My wife and I are Unitarian Universalist and have been for over a decade. We started attending the UU Church of Bloomington shortly after our daughter, Karrie, came out to us. We were carpooling with a diverse group to a transformational program of Landmark seminars. During one trip, my wife commented that she could not stand to go back to her church of origin and hear our daughter damned because of her sexual orientation. One of the ladies spoke up and said that we should come to her church; that it’s nothing like that. We went a few times, really liked it, became regular attendees, and decided to sign the book. We started becoming active in the social justice work of the then newly formed “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” Task Force. This task force is now the “Rainbow Rights” Task Force since the issues we were addressing extended beyond just the marriage issue. As a result of this involvement we became acquainted and friends with a number of people in the LGBTQIA community. Hearing their stories and both seeing and being a part of their lives was powerful testimony to the injustice of our homophobic and heterosexist society.
This work led my wife, Ruth Ann, and I to launch “Elliptical Indiana” this June. Elliptical Indiana is a tour of Indiana on an elliptical bicycle. Imagine an elliptical trainer like you may have seen in a fitness center, put wheels on it ,and some sort of a handlebar to steer. I am riding this unusual elliptical bicycle to attract attention and draw people into conversation about HJR-6, the proposed marriage and relationship discrimination amendment to the Indiana constitution. Which reads, “Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.” This resolution was passed in the 2011 legislative session. If the legislature elected by the 2012 elections again passes this resolution in 2013 or 2014 it will appear as a referendum on the 2014 ballot. If approved by that ballot it would become part of the Bill of Rights of the Indiana Constitution.
We launched Elliptical Indiana from the Spencer Pride Festival on June 2 and covered the southern half of Indiana during the first two weeks. I rode 50 miles per day and for a total of 1500 miles by the end of the tour on July 4th weekend. Ruth Ann supported the ride from our mini-motorhome. She would drive ahead to wait for my arrival. While waiting she would make media contacts, have conversations herself, and prepare for my sustenance needs. We conducted this tour as our summer vacation.We held a celebratory ending recognition at the Bloomington Fourth of July parade which serendipitously had a theme of “Back to Bloomington.” The UU Church of Bloomington got really into this and we all had a great time Standing on the Side of Love together.
The inspiration for this tour goes to Lars Clausen, a Lutheran minister, who rode a unicycle across the United States having discussions with people about LGBT rights. He describes his tour in the book, Straight Into Gay America. I cannot even imagine my riding a unicycle, but I can stand on this elliptical contraption and stride away. We called our tour Elliptical Indiana; Standing for Equality, Love and Justice. This is both a metaphorical and literal stand since there is no seat.More >
This Justice General Assembly was by far the most energizing (since I began attending in 2008 anyway). As an Activist Minister, it warmed my heart to witness thousands of UUs from all over the country (and some from Canada and elsewhere) put their faith into action by speaking out against the atrocities going on in Tent City. The songs we used were also powerful, especially those by Emma’s Revolution. Kudos to the organizers who put their blood, sweat and tears into making this a success!
Carla Allison, the Board President of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, and I knew we didn’t want to let much time go by before we did something about our experience in Phoenix, so we planned a forum for Sunday, July 8, 2012 after both our services. We called it “Wake Up to Justice!” because we wanted to mobilize our congregation to action. It wasn’t just another debrief–40 people attended. This was indeed an opportunity for members of our congregation to get plugged in to what our movement is doing, making us realize that these justice issues are interconnected. What happens in Arizona does not stay in Arizona, but has an impact in Hawaii as well.
We began the forum by educating our Beloved Community on the harms that have been inflicted on indigenous peoples through the Doctrine of Discovery by using the language used in the General Assembly resolution. We were elated when Rev. Michael Tino helped us introduce the words “indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” acknowledging that those living in Hawai’i are a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association and that our local partners here are suffering as well. Kumu Glen Kila of the Kanenuiakea community blessed Carla and I with an oli (chant) and a lei. We made a commitment to continue the conversation and to be in relationship with each other, asking the question, “How can we support you?”
We then showed videos and photos from our Tent City witness, which were very moving. Carla gave a moving testimony of her experiences at the workshop and even on the plane ride home reading The Death of Josseline. Many in the congregation became interested in reading this book and we ended the forum with suggestions on how we can move forward. We handed out concrete suggestions such as calling the Attorney General’s office to ask them to hold Sheriff Arpaio accountable. Someone else suggested we hold a public witness event here in Hawaii and ask our partners to join us. We said we would educate our children on Hawaiian spirituality issues and ask Kumu Glen to come back and worship with us again. The ideas flowed, and our energies were oriented toward justice. We hope more people from our congregation can come next year to experience what we’ve experienced. Mahalo for leading us to a greater awareness of the injustices that are going on. The road to justice continues.More >
Last month, fourteen young people from Virginia received generous college scholarships from a local campaign called the Dream Project. The Dream Project’s mission is to encourage and support promising low-income immigrant students in the pursuit of higher education. Last year, only four scholarships were awarded. This year, the Dream Project was able to dramatically increase the number of Dream Scholars due to the support of many individuals and organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. Members of UUCA have contributed to the Dream Project in a variety of ways, from serving on the organization’s Board of Trustees to donating time, funds, and even frequent flyer miles.
The keynote speaker for the award ceremony was Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, minister of the UU Church of Arlington. He shared some of his own story with the audience, speaking about how he found Unitarian Universalism and how his faith informs his work for immigrant justice.
