November 2017:Accomplishments recognized, actions to organize!

For the past few years, UUANI has focused mostly on the first part of our mission: strengthening UU congregations through faith-rooted relational organizing – building a base for powerful collective action.  This year, we are starting to pivot toward the other two parts of our mission: connecting UUs with each other and with partner organizations, and mobilizing to put our values into effective action together.

Our Actions of the Week are one way we have begun mobilizing our network. So far this year, almost 700 UUs have sent over 5600 messages to state and federal officials in support of policies reflecting our values. Here are some successful campaigns we helped win this past year:

  • Passing a state budget funding more compassionate and competent government through targeted advocacy by congregations with legislators in key districts around the state (in partnership with the Responsible Budget Coalition).

  • Passing a bill expanding worth and dignity for citizens returning from incarceration by dramatically expanding eligibility to have their records sealed (in partnership with Community Renewal Society and the UU Prison Ministry of IL).

  • Passing a bill respecting the interdependent web of existence through one of the strongest clean energy bills in the country (in partnership with the Illinois Climate Table).

  • Passing a bill expanding worth and dignity for people who are transgender by allowing them to correct their birth records to reflect their gender identity (following the lead of Equality Illinois).

  • Passing a bill promoting welcoming communities with liberty and justice for all by limiting local police involvement in federal immigration enforcement through the Illinois TRUST Act (in partnership with Protected by Faith and other organizations).

We look forward to hosting local gatherings in several parts of the state this spring, where we will roll out our current campaigns:

  • Economic Justice: Fair Tax (with the Responsible Budget Coalition) – for a more equitable state income tax in Illinois. UUANI is well placed to move this issue as there are UU congregations in or near all 10 districts whose representatives voted across party lines to override the governor’s veto and pass the state budget.

  • Restorative Justice: Love Resists (a joint campaign of the UUA, UUSC, the UU College of Social Justice, and the Coalition of UU State Action Networks, along with local partners) – to end cash bail, limit solitary confinement, ban the box in higher education, and do voter engagement (deep canvassing).

  • Environmental Justice: Ready for 100% (with Illinois Climate Table) – a voter engagement campaign (pledge cards) promoting 100% renewable energy.

  • Intersectional: Poor Peoples Campaign (with Rev Barber, UUA, Faith in Place, CRS, etc.) – a public witness campaign lifting up moral values in the political process.

Early next year, we plan to send out an action kit to each UU congregation offering ways to get involved in these campaigns, as well as resources for small groups or committees to reflect on their social justice work.

These continue to be difficult times. But there is much we can do when we organize ourselves and come together with others to put the strength of our values into the public sphere. To paraphrase Wayne Arneson’s blessing:                

Take courage, friends.

The way is often hard, the path is never clear,

and the stakes are very high.

Take courage.

For deep down, there is another truth:  

We are not alone.

 

 

UUANI BOARD
May 2017: Share Your Experiences

As I travel around the state, I keep hearing about UU congregations reaching out in expressions and actions of solidarity with immigrants, refugees, and those who are incarcerated, and with Muslim, Jewish, African American and other communities at the local level. It is truly heartening to see our faith in action, reaching out to build relationship with others beyond ourselves, striving to live out our interdependence with the diverse communities among which we live.

 

And at the same time, we know that we continue to have work to do in our own congregations. The Beloved Conversations program and the recent Teach-In on White Supremacy are surely only part of what need to be ongoing conversations and efforts towards dismantling ingrained habits, mindsets, structures and processes that hinder Beloved Community, as we work toward accountable solidarity.

 

I’d like to offer the UUANI Facebook group as one place for these conversations. I invite you to share your congregation’s experience with work toward both solidarity with others and accountability among ourselves. The group has been changed to a Closed group so posts will not be seen by those not part of the group – please feel free to join if you have not already.

April 2017: Non-Racist or Anti-Racist?

The historic call from Black Lives of UU for a UU White Supremacy Teach-In has awoken many of us to the reality that white supremacy is not just the overt acts of bigotry that we decry, but is embedded in the “assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color” in our own congregations and institutions. It’s not just the stuff we see happening “out there,” but is rather part of the very air we breathe in and breathe out.

 

This struck me as I walked onto a plane a couple weeks ago. It somehow hit me that I and all the other white people on the plane could be perfectly oblivious to the racial context in which we operate: Who has the assumed power in this situation? Whose rules are we operating under? Who brings generations of privilege and capital (financial and otherwise) with them? The answer to each of these questions is: me and people who look like me. Each of our congregations and institutions is like that plane.

 

This call to engage with white supremacy in our own movement reminds me of what Gandhi and King and others have talked about it terms of the ongoing need for renewal of our commitment to the long haul and doing “the hard inner work necessary to center ourselves in love and wisdom” as we build the movement for justice.

 

This internal work of being transformed is inextricable from our work to transform the world around us. As the UUA Social Justice Empowerment Handbook puts it, "Our ability to create social transformation is linked with our willingness to go through personal transformation in the process. How can we expect the world to change if we’re not willing to ourselves?”

 

In the spirit of other reflections by the UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog, and as a cis-gender straight white male serving as the sole staff of UUANI, I need to publicly acknowledge the absence of people of color in UUANI leadership, and that the consequence of not naming or even being aware of my assumptions is that they continue to operate, in ways that can be oppressive to others and myself by leaving me both in charge and on my own. I commit to being more forthcoming in naming these realities, and to being held accountable for my power.

 

A Latina organizer recent held me to account for the way in which I hold back and keep quiet in situations calling for a response. It’s dangerous, she made clear to me, because all it takes for evil to flourish is for people like me to stay silent.

 

As this video by Jamaican writer Marlon James points out, it’s not just a matter of being non-racist, but of being anti-racist. I commit to being anti. How about you?

