Advent Resilience to Weather the Storms

The wind whips outside on another beautiful dark morning, candles lit and Christmas tree lights now up. I light the fourth candle on my wreath and reflect again on my deep love of Advent

On this last Sunday of Advent,
we quietly reflect on the mystery.
We rest in awe, in wonder,

I light a candle and I think of Flor Almazan, one of the immigrant Latina workers in the Mayfield candle factory who survived the horrendous tornado in Kentucky last week. There is, rightfully, outrage about companies keeping workers in harm’s way during the storm, AND of note in this story, is that Flor and her co-workers are now also devastated because they have relied on these jobs to survive. The damage and disaster of these tornadoes in the Midwest is hard to truly comprehend from the safety of the far-away. Lives lost and children left without parents at Christmas. But for months and years to come, after the cameras have moved on, Homes are lost, jobs are lost. Flor Almazon says what many of the survivors in this small town are now most worried about “I depended on that work, and not having it is scary.”

As a daughter of Nebraska, there is nothing quite so chilling as the image of the ominous tornado funnel, the sound of the siren that sent us all in search of shelter, huddled under tables even in the basement, as children we were taught to fear and respect the menacing reach of the tornado. I remember viscerally the Omaha devastation when I was a little girl, I remember the terror in the decades before cell phones, when we feared our mother might have been driving home as the sirens shrilled their warning. And shortly after the devastation in KY, AR, TN and IL, another storm, this one hitting Nebraska last week; the ominous yellow-green sky took shape and “it happened in about 10 seconds’.

That is the tornado; it descends with a fury, often with little or no time to prepare. But these tornados are not the few and far between of my youth; December is not tornado season in Nebraska or the Midwest — at least it never used to be. And there are things we can do to prepare for and avert more crisis. This year of extreme weather disasters is a warning that the climate crisis will only bring more and must be addressed. People of faith are at the forefront of calling for this change and many Advent resources remind us of Pope Francis’s call to “choose to change”.

Advent is about preparing. Advent is also about healing, about making the world more whole. As I light my candles this morning I also think of Bellaliz Gonzalez, one of the migrant workers who follow climate disasters as reported in the New Yorker by the brilliant Sarah Stillman. The pandemic years have made more visible to us the Essential Workers who make our lives possible. Incredible new organizing by Resilience Force is making workers like Bellaliz more visible; calling our attention to the largely migrant workforce that is doing the dangerous and dirty work of cleaning up after tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and more. Behind the news we read about these disasters is (the) growing group of laborers is trailing hurricanes and wildfires the way farmworkers follow crops, contracting for big disaster-recovery firms, and facing exploitation, injury, and death. It can be very dangerous work “… the work is devastating on the body…The majority of these guys don’t have access to health insurance or paid leave.” When they’re hurt or sick…they have informal mechanisms to recover. They’ll pool their resources and give an injured colleague as much money as possible.” But, as for Flor at the candle factory in KY it is work, desperately needed work. Climate disaster and migrant workers are inextricably linked as described by the tenacious Nadia Marin-Molina, who co-directs the National Day Laborer Organizing Network “After Katrina, we realized that we needed to reach out and support immigrant workers during disaster recovery, and also to create longer-term structures across the country, like local workers’ centers.”

As visionary founder of Resilience Force, Saket Soni describes of these precarious workers facing safety violations, wage-theft and worse in what is now a billion-dollar Resilience industry: “After a major storm or fire, your only access to safe drinking water and food may come through your employer…The fear of retaliation is strong, and, if you sit down to strike, you’ll be fired and lose all of your pay…In these disaster environments, housing is often provided by the employer, and if you’re not paid you have nowhere else to go. You have no gas money, no car, no choice.”

This Advent, let us remember Flor Almazan who makes the candles we light. That behind every activity and comfort of our holidays are Essential workers who grow, harvest, deliver our food and packages, and that even behind the national news of disasters are Resilience workers cleaning up after the storms. Instead of one more gift for the stockings, consider a donation to Resilience Force or NDLON’s Immigrant Worker Health and Safety Fund . These organizers are a light in the darkness for us. We can be a light in the darkness for them.

Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

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Mary Beth Maxwell

Mary Beth Maxwell

Special Advisor on Worker Power; OSF, Labor, LGBT and civil rights organizer, Mom, Omaha native, served in Obama administration, ARAW, HRC, Jobs w Justice.