Andrew is the National Associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, PCUSA. He runs the domestic grant-making program and helped develop the Sweat-Free T program to educate Presbyterians about sweatshops and worker rights, and to create a demand for SweatFree products. Andrew has researched and worked on human rights, race relations, community organizing and social and economic justice in San Francisco, Central America, Japan, Korea and Louisville.
Ethix: What led you to connect your faith with social justice activism? Was justice work always part of your experience with the Presbyterian Church, or did something else trigger your passion?
Andrew Kang Bartlett: My faith is not in a religious doctrine but in the power of light, goodness, beauty, truth and freedom to overcome the forces of death. I’ve spent much of my half-century in this body doing social justice activism. I came to the PCUSA for a 6-month interim in 2001 and found that I had the freedom to work on the root causes of hunger, so I stayed. Since then I’ve been working with folks to get at those systemic causes of suffering and injustice, like those we find in our global supply chains of clothes.
Ethix: Your style of activism could be described as more tolerant of the “other side” than is common among progressives. Is that fair to say? If so, why is that the case?
Andrew Kang Bartlett: Ha. I’m glad it looks like that now. Yeah, I haven’t gotten arrested in some time. I still believe there is evil in the world, but I guess part of the shift came from seeing how things evolved after the peace agreements in El Salvador in 1990. The struggle was necessary, but the desperate and violent methods wove themselves into the fabric of society and are so hard to remove. I believe our struggles should begin first with our own shadows and must be fueled by love for self and for all life.
Ethix: You are a prolific facebook-er and blogger. Do you think the internet and online social media has made the world a better place? Either way, how do you think it could be used more strategically for social justice in the future?
Andrew Kang Bartlett: I think cyber-communication, at its best, emerges from a positive impulse to become subjects in our own destinies, and in the unfolding of the world. We’ve witnessed how young people in Egypt wielded this technology effectively to mobilize thousands. There are many cases that illustrate its potential. While there is nothing that can replace face-to-face organizing, I see it being increasingly powerful as a tool used by communities of practice – groups of people with a common goal who use cyber-communication to share ideas and strategize towards social change.
Ethix: As a leader in the sweatfree movement and board member of SweatFree Communities, what are your plans and hopes for the movement in the coming year?
Andrew Kang Bartlett: I hope to spread the word to Presbyterians and others that their actions define their faith. That they should buy sweatfree and push their worship community, workplace and institutions they associate with to put sweatfree purchasing policies in place. From there they get their cities and states to join the Sweatfree Consortium. SweatFree Communities is there to help.
Ethix: What’s new in your other important activities — such as the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Food for Life Campaign, and Heifer International?
Andrew Kang Bartlett: We are working with Presbyterians around the U.S. to oppose the various Free Trade Agreements that our government wants to push through. And we’re excited that the TRADE Act will be reintroduced this year, to reform trade so it actually works for workers and the environment.
We’re also recruiting Food Justice Fellows from around the country. This will be a cadre of people doing food justice work in their congregations and communities. They will also be linking that work to global struggles such as the food sovereignty movement. And two Americorps*VISTAs are coming for a year to work with churches and organizations to increase the numbers of folks getting SNAP/food stamp benefits. They’ll also be helping to link up healthy, locally-produced food to feeding programs and farmers markets that people with limited incomes can access.
Other work that I’m really excited about is our collaboration with the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. The food justice and sovereignty movement is growing! And stay tuned for the Food for Life Campaign, which is a global, ecumenical campaign with a focus on Food Week of Action surrounding World Food Day on October 16.
We Look forward to your thoughts. You can download the entire interview here.