We are pleased to introduce the newest team member here at Adventist Activism–Andrew Gerard (previously mentioned here). I thought an interview would be a good way to welcome him to the project (conducted via email).
JEFF: What have been some important steps in your development as an activist? What experiences, books, people or ideas have significantly influenced you along the way?
ANDREW: First step was watching a Tony Campolo video in 9th grade Bible class. He sweated and bellowed and said that it was a sin to own a BMW and I got saved.
In high school I went on every mission trip I could. Building churches never really satisfied my desire to do something meaningful, though, especially when building for non-existent congregations (as I did in Peru) or in areas where there were palpable physical needs, or where a congregation of 10 family members had us building a fellowship hall for free. I was also bothered that there was very little in the way of socio-political explanation (ie. why the people we were working with were poor, what their biggest needs were, political situation, etc). Exposure to cultures different from my own and real need pushed me to further understand the interface between culture and activism. Difficult to communicate in a few words, profound beyond any words I think, were one-on-one interactions with people in far away places. Children begging for food on a tourist beach. Old men whispering the secrets of life in Spanglish. Drug addicted street people singing gospel songs. My first real brush with activism was in the developing world of South America and the Caribbean.
At Andrews University I met a few people who had similar desires to get things done. By now I had something like a rudimentary political/social philosophy and had decided to major in Anthropology, which would aid in my understanding of culture and social inequality. My friends and I started a couple clubs (which I’ll mention in the next question), and kept developing our philosophies and interests, reading, discussing, and trying to stay active in forwarding the causes we believed in.
Some books I’ve read recently that have inspired and challenged me: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder; Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman; Freedom Next Time by John Pilger; The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi; The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan; A History of Modern Palestine by Ilan Pappe.
JEFF: You were instrumental in starting Action at Andrews University a few years ago. Can you describe Action for our readers?
ANDREW: Action is an umbrella activist organization. Essentially it is committed to a discussion of progressive issues, such as human rights, poverty (local and international), AIDS, women’s rights, and the place of Christians in all of this. The broadness of Action’s focus has been both a challenge and a blessing. We noticed a couple things that helped us decide to design Action this way. One was that when we had founded an AU chapter of Amnesty International the year before, there had been a desire to talk about issues which were outside of the talking points handed down by our regional directors. We also noticed that there were student groups raising money for development and health organizations, groups that were interested in the environment, and groups that cared about local housing issues – and that most of the people in most of these groups were willing to help each other on each others’ issues. For want of a better word, “progressive” issues spanned much of the activist camp at Andrews University.
When I led Action, we worked with Harbor Habitat for Humanity (in Benton Harbor, MI), the AU Amnesty International Chapter, a group of students who organized Invisible Children events, and various campus clubs and administrative entities. We also founded an environmental group, The Village Green Preservation Society, which started as a sub-committee of Action but soon became a bigger, more influential group than Action (thereafter, Action proper largely got out of the environmental business – except for helping facilitate VGPS’s work). Action presents documentaries, educational lectures, and forums on human rights and poverty issues, raises money, and protests for these causes. Action needs volunteers/leaders, too, so if you are reading this from Andrews University and want to get involved, let me know and I’ll hook you up.
JEFF: What projects or issues are you working on now? Where is on your heart these days?
ANDREW: I’m currently working as an AmeriCorps VISTA Resource Developer at Harbor Habitat for Humanity in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I work to fund projects which provide low-moderate income families from Benton Harbor, an economically depressed community with inadequate housing, the ability to become owners of new Habitat homes. I’ll be here for a year and then hopefully will move on to grad school.
I spent a couple months this winter in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine and have developed a desire to work on Israeli-Palestinian human rights and refugee issues. That has been weighing pretty heavily on me lately, and I’ve been reading as much as I can on these issues.
JEFF: Similarly, what topics might you be writing about first on Adventist Activism?
ANDREW: First off, I’m planning on writing a bit about Benton Harbor. From there, we’ll see what happens.
JEFF: Thanks a lot for sharing and for joining the project. We all look forward to hearing from you. Peace.