Tuesday, February 27, 2007
JOHN FANESTIL: Ex-Minister Takes the Helm at the Foundation for Change
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Most nonprofit foundations who are looking for a new executive director are primarily concerned with finding someone who’s experienced in the nonprofit world, someone who’s worked as a fundraiser and is used to schmoozing donors and reviewing grant proposals. But the San Diego Foundation for Change, housed in a storefront office on 30th Street in North Park on the same block as a used computer store and MacLeo Leather, is not your typical nonprofit.
Their last director, Joni Craig, was an activist with Planned Parenthood; and their new one, John Fanestil, served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 15 years, including four years in the border town of Calexico. He brings to the job enthusiasm, a long-standing commitment to the progressive goals and ideals the Foundation seeks to further in its philanthropy, a desire to break the nearly automatic association of the term “Christian” with radical-Right politics, and a special interest in funding organizations and programs that work on both sides of the border.
Zenger’s: Could you just tell me a little about yourself and why you wanted this particular job?
Fanestil: I’m a San Diegan. I think of myself as a San Diegan. I was born here, raised here, and had traveled sort of near and far. I had studied abroad, and then I had been working as a pastor for the United Methodist Church in southern California for 15 years. I always knew that I wanted to come back to San Diego. That was a long-term goal that kept getting clearer and clearer for both me and my wife, Jennifer. So a couple of years ago we said, “We’re going to move to San Diego, and look for the best work we can find.”
I’ve also had a long-term interest and passion for issues relating to the border, so I was looking for work that would allow me to engage with the border as a social and political issue. When this job opened up, I was interested because I knew of some of the grass-roots organizations it had funded. I’d worked for the Central America Information Center here in San Diego in the 1980’s. And so I had history with a number of the organizations that the San Diego Foundation for Change had funded over the years. So it seemed like the right time and place to sink my teeth back into grass-roots San Diego organizing.
Zenger’s: For those of my readers who don’t know about it, can you talk a little about the Foundation for Change, how long it’s existed and what it does?
Fanestil: Sure. It’s been in existence, under different names, since 1983. It was launched originally as a chapter of the Liberty Hill Foundation, a progressive funder of grass-roots organizations in the Los Angeles area. Its mission is to fund grass-roots groups working for social change. The fields it concentrates on are environmental health, social equality, and economic justice. SBy giving small grants to grass-roots organizations working in those areas, the Foundation for Change seeks to invest in social change in the San Diego/Tijuana community. Because we don’t have big money to give away, we’re really planting seeds of change, trusting that some of those will grow and flourish, and will make a difference.
Zenger’s: Are there examples of organizations that began at the grass-roots level that you funded, that have since become major organizations and able to get funding from other sources?
Fanestil: Yes, there are. I’m just learning this myself, of course, being new, but among those that I’ve spoken with that credit some of their success to our early funding include Earth Day San Diego, the Environmental Health Coalition, the Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice, and San Diego Coastkeeper. Those are all organizations that in their very earliest stages got grants from the Foundation for Change, and so while we don’t pretend to claim credit for their success, we’re proud to say we were a part of it.
Zenger’s: You mentioned the priorities of the foundation being “environmental health, social equality and economic justice,” which are very broad categories that encompass just about everything. Within those, what would you say would be your personal priorities, in terms of looking for organizations to fund?
Fanestil: Well, there’s a caveat about that. I do have my own personal interests and passions, but the grant-making process at the Foundation for Change is a little unique in that the grant-making committee is composed of former grant recipients, and I as the director don’t sit on that grant-making committee. So, while obviously I will have a major role in giving shape and direction to the organization, I don’t actually administer the grants. That’s done by community activists who themselves have been recipients of the grants in previous years.
That said, one of my great interests and passions is border-related issues. I know from personal experience that small chunks of change can really make a huge difference on the other side of the border. So I am hoping to expand the Foundation’s work in Tijuana. My hope would be that we would be granting money to organizations in Tijuana who are working similar turf. Also, given my interest in border issues, I’m very interested in immigrant-rights issues and access to economic power, health care and other issues faced by the poor and by immigrants in our community. Those are some of the issues that are front and center of my intention.
Zenger’s: Wouldn’t it get legally complicated to fund an organization in another country?
Fanestil: There are different ways around that. The grants to Tijuana organizations to date have been given through a sponsoring agency on this side. Partnerships between organizations on both sides of the border are really essential to accomplishing that.