March 2017: A Marathon, Not a Sprint" - Caitlin Breedlove, Campaign Director, Standing on the Side of Love

It’s been said before: this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to ground ourselves in our deepest commitments and our strongest relationships to stay in this for the long haul. Caitlin Breedlove, who recently moved on from directing Standing on the Side of Love to another position, offers some powerful spiritual reminders of why we do what we do and some practices for how to keep going:

 

o   The liberation of ourselves and of all people and the planet. There is no loftier goal. Remind yourself that is why you are in this work.

o   Treat relationship building, maintenance and conflict with deep care. They are the center of this work over the long haul.

o   Be willing to step away from the work if you are hurting more than helping. Be willing to come back.

o   Treat other leaders as though if they win, you win, we win.

o   Root in a practice or a circle of practitioners [read more for examples]

o   Never be cavalier with other people’s safety or dignity.

o   Never think you were the first one: the first one to struggle, the first one to give so much, the first one to fail, the first one to win.

 

Click here to read more

UUANI BOARD
February 2017: Beloved Conversations - Eileen Wiviott, Intern, Countryside UU Church

This October, five Chicago-area congregations partnered to offer their members a transformative program addressing race and ethnicity to build multicultural congregations. Beloved Conversations is a curriculum developed by the Fahs Collaborative of Meadville Lombard Theological School. The DuPage, Evanston, Hinsdale, Oak Park and Palatine Unitarian Universalist congregations had small groups, totaling more than 70 people, at Countryside Church to participate in the opening weekend workshop. Beloved Conversations helps congregations do the deep, spiritual exploration needed to become more multi-culturally competent and sustain meaningful racial justice work.

 

The workshop began with an examination of our own assumptions to determine how we want to move beyond them. We created a container that encourages growth – a brave space rather than a safe space. The approach is gentle and loving, while holding each other, as well as ourselves, accountable. Engaging in this relationship building work, we agree that creating a more just world begins by challenging our own biases through compassionate, honest conversation.  Our understanding and commitment deepens through reflection and story sharing. We participated in one-on-one, small group and whole group conversations and activities that helped us to understand different perspectives. One of my conversation partners and I talked about how we struggle to balance a commitment to justice with family and self-care.

 

Each of the 12-person groups began meeting in their own congregations for a total of eight sessions where we will discuss race, ethnicity, identity, micro-aggressions and plans for the future. The goal is for each small group to expand the conversation throughout their congregations and empower the work of racial justice in their own communities. The workshop and first small group gathering were challenging and engaging. We have already formed powerful bonds that will enable us to identify our values, what prevents us from living them, and how to more bravely live into them. Beloved Conversations forges a bold path toward spiritual growth and dedication to building a more just world.

UUANI BOARD
January 2017: "We were made for these times..."

The times are calling for a clear and sustained "accumulation of acts" – as Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts it in her visionary post, “We were made for these times”– from we who dare to claim the centrality of love.

 

Accordingly, beginning this week UUANI will be sending out one focused call to action each week (the first one is below). With so much coming at us these days we need all hands on deck, and our hope is that this will offer a way for each of us to do at least one thing each week rather than getting overwhelmed by it all. Moreover, these will be actions we can do as UUs, framed in our UU values, in ways we can share with our congregations on Sunday mornings, together with other UUs around the state.

 

Some of them will be actions you can do online (emailing your legislators, sending a letter to the editor, posting to social media), some will be phone calls (harder but more effective), some will be direct action (showing up at a town hall or other event), and some will be more connective and sustaining (meeting up with another group or having a conversation with someone). These will not be stand alone actions, but done in solidarity with larger efforts and organizations we know, trust, respect, and are accountable to.

December 2016: "We have a duty to win..."

“We have a duty to win…”

 

These words from Assata Shakur have been on my mind lately. We may be called to resist in the weeks and months ahead, just as we may be called both to listen and to speak up. But above all, I believe we have a duty to win – not just in the partisan sense of our side winning and the other side losing; I believe we have a duty to succeed in bringing our nation back to its core aspirational values of liberty and justice for all, and building a greater “We the People” that includes and values all of us.

 

To my mind, this is not just the message, but also the strategy for winning. Throughout history – from civil rights to marriage equality and many times before and since – the most successful movements have been not just those that have the right message, but those that succeed in building the power to implement that message by bringing more and more people from diverse backgrounds together.

 

For example, the North Carolina Moral Monday movement has been successful, not just because it has an astute historical analysis or a clear, values-based agenda – though it has both of those – but because it has built an intersectional coalition among poor whites and people of color, among people of faith and non-religious people of conscience, among activists and everyday parents, teachers, and workers. And the power of the movement is not just that it shows up Monday after Monday, but that it brings more and more people in every time it does.

 

In the same way, the upcoming and ongoing protests present a challenge and an opportunity: to not just show up, take a stand and go home, but to connect and enlist more and more people in the long-term cause of rebuilding our democracy. In other words, to organize.

 

So I would encourage everyone to get into the habit of engaging others in conversations about what you care about and why you feel called to act, and inviting them to join you in taking action. Some of us started to do this with the Sept 12 Moral Day of Action in Springfield, inviting others to join us for the first time.

 

And when you do show up, particularly for extended journeys like the upcoming Women’s March on Washington, make sure you come back with contact information for at least one person you didn’t already know – or better yet, five or ten people – and invite them to join (or create) a local coalition (everyone is welcome to join the UUANI email list or Facebook page and we’ll work to connect you locally), building a stronger and more organized movement so that we can keep on taking action in the communities where we live.

 

Sometimes elections are opportunities for engaging and organizing lots of people. Millions of people got involved in 2008 who had never been involved before (though unfortunately most of us didn’t stay involved after the election). This time we have a momentous opportunity to organize after the election; everywhere I go around the state I hear people wanting to step up and engage in ways they never have before.

 

The upcoming Women’s Marches are a tremendous opportunity to build a stronger movement for the long haul. Because it is for the long haul, not just for a day, that we have a duty to win. People’s lives and well-being, the well-being of our democracy, and the well-being of our planet, are depending on it.

