This evening 70+ of my fellow clergy, cantors, rabbis and Christian clergy gathered with Hyatt workers to protest the continuing exploitation of workers by Hyatt management. We protested outside the Hyatt Regency, on the Chicago River across from the Magnificent Mile.
U.S. Representative Danny Davis (no relation...) added his presence and words to the event. My colleagues, members of Reform Cantors of Chicago, led the clergy processional with Go Down Moses (Let My People Go).
With Cantor Scott Simon at the rally
There was a great atmosphere. Our Christian colleagues were good sports and incorporated a Jewish ritual into the event. As Rev. Lillian Daniel explained it: on the Jewish holyday of Purim, whenever we hear the name of the evil Haman, we make noise in protest. Similarly, at the rally, whenever a speaker said the word "injustice", everybody shook their 'clackers'.
Rabbi Peter Knobel, immediate past-president of the 1,800 member Central Conference of American Rabbis invoked the Biblical term "oshek" "exploitation" to describe Hyatt management's treatment of its workers. Hyatt Regency hosts major Jewish events in Chicago, as it is one of the only large establishments to offer kosher food. In light of this "oshek", Rabbi Knobel declared the Hyatt Regency "not kosher."
Rev. Chisum infused energy and roused the crowd to chanting with him. Sister Gwen Fary joined with my colleagues
The overall theme of the event was the Passover exodus story. I spoke about Nahshone, the hero was, according to tradition was the first to brave the waters of the Sea of Reeds (the Red Sea). Jewish tradition credits Nahshone with the beginning of the miracle of the splitting of the sea. We ended the event with singing "We Shall Overcome." By that time, the challenge that faced the protesters was not Hyatt but the weather. I had to abandon the second half of my speech because I couldn't quite unfold the sheet of paper that was disintegrating in the rain...
The atmosphere was lively. It strikes me repeatedly, how enjoyable this activism is. I met up with old friends and met new people. The workers, clergy and organizers were all connected through the common commitment of solidarity with the workers in the face of shameless exploitation. I hope our public action gave the workers a boost and gave Hyatt executives reason to fear that their image will be tarnished unless they treat their workers with respect.