Zenger’s: One thing that particularly fascinated me about your background is you’ve worked as a Methodist minister and you’ve contributed articles to Christianity Today. It seems like such a contradiction in an era in which the word “Christian,” as applied to politics, has become a synonym for anti-choice, anti-Gay, Right-wing. How do you reconcile being a Christian and being a progressive?
Fanestil: Very easily. I’m glad to report that we Left-leaning Christians are legion, even though the Christian Right has stolen much of the public limelight. But people should not be confused, or should not think that all Christians are on the Right side of the political spectrum, because that’s just not true. I’m a long-term, long-time participant in a number of Christian movements that are progressive-minded, including Sojourners magazine and, here in Southern California, Progressive Christians Uniting, a Pasadena-based organization.
In my own church tradition, the United Methodist Church, the history of the church is one of social reform. The Methodists were in on the ground floor of the abolition movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil-rights movement. So when I find myself leaning to the Left and advocating for progressive social causes, I don’t feel alone at all, because I know I have good company both in the present and also from the tradition. None of which is to deny the truth of your observation, which is that a lot of the prominent Christian voices out there are on the Right wing and are advocating for things very much the opposite of what I believe in.
Zenger’s: One group you mentioned was the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, I was at the City Council hearing where they were arguing for the living-wage ordinance, and there were a lot of people there who had some really far-Right positions on other issues. One in particular, Bishop George McKinney, has said that the worst thing that ever happened to America and morality was the teaching of evolution. I just saw these people coming to the podium again and again, and I had to keep reminding myself, “Mark, on this issue they’re our allies.”
Fanestil: It’s funny how things cut across issues sometimes, don’t they? To be clear on the one issue you raised there, the idea that evolution should be taught in schools seems to me to be utter common sense. The vast majority of Christians in this country believe that the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming.On that particular issue it’s the minority of voices, Christian voices, like the folks who run the museum out in Santee and all that stuff, who get the press, but people should not be confused to think that that represents a majority Christian view.
The Christian tradition is a lot more diverse and flexible in reality, in the way it actually works, than the media, mainstream media, would lead you to believe. To be honest, I take some satisfaction in knowing that maybe I can be a part of presenting an alternative view of the Christian tradition to people. When I say that I believe that Gay and Lesbian people and Transgender people have every right to as full and as happy a life as everyone else, it’s fun for me to be able to say that as a Christian person, and as a Christian pastor. I know that when I say it I’m also helping to break some impressions of what Christians are all about.
As you noted, the Christian traditions don’t line up neatly into a lot of the political categories of the American “Right” and “Left.” Sometimes you will find those who will advocate strongly for the rights of immigrants, but will still be anti-Gay and -Lesbian. I’m not pretending that those kinds of contradictions don’t exist. They do.
Zenger’s: And people in that position wouldn’t necessarily see it as a contradiction. They’d say, “The Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and the Bible also says that homosexuality is a mortal sin and people who commit it should be put to death.” In fact, when I was growing up my mother used to say that you could argue anything from the Bible, because it composed over 5,000 years or something, and it involved many different authors.
Fanestil: The Bible is a collection of books. It is not a single book. Many authors, many writings, many contexts. The Bible does not speak with a single voice. So for me, that’s part of what makes it fun. It’s like joining an ongoing conversation thing. For me, reading the Bible is like joining an ongoing conversation. It’s not like reading a rulebook or pretending that you’re going to be able to find a single point of view on every issue. The fact is there are multiple points of view on multiple issues within the Bible itself. So your mother was right, I think. And history would suggest that folks have used the Bible to justify quite a lot of things across the years.
Zenger’s: Including slavery, which was quite specifically condoned in the Bible.
Fanestil: Except right there, it’s interesting that the prime movers in the abolition movement were Christians who had read other parts of the Bible, and had concluded that the commands in the rest of the Bible trumped the isolated passages that condoned slavery. The reason abolition happened is because of radical Christians who were themselves giving up their slaves and demanding, out of their own religious convictions, that others follow suit.
So when we talk about today’s American Christians being conflicted over homosexuality or immigration, that’s nothing new. Throughout history, different groups of Christians have always been conflicted over pressing political issues.
Zenger’s: In fact, one of the things that fascinates me about this topic was that the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1831 by Southern congregations who didn’t want to have to listen to Northern ministers come down and denounce slavery.
