Tag: Social Justice Team

From Protest to Partnership

From Protest to Partnership: An Example of Justice Advocacy

AACRC Social Justice Team
By Barb Fichtenberg, SJT Hunger and Poverty Leader

Like it or not, we are all consumers. How can we be faithful followers of Jesus as consumers of the food we eat?

Do we ever think about where that food came from, and who harvested it? In my own faith journey, I became aware of the plight of farmworkers about 18 years ago. I learned that farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, had organized in the 1990s because of certain conditions that they were facing: being locked up in squalid trailers after a long day’s work with no freedom of movement, wage theft by their employers, sexual harassment and abuse in the fields, not being allowed to drink water or take breaks in the shade when working in unbearable heat and fear of retaliation for speaking up. After years of protesting against farm owners, in 2001 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers decided to target companies like Taco Bell and McDonald’s that bought the produce. Protests staged at corporate headquarters and boycotts against fast-food giants worked. Many grocery stores and fast-food chains joined, which put pressure on farm owners. The CIW is built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing reinforced by a national consumer network, of which the Fair Food Program is a part.

In 2011, The Fair Food Program grew out of this movement of the CIW. Retailers in the CIW’s Fair Food Program agree to purchase from suppliers who comply with a worker-driven code of conduct, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor and sexual assault. Retailers also pay a premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers. Since the program’s inception in 2011, buyers have paid over $45 million in premiums.

Corporate-driven social responsibility ultimately doesn’t work. Corporations tend to focus on their bottom line—economic profitability, rather than the benefits to their lowest rung workers. The Fair Food Program uses Worker Driven Social Responsibility, meaning that the farmworkers identify the problems, propose the solutions, and negotiate agreements.  Since its founding in 2011, the Fair Food Program now protects tens of thousands of farmworkers harvesting over a dozen crops in 10 states and 3 continents with many more in the process of joining since the Agriculture Department began offering subsidies earlier this year to farms that follow safe labor standards and participate in worker-led monitoring programs.

One thing we can do is to support the program by the place we choose to shop and eat. Participants in the Fair Food Program include Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, McDonalds, Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Non-participants, which have been boycotted by many for years, include Kroger and Wendy’s. If we speak up and let them know we do not support modern day slavery, perhaps they will be persuaded to join the program!

Food, Inc. 2, a major new documentary featuring the CIW and Fair Food Program, was released on April 9 and as of April 12 is available on major streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime. Here’s a link for the trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToWTxhYkrKk&t=2s

The Cash Bail System: An Example of Systemic Racism

The Cash Bail System:
An Example of Systemic Racism
(embedded within economic inequity)

By Rhonda Workman, SJT Racial Justice Leader

“David’s (a pseudonym) ex-girlfriend fled the police while driving his car. The police later found and impounded the abandoned car. When David went to collect it, he was arrested on a felony charge of eluding the police. Despite having an alibi and credible witness statements, the court denied his request for an affordable bail amount. During the 84 days he spent in jail before his case was dismissed, David’s shared custody arrangement for his son was significantly altered. In addition, he lost his job, apartment, and car, became responsible for paying child support he could not afford, and was charged for impound fees that were greater than the vehicle’s worth.”1 David was caught in the cash bail system.

The cash bail system is intended for good but in an overwhelming number of cases it causes harm.  David is just one example.  The purpose of the bail system is to provide a way in which people who have been arrested and accused of a crime can be released back to their homes to attend to their daily lives until they must appear in court.  Cash bail was created to ensure that accused individuals will return to court for their trial.  The problem is that bail is often set without taking into consideration the financial situation of the accused. As a result, the cash bail system unwittingly creates a two-tiered system of justice.

The two-tiered system privileges those with accumulated wealth over those who are not financially stable.  Those individuals with financial means can post their bail directly to the court.  Having done so they live in freedom attending to the responsibilities of their daily lives until it is time for them to return to court. Additionally, because they paid their cash bail directly to the court, they receive a full refund when they return for their hearing.

The story is totally different for those individuals who do not have accumulated wealth.  When they are assigned bail, they have three options.  First, they remain in jail until their hearing, which could take months or even years putting further economic burden and distress on their families as parents become separated from their children. Second, they could borrow money from their family, friends, or community to post their bail putting their loved ones at economic risk.  Third, they could borrow from a commercial bail agency paying a ten to fifteen percent premium on the cost of the bail, which averages $10,000-$15,000 for a non-violent felony. The premium that bail agencies charge would be between $1000 and $3750.  The income of those accused is generally $28,000 per year or less. The premium is never returned to the individual.  Instead, the bail agency makes a profit on the poorest in our nation, whether they are guilty or not.  To put this in perspective, “From 2011 to 2015 in Maryland, $75 million in non-refundable premiums was paid by people whose cases did not result in a conviction.”2 To date, 44 states still follow the cash bail system.  Maryland was just one state.  Ellie Preston in her article, “Profit Over People: Primer on U.S. Cash Bail Systems,” informs us that “Eighty percent of people involved with the criminal legal system are legally indigent, meaning they are ‘unable to afford the necessities of life.’”3 The poor become even poorer.

