Post by Justin Martin, Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and a ministerial candidate in the UUA.
Like many Unitarian Universalists, the message of the #Occupy movement and our local Occupy DC protesters resonated with me. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Showing support in person is important, but I wanted our church to support the movement in a way that would allow our congregation to work together. Several ministers in our area and other Unitarian Universalists felt that this sentiment was shared by many other people. So many of us were searching for some way to show our support for our local Occupiers and stand up for the economically oppressed in our nation.
Our faith calls us to strive for justice, and our nation’s growing income inequality is fundamentally unjust. Recent statistics show that those in the top fifth of household incomes make more than all others in our country combined and of that top fifth, most of the wealth is concentrated among the top one percent. This trend has a much larger impact on minorities. Poverty rates for those in historically marginalized communities continue to grow and are almost double the median national poverty rate. The #Occupy movement brings focus to this disparity and its goals could make significant progress to alleviate the unequal burden on oppressed communities. We naturally want to sustain their momentum and support reaching these goals. So, after putting some thought to the task of how we could best help them keep going, we decided to do one of the things churches do best: feed people. Churches use food to build community. We serve meals in times of celebration, and we serve meals in times of mourning. By sharing our food with the #Occupy community we could serve them in a way that brings us closer together.
From the outset it didn’t look easy. I went down to the Occupation to talk to them about what feeding the entire protest group would take. When I walked into the food tent I was met by three people who looked busy and more than a little stressed. I met a man named Doug who said he had been cooking for the group for two weeks. When I told him about our plan to bring meals to them Doug got really excited. Apparently keeping everyone fed as best they could was really tough and took up most all of his time. He would love to have some time to actually do some protesting, rather than just cook. He said that each night he and the great people in the cooking tent try to feed around 150 people using little more than camping stoves. I was blown away. Even with the full kitchen in our church I wasn’t sure if we could put together a meal for 150, and they were able to make it happen from a tent.
After we found out what the group would need for their meals, a call went out see who would be interested in helping. The response was overwhelming. A vast network of volunteers organized from all around the DC region, and plans went into motion to bring huge amounts of food to the Occupation site. In the end, the Unitarian Universalist churches and congregations in Arlington VA, Fairfax VA, Reston VA, and Rockville MD came together to bring meals for each and every protester in Freedom Plaza for four nights. Each night when our group brought down the food the thanks we received was amazing, and we heard from several Occupiers who said that it really brought the group’s spirits up to know that there were so many people supporting them. The food did what it was intended to to – energize the movement and support its mission.
The excitement was not limited to the Occupation site. In our UU community, the support from our congregations was inspirational. At the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, VA we were able to raise enough money to pay for all of the food that we cooked, and we still had enough left over that our minister, Rev. Erin Gingrich, was able to purchase a massive amount of vitamin C tablets that the protesters had requested so that they can stay healthy with the weather getting cold. In fact the excitement has spread to even more congregations so the greater Washington DC-area churches are going to feed the protesters dinner for another week. Right now we have plans to bring meals to the Occupy DC group in McPherson Square from Monday, November 14th through Friday, November 18th.
The massive outpouring of love that these churches have shown reflects our faith in the possibility of creating a more just and equitable society for all people. The connections our churches have made with the Occupy movement has energized both sides and created a wonderful larger community. When we share our resources and our time in this way we also share the hope and vision that lie at the heart of the Unitarian Universalist movement. There is no greater work we can do than this.
 http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/WebSummary.pdf More >
Last week Rev. Parisa Parsa and Standing on the Side of Love asked you to join in a dialogue on what you are doing, thinking, and feeling about the Occupy movement. The result is a vibrant and ongoing conversation about the movement’s inspiring nature, how UUs are contributing, and what more needs to be done.
A number of particularly thought-provoking comments are highlighted below. If you have not already shared your thoughts, please visit Rev. Parsa’s blog post and join the discussion. How are you contributing? Do you have reservations about the movement? Does this relate to the social justice work that your congregation is already doing? Let’s keep the dialogue going.
“We have folks of all faiths listening to people’s stories, praying with people, and holding worship services of all kinds in the park… Every time I go there, I am impressed by the peacefulness of the gathering, and the cooperative nature. It continues to grow, and it continues to be a model of how