Fanestil: That’s right. All the mainline churches split beween North and South on the issue of slavery. There were anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions within each. Even today, the vast majority of Southern Baptists are quite conservative. There was something on the news recently that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and a bunch of Southern Baptists have just tried to assemble an alternate group of Southern Baptists to present the alternative political voice, which is a minority political voice in the Southern Baptist Convention, but the fact of the matter is that not all Southern Baptists are Republicans. They’re just not.
Zenger’s: In fact, not even all white Southern Baptists are Republicans.
Fanestil: No, they’re not. That’s right.
Zenger’s: Historically Baptists, of all people, believed in one’s personal relationship to Scripture, but in the last 10 years the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership has got so conservative that they have essentially issued marching orders on abortion and homosexuality and some of these other hot-button issues. Some of the more moderate people in the Southern Baptist Convention are saying, “Hey, doctrine from on high is not part of our tradition. It’s why Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church five centuries ago!”
Fanestil: That’s an interesting topic, but those divisions and tensions within the Christian tradition are often entirely missed by the mainstream media. The mainstream media don’t take the time to parse those differences and present the nuance and variety that’s out there. Instead, the mainstream media lump all groups together and pretends that there is “the Christian position” on X, or “the Christian position” on Y, as if there were unanimity within the Christian church about these things. And the fact of the matter is there’s not.
Zenger’s: In other words, your criticism is that they’re willing to take the statements of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or James Dobson at face value and say, “Yes, they are the spokespersons for the Christian position.”
Fanestil: Yes, folks like that pretend. They would like to be, and they claim that for themselves: “The Moral Majority,” and all of that language. I understand why the mainstream media fall for that sometimes, and a lot of other people do, too. They assume that when folks like Robertson and Falwell say they’re presenting “the Christian perspective,” that must be the Christian perspective. But it appalls me — you can put that down — it appalls me that people would think Pat Robertson represents “the Christian perspective,” because he sure as hell doesn’t represent me.
Zenger’s: Yet you see these chilling poll results sometimes that up to 25 percent of Americans describe themselves as “evangelical” or “born-again”; that, according to a Pew Research survey last year, more than twice as many Americans believe in the Second Coming as believe in evolution. Granted that there’s a lot of diversity within the Christian tradition, isn’t the Christian Right really beating the pants off the Christian Left?
Fanestil: In practical political terms, I would say the answer to that is yes, in recent decades. But I do think the counter-swelling is also at work. The Christian Left is becoming better organized, more outspoken and more sophisticated in its engagement of these public issues. And there are some profound signs of success. The most visible, of course, is Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine, and his book God’s Politics, which has hit the best-seller lists.
I would say that even mainstream Democratic politicians are reclaiming their religious identities and their roots in the religious tradition, and are learning to do a better job of rooting their politics in their own faith traditions. Partly I think that the Left is moving on those fronts precisely because, as you observed, the Christian Right has been so much better organized and so much more influential for so many years.
Zenger’s: Your point about mainstream Democratic politicians reclaiming their Christian identities reminded me of the rather embarrassing moments in the 2004 campaign when Howard Dean and John Kerry were trying to talk about their personal faith. It was obvious they were very uncomfortable with this idea because they were not part of publicly confessional churches for whom that kind of rhetoric would come naturally. They were not from one of these Southern churches where you do talk a lot about your personal relationship to Jesus, blah blah blah.
Fanestil: Yes, and it’ll be fascinating to see how different that is in 2008. For instance, the three front-runners — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards — are all in fact very comfortable talking in those terms. As distinguished from Howard Dean and John Kerry, those three are all self-identified religious people who are very comfortable talking about God and their own faiths. I don’t know any of those three, but it’s my perception that that’s how they were raised and part of who they were, and in that respect I think they’ll play far better with the broad American public.
Because you’re absolutely right: one of the profoundest disconnects with Dean and with Kerry among mainstream Americans, most of whom are religious in one sense or another, that somehow there was a disconnect between the Kerrys and the Deans of the Northeast and them.
Zenger’s: That’s kind of a sea change in American society, isn’t it? I mean, no one expected Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower to give these kinds of testimonials. And it says, essentially, not only need an atheist or an agnostic not apply for public office in this country, but certain kinds of Christians needn’t apply either — possibly including people from your denomination, which is not exactly a big faith-talking church either.