It is often believed that the cash bail system is beneficial in keeping our communities safe.  The system has the opposite effect.  First, the recidivism of those who are incarcerated pre-trail is 6-9%. Pretrial incarceration also drains valuable economic resources from the poorest in our nation. If an individual is jailed, they risk losing their job because they are often incarcerated for months at a time.  Their health can be affected, especially if they have physical or mental health conditions. It is often difficult to procure the medicines and treatments they need in jail as they await their hearing.   Furthermore, being incarcerated disrupts families because it separates parents from their children which puts the children at risk. In the beginning example, David was incarcerated for 84 days before his trial which had an adverse effect on his children and his relationship with them. Ellie Preston writes, “Children who have an incarcerated parent tend to experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation than children who do not have an incarcerated parent.” The pressures and disruptions that incarceration causes often leads individuals to plead guilty just so they can return home.  This results in a conviction, which goes on their record and becomes a barrier to their future employment and often future housing.

Cash bail also reinforces racism and the economic disparities.  According to the Washtenaw County Cash Bail Policy of 2021, “Black and brown defendants receive bail amounts that are twice as high as bail set for white defendants”5 and are less likely to be able to afford it.  It also reports that White Americans have seven times the accumulated wealth as Black Americans. Because cash bail forces individuals to pay money up front it “systematically disadvantages families who lack accumulated wealth. People who lack wealth in the United States are disproportionately likely to be Black. In this way, cash bail perpetuates “the glaring legacy of American slavery,” and the cascading consequences that have accrued from centuries of discrimination.”6

Additionally, the cash bail system is a drain on tax payer resources when there is little risk to public safety.7 Most people who are arrested are safe to be in community since most arrests are for non-violent crimes. This is something that is often overlooked when bail is set.  “In 2020, the rates of property crime were approximately 2100 out of 100,000 people [or 2.1%], while violent crime rates were 379 per 100,000 people [or .379%].”8 Every year 100s of thousands of people are incarcerated as they await their trials.  In her article, “The High Price of Cash Bail,” Nicole Manzano writes, “Taxpayers spend $14 billion each year to incarcerate legally innocent people. When factoring in the impact of pretrial detention on families, communities, and society, the true economic cost of this crisis has been estimated to approach $140 billion annually.”13

Alternatives to the bail system are being researched.  One such alternative is the Bail Project as reported by Manzano.  Her article explains that the Bail Project helped 25,000 people make 92% of their court appearances despite not having money on the line.  The project did this by offering free bail assistance and pretrial support to low income and indigent people.  The clients had no financial obligation to return to court and yet they did, thus proving that the cash bail is not a critical factor in getting these individuals to return for their hearing.  What helped them were the reminders about the hearings that they received as part of the project so that they would remember to go.  The project also offered transportation and help with other common logistical challenges. It also helped them navigated community-based social services, none of which cost the individuals or the taxpayers as much as cash bail. 9

The above paragraphs only scratch the surface of the effects of the cash bail system on our nation’s most vulnerable people and our economy.  The United States and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that utilize this system.  There has been some progress. Currently, there are six states that have abolished the system or modified it significantly.  Michigan passed bail reform legislation in 2022.  The other states are New York, New Jersey, Illinois, New Mexico, California, and Washington DC.  Below I have listed several articles that explain the repercussions of the cash bail system more fully.  I would encourage you to read them.  The article, “The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems,” is particularly interesting and revealing.

Suggested Reading:

“Five Ways Cash Bond Disrupts Society”

“High Price of Cash Bail”

History of Cash Bail
The History of Cash Bail | The Heritage Foundation

“The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems”

Washtenaw County, Office of the Prosecuting Attorney



1 Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg, “Profit Over People: Primer on U.S. Cash Bail Systems,” Center for American Progress, July 6, 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/profit-over-people-primer-on-u-s-cash-bail-systems/.

2 Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg, “The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems,” Center for American Progress, July 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/profit-over-people/.

3 Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg, “Profit Over People: Primer on U.S. Cash Bail Systems,” Center for American Progress, July 6, 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/profit-over-people-primer-on-u-s-cash-bail-systems/.

4 Allie Preston, “Five Ways Cash Bail Undermines Community Safety,” Center for American Progress, November 3, 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/5-ways-cash-bail-systems-undermine-community-safety/.

