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

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.

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. 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.