Fanestil: No, it’s not, but Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist, and my tradition is not a big one for wearing your religion on your sleeve either. Hillary Clinton’s language isn’t littered with it. As you say, she doesn’t wear her religion on her sleeve. But when she’s asked about why she’s in the race, she brings it down to her religious upbringing and her own beliefs that are both religious and political, and she hangs out and feels altogether comfortable with that.
Zenger’s: Maybe being married to a Baptist has helped her be a little more comfortable with it.
Fanestil: That may be the case. She may have learned how to have that conversation. What tradition was your mother? You mentioned your mother and her line about the Bible.
Zenger’s: Actually, I come from a freethought household and I’ve never believed in God. My mother had grown up in a Jewish family that had by the time of her childhood had pretty much ceased to practice, so I’ve never grown up with a religion. I’ve never experienced this, and frankly it’s taken me a long time to understand why other people regard God as so important in their lives, and respect that belief in others. It’s taken me a long time to accept that, and if there is, as some people have suggested, a gene for religious belief, it didn’t end up in my genome.
Fanestil: You missed it. Whether it’s genetic or just cultural, I do believe that stuff runs in family trees. I’m a religious person in large measure because I come from a family that believed, and I have no trouble recognizing that that’s still handed down from generation to generation. I’m not saying that that validates or invalidates it; I’m not saying that to be for or against it. It’s just part of how a lot of these things work.
Zenger’s: Sometimes I do a thought experiment on myself and try to think. “What would it have been like growing up in a religious home?” Because I can’t really connect to that experience. Whether I would have taken it seriously or whether I would have rebelled and ended up where I am.
Fanestil: Or done both, as I did, because I left the church. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the church as a young person, so when I graduated from high school I went away to college and I went away from the church, and I didn’t come back to it for almost 10 years. What brought me back to it, interestingly enough — and it goes back to some of my political commitments — was Central America. I often tell people that I was re-converted to Christianity by the people in Central America.
Zenger’s: How so?
Fanestil: I was doing Central America solidarity work in the 1980’s, taking trips to Nicaragua and El Salvador, and I was speaking with groups who were fighting U.S. policy in Central America. The folks who were fighting the big fight in those days were religious folks. I was really enamored of Oscar Romero in El Salvador [the archbishop who in 1979 was assassinated after delivering a series of sermons challenging the country’s government and ruling oligarchy], and the kind of base-community organizing that was happening in Nicaragua, for instance, was incredibly inspiring. People were taking charge of their own lives and throwing out political dictators, and doing so because they felt their faith demanded it of them. So I was exposed at that time of my life to a part of the church, or a manifestation of the church, that I hadn’t realized existed. And that was really what brought me back to the church.
Zenger’s: One of the things the Foundation does is a particular outreach to the Queer/Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Trans/whatever community. Could you tell a little about that?
Fanestil: The Foundation for Change has administered Pride Grants for many years. It has served as the grant-making agency for Pride funds. That’s one of the long-standing relationships. Among the people on the ground floor of the Foundation for Change included Bruce Abrams. He’s a prominent person in San Diego’s Gay community, and there have been many others. One of the awards given annually is the James Cua award, named after James Cua [a former Foundation board member and prominent Queer community activist in the late 1980’s who died of complications from AIDS in 1994]. To use the genetic metaphor, it’s in the genes of the organization to be supportive of LGBT folks and their efforts to organize.
Zenger’s: Obviously, one of the big tasks in a job like this is to say no. There are going to be a lot more applicants for funding than you can fund, a lot more worthy applicants that you would like to fund and you won’t be able to. How are you going to handle saying no?
Fanestil: Again, this may be a little bit of a dodge, but I don’t direct the actual brass-tacks functioning of the grant-making process, So at the end of the day, I’m personally not the one that has to say no. It’s the grant-making committee, and several of those people have shared with me how difficult those decisions are. The grant-making committee does a very thorough process of analyzing applications, site visits — which means visiting the groups and organizations where they work, and to see first-hand what they’re doing, and makes those decisions as best they can. But you’re right to say that those are difficult decisions.
I get to try to raise some money and move things forward with the overall organization, but I don’t have to be the bad guy, at least not on the front lines of saying no. I’m just behind the scenes, encouraging the grant-making committee to do as good a job as they can.
Zenger’s: You briefly mentioned the other side of this, which is raising money. What kind of a base of funding is there for a group like this in what is known as a pretty conservative city?
