The past two months all eyes have turned their focus on Alabama after its passage of the most draconian anti-immigration bill in our recent history. Even after Judge Blackburn enjoined several sections of the law and the 11th Circuit Court enjoined several more, this law remains the toughest on record. These injunctions are temporary and the 11th Circuit Court will not hear the case until sometime in 2012. Senator Beason, one of the crafters of this law, has declared it a success because the intent was to have immigrants (legal and undocumented) voluntarily leave the state. And many have, leaving crops to rot in the fields and tornado ravaged communities left un-repaired. Catholic churches have been asked by their Diocese to document the loss of immigrant members. Catechism classes at one church in my town of Tuscaloosa have been reduced from 125 children before the law passed to 40 children after the law went into effect.
Governor Bentley, who signed this bill into law, announced the law is too complicated to enforce. He stated he is working behind the scenes with law enforcement and businesses to find ways to simplify the enforcement. Right now law enforcement is not consistent in routine traffic stops. Some police officers are asking only the driver for proof of status and some are asking every passenger in the vehicle. Businesses are closing because they are unable to renew their license with the state. International corporations are deciding to end negotiations of relocating firms to the state because of the stringent laws. Trailer park registrations are expiring and the owners are unable to renew because they are undocumented. Families are being torn apart. The law is not just complicated; it is devastating the health of communities on every level.
Here in Alabama, immigrant leaders and allies are organizing to make an all out push for repeal of this law. And we are doing this with the assistance of our national partners NDLON, Immigration Forum, and several others. For the past two weeks, these organizations and others have come to the state to assist the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) in building its capacity for training immigrant leaders and allies in organizing a state wide movement with the goal to repeal and/or disable HB 56. Leaders within the immigrant community are being trained to teach know-your-rights sessions to their communities and to have protocols in place to protect their children from being placed into state custody should a parent be detained. Allies are being trained in community organizing techniques to teach immigration 101 in as many communities as possible. Together we are building our base to support repeal of this law and to press forward, asking the federal government to streamline and create a humane process for immigrants to achieve legal status.
No one here believes that even if this law is repealed that the crisis will be over. The damage of this law in spawning and propagating racism has already been done. Racism has always been present in Alabama. So what this law has also done is jump start again the discussion on race and racism in our state. It has galvanized and solidified a movement that might otherwise have continued to languish by bringing together communities, immigrants and allies, including Unitarian Universalists, to work not only on the repeal of this law but the core underlying issues of racism and hate. Love is indeed surging through our efforts to deal effectively with this crisis.
As has been the case in Arizona, Georgia, and other states where such laws have been enacted or Secure Communities has been enforced, Unitarian Universalists are active in building the movement towards repeal. They have been assisting in organizing rallies across the state, active in the work of ACIJ, and helping to organize communities to respond to this law. The immigrant leaders are mobilizing to re-educate communities on the contributions immigrants have offered in some regions of Alabama for the last several decades. Our communities are enriched when there is a diversity of people present.
The Rev. Lone Broussard of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, a Danish-American, spoke with the Danish press to inform Denmark what is happening here. The eyes of the world are indeed focused on Alabama and what they are seeing are people coming together to Stand on the Side of Love.More >
I was speaking to one of the residents of Occupy Philadelphia last week, and he told me that we are living in “Pharaohnic times.” This phrase has stuck with me, and I think it’s deeply insightful. While not enslaved like the Israelites in Egypt, many populating the Occupy encampments around the globe, and those in sympathy with them, feel that they have no control over their lives. They feel trapped by and powerless in a society that keeps them impoverished and systematically oppressed. Those lucky enough to have jobs are working just to get by, with little hope for the future. Many people – those who have lost their homes or their jobs, and those who have never had either – are at real risk for their very survival. There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness, and a perception that no matter how hard they work, Pharaoh – in this case the gaping, ravenous maw of “Wall Street” – will never be satisfied. They are caught in a system whose heart has been hardened.
For years these modern-day Israelites waited for Moses to lead them out of this Egypt and into the land of milk and honey promised to them so many generations before. Four years ago they saw a man emerge from the rushes whom they thought might be their savior. He offered them the thing for which they yearned most deeply: Hope. And then their hope dissolved like so much morning mist, as their Moses encountered the harsh reality of Washington politics. God, apparently, had not invested him with the power to persuade Pharaoh to let his people go.
And so, the people were faced with a choice. Wait for a true savior to emerge, or save themselves. Wait for another Moses to call Pharaoh out, or take matters into their own hands. The cry of the people at Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philadelphia and Occupy Oakland is the cry of Moses: “Let our people go!” They seek nothing less than the peaceful overthrow of the Pharaohnic system that holds them captive.
As a person of faith, I am called to side with the Israelites. To speak truth to power. To echo and amplify their cry for justice. To encourage them – to offer them courage – as they hold up a mirror to the callous society that enslaves us all with the enticement of easy credit and the illusion of prosperity just beyond our grasp. This ragtag army of activists camping out in public places across the country seeks an audience with Pharaoh, that his hardened heart might be changed. This is what draws me to Occupy week after week. I stand in support of the many Moses’s in our midst.More >
On Monday, November 7, interfaith allies and immigrant justice groups held a press conference at Church of the Covenant in Boston. The press conference was in response to a recent wave of anti-immigrant activity following the August death of a Milford man by a drunken driver, and the resulting draconian anti-immigrant bill introduced in the State House. The legislation has been explicitly tied to the incident in Milford but includes 24 provisions that focus on immigrants rather than decreasing crime in Massachusetts. Much of the backlash comes after progress made in Massachusetts to create policies that keep immigrant families together.
