Minneapolis Catholic Workers back Black Lives Matter

| April 26, 2016 | 6 Comments
Minneapolis Catholic Workers Erica Sherwood and Joe Kruse outside the Rye House. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Minneapolis Catholic Workers Erica Sherwood and Joe Kruse outside the Rye House. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

On April 11, Black Lives Matter activists reportedly shut down intersections and a light rail station near Target Field during the Minnesota Twins’ home opener against the Chicago White Sox.

Demonstrating with them were more than 70 members of the Catholic Worker movement from across the Midwest. Their participation was the culmination of a four-day Faith and Resistance Retreat on racial justice hosted by the Minneapolis Catholic Worker in collaboration with Black Lives Matter leaders.

Local Catholic Workers have been supporting Black Lives Matter as the organization has protested the death of Jamar Clark, a black man who died after being shot by white police officers in November. Recent Black Lives Matter efforts, including the Twins game demonstration, have focused on contesting the Hennepin County Attorney’s March 30 announcement that charges would not be filed against the officers involved in the shooting.

Minneapolis Catholic Workers Joe Kruse, 27, and Erica Sherwood, 26, say working with Black Lives Matter is a natural fit for the Catholic Worker movement.

“Since its inception, the Catholic Worker has been outspoken around American racial injustice,” Kruse said. “It has never been a primary focus for the movement. . . . [But] that’s one thing we’re really motivated [about] in our house — and I think there are Catholic Workers in other cities who feel strongly — that it can and should be a large part of our work.”

Founded in 1933 by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day — whose sainthood cause entered a new phase April 19 (see page 9) — the Catholic Worker movement focuses on living simply, serving the poor, hospitality to the marginalized and nonviolence.

“Dorothy Day didn’t set up any centralized way a Catholic Worker should be, or some sort of blueprint about ‘these are the things that you have to do,’” Kruse said. “But, it is fair to say that there are common charisms or things that are emphasized.”

Communities are autonomous; a Catholic Worker website lists 13 communities in Minnesota affiliated with the movement.

A sign outside of the Rye House announces its weekly community dinners. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

A sign outside of the Rye House announces its weekly community dinners. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Founded in 2011, the Minneapolis Catholic Worker operates out of two houses: the Rye House in the Phillips neighborhood and the Park House on nearby Park Avenue. Not all members are Catholic, but they share a commitment to the Catholic Worker vision, Kruse explained.

Sitting in the living room of the Rye House, Kruse, who is Catholic, traced his involvement in the movement to his parents, who emphasized Catholic social teaching and founded a Catholic Worker community while he was growing up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 2011, he traveled the U.S. with friends to visit intentional communities. At the time, he was looking for one to join, but the trip inspired him to start a community in Minneapolis.

In 2014, the Rye and Park Houses officially affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement. Nine members live in the two houses. Keeping with what Kruse termed the Catholic Workers’ emphasis on “counter-cultural hospitality,” both houses also designate rooms for people who need a temporary place to stay.

In addition to activism with Black Lives Matter, the Minneapolis Catholic Worker has also protested the mining of sand for fracking along the Mississippi River bluffs and participated in the Occupy movement. Among Rye House’s outreaches is a Thursday night community dinner, noted on a wooden sign on the house’s fence.

Most of Minneapolis Catholic Workers’ core members are white, Kruse said. The question of how a predominantly white movement becomes useful to a racial justice movement was central to the Faith and Resistance Retreat, Kruse said. It’s a question they’ve explored before; last year’s retreat was held in St. Louis, where Catholic Workers had responded to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following Michael Brown’s police-involved shooting.

“It’s listening to the voices of black people,” said Sherwood, a Catholic. “It’s learning to hear their struggle. I’ll never know what it’s like to be black in America, but I’ve come to trust the people who are a part of that movement so much. I have so much love for them.”

She added: “This isn’t my struggle . . . so it’s not my place to choose how to respond to it. I need to choose to follow the people whose struggle it is, and that might be uncomfortable.”

Kruse is aware of the growing criticism that Black Lives Matter’s disruptive tactics are ineffective in achieving racial justice. He pulled up a Washington Post chart of a 1961 Gallup poll on the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who challenged segregation with sit-ins and other demonstrations. The majority of respondents said the Freedom Riders’ work harmed desegregation efforts.

The Freedom Riders’ impact despite negative public opinion signals to Kruse that Black Lives Matter’s work can also make a long-term difference.

“The disrupting of things as normal was a tried-and-true tactic, and is still a tried-and-true tactic of organizers and people working for racial justice,” he said.

Kruse noted that activists from a variety of Christian denominations have shown support for Black Lives Matter, but Catholics have not demonstrated in large numbers. He’d like to see more Catholic leaders involved, he said.

“As a Christian person, this is exactly what Jesus is calling me to do,” Kruse said. “This is the Gospel message lived out, what BLM is doing. . . . It felt for me like the fulfillment of a religious and spiritual obligation.”

He added: “There’s all of this Catholic [social] teaching that’s calling us to action.”

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