current status quo, as Jesus told the disciples when proclaiming this, “you received without cost, give without charge.” That un-transactional way of being was and is still radically against how our society is ordered.

  1. Escalate (sacrifice and disrupt) and absorb (open doors into the movement).

The function of escalation in the cycle of momentum is to force the public to take notice of your issue and take a stance. “Trigger events” that can happen incidentally or be designed by the movement are opportunities to amplify the demands of the movement through escalation, which is measured in sacrifice and disruption. Sacrifice brings moral authority to the movement and disruption causes a stir, disrupting daily life. A local blind man is cured and a crowd gathers, or a local man is arrested by ICE and a crowd gathers. What matters is what happens after the trigger event and what is said to the crowd. Without a plan for absorption, a bottleneck is created during a trigger event. If you don’t create doors to enter the movement, people will have no way in.

When Cosecha performs any of the small actions mentioned before, someone unfurls a banner that says “DIA SIN INMIGRANTES,” another waves a flag with a cosecha logo, and a couple of others usually hold signs that say www.lahuelga.com or “Text HUELGA to 41411 #UnDiaSinInmigrantes.” In these ways they absord as they escalate.

The door to Jesus’s movement was simple “Take up your cross and follow me,” but it required sacrifice and—en masse- it was certainly disruptive. Cosecha’s doors to the movement are diverse and many: you can join a Cosecha circle, you can start your own Cosecha circle if there is not one in your area (http://www.lahuelga.com/getstarted), you can donate to the strike fund (https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MTgxMjM=), you can become a monthly sustainer of Cosecha (https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/become-a-cosecha-sustainer-conviertete-en-un-sponsor-de-cosecha-2), you can show up to one of their many small actions or share information about them on social media (https://www.facebook.com/movimientocosecha/) (https://twitter.com/cosechamovement?lang=en), you can donate supplies to Cosecha houses, you can host Cosecheros who need a place to stay, you purchase Cosecha merchandize and wear it, you can strike.

  1. Hold mass trainings.

Jesus captured energy and interest when drew huge crowds but he knew he alone could not lead the movement. He said to his disciples, after he “saw the crowds and was moved with pity”: “The crop is heavy, but the laborers too few, you must ask the owner to send laborers to bring in the harvest.” And then he commissioned the twelve handing to them tools to start planning their own actions and campaigns that were aligned with the movement’s strategies and principles (Matt 9:36-37).

Absorption should cast a wide net and include mass training. Jesus illustrated the principles of the movement in parables that the common man could embody and understand—using allegories that included laborers and owners, servants and masters, farmers, and widows. When his disciples asked him why he spoke in parables, he explained with his own parable that described his strategy for absorbing people into the movement: “harvest all of the wheat and separate the darnel later” (Matt 13:24-30).

Also, Jesus did not have access to the frontloading tools we do now: the internet, social media. As for Cosecha, visit www.lahuelga.com to sign up for a May 6 post-strike training near you: http://www.lahuelga.com/trainings/

[Photo source: Kaitlin Campbell]

  1. Foster decentralized leadership.

A decentralized leadership structure works so long as the movement is protected by its explicit commitment to its story, strategy, and structure. Cosecha has all of this outlined on their website, so that when new members participate without respecting the established principles, the movement responds by excluding them. Cosecha’s website includes all of the information necessary to start a Cosecha circle, align that circle with Cosecha’s strategy. Whether you are an immigrant or not, you may join the movement as long as you abide by Cosecha’s principles, which are outlined explicitly (http://www.lahuelga.com/trainings/). This gives new members of Cosecha the ability to act on behalf of the movement with autonomy and unity. Only three participants are required to start a circle.

Jesus’s teachings are confusing in that they lack the formal rigidity that what we now think of the dominant Christian churches institute. During his earthly ministry, though, Jesus seemed to favor a decentralized structure, especially since he gave authority away to the utmost extent, and practically because he commissioned the disciples. When asked a question about his disciples by the Pharisees, or his authority as a leader, Jesus would often answer the question in a way that deflected their assumption that he was a king or powerful ruler by instead broadly characterizing what the kingdom was like or by asking them questions about their own laws. Jesus also tells his followers how to resolve conflict without relying on hierarchical authority just before he says clearly that “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:15, 19-20).

  1. Use what the community already has and live simply

After Jesus commissioned the disciples, he gave them instructions not to take gold, silver, copper, packs for the road, coats, sticks, sandals…really roughing it (Matt 10L9-11). He told them to “look for a suitable person” in whatever town or village you enter and stay with him until you leave and disregard the haters or “shake the dust off people who don’t listen” (Matt 10:1; 10:10-11; 10:14).

Catalina Adorno, who is part of one of Cosecha’s regional support teams, told Waging Nonviolence she works =full-time and for free, and will be on the road for months facilitating trainings and helping communities deal with any “post-strike fallout.” She said Cosecha’s mobile teams rely on the hospitality of local organizers, crashing on couches and enjoying home-cooked meals, coffee and late-night conversation. “We do a lot of listening to people’s needs and to their plans,” she explained. “One of the principles of our movement is that everything we need is already in the community — and seeing this on the ground is mind-blowing” (https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/cosecha-day-without-immigrant-strike/).

Cosecha is more than just a shared story, but a strategy that every participating activist and supporter knows and lives out. For those driving the movement, there is the writing of training curricula, drafting of emails, circulating of online petitions, creating Facebook events, staging small actions in communities to spread the word about the strike, etc. For those supporting the movement, a monthly contribution, or providing a space in a church where activists can meet, or declaring publicly that your institution is a sanctuary, or declaring publicly your employees will not be penalized for striking, not only suffices but is instrumental as were, for example, patrons of early Christian churches. All of this largely contributes to shifting common sense, and winning permanent protection, dignity and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

  1. Organize beyond your own lifetime

Did Jesus get his movement “to scale”? Did everyone on the ground, all of his followers, understand and embody the story, structure, and strategy of the movement during his lifetime? Probably not. But this is why the cycle of momentum is cyclical. Jesus laid out the story of the movement by living it out for his disciples, he prepared the structure by commissioning them to proclaim the news of the kingdom, but it is arguable whether Jesus himself had a clear strategy. The principles laid out in the Beatitudes are rules to live by, and perhaps his strategy at its most basic is to get as many people as possible to live by those principles, and then—acting autonomously and unified with other Christians—escalate and absorb, especially in time when the opposition is strong.

As for Cosecha, the future depends on http://www.lahuelga.com.

[Photo source: Kaitlin Campbell]


Kaitlin Campbell works for the City of New York as an investigator for its police oversight agency. She graduated from Fordham College Rose Hill in 2012 with a degree in Theology, studied abroad in Spring 2011 with Casa de la Solidaridad, was an intern for the Episcopal Diocese of California in San Francisco as part of Episcopal Service Corps in 2013, and worked at Commonweal magazine from 2013-2016.

One response to “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Permanent Protection For 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants

  1. Pingback: How Would Jesus Organize? Introducing Shark Week XI | Daily Theology·

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