Participants in the press conference included Rev. Terry Burke, Minister of First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist; Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, Minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead; Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, Senior Pastor Roxbury Presbyterian Church and President Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO); and Shannon Erwin, state policy director for the MIRA Coalition. Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, First Church in Boston and Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, First Parish in Milton stood with other clergy as part of Standing on the Side of Love and UU Mass Action.
Rev. Hamilton spoke on behalf of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), a congregation-based community organization made up of fifty-two congregations and community organizations, including First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist.
Rev Hamilton said: “Brutalizing the defenseless, scandalizing the vulnerable and terrorizing the innocent simply because of the color of their skin or where you think that they have come from will not produce a national immigrant policy.”
Rev. Burke and Rev. von Zirpolo shared stories of immigrants who have been harassed and treated badly in the wake of a drunk driving accident in Milton involving an undocumented man from Ecuador. Both recounted numerous experiences of immigrants having bottles thrown at them, cars and property vandalized, verbal insults and harassment, and profiling at the hands of Milton police. Both emphasized that the current anti-immigrant legislation in Massachusetts has only enhanced the fearful atmosphere in Milton and across the state.
Rev. von Zirpolo said: “I also know the violence we condone and create through Secure Communities is not the answer. This is not simply about Milford or even Massachusetts. There is a storm brewing in our country, fueled by fear and delivering hate. The storm takes incidents such as these, entwines them with the collective challenges of our economy and seeks to separate us. It scapegoats and criminalizes entire communities and identity groups. It calls it patriotism and promises safety. It is a lie.
The truth about Secure Communities and [anti-immigrant] legislation in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and other places is that they create violence. Violence against entire families who are ripped apart, at times one parent delivered across the border in one town, another miles away and a child dropped in yet another town.”
The other speakers emphasized the call to elected officials to speak out against anti-immigrant harassment. Shannon Erwin, state policy director for the MIRA Coalition, said: “It’s time that they [politicians] state publicly that the cruel behavior you heard about today has no place in the commonwealth.”
At the end of his remarks, Rev. Burke reminded everyone of the numerous religious traditions that have a story of the stranger, the immigrant. He said: “It is important for people of faith to speak out for immigrants. Our faith traditions speak of holy immigrants. Jesus travels as a little boy with his parents Mary and Joseph to Egypt, like many of the DREAMers who traveled to this country with their parents. In the Jewish tradition, Abraham and Sarah answer God’s call to ‘Go!’ to a Promised Land. The Prophet Muhammad and his family fled from religious enemies to the Kingdom of Ethiopia. These holy immigrants remind us that ALL immigrants are holy, and deserve our respect and support.”More >
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Wednesday, November 9, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
We are at a transformational moment. Standing on the Side of Love has taken hold among Unitarian Universalists, and also shown that it has broader, interfaith appeal. Our values are an integral part of yesterday’s stunning electoral successes for justice and equality in Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Mississippi, and so many other places. You have embraced the open source nature of this campaign, bringing your banners into the public square, and taking love where you feel it naturally belongs — detention centers, transgender rights rallies, day laborer corners, vigils to counter Westboro Baptist Church, Keystone XL Pipeline protests, Occupy spaces, and polling places. Love is everywhere!
For the past two years in a row, our community re-imagined Valentine’s Day in spectacular fashion as a social justice holiday—National Standing on the Side of Love Day. Thousands of you took to your communities to celebrate the words and deeds of unsung heroes and to continue the effort to promote equality, acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. The breadth of public witness you engaged in was astounding, our values proudly displayed in our congregations and in communities across the country.
Because of the tremendous energy and interest in National Standing on the Side of Love Day, and our desire to make it easy for congregations and individuals to take part, we are excited to announce National Standing on the Side of Love Month: The Story of Us, the Story of Now.
This THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE, beginning Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and culminating with Valentine’s Day, will be a time for deepening our commitment to our mission through listening, discovery, community engagement, education, inspiration, celebration, lifting up, and daily, direct actions for love. One crucial element will be working to deepen congregational involvement with Standing on the Side of Love.
To whet our appetites for THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign will hold a webinar on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time to share some ways that you can build on your congregation’s social justice work. The webinar will feature a conversation with two congregations that have used this campaign as a platform for their social justice to tremendous success and renewed congregational energy.
As part of THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE, we will bring you tools to engage in listening campaigns, community connection, theological reflection, collective sharing, community education, and direct action. We’ll have tangible resources for you in the coming weeks. In addition, as the populist Occupy movement has created a shift in the national discussion around economic justice, our campaign, which has historically focused on identity-based discrimination, will think critically about how those who are already marginalized because of their identity are facing even more difficult times. Today, you can start to think about how you might engage around these questions within your congregation and your broader community.
THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE is envisioned as a process, not an event. And you can begin now by making a commitment to attend our webinar on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time, featuring a conversation with Valley UU Church in Chandler, Arizona and First UU Church of Rochester, MN, who will talk about how they have grown their social justice ministries with Standing on the Side of Love to tremendous success and renewed congregational energy.
We are incredibly excited to engage in this process together—to embrace our underlying values and investigate what more we can do in our communities. We are sure THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE will result in beautiful conversations across the country culminating in a story of us, and a story of now. We don’t always know what the goals are, or where we will end up. But we know that at the heart of the process is love.
In partnership for a more just world,
This brilliant idea comes to us from Rev. David A. Miller, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Solana Beach, California.
Some day Thanksgiving week, a day chosen locally, a short service of gratitude, thanks and sharing sponsored by the Interfaith Community. An event where the community of Occupy supporters and friends bring pies of all sorts, (chicken, turkey, tofu, pumpkin, peach, apple) to share together in thanks and gratitude for those holding the space at your local Occupation and as a day of thanks for all those lifting up the issues of fairness, compassion and equality being shared by this movement. Mostly, it is a day of gratitude for what we already have, including each other.