5 Eli Savit and Victoria Burton-Harris, “Policy Directive 2021-2022: Policy Eliminating the Use of Cash Bail and Setting Standards for Pretrial Detention,” Prosecutor’s Office Washtenaw County Michigan, https://www.washtenaw.org/DocumentCenter/View/27208/Cash-Bail-Policy.

6 Ibid

7 Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg, “The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems,” Center for American Progress, July 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/profit-over-people/.

8 Ibid

9 Nicole Zayas Manzano, “High Price of Cash Bail,” American Bar Association Journal, April 12, 2023, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/economic-issues-in-criminal-justice/the-high-price-of-cash-bail/.

10 Ibid

Afghan Refugees in US Still in Limbo: Action Needed to Prevent Deportations

By Phil Boonstra, AACRC Social Justice Team Immigration Leader

The Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA) is currently under consideration in the United States House of Representatives and Senate. If passed and signed into law, this legislation would provide a path to permanency for the thousands of Afghan refugees, including our friends the Azizis, who have come to the US following the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and the subsequent collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, most of whom do not have a permanent status nor a path to such a status. Absent legislation like the AAA, their future in the US is uncertain, and a safe return to Afghanistan is not possible. You can read more about this legislation on the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants website, and you can read the Senate’s version of the bill here. Reach out to your Representative and Senator to let them know you support this bill. You can accomplish this very conveniently via this link: Tell Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act (rescue.org)

Godly Fasting Opens Cages

By Rhonda Workman, SJT Anti-Racism Leader

In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo references a metaphor that Marilyn Frye, a scholar, uses to explain how White people look past the systemic web that holds Black people in their place. Marilyn Frye states that if you stand too close to a bird cage, you will see the bird but not the bars that are keeping it confined. If you turn your head slightly, you might see a bar and wonder why the bird doesn’t just fly away. If you draw back a little further, more bars will come into view and since the bird is still there you may come to the conclusion that the bird remains because it is content. It is only when one stands further back that all of the bars come into view revealing the web that holds the bird in place.

Three years ago this month, nine minutes of suffocating force caused our nation to draw back and begin again the process of examining the plight of African Americans. With the murder of George Floyd, a time of enlightening occurred as people began to read, listen to podcasts, and watch movies and documentaries about racism. And as they read and explored, some were beginning to see for the first time the systemic web that holds Blacks down. People around the country, Blacks and Whites, alike began to protest the injustices perpetuated against African Americans.

Since the protests of 2020, there have been some hopeful efforts made to effect change in our country.  As mentioned in an earlier article, there are some hopeful criminal justice reforms occurring. There have also been some truth, reconciliation, and reparation movements across the country. Evanston, IL, San Francisco, St Paul/Minneapolis, and most recently Detroit, have done work towards acknowledging the truth of how racism has affected the Blacks in those cities and are seeking ways to offer reparations.

And yet, despite these positive actions, a recent PEW survey published some discouraging results in November of 2022. Four in ten U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery has not much or not at all affected the position for Black Americans in the country today. 77% of Black Americans versus 18% of White Americans support any kind of reparations. Three fourths of the U.S. adults who support reparations believe it likely will not happen in their life time. The PEW Report, in light of the plethora of information that was studied in the last three years, seems to indicate that there has been little impact on the White conscience.

The fear of the Black communities is that these tragedies will once again fall away from the White consciousness. If that happens, it will be another indication of White privilege. Whites have the luxury of forgetting and procrastinating in making reforms because we do not experience systemic barriers as Blacks do. There is no urgency for Whites.

In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo uses the example of women seeking the right to vote. They were unable to achieve their goals on their own because only people who could vote could give them that right. They were at the mercy of the men, who held all the power. Unless they chose to share their power, women would be voiceless.

There are many changes that need to be made, wrongs that need to be addressed, but it is the Whites who wield the power (DiAngelo, pg. 31). Until Whites search their consciences and through humility seek to understand the barriers that Blacks face every day and seek to understand how our culturalization contributes to those barriers, there will be minimal changes to our society and the systemic web that suppresses African Americans (and other persons of color) will stay in place.

Isaiah 58: 6, 9b-11 reads:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untied the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

Interesting reading:









Statement of Inclusion

On March 22, 2023 the Council of our church voted unanimously to approve a Statement of Inclusion that can be viewed here.  This statement is an affirmation of our faith community’s intention to welcome and enfold everyone who comes through our doors, and to reach across the lines of race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status lines that too often divide us with respect, grace, understanding and love.

Food and Faith

Written by Barb Fichtenberg, Hunger & Poverty Leader for the AACRC Social Justice Team

Most of us probably don’t think about it very often, but there is a moral dimension to one of our favorite activities—eating!

As people of faith, how can we help ensure that all people have access to food that is nutritious, both here in the U.S. and around the world?  How can we support small and medium scale farmers as well as farmers of color who struggle to survive in a sea of agribusinesses? How can we encourage sustainable stewardship of our soil, water and air which are necessary for food production?