Fanestil: It varies from year to year, and actually that is one of the problems this organization has had. The grant-making has risen and fallen according to the annual budget. Last year the annual budget was around $140,000, of which only $43,500 went to grants. The goal has to be to increase both the annual budget and the amount of grants given. They’ve hired me full-time, and it only makes sense for there to be a full-time director if we can move those numbers up, right? So that’s part of my job, to try to grow the organization so it can afford to give more grants.
As with any nonprofit privately-funded organization, there’s a small group of lead donors who provide a lot of the resources. If we’re going to grow, we’ll need to tap into some foundation and grant-making resources as well. We have a list of 225 people here who have given at least $200 in a single year in the last couple of years. That’s not to say we had 200 donors at that level last year, but in recent years 225 people have given more than $200 in a single year. So there’s one. That’s sort of a broader base, and I think our mailing list is 1,800.Those are folks who we count as part of the network of support.
Zenger’s: How much experience have you had raising money?
Fanestil: Once again, my most immediate professional experience has been in churches, where the ways of raising money were very different. But at churches I worked at, I did run special campaigns for special causes. I’ve also worked on a number of nonprofit boards, where I was involved in fundraising campaigns. I’ve had my hands in lots of different kinds of fundraising projects across the years. So I have pretty good experience in that realm, but obviously I have some learning to do because I’m working in a different environment now, in the strict non-profit sector.
Zenger’s: There are essentially two routes a foundation like this can take with regard to grants. They can write large grants to a handful of organizations and really concentrate on building a few programs; or what has been this foundation’s history, to write a lot of small grants to a lot of different programs, and see it more as seed money than as actually building a long-term funding relationship. Do you see that changing?
Fanestil: I’m not sure. Our grant-making guidelines are going to be revised this spring, so that kind of conversation is actually ongoing as we revisit our guidelines. Because we don’t have the kinds of resources to give away large chunks of change, I can’t believe we would radically alter that current philosophy, which is to give small grants that are meaningful to the organizations that receive them, precisely because those organizations aren’t far enough along to qualify for more mainstream sources of funds.
As the grant-making guidelines are revised there might be some wrinkles on that. But that core philosophy, I would suspect, would remain. It’s a philosophy of seed-planting, trying to make catalyst kinds of — using the grants as catalysts for organizations, because we don’t have the resources to be sustaining funders of a lot of organizations. It may be a philosophical choice driven by necessity, but that’s where it’s been.
Zenger’s: Where in the San Diego community do you plan to look for more money?
Fanestil: Of course, the short answer to that is anywhere. My principal goal in this first six months is just to meet as many of our current donors as I can and ask them to introduce me to friends. It’s a networking kind of process, and our network is scattered around the city. But there are some pockets. Hillcrest is a pocket, because there’s been a lot of support from Hillcrest across the years. La Jolla is a pocket, because our organization’s founder, Victorla Danzig, lives in La Jolla; and I was raised in La Jolla, so I know some of the people there.
But I’ve got a dinner party up in North County planned, and I’ve got a dinner in El Cajon. You follow the relationships and where they lead. At this level of organization It’s relational work more than it is demographic work, because we’re not out sending mass mailers to Zip code search. We’re courting people and trying to find out if they believe in the mission that we’re trying to accomplish; and if they do believe in it, asking them to step up and help make the mission happen. Right now we’re planning some donor/fundraising events. I’ve got some speakers coming into town who will speak at private homes and invite people to come and make a donation. You’ve got to pursue multiple angles, of course, to try to raise the money.
Zenger’s: Where would you like to see the organization go in five years?
Fanestil: I’d love to see it give away $150,000 a year, with half of that — about a half, a good chunk of it — going to groups on the other side of the border as well as on this side. Through that grant-making process, as you mentioned earlier, getting money directly to groups in Tijuana is complicated, but giving to organizations who are working binationally and thinking binationally, that’s stuff that we can do to encourage folks to address issues of justice by working on both sides of the border. That’s part of what I hope we accomplish.
And that $150,000 figure that I use isn’t based on any serious long-term strategic planning. That’s just a nice round number that I would feel good about it if we were willing to make it.
Zenger’s: Ultimately what would you like to see the Foundation accomplish, and you personally accomplish as its director?
