Choose a Place

3

The world is apparently falling apart, but don’t give up on it. This thought occurred to me last Saturday over a wonderful meal.

The best meal in Malibu last Saturday was served at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange Holiday Party. I know from firsthand eating. The buffet included tamales, ham, turkey, chicken, enchiladas, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, salads, muffins, and on and on and on. It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners made sweet love one to another and out popped Heaven.

This is the fifth consecutive year that my wife led the party preparations—and she is awesome—but many people prepared, cooked, cleaned, gave, and otherwise pitched in to pull it off, which reminds me of the Labor Exchange itself.

Though not in the travel guides, the Labor Exchange is one cool place. It was created by the Malibu community over two decades ago as a safe and organized (and free) place to hire day laborers. It is a place where everyone is welcome, which attracts men and women from all over the world with impressive skills, interesting life stories, and colorful personalities. Oscar Mondragon is the legendary Center Director and one of my personal heroes. Oscar worked closely with Cesar Chavez prior to joining the Labor Exchange in 1993, and for twenty-two years, six days a week, he has served countless individuals by enforcing community standards, sharing wisdom, and simply caring for all who show up.

Author, Shane Claiborne, once was asked by several enamored college students to identify the greatest cause of their time. Claiborne told them not to choose a cause but to choose people and that the causes will choose themselves. I like that so much I have repeated it a hundred times, although it isn’t exactly how I discovered the Labor Exchange. There have been several “causes” in my life such as children’s issues and housing/homelessness, but instead of choosing a cause or people, I have typically been drawn toward what was happening in my backyard—“local justice” as my friend, Jeff, calls it.

Enter the Labor Exchange. It wasn’t the plight of day laborers that initially drew us in; instead, some folks were taking sack lunches each month and we just joined the crew. Before long, however, through getting to know Oscar and meeting the fascinating workers, we became part of the family.

What I like most about the Labor Exchange is that it is a place. There are lots of terrific causes in this world that deserve attention, but there are far too few places to go in a community where everyone is welcome regardless of, well, anything. See if you can find one where you live, and if you do, don’t be a stranger.

I guess that’s my humble modification to Claiborne’s good advice: Choose a place outside of your particular box, meet the people there, and the causes will choose themselves.

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