November 2016: After the Election

 

Some of us are grieving. Some of us are raging. Some of us are listening and reflecting. Some of us are getting busy. Some of us are doing all of these and more.

 

At times like these, we need to dig deep and ground ourselves in our deepest values and spiritual practices, reach out to each other—especially those in pain around us—and keep our eyes on the prize. As we are ready.

 

I’m fortunate to live in a place where there are multiple opportunities for expressing grief, anger, and hope, including the repetitive, rhythmic, communal physical movements—marching and chanting, dancing and playing, singing and praying—which trauma therapists say are essential to healing and empowerment. I hope you are finding or creating such opportunities where you live.

 

This election was not just about ordinary politics—mobilizing those who share our political positions, seeking to persuade those who do not—though we need to recommit ourselves to these efforts. Nor was it just about educating people about the facts, though there continues to be a need for that as well.

 

This election was also about other, deeper things. Some of it was—and continues to be—just plain bullying, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, willful ignorance. We need to challenge these as powerfully, as creatively, and as effectively as we can. We need to fight like hell, and love the literal hell out of each other. The future of the planet and marginalized people everywhere is at stake.

 

Some of it was about fears—some founded, some not: fear of being made less than and dominated by others, fear of being abandoned by society, fear of losing a world in which your deepest values and strongest convictions make sense—the kind of existential fears that can make people do desperate things. We need to listen and love each other out of our fears, and call each other to be our best selves.

 

And as I’ve begun to encounter some of the people “on the other side,” I’m seeing that at a deep level this election was also about fundamentally different understandings of basic values: what constitutes hate or disrespect, what constitutes love or faith, what fairness looks like, what safety looks like, what freedom means, and how important they all are.

 

At this level, I don’t see any way to move forward except to engage each other around these values, hearing each other’s deepest convictions and why we believe in them, listening to each other’s stories of how we got to where we are, and building relationships in the process.

 

Two things can happen out of such engagement. One is that we can begin to stop fearing each other; as Meg Wheatley says, “You don’t fear people whose story you know.” The other is that we can start to understand each other, which I believe is the only way to move towards the kind of inclusive society we seek. Not that we will always or even often agree with each other. But understanding is the only basis on which we can create a society in which each person is valued, everyone’s voice is heard, and we are all in this together.

 

What would such engagement look like? I’ve seen and heard glimpses of it in recent days. My brother, a Lutheran pastor, asked an elderly parishioner why she voted for Trump; she said she’d heard Clinton would outlaw Christianity. But because they were in relationship, she believed my brother when he said she’d been lied to… At a protest downtown, an earnest young man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat engaged a small group of protestors, repeatedly affirming his respect for them and patiently answering questions about why he believed what he believed, hour after hour… People have shared deeply on Facebook—not just their opinions, but their stories and their experiences, their commitments and their hopes…

 

This, too, is what democracy looks like.

October 2016: #ReviveLove Tour - Rev. Krista Taves, Unitarian Church of Quincy

The chorus of “Neighbor”, by the band Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost, which formed after the Ferguson Uprising, goes like this:

I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”

And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.

And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

When I first heard the words, I choked on the third line.  I thought to myself, “Are they saying that all police are racist? Isn’t that a bit radical?  I don’t know if I can sign on for this.”

 

White fragility is a term coined by Robin De Angelo to name the conditioned response to shut down any authentic conversations about race.  Whites have been programmed to be deeply uncomfortable when confronted with the reality of white supremacy.  They are taught to see the discomfort as something to be avoided and that comfort is our right.  So when we hear uncomfortable things about race, we shut it down, either by literally leaving the conversation or by trying to stop those who make us uncomfortable, often through the use of shame.  In my case, I was uncomfortable with the lyrics of the song and saw my discomfort as a sign that something was wrong with the song, something was wrong with the black voices singing it, not that something was wrong with me, or that something was really wrong with the system in which policing happens.  Given that I’m pretty shy, if I had given in to my white fragility I probably wouldn’t have literally challenged them.  I probably would have just gone home, withdrawing my support, my time, and my heart from the work at hand.  That’s what white fragility looks like. 

 

On October 15 the #ReviveLove Tour came to St. Louis.  Sponsored by Standing on the Side of Love UUA and Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists, the intent of the tour is to offer love back to Unitarian Universalist activists who have been the heart of the Unitarian Universalist response, engagement and commitment to Black Lives Matter. 

 

Leslie and Drew MacFayden, two Unitarian Universalist activists, offered a challenging workshop focused on the many manifestations of white supremacy, how to recognize when we are looking through its life-denying lens, and how to combat the fear and shame that sustain it. 

 

They encouraged us to stay present to the truth that all of us have been indoctrinated into the cult of white supremacy, a cult that shames, shuns and kills those who disagree with its tenets.  All of us, regardless of the race we are assigned, are indoctrinated into this cult. It is reinforced by anti-blackness, which identifies white as the norm and anything else as other, less than human, even less than animal.  Among liberals, it is reinforced by simplistic understandings of racism - racism looks like the KKK and the confederate flag, not like us.  Leslie and Drew asked us to see the gradations of racism so that we could see it in our own hearts.  They encouraged us to resist the white fragility that blinds us to our place in the system.  They invited us to treat white supremacy like a cult from which one must be deprogrammed.  It begins by learning the basic rules of anti-racism, deepens into a respect for otherness, and culminates into a lived understanding that we are part of a larger liberation. 

 

They offered some basic rules, to help us start:

 

1.     If you are in a privileged group, do not engage in intracommunity dialogue when you are not a member.  You are there to listen and to support.

2.     If you are in a privileged group, do not question the tactics oppressed people use to get free.

3.     If you are in an oppressed group, realize that you too have internalized the very beliefs and systems that oppress you. 

4.     If you are faced with your own racism, resist the urge to become defensive.  Listen, consider what you are hearing, and integrate what you have learned in your thoughts and actions.