He told the Dream Scholars:
“I do believe that our gifts make room for us, and Dreamers, your gifts will make room for you. Each of us has to apply ourselves, and draw the meaning form our lives everyday. Do everything you know to do in order to bring your dreams into reality. Stay open, though, to the mystery of life, the mystery of dreams. You may be one of the ones whose dream comes true. Or you might be like me, who started out with one set of dreams, but whose dreams kept changing as life presented new people, new friends, new circumstances, new windows and doors of opportunity. Northern Virginia needs you. The United States needs you, whether all of its citizens know that or not. But more than that, the world needs you, with your particular gifts and talents, passions and perspectives.”
Would you like to contribute to this initiative? You can send a check payable to “Dream Project” to 3000 Military Road, Arlington, VA 22207 or donate online at www.dreamproject-va.com.
Students can apply to be a Dream Scholar if they (1) were born outside of the United States or has a parent born outside of the United States, (2) are graduating from high school in Virginia and planning to attend an accredited college or university, and (3) have demonstrated academic achievement, financial need, perseverance in the face of adversity, leadership, and commitment to their community. If you know a student who fits these requirements, encourage them to apply to be a Dream Scholar here.More >
This week, a new campaign called “Restoring Trust: Breaking ICE’s Hold on Our Communities” launched across the country. The campaign urges local law enforcement officials to not comply with voluntary requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold and turn over people for deportation via the so-called Secure Communities program. When local law enforcement officials work with ICE, critical relationships with local communities break down with heartbreaking repercussions on crime, domestic violence, and other issues. A growing number of cities have enacted these progressive policies, including Washington, DC; Santa Clara, California; and Cook County, Illinois.
Twelve communities all over the country held rallies to kick off the Restoring Trust campaign. In Austin, Texas, local immigration activists were joined by Unitarian Universalists carrying a Standing on the Side of Love banner. They were even featured prominently in Univision’s coverage of the event!
Want to learn more about how you can get involved in the Restoring Trust campaign? Click here to check out their website, see where local initiatives are already underway, and download resources for starting a campaign in your area.More >
The message below went out on Thursday, July 5, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I have been working with CREER Comunidad y Familia, an immigrant-led group that serves local immigrant families in San Juan Capistrano, for several years now alongside members of my congregation – Tapestry UU of Mission Viejo. We have been providing after-school tutoring and other activities including teaching each other English and Spanish. Additionally, CREER is a member of OCCCO (Orange County Congregation Community Organization), an interfaith community organization affiliated with the PICO Network that Tapestry also belongs to.
Two years ago, five members of Tapestry UU, who were already passionate about reforming our immigration system led a listening campaign at Tapestry to find a specific action our whole congregation could get behind and become more involved with. Thanks to guidance from our community organizer at OCCCO, we eventually chose to visit immigrant detainees in local jails which serve as detention centers here in Orange County.
We had heard about abuses in the centers and at first we planned to bear witness to some of the egregious things happening inside the walls. As we listened to the immigrant community about what they really needed from us, the project evolved though, into a visitation program to help the isolated people inside. Through research meetings with local enforcement officials, ex-detainees, and immigration attorneys we began making plans to visit the closest detention facility, James A. Musick in Irvine.
Last year at the UU General Assembly in Charlotte I met Grassroots Leadership, a national organization working to reduce immigrant detention and provide support to people being held in detention. In January, Grassroots Leadership came to southern California and trained over 20 people from four UU congregations in Orange County. They also travelled to First UU in San Diego for a training there. It was exciting to learn of San Diego’s similar project, and we have developed a great partnership since then. Grassroots taught us about a whole new world of opportunities for providing tangible support. The Detention Watch Network has become our partner to help us monitor what’s happening inside these centers. We also heard from Jose de Jesus Penaflor, an ex-detainee, who talked about his life before, during, and after detention. He was bonded out by a fund created at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. Our support made a huge difference to Jose and his family.
Visitation programs connect people in civil immigration detention with community members. We provide them with a link to the outside world, while also preventing human rights abuses by creating a community presence in otherwise invisible detention facilities. We are also there to help families of detainees.
Having witnessed what these programs can do, I want to ask you to join the upcoming webinar on July 25th led by Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network to learn about what you can do. Please RSVP here:
Everyone at Tapestry, although we have varying opinions of how to fix our broken immigration system, can understand that there are human rights abuses going on in these facilities. We want to help the families of those isolated and provide support to those in detention.
Since our training in January, we have held meetings with jail and enforcement officials, attorneys who do legal orientation know your rights programs in Los Angeles, an organizer of an ICE-approved visitation program, and a local law school immigrant rights group. We were appalled to find out that there are no current legal orientation programs (LOP’s) at the Orange County jails where immigrant detainees are housed. Now that a monthly LOP program has been set up here, participating attorneys are our link to find detainees seeking visitors.
Sign up to learn more about how to start a detainee visitation program here:
We plan to start our official visits in the fall. Spanish interpreters include friends we made way back in the beginning when we began our relationship with CREER Comunidad y Familia. Plans include getting clergy more involved and strengthening this growing interfaith movement. Although this ministry is not directly an advocacy effort as we had first imagined, we are building power through our relationships with attorneys and also with jail and ICE officials.
This has become a very personal issue to me. Not only am I working for and with my good friends in San Juan Capistrano, but I feel part of a big movement, a civil rights movement of our time. From service we are building solidarity.
I hope you will join the July 25th webinar on “Breaking the Isolation of Immigration Detention: Starting a Visitation Program.” To learn more before the webinar, please visit www.endisolation.org.
Rooted in Faith and Standing on the Side of Love,
Jan Meslin, Member, Detention Dialogues Orange CountyMore >