Paul Breidenbach grew up in a Catholic family, one which had to relocate frequently, mostly in South America, due to his father’s employment at the State Department. As a child, he went to church every week and participated in various religious activities. He became, however, quickly disillusioned with religion and rejected the hypocrisy of its followers who did not live according to its teachings, teachings that he, himself, was not ready to adopt. In addition, Breidenbach did not believe in the presence of a God. When he reached college, he decided to cut all his ties with the church and declared himself a convinced atheist.

This, however, did not take away his concerns for the other. On the contrary, he developed a strong sense of equality and of respect for everyone’s rights.

“My principles are simple,” he says, “not to do things to others that I do not want done to myself. Also to fight injustices, protect people, make sure their basic needs are met, and help them improve things in their lives.”

For college, Breidenbach attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT and studied American History, mentored by Henry Abelove, the radical marxist historian who influenced the way he looked at things. He was also introduced to E.P. Thompson’s thinking about class formation in capitalism, also to his concept of moral economy. He ended up graduating with a PhD in US History from the University of California in San Diego.

“During these years, I was not a real activist,” he says. “I participated in the recycling Coop of the university, helping collect recyclable material all over campus; also joined a rally and was vocal against institutionalized racism; and raised money in solidarity with El Salvador… But this was practically it,” he adds.

Breidenbach’s studies and the fact that he was fluent in Spanish thanks to the many years he had spent abroad in hispanic countries, affected, however, the future orientation of his life. In 1996, married and with two kids, he relocated to Cincinnati and there, with his egalitarian and progressive values, he connected right away with the increasing latino immigrant population.

He started meeting with refugee individuals, listening to their complaints, interpreting for them, helping them find solutions to their problems. He did it voluntarily and most of the time without compensation. He also taught part time Spanish and History in a local private school.

These activities, however, not being financially sustainable, he decided to join the social justice-oriented union side law firm of KircherSuetholz & Grayson,a firm that represented organizations in the labor movement and which tried to empower workers in order to obtain mutual aid and protection in the workplace. Breidenbach served there as an interface with the Spanish speaking workers. Few years later he became the interpreter and office manager of Brennan Grayson, the lawyer who had hired him initially in the firm, and who had since become the president of the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (CIWC, which aims to mobilize, educate, and organize low wage and immigrant workers to achieve positive systemic change) and then the current Executive Director of the Workers Center derived from it.

In the meantime he also worked at United Way for Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a non profit organization that deals with inequities and injustices affecting low income renters, adressing the illegalities that arise in rental housing. He served there as the advocate for the hispanic tenants, representing them face to management, moving forward and officializing their demands, helping them fill out escrow forms that legalized their complaints.

Breidenbach got thus associated with The Willow, a 400 units low income complex apartment in Springdale, mostly inhabited by immigrants from Guatemala and Senegal, also by some African Americans. In response to tenants’ complaints of lack of security and of neglected maintenance problems, the management of the place, in a gesture of good will, created and offered an educational space to be used by the tenants and other low income residents of the neighborhood. Breidenbach has been intimately involved with the operation of the space, now used, among others, by Su Casa and Trihealth.

“We can teach there English as a Second Language, teach kids music, hold art activities…,” he says.” It can be a fertile ground for mutual understanding.”

At The Willow, and at The Colony, another low income apartment complex also in Springdale, Breidenbach offers tutoring and homework help with English and other assignments to youth living there. He is now helping a 22 year old immigrant student succeed in passing courses toward his graduation.

Breidenbach has also been going to local elementary schools to teach Spanish, encouraging kids to acquire early on a 2nd language. He does it with the hope to facilitate communication and cultural exchange from a young age, away from the rigid stereotypes and prejudices easily developed with age against immigrants. He envisions also achieving the same through the practice of group sports, which have been proven to create bonds in the youth, transcending discrimination.

Breidenbach is also working with the Immigrant Dignity Coalition against bullying in the schools, in anticipation of what could happen in the current intimidating political climate. And thanks to his command of Spanish he has always served as a facilitating resource to many union organizations, including the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in their dealing with labor issues pertaining to latino immigrants.

Breidenbach’s involvements all along have also remained with the Workers Center and the Labor Council of the AFL CIO, which represent the interests of working people, promoting safe work places and practices, protecting workers’ wages, fighting for their rights, and advocating for social and economic justice for all—regardless of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin.

Commenting on the current times, Breidenbach is quick to state that they are apocalyptic, controlled by greed, power and money. He thinks that we should look for solutions outside the classical norms of the democratic structure, and that we need to take our voice instead to the street. He would like to promote alliances between oppressed people who have a lot in common; and bring together those who face similar problems of inequality in order to impact a change.

“We are all human beings and equal,” he states. “We all have similar rights and should be given equal opportunities. I do not believe in hierarchy or that some are better than others because of birth. We need to fight injustice wherever it is and empower workers everywhere and whoever they are.”


What is Atheism  

Atheism, in the broadest sense, is the absence of belief in the existence of deities, i.e. gods. The term emerged first in the 16th century; and the French Revolution of 1789, which witnessed the first major political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason over the notion of gods, was the first time atheism became implemented politically. 

The difference between atheism and agnosticism is belief of god and knowledge of god. An atheist (a-theist) does not believe god(s) exist and an agnostic (a-gnostic) does not know if god(s) exist. There can be many combinations of atheist, theist, gnostic, and agnostic to describe people's approach to god. 

There is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere. 

Conceptions of atheism also vary and accurate estimations of current number of atheists are difficult. In 2015 WIN/Gallup International polled 64,000 individuals and found 11% of them to be "convinced atheists." In 2004, a survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), however, recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world's population. Europe and East Asia are considered the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of Chinese reported being atheists; and in 2010, a Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU), reported 20% of the population not believing in "any sort of spirit, God or life force". 

(From Wikipedia)

Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.

It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.