5.     Know that we will all make mistakes.  Be aware that when you experience discomfort and want to run, that is fragility interpreting discomfort as bad.  Stay with the discomfort.  It is the path to liberation.

 

We spent time exploring how the expression of our 21st century Unitarian Universalist theology with its devotion to diversity has often reinforced white supremacy rather than dismantle it.  We have misused the first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to justify ideas which are harmful, seeing them as personal expressions of freedom.  With a power and privilege analysis, we instead condition our first principle with the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  A commitment to diversity does not mean that all ideas are equally true.  When a person of color speaks of racism, this carries more weight than a white person speaking of racism.  When we give all perspectives the same value, a white person speaking of racism could contribute to the silencing of the person of color’s experience of racism, thus reinforcing white supremacy and anti-blackness.  This often indicates that white fragility is shutting down the conversation. 

 

So I’m not going to run from the words of those at the heart of the resistance:

 

I can hear my neighbor crying, saying ‘I can’t breathe.”

And now I’m in the struggle, saying, “I can’t leave.”

We’re calling out the violence of the racist police.

And we ain’t gonna stop until the people are free.”

 

Will you join us?  When the killings stop, when white supremacy is unwound from its core of hatred, fear and shame, we will be free.

UUANI BOARD
October 2016: Heart Problems - Rev. Sarah Richards, Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

What does it mean to be a community of healing during a political election season that seems to find new depths of divisiveness, disrespect, fear and loathing every day? How can we live into our principles of inclusive love and interdependence in a time of distrust and enmity? Speaking for myself, I am sorely tempted by escapist fantasies (O, Canada!) and avoidance behavior. But looking away to avoid the ugly political discourse is one thing, giving up on the whole political system and the realities of injustice and inequity obscured by the ugly discourse is quite another. Giving up does not result in healing, giving away our voice as people of love, reason, and respect is not healing, and it’s not right. We Unitarian Universalists are not alone in our despair and anger and we are not alone in taking action. This morning we will explore how a community of healing means joining with other communities who share our vision of inclusion, compassion, and liberation for all people.

Before we go further, though, I want to address a fear that I’ve heard expressed here in the fellowship that we cannot be political or express political views. That is a misconception. We should not advocate for particular candidates, because that would risk our tax exempt status. We must not be partisan for a deeper reason: we are welcoming to people with a range of political views, just as with theological perspectives and differences in income, race, sexuality, gender, we strive for inclusivity…but what unites all of this wonderful diversity is our shared values and principles. Our fifth principle in Unitarian Universalism is to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large… and in society at large. UU minister Parisa Parsa explains:

“In our religious lives, the democratic process requires trust in the development of each individual conscience—a belief that such development is possible for each of us, as well as a commitment to cultivate our own conscience. We could call it a commitment to the value of each person. In the words of Theodore Parker, ‘Democracy means not “I am as good as you are,” but “You are as good as I am.”’ My connection with the sacred is only as precious as my willingness to acknowledge the same connection in others.[i]

So which comes first, the moral or the political – or is this a false separation to begin with? Reverend Dr. William Barber II writes,

“As much as the human being is a political animal, I know that each of us is also a spiritual being. We have learned in our work… that, whatever our religious traditions, we cannot come together to work for the common good by ignoring our deepest values. Rather, we grow stronger in our work together as we embrace those things we most deeply believe, standing together where our values unite us and learning to respect one another where our traditions differ. We cannot let narrow religious forces highjack our moral vocabulary, forces who speak loudly about things God says little about while saying so little about issues that are at the heart of all our religious traditions: truth, justice, love, and mercy. The movement we have witnessed—the movement we most need—is a moral movement.[ii]

That quote is from his book, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. And that’s what I mean by saying we’ve got to be unafraid to express our political views as Unitarian Universalists – ours is not the politics of division and fear, but of inclusion, diversity, and love, and if we don’t speak up, if we don’t take action to express our values and principles, what good are we?

I first heard Rev. Dr. William Barber II speak at the UU General Assembly in Columbus Ohio last June. Rev. Barber is the North Carolina NAACP director, and the architect for the Moral Monday Movement for voting rights there. Maybe you saw him on tv, speak at the Democratic National Convention in July issuing a call to “revive the heart of our democracy” and push elected leaders to advance morally just policies.

To form the Moral Movement, he has joined with other faith leaders, including Sr. Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus fame, national social justice organizations (The UU Social Justice movement, “Standing on the Side of Love” is one of them) now collaborating and connecting with local organizations and organizers in 30 states and DC to first make the Moral Declaration to elected officials and candidates—I made a few copies of the declaration and put them on tables in the commons–and then to launch a Moral Revival tour that quote “centers five key issues areas: the economic liberation of all people; access to quality education for every child; healthcare access for all; criminal justice reform; and ensuring historically marginalized communities have equal protection under the law.

Last month, Rev. Bill Sasso and I participated in the Moral Declaration Day of Action in Springfield, and Jess Jobe and I attended the Moral Revival tour stop in Ferguson, Missouri. At both events, we heard testimonies from people directly impacted by policies that are opposed to our UU principles.

