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March, 2006

Spirit of the Revolution: 'We are a whole group'

Editor's note: The People's Tribune recently interviewed Mary Gault, who is pastor of the Church of the Brethren in Sunfield, Michigan. She pastored in Battle Creek and was active with racial issues, especially police brutality.

Pastor Mary Gault of Sunfield, MI, at a gathering where she received a certificate recognizing her volunteer work for God’s Taxi. With her is Mark Gardner, the board chair of God’s Taxi of Greater Battle Creek, MI.

Peoples Tribune: Is there a lot of poverty in your area?

I'm with a group that helps feed those in need at the Salvation Army. I see the numbers growing. Calhoun County, where Battle Creek is the largest urban center, has 15,000 people that live at or below the poverty level according to the 2000 census. Next door in Kalamazoo County, there are 27,000 plus that live at or below poverty, a huge amount of people for both counties. Battle Creek pays the highest rate in the state for natural gas for heating. I know people that live in homes without heat. The energy companies claim huge profits and people are freezing.

We have been trying to start God's Taxi in both counties to provide transportation for those that fall below poverty level. A lot of people can't afford transportation to get to their jobs or health care. It is difficult for people who have to work two jobs to provide for themselves and their families, or work part-time or third shift.

When the manufacturing jobs moved south to Tennessee and Mexico, there was huge unemployment. The city got auto-related non-union plants. People were glad, as the jobs paid more than minimum wages as McDonald's jobs, though still low wages. The company says work seven days a week and there's no union to help. Family time erodes, as well as time to rest. A lot of workers would like to find something else, but they're just above poverty and don't have the means or education to move. Battle Creek gave tax write-offs to bring jobs, but all the jobs that were promised haven't materialized. Most jobs in the area are non-union.

PT: Is change coming?

Kellogg's still has their headquarters and research here and influences the politics. We still have the Federal Center, a government facility. There's also a lot of military here, the Air National Guard Base and an Army National Guard base. The Federal Center and Kellogg's are big employers, and people are paid well, but can't speak out or they lose their job. The other large employer is Denso, which is non-union so people can't speak out there either.

Coming from a faith base, I have hope and faith that God is also at work through people. God has blessed me personally. Within my denomination (known as a historically peace denomination), I'm considered one of the rebel pastors. I have a felony for obstruction of justice. I belong to a congregation (separate from the congregation I serve as pastor) that is open and affirming, and I have participated in a lawsuit. I also picket for local justice issues. I feel God's mercy, and am blessed because I'm still ordained and still pastor - they haven't taken that away from me, as they could have. I'm also moderator of the District, which is the highest elected position within the District. So, I know that the people in our district for the most part support my leadership.

PT: What's the main thing we need to do?

I believe people will make change. We have to get out and educate people and work with them. Help people to understand that by working together we can make a difference. I try to distribute the People's Tribune as much as possible because I think they are helpful. Many people don't realize that they're losing their rights. We're moving toward a repressive society. I wish everyone would take a copy of the Constitution and read it. We all need to know what our rights are before we can work to protect them.

PT: What is your vision?

We're not little individuals, we are a whole group. If we can organize, then we can make a better world. People need to see that we all share common problems and can solve them together.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
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