Fanestil: I would like to see the sort of progressive and social-change constituencies on both sides, San Diego and Tijuana, raised in their profile and their influence. I’d like to see some of the seeds that we plant flourish, as some of the seeds that we’ve planted in the past have flourished, so the political landscape around here would be well represented on the progressive side. Personally, I’m not a person who sets five-year goals and tries to reach them. I try to make as much of a difference as I can with what’s in front of me, and I’m pleased that this is what’s in front of me. I’m a writer, too. I don’t know if I mentioned that, but I’d like to have another book or two published in the next five years.
Zenger’s: Yeah, I noticed on your résumé that you mentioned a book with a rather interesting theme that kind of made me go, “Huh?” Mrs. Hunter’s Happy Death: Lessons on Living from People Preparing to Die. What was the inspiration for that, and what, in the proverbial nutshell — in about a minute and a half of trying to distill your entire book — are the lessons we can learn from people preparing to die?
Fanestil: The book was inspired because as a pastor I got to know a lot of people as they approached the end of their lives, and some people did that just beautifully. They did the end of their life very, very well. I’m not saying this happened all the time, by no means, but every once in a while someone would come along and they’d do that part of their life so extremely well that I was struck by it. So the book is filled with stories of people who finished their lives with great courage and grace.
The nutshell definition of a happy death is one in which the dying person serves as an inspiration to others; or, to use the religious vernacular, as a blessing to others. So you can take your pick there. But some people manage to do that. Even as they’re preparing to die, they’re an inspiration to others. They are still encouraging others and inspiring others to lead for a happier and better land, and those are the kinds of people I wrote about in my book.
Zenger’s: You said you’re interested in pursuing another book. What would that be about?
Fanestil: I’m looking at one that would tell, in similar fashion, stories of people who’ve crossed the border and immigrated to the U.S., and what they have to teach us, and what we can learn from them. I hope to have that published sometime in the next few years. It would be something — I don’t know what the title would be, but it would be something like Lessons on Living from People Who Have Crossed the U.S.-Mexico Border.
Zenger’s: That seems in itself like a provocative topic, especially with all the folks on talk radio talking about undocumented immigrants as if they’re the scum of the earth, and saying we need to build ever-higher fences over ever more of the border to keep these people out.
Fanestil: My experience is the exact opposite. I’ve lived out there; I worked on the border for four years, in Calexico, and my experience was that these people often led incredibly noble and inspiring lives. I know for a fact that I learned a whole lot from them. So what I’m hoping to do with that next book is just get on paper some of the things that I’ve learned, that I’m convinced other people would benefit from learning if we would just treat these people as brothers and sisters in one human family. Because that’s what I think of them.
Zenger’s: I know that there are some people who are otherwise progressive but are still concerned about the influence of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, on the poorer people in this country. I’ve read articles about the competition between undocumented immigrants and African-Americans for jobs at the lower end of the economic scale: the fact that the opportunities that existed for people without high-school educations, which were already meager enough, have been really decimated by this influx of immigrants. Personally, as a progressive with a very strong interest in border issues, how do you reconcile wanting justice for the immigrant population and at the same time having to have a concern for the native-born working-class people who are being adversely affected by them?
Fanestil: Well, the question is in the immediate sense they’re being adversely affected by “them,” referring to the immigrant workers, but of course what they’re being adversely affected by is the economic forces. I don’t pretend to have a neat answer or solution to that problem, but the fact of the matter is we are living in a world in which our economies are profoundly intertwined. And, for better or for worse — and I’m sure for better and for worse — we’ve created NAFTA, the “free-trade agreement,” but of course the commodity that was excluded from the free trade was labor.
It turns out that doesn’t really work. You can’t create a free market and have goods and services and resources and capital flowing all over the place, and still keep labor in nice, neat little contained boxes. That’s not how free markets work. So I understand and sympathize, and can wish perhaps that we could thrash out a line in the sand. I do believe in living wages for the working people. I would prefer to see living wages for all people, whether they be immigrants or not. But I hope you’ll forgive me for not having a solution to the grand macroeconomic conundrums of our day, you know what I mean?
Zenger’s: No, I was just asking how you reconciled those values personally, and what do you do about the campaigns on the Right to get the African-American community to advocate for a hard line on immigrants on the ground that they’re threatening “your” economic interests. You hear all the stories about the fry-cook jobs in Los Angeles that used to be done by Black people and are now done by undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
Fanestil: That’s an old tactic, isn’t it? I mean, people in power pitting people out of power against each other. I daresay that’s as old as the Bible. There are some pretty tried and true tricks by which folks in power stay in power, and that’s one of them. Labor and immigration, those are ancient questions.