Testimony from Springfield Moral Declaration Day of Action, September 12:

I am Gladys Sanchez. To my proud African American 7 year old son, i am a strong Filipino woman who served as both his mother and father. To many rich middle aged white guys with fortune 500 companies: I am an undocumented, low income single mother that should accept cheap labor or be deported back to the country I haven’t seen since 7 years old.
To my colleagues, my sister and brother and my church friends. I am a graduate student working towards a Masters degree in public administration, balancing 3 jobs, and serving as a Director of Religious Education for my home church. The democracy that I envision should simply identify me as a heart beating human being.
How is it that with a college degree, I still have to juggle three jobs? Is it a democracy to put me in a category in which I run the risk of going back to my home country where I know no one?
Is it fair, equal, or just to have single minority women like myself make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men when I am the head of the household?
My dear friends in order for us to work towards a democratic society. We must reframe, reform, and recreate our definition of a fair, Just, democratic society.[iii]

Ms. Sanchez is the DRE at the UU Fellowship of Dekalb, IL

Hearing testimonies from folks like Ms. Sanchez, folks in our communities, in our congregations, in our families help us to remember we are part of the interdependent web, and that what touches one touches all. Including these testimonies is a hallmark of all of the Moral Movement events. They say “Our goal is to support state-based fusion movements to combat extremism in state and national politics, and to be a catalyst for a resurgence of political activism in order to end poverty, racial inequalities, and the most pressing issues in our country. Too much of our national political discourse has been poisoned by the dominance of attacks on the poor, people who are ill, children, immigrants, communities of color, and religious minorities.[iv]

The term “fusion” as in fusion movement and fusion politics is new to me, but it really makes sense to me as a UU, fusion with diversity – working to advance different issues and including people across difference, recognition and valuation of interdependence are all linked in our principles and thus our attitudes and actions. This is beautifully described by UU minister Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center, Bloomington, IN:

“Our seventh Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence, is a glorious statement. Yet we make a profound mistake when we limit it to merely an environmental idea. It is so much more. It is our response to the great dangers of both individualism and oppression. It is our solution to the seeming conflict between the individual and the group.

Our seventh Principle may be our Unitarian Universalist way of coming to fully embrace something greater than ourselves. The interdependent web—expressed as the spirit of life, the ground of all being, the oneness of all existence, the community-forming power, the process of life, the creative force, even God—can help us develop that social understanding of ourselves that we and our culture so desperately need. It is a source of meaning to which we can dedicate our lives.[v]

At the Revival that Jess and I attended in Ferguson, Missouri, we heard a powerful sermon by Rev. Dr. Barber, and I remember at the end, he repeated “we have a heart problem in this country” and gave examples like those from our litany: “we have a heart problem in this country” when 45 million are poor in the richest country in history, we have a heart problem in this country when 1 in 3 black men will spend time in prison, when people are denied access to health insurance and are forced into poverty from medical bills, and on and on. I might add that this state has a heart problem when our top elected officials can’t put aside their own egos and lust for power for the needs—and rights–of their constituents. People, we DO have a heart problem, when so many people are suffering, but their suffering is not what spurs our elected leaders to act. We UUs have a heart – and a head problem–when we do not work to change that injustice, when we do not call on ourselves and our elected leaders to act in accord with principles of interdependence—based in recognition of humanity rather than divisiveness based in fear of the other.

We have a legacy of healing those heart problems. Unitarians Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp dedicated – and risked — their lives to that interdependent web/source of meaning in 1939. Those of us who watched the recent documentary on PBS, Defying the Nazis learned that at a time when few Americans – including Unitarians – were willing or able to see and act on the truth of our connection with “the other,” the Sharps left their young children for Czechoslovakia just before the Nazi occupation, to help Jewish refugees escape. They were named Righteous Among the Nations by the nation of Israel for all of the lives they saved. But they wouldn’t have achieved anything acting apart from individuals and organizations of diverse nationality, religious and political affiliation.

More commonly known is the participation of Unitarians in the Civil Rights movement, among them martyrs Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo—and some of our own members played roles in the movement. Obviously that movement’s great majority of leaders and participants were African American Christians, but it united people and groups across race, income, education, faith and age difference on a variety of civil rights issues. It was an example of a fusion movement, to be sure.

We are again at a moment, what Rev. Dr. Barber calls, The Third Reconstruction, where we UUs are called to raise our voices and dedicate ourselves to our principles, to that source of meaning that is the interdependent web of all existence. And we are answering the call, here and across the country. This morning we witnessed how our CUF youth have made that connection with “the other” spending a night outside in cardboard city, learning about the realities of homelessness in Carbondale, and then raising their voices to raise our consciousness–and money–for this moral cause.

Just this week, the UUA Congregational Advocacy and Witness Director, Susan Leslie, sent an email:

“We are hearing from UUs around the country who are raising a moral message during this electoral season, working for voting rights, registering people to vote, phone banking, and making plans to get out the vote. UUs in Arizona and from the Southwest are travelling to Phoenix to stand for immigrant rights and engage in door-knocking with unlikely voters, All Souls Unitarian Church James Reeb Voting Rights Project in DC travelled to Pennsylvania and are phone banking to North Carolina, UUSJ is registering formerly incarcerated people in Virginia, and North Carolina UUs are working with the NAACP Souls to the Polls Project. All over the country UUs are participating in the Moral Revivals and Revive Love tours to speak out and organize for justice. Congregations across the country are working with the PICO National Network Together We Vote and the WeSayEnough! campaigns.

She ended her message, “It’s all out now to work towards the fulfillment of the promise of our democracy.[vi]

Friends, one of the meanings of being a community of healing is to listen underneath the bombast and salacious political discourse for the stories of suffering. It is to look for the wounds inflicted by political policies that do not recognize the worth and dignity of the poor, of racial minorities, of immigrants, of marginalized people of any kind, and seeing those wounds, give help. And it is working to change those policies that continue to wound the most vulnerable among us.

And so: May we lift up our Unitarian Universalist principles and join with those – and there are so many—who believe in the right of conscience and use of democratic process for all. May we be a community of healing the heart and head problems that come from creating divisions within our own congregation, and in our wider community. May we work towards a democracy that sees each and all as heart-beating human beings. Amen.

[i] Rev. Parisa Parsa, executive director of the Public Conversations Project https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles/5th accessed 10/13/16.

[ii] Barber, William J. II, 2016. The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. With Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Boston: Beacon Press, xv.

[iii] Gladys Sanchez, Testimony given 9/12/16 at Moral Declaration Day of Action Rally, Springfield, IL. Provided via email by author 10/13/16.

[iv]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571fc22260b5e9fe973121d2/t/57d614e86a49635bed56888d/1473647849038/PressKit_9.11.16.pdf accessed 10/10/16.