“The Farm Bill is a hard-working bill that covers everything from crop insurance to community food projects, from Meals on Wheels and SNAP (food stamps), to energy, conservation, and international food aid.  If you eat food or know anyone who eats food, then this bill directly impacts every part of your meal from where and how your food is grown, how it is cleaned and processed, how much it costs and any money you may receive to help pay for your food.” (www.foodinneighborhoods.org)

The U.S. government has until September 30, 2023, to pass a new Farm Bill, so now is the time to let our members of Congress know what kind of food and agriculture we want—a food system that is equitable and sustainable.  Debbie Stabenow is the Chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural Committee and will be instrumental in formulating the new Farm Bill, though it is also important to contact Senator Gary Peters and Representative Debbie Dingell.

Our AACRC Social Justice Team took some time at our meeting last week to have our own “Offering of Letters” and we invite all of you to help amplify our voices on this issue. For your convenience, Bread for the World has an online letter which you can sign. Step 1 is to enter your contact details so that you can get a response. Please check the box which says “Yes, this is an Offering of Letters,” and then enter “Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church” as the congregation hosting the event. Step 2 will take you to the letter. Here is the link https://go.bread.org/page/48001/action/1

Reviewer: Phil Boonstra, AACRC Social Justice Team

Voices of the Border:
Testimonios of Migration, Deportation, and Asylum

Edited by Tobin Hansen and María Engracia Robles Robles
239 pp. Georgetown University Press, 2021

Reviewed by Phil Boonstra, SJT Immigration Leader

Who gets to tell your story? This is a question that comes to mind while reading this collection of first-hand stories of migrants’ travels between Central and South America and the United States. If you strip away the news’ abstract descriptions of these persons (“migrant caravan”) and go past the legal euphemisms (“Migrant Protection Protocols”, better known as “Remain in Mexico”), then what’s left is what’s in this book: the humanity of the people living through these circumstances. Each testimonio is a first-person retelling, both in the original Spanish as well as an English translation, and thus forces the reader to reckon with the speaker’s experience rather than our own explanations or assumptions.

The testimonios are all from persons who have, over the past 10-15 years, spent time in the cities of Nogales, Arizona or – just across the border – Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, home of the Kino Border Initiative, a migrant advocacy organization. Some migrants traveled from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, or farther south and were in limbo, waiting for the right time to cross into the US. Others were sent to this Mexican town from the US, deported after a few days or many years of living here. The book is organized around eleven different themes, including wealth inequality, organized crime, gender violence, family separation, governmental abuse and corruption, and migrant criminalization and deportation. Every chapter opens with some contextual information related to the theme and then gives the testimonio of two or three persons.

In each testimonio, the reader encounters a variant of the same paradoxical circumstance, in which the speaker had come to the conclusion that the best and safest option was to leave home, livelihood, and family and traverse hundreds of miles, subjecting themselves to risk of extortion, robbery, or sexual assault. From our perspective, this is unfathomable. Yet, each story shows that, indeed, it is the perfectly logical choice. In a haunting and – sadly – typical testimonio, Julieta Payán Urías shares about her childhood in Mexico City, writing that her children’s father began stalking her at 12 and repeatedly sexually assaulting her throughout her teenage years. Héctor Arturo, a father of two and a deep-sea fisherman from El Salvador, writes about being forced to give fish to local gangs, until such a point as he could no longer feed his own children. Upon refusing to give them any more, they beat him with an aluminum bat. They hunted him across the country until he fled to Mexico, alone.

The testimonios are not just about the circumstances that forced them to flee their home but also their encounters with gangs, cartels, and law enforcement during their journey. Rogelio Heriberto Montes de Ruiz shares about his encounter with US immigration officers upon jumping the border wall at Nogales: “One of them told me to put my hands on my head. I obeyed him. But just then, another one of them coming from a different direction ran at me and gave me a knee in the ribs on my right side…He knocked me to the ground with that knee. I couldn’t breathe” (p111).

Reckoning with such suffering, the reader is tempted to fall back on some variant of legalism (“why don’t they come here legally?”) or nationalism (“countries have borders for a reason”). And yet, these excuses fall short. These people have the legal right to have their asylum case heard without being treated as criminals. And an appeal to nationalism fails to recognize that US military and counterintelligence activities and US corporate expansion in these Central American countries have contributed or even directly led to the problems they are facing today (see Chapter 2 for more details). There are no easy responses here, and this book doesn’t purport to offer any. Rather, it seeks to illuminate and educate. As its penultimate sentence states, “[p]eople need to better understand the situation of those migrating, being deported, or seeking asylum in order to envision a world in which all people enjoy greater opportunity” (p197).