Shunned from her Amish family

Anna Dee Olson, who lived the Amish lifestyle until age 24, describes her journey from growing up Am

What does the world really know about the Amish, a population of over 300,000 throughout the United States? Amish are considered to be the most secretive culture in America. Basically unless you were born into an Amish family or joined them, you can only know the surface of this hidden culture. Much of what is written about the Amish is by people who did not grow up Amish. What I am saying is that unless you are part of that culture you cannot know the Amish as deeply as someone who was raised Amish.

I was born and raised by Amish parents who lived in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the United States. At 24 years old I made my first life changing decision for myself and walked away from the only life I had ever known. I went searching for a life filled with love, peace, and tranquility. One might say, “I thought that is what the Amish life is all about?” Well I am telling you that it was not for me. Certainly there are some things about my heritage that I will always treasure and I still practice today, but, we have to remember that Amish people are human beings just like the rest of us and they do have shortcomings.

My parents had ten children; four still practice the Amish faith and lifestyle today but six do not. I was the first female in my family to walk away. Today I am shunned from my family, community, and most Amish communities throughout America.

Shunning – you will find that this word has a varied meaning depending on the community you are in but I will explain what it meant in my community. When a member of the church (I was not a member until I was baptized at age 18) has gone against the rules of the church they are considered to be in sin. Your name is then announced to all members so they know to impose the shunning upon you. It is a requirement to shun sinners or you are in sin yourself. This means there is no buying or selling with the member being shunned. You cannot sit at the same table and have a meal and, in the case of a married couple, there are no martial relations during the shunning.

The above rules go across every Amish community but the following are some that were specific to my community. They cannot accept gifts from me (as the sinner), they will never visit my home, they can give me money but not accept any money from me, and I cannot attend a church service unless I want to rejoin the Amish.

All rules of the church are not written. The members are reminded of the rules twice a year. The Bishop, Ministers, and Deacon along with the elders of the church and parents are responsible to enforce the rules.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.