[v] Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center, Bloomington, IN https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles/7th accessed 10/13/16.

[vi] http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1272/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1353085 received 10/13/16.

UUANI BOARD
September 2016: A Moral Monday in Springfield - Bill Sasso, UUANI Board member from Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

On Monday, September 12th, Rev. Sarah Richards and I travelled to Springfield to participate in the nationwide Moral Monday protest. It was a bright, warm day as we stood with hundreds of other demonstrators beneath the statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of the State Capitol.

Elaborating the principles of the Higher Ground Moral Declaration (see http://www.moralrevival.org/moraldeclaration), speakers – including Rev. Sarah – reminded us of the moral and constitutional bases of the rights we were there to promote, including economic justice, equality in education, healthcare for all, criminal justice reform, and protection of constitutional rights for all.

These speakers were followed by others who described how those principles had been violated in their own lives and experiences. At the end of the demonstration, we sent a delegation into the Capitol to present our statement to Governor Bruce Rauner, while the rest of us marched around the building, with our banners held high and our chants echoing through the Capitol parking lots.

In the Springfield, Illinois, Moral Monday, the UU Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI) played a central role as one of the coordinating groups. When our Fellowship showed up, we weren’t alone – we were there with those who travelled to Springfield from UU congregations in Evanston, Chicago, Oak Park, Hinsdale, Naperville, Rockford, DeKalb, Peoria, Quincy, Champaign, and Bloomington-Normal. It was great to see such a visible UU presence at the Capitol! And our statewide action was part of a larger national effort, encompassing at least 28 states. Across America, voices were raised in support of the values that we, as Unitarian Universalists, have covenanted to affirm and promote. When the call went out, our Fellowship was among those who answered!

UUANI BOARD
August 2016: Reviving the Heart of Democracy

The current election season has displayed stark contrasts in value systems. The upcoming elections offer an important opportunity for UUs to act for values of justice, compassion, and interdependence over narcissism, xenophobia, and exploitation.

Yet we will likely face continuing challenges to our core values after the election, including ongoing attempts to de-legitimize and undermine the democratic process itself. The times call for a deeper response than either “politics as usual” or “tear it all down.”    We need to re-build our very democracy. I would argue that we need to do it by connecting with each other through real conversations, engaging in what Parker Palmer calls “healing the heart of democracy.” And we need what Rev. William Barber calls “a movement with heart” to revive this nation and bring it back to its core values of equality, liberty, and justice for all.

This is why we base our work on one-to-one conversations between people: as we build power to act collectively, we re-build the moral and relational fabric of our communities. Deepening our conversations, broadening our connections, and mobilizing ourselves for collective action—this is what UUANI is all about. Join us in building the world we long for.

July 2016: Time to Wake Up

This is a momentous time for racial justice in our country. The historic and systemic devaluing of Black lives is a long-standing reality we are collectively being forced to confront anew. As Ta-Nehisi Coates makes clear, it is time to wake up from our dream of a post-racial society and face the nightmare of violence, inequity, and dehumanization which affects us all—but kills some of us more than others.

Racism is reflected in the disproportionate impact on people of color of the budget crisis, the environmental crisis, economic inequality, inequities in the criminal justice system, political disenfranchisement…the list could go on and on. The point is not to say that there is only one issue, but to see the intersections between all the issues.

Many others (from UU World Senior Editor Kenny Wiley to Trinity UCC/Chicago to UUSC) have written about things we can all do to fight racial injustice, and this piece is deeply indebted to their work. At the risk of centering white people or my own perspective, I offer the following suggestions for ways white UUs in particular can join the struggle.

1. Wake Up – Do our own work – Get up to speed – Talk to other white people.

Whether we explore the Standing on the Side of Love website, or learn about local issues and campaigns, or read and discuss books like The New Jim Crow, Between the World and Me, Waking Up White or other resources, or participate in Beloved Conversations or other small group processes to raise our awareness of whiteness and white fragility, we cannot just pretend that the problem is “somewhere else.” As white antiracism activist Chris Crass says, “The question for us as Unitarian Universalists is not how many people of color we can get in our pews; it’s how much damage can we do to white supremacy.

2. Show Up – Reach out – Listen.

Chicago Chalice Connection leader Megan Selby pointed out on our recent UUANI Action/Reflection call on racial justice that we need to get beyond just having comfortable book discussions amongst ourselves. Find out what’s going on in your community and/or online (BYP100, Black Lives Matter, NAACP, and the YWCA are just a few organizations active in Illinois) and get involved. Show up, offer to volunteer, provide whatever support is needed. Black Lives of UU has specifically called on UU congregations to offer meeting and healing space for Black organizers.

Above all, we need to listen. As Kenny Wiley puts it, “UUs need to connect to and embrace the Black Lives Matter movement as it exists today.” It’s not up to white UUs to critique or offer suggestions, but to follow the lead of those with far more experience with racism and far more at stake in the struggle.

3. Speak Up – Engage the struggle – Use your power

Leslie Butler MacFayden and others have challenged white people to go beyond just waking ourselves up and being allies in support of Black leadership – we need to take actions of solidarity, aligned with Black leadership, for the collective liberation of us all. As Australian Aborginial activist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is one organization dedicated to organizing white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice.

And whether it’s calling on our elected officials to address police accountability and other issues facing people of color, or registering and voting in upcoming elections, or organizing a local teach-in and action (as the Chicago Chalice Connection did recently), we each have power we can use to further racial justice.

4. Stay Woke for the long haul

“Staying woke” is refusing to succumb to the temptation to ignore the racial realities of our country, as Kenny Wiley puts it. As we listen and learn and engage and act, we need to find ways to remain engaged and not get distracted after the issues have faded from center stage. Connect with others who share your commitment, and commit to holding each other accountable to your values. Find ways to incorporate your commitment to justice into your own spiritual practice. Develop ways of engaging that feed you and others.

