On September 21, 2015, our dear friend and active member, David McPhail passed away after a recent diagnosis of cancer. One of David’s favorite phrases, summing up the melding of his activism and spiritual practice was “Showing Up and Paying Attention.” He modeled that to us in very deep ways.
David was one of our most consistent and ready-for-action members of the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition (EBIIC), the East Bay table coordinated by the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy. He was at nearly every immigration meeting, event or action that we organized in the past 5 years.
David was a warm and constant presence at the Monthly Saturday Immigration Vigils at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, where he would lead the introductions, explain why we were there, and animate the raucous “Moment of Noise.” As our awareness and presence at the jail grew and led to advocacy work around the high cost of prison phone calls, the Sheriff’s participation in ICE dragnet enforcement programs, David was consistently showing up at county supervisor meetings and speaking to lawmakers in Sacramento.
Last year in response to the hundreds of immigrant detainees and asylum seekers, transported to WCDF from the border who were then getting released on bond, David and his wife Irene, were reliable volunteers in the Post Release Accompaniment Program (PRAP), giving those released a friendly face, a warm meal, clothes, and a ride to the airport or bus station. David often acted in the annual Posada and also regularly joined the 8 am Vigils outside the SF Immigration Court where he held signs, sang, passed out candy to the children and information to the parents going into court to fight their deportations.
In 2013, as pressure was mounting on President Obama and Congress to stop the deportations, David was part of a civil disobedience action, accompanying many young undocumented youth to block an ICE bus leaving the ICE building in San Francisco. He participated in another direct action where he was arrested in 2014.
David helped engage his congregation, St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, to support immigrant steelworkers at Pacific Steel in Berkeley and later recycling workers at Alameda County Industries who were unjustly fired by ICE Raids. In 2014, his congregation re-declared Sanctuary and pledged its accompaniment to a recently arrived Guatemalan family whom they are still accompanying through their asylum proceedings and resettlement process.
When he wasn’t showing up with his body, he was reading and paying attention to what was going on and asking: “What were we going to do about it?” For he always believed that something could and must be done. We could always respond. We could always show up and make our presence or action mean something positive.
We are so grateful for the invaluable organizing and friendship we have had with David doing this work. We will miss his loving, humane and steadfast spirit. We will try our best to carry on his holy faith tradition of “showing up and paying attention.”
David’s wife, Irene McPhail, has asked that people wishing to make gifts in David’s memory, make a donation to the “Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity” to support the immigration work David was so passionate about. Funds will be used to train and strengthen young leaders in faith and social justice.
The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity is the parent organization of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (ICIR) of which David was a critical member, volunteer and partner. ICIR educates and inspires faith communities to be engaged in accompaniment, hospitality, public witness, and advocacy in the movement for immigrant justice. The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity upholds that all persons are sacred across borders and that everyone has the right to a life with opportunities.