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Monday, December 13, 2010

Water Fountains, Job Applications and a Glass of Water

I love water fountains, not only because I get thirsty, but because they are a visible symbol of shared humanity.  A water fountain says that someone is going to come this way and say I thirst, just like Christ did on the cross and I have provided for this person I never met.  I planned it when I built this building, or when I paved this sidewalk.

The right of everyone to drink from a water fountain regardless of color became a battle line in the Jim Crow South at the peak of the civil rights movement. It was a central point of humanity that everyone had the same need for water and to deny it was to deny human dignity.

I got upset at Seattle's Mayor Greg Nichols when he had the water fountains in Seattle's downtown shut off to save money on the city budget.  It made downtown a little less human.  It said I don't care if another human being is thirsty. 

 When Seattle's new Mayor, Mike McGinn had the water fountains turned back on I was happy.  I made a point of going by the water fountain on Third Avenue every day I was downtown to take a drink.  If there was anything I disagreed with the new Mayor on. the water made up for it. 

I used to bank at Washington Mutual, until I switched to a credit union, and one of the branches I frequented was the branch in the University District.  That branch had a water fountain right by the main entrance.  Sometimes it wouldn't work for a couple of days, but WAMU, known for it's customer service and it's more humane approach to banking (until it got caught up in the mortgage repackaging mess) kept repairing it.  WAMU was known for donating to local charities and being concerned about the community, and somehow that water fountain is a symbol of that for me. 

Now, of course, since Chase Manhattan took over WAMU, that is a Chase branch.  I go in sometimes to get a roll of quarters for my laundry, and I have discovered that the water fountain sits shut off, never working.  Like downtown shoppers and workers in the Nichols days, I thirst for the sip of water I can never get.  It is a visible symbol of the huge bank that cares nothing for it''s customers or the communities it is in.  

There is a little known Washington State law, probably remaining on the books because no one cares about it.  In the 1930's as people went from business from business looking for work, the long term unemployed must have been unwelcome visitors to some of the businesspeople they visited.  They weren't always allowed to apply for work.  So the state legislature passed a law that there are two things a business has to do for everyone.  Allow them to apply for work --even if it's just to write it down on a blank piece of paper--and get a glass of water.  That's right, no business in the state has a right to refuse you a glass of water.  Because a guy going from business to business looking for work, might work up a thirst before he had a chance to get home.

I am tempted to go into the Chase branch in the University District just to ask for a glass of water and to apply for a job. Or maybe hand out free water on hot days downtown. Or maybe help someone, somewhere in the world that is underdeveloped, find a way to get clean drinking water.

When Christ said from the Cross "I Thirst" he was making a final statement of his identity with use, as a person of God completely God and completely human.  Everyday in a world with growing shortages of water someone says "I thirst" and Jesus says it with them.

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