Racial justice is about inherent worth and dignity, and it’s about the interdependent web. It’s about justice, equity, and compassion, and it’s about truth, democracy, and world community. It’s about acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth, and it’s about Beloved Community. We of all people can’t sit this one out.

2016 MLK Day of Action – Tracey Olson, UUANI Board member from the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale

Showing Up!

Organized. Impressed. Excited. Meaningful.

These words were some of those that 17 UCH members used to describe their experience of

the Community Renewal Society (CRS) Faith in Action Assembly on Martin Luther King Day. We

were part of a bigger UU delegation (about 250 people), organized by UUANI, from around

Illinois. 1500 people in total were packed into the First Baptist Congregational Church in west

Chicago, representing many different congregations and faiths. UCH went to this as an action

for our Black Lives Matter Initiative as well as a member of CRS.

The member congregations of CRS establish the “asks” – the list of legislative and policy

demands made of various elected officials – and the officials have a chance to make their

commitments public. Even though we were just a few miles west of the Loop, only four city

council members were in attendance, facing the congregation of 1500 justice-seeking people.

Our ASK to the city council members was for their support of the FAIR COPs ordinance. Each of

them had his/her moment to be held accountable; we went down the line of four and asked the

same “yes/no” question of support for the ordinance to each of them. When they said yes, the

elected official would write their name on a board pledging to vote in favor of the ASK. If they

said no, the crowd would stand up, raise their hands up, and pray, “We are all praying that God

transform your heart and bend your mind toward justice.”

The same process was used for ASKS of other leaders. No one was surprised that Mayor

Emmanuel didn’t show. In fact, the organizers were prepared with a large photo of him. The

crowd prayed over the photo several times...”God transform your heart and bend your mind

toward justice.”

State legislators by contrast had a good turnout. They were asked to support the Platform for

Renewal. There were three parts to this 1) Police Accountability Reform in Illinois, 2) End

Absolute Bars to Employment for People with Criminal Records and 3) Fair Tax in Illinois. Each

representative said yes to these items.

The most dramatic thing that happened was that the three democratic candidates for state’s

attorneys showed up and were seated just a few inches from each other. This apparently was

the most newsworthy thing also because I saw WTTW Paris Schutz story later about it. They

were prayed over also because they didn’t give any unequivocal “Yeses” to their ASK.

Twelve of us had lunch afterwards at Wishbone and discussed what we had just witnessed. We

were all glad we went.

But why? Did we even accomplish anything?

Patrice Cullors, one of the Black Live Matter founders, answered that for me. She spoke in

Naperville the next day and helped me understand what we accomplished. She put it like this.

She said that they have good leadership in the black community and they don’t need more

leaders; they don’t need outsiders coming in and diagnosing their problems. They need “white

allies.” Her words were “the goal for white allies is to show up.”

This group of 17 UCHers - all white - showed up for a CRS action that put forward bills and

issues that a mostly-black community had offered as important to them. By “showing up”, we

make clear that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We add people, and

therefore power, to their already-strong numbers. We show up and make clear that we value the

black community as neighbors. We show up and make clear that we know oppressive systems

need to be dismantled. We show up and make clear that elected officials now have even more

constituents to answer to.

Someone asked me, “what’s next?” I think we look to our partner organizations to determine

this. There are some important events/actions planned already. See below for some ideas.

Someone commented to me that UCHers do their own thing and they are very involved in many,

many organizations. (I agree!) She said there shouldn’t be one thing we are all expected to do.

But sometimes we need to show our strength together. We can bring our power to someone

else’s action and make it even more effective. Because elected officials notice numbers.

And, as UUs why are we doing this at all? “We affirm and promote the worth and dignity of every

person.” We need to remember both action words in this first principle - “affirm and promote.”

We cannot simply affirm, we must promote. We must act for dignity, not just think about it. All of

the ASKS from CRS at the Faith in Action event were about worth and dignity. We have to “get

on the bus” and SHOW UP for worth and dignity to get the YES vote.

UUANI BOARD
2014 UUANI Congregational Organizing Training - Bill Rau, member, UU Church of Bloomington-Normal

On August 2nd, 22 members of 11 UU congregations (Bloomington, Chicago [Second], Deerfield, Evanston, Hinsdale, Mt. Vernon, Naperville, Palatine, Peoria, Quincy, and Urbana) met in Bloomington for a training session on how to more effectively actualize UU beliefs on social justice.  Rev. Jackie Clement urged us to remember that "sometimes David wins," and pointed us to Marshall Ganz's book with David v. Goliath as its subject (Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. 2010, Oxford University Press).

Sponsored by the UU Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI, pronounced "UU And I") the training was provided by Ryan Walker of the Community Renewal Society (CRS).  The CRS is an alliance of over 60 churches that was started by the United Church of Christ 132 years ago.

Ryan covered four topics: (1) charity & justice, (2) power, (3) relationships, (4) team building.

I. Charity & Justice

The distinction between charity (helping people in need; minimizing effects of inequality & injustice) and justice (transforming laws and institutions to eliminate or reduce the causes of inequality & injustice) were well understood.  Next Ryan asked whether congregations were more committed to and comfortable with charity work than justice work.  It appears that participants believe most congregants and congregations have committed most of their time, effort, and spare resources to charity work.

The issue was then stated as thus: we should continue, support and give praise to the important, ameliorative work of charity. However, can we also generate new sources of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to justice work?  Ryan says yes--if we develop a new understanding of power and a new method of relationship building that can generate and harness values-driven people power.

Quotes on charity & justice:

"Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice."  Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris , #49

"Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista.("When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.")  Archbishop Dom Helder Camera

II.  Power

One way to counter and hopefully reverse the escalating inequality in American society, and the injustices that feed on inequality, is by organizing people power.  Money is already organized; so squeamishness about power, which some of us have, is simply to cede the field to organized money.

As noted by Ryan, power is neither good nor bad in itself; rather, it is shaped by the values of those who use it.  It is also a prerequisite to change the status quo to favor justice over injustice.

Ryan then presented a strategy to grow people power through the slow person-by person process of building increasingly dense networks of mutual relationships in our congregations.

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”   Dr. Martin Luther King

III. Relationships and One-On-Ones

Experience shows us that neither a "Lone Ranger Activist" nor a committed and effective social justice team of 8-10 people can achieve in the realm of social justice what traditional approaches can accomplish when seeking volunteers for a soup kitchen or monies for a designated charity.  A new approach is needed, and what Ryan recommended was to build people power by creating mutual and sustaining relationships through "one-on-ones."   A one-on-one has an initiator arranging a 30 to 45 minute meeting with another congregant to "discover shared interests, values, faith, and passion," to learn through shared stories the big things that have shaped another's life, and to seek answers to two fundamental questions: (1) who am I, and (2) what things will move me to action?  In terms of the process, here's what one-on-on-ones are and are not

One-on-ones

are:                                             are NOT:

A one to one dyad                    A focus group or other group exchange

30 to 45 minutes                       Less than 30, more than 45 minutes

Face-to-face                              Telephone, email, or text

Intentional, by appointment      Ad hoc encounter or small talk

Mutual exchange                       One-sided interview or interrogation

Stories and sharing                    Selling issues or pushing an agenda

More generally, one of the purposes of one-on-ones is to intentionally construct a network of public relationships where the web is woven and strengthened through identified values and shared stories.  The point is to strive for authentic, deeper connections among our fellows, bonds that cut through superficial small talk and delve into the big things that have shaped our lives and the values and interests that call us to stand up and be counted.

According to Ryan, while a one-on-one has a clear structure and purpose, it cannot have an advanced, detailed script.  The questions we ask have to follow and grow out of the stories we tell each other.  Tailoring questions to the unfolding stories requires careful listening and alertness.

Quotes on relationships:

"No road is long with good company."  Turkish Proverb

"Human relationships always help us to carry on because they always presuppose further developments."  Albert Camus

I want relations which are not purely personal, based on purely personal qualities; but relations based upon some unanimous accord in truth or belief, and a harmony of purpose, rather than of personality. I am weary of personality. Let us… try to create a new life, a new common life, a new complete tree of life from the roots that are within us.    D. H. Lawrence

IV.  Building Teams

Building teams through one-on-ones allows congregations to mobilize large numbers of people on short notice when timely action on a social justice issue becomes desirable or necessary. Scott Aaseng cites Unity Temple of Oak Park as an example.  After much work with one-on-ones, Unity Temple has created the networks that can turn out 100 people to an event calling for social justice advocacy.  Through the slow building of values-driven networks, a social justice action team, now susceptible to burnout, can call on occasional but re-energizing help from an action alert network.  And, with the steady extension of one-on-ones, right across all of the pews, Social Justice Committees can call to action a growing number of congregants who, thus far in their lives, have been passive spectators in the social justice arena.

If a number of Illinois UU congregations prove up to the task of stitching together the small, informal groupings--where people in one pew often don't know people two pews removed--in much more densely interconnected networks, then we as a denomination can begin to turn out the numbers that can make a difference.    Should we not set as an attainable goal the ability to turn out 500 to 1,000 UUs to stand in Springfield for an increase in the minimum wage?

UUANI BOARD
2013 March for Marriage Equality

Rev. Khleber Van Zandt didn't think he or anyone else from First Unitarian Church of Alton would make it to Springfield for the March for Marriage Equality on October 22. Then at church two days before the event, he was talking with a 71 year-old member of the congregation who was apologizing for being a little grumpy. The member commented that it had been an emotional time in their life. Rev. Van Zandt suggested that perhaps he had said something that had made the member upset. "No," the member replied, "it's because I'm this close to being considered equal to you. I've been down in the bottom of the closet for 71 years, and it's finally time I came all the way out so I can marry the person I love." Both Rev. Van Zandt and the member made it to the March, along with five other members from Alton.

Stories like this were the heart of the day as 300 UU's from 23 congregations - from Carbondale to Stockton, from McHenry to Quincy - gathered in Springfield to march for marriage equality and launch the Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI). Buses full of UU's left from Chicago, Evanston, Palatine, Naperville, Rockford, Peoria, and Bloomington starting at 6 am, and met in Springfield, where we birthed UUANI with songs and stories, leadership elections and lunch, and a rally and march at the state Capitol.

About 100 of us gathered first at Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation in Springfield. Peggy Patty from ALUUC led off by saying we should not underestimate the impact of our presence. "We are marching for Justice for all citizens of this country, some of whom are unable to...take the chance of being SEEN at this march" for fear of losing their jobs or their housing or even their lives. Cindy Pardo from First Unitarian (Chicago) gave an impassioned response to the question, "Why are we here?" in terms of civil rights and our UU principle of the worth and dignity of every person. Then Karen McMillen from Unity Temple (Oak Park) got up and said simply, "I'm here so I don't have to explain to my 2 year-old son why his mommies are married in one state and not in another." As she sat down, we all applauded with tears in our eyes.

Over a soup and sandwich lunch graciously provided by the Springfield congregation, we got to know UU's from other congregations and share why we were there and what we hoped for. Also with us were 5 young adults from the Ujima homeless shelter in Chicago, one of whom serenaded us on the piano.

UU's were out in force at the Capitol, with at least a dozen Standing on the Side of Love banners and scores of yellow shirts. Four members of the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale met with their state legislator and helped clear up some of her misconceptions about the marriage equality bill. Meanwhile, dozens of UU's continue to make calls from phone banks at their home congregations.

Sharing stories, making connections, building relationships, growing spiritually, deepening our values, creating partnerships, and putting all that into action that makes a difference - that's what UUANI is all about.

Note: Marriage equality was passed in Illinois on November 5, and the governor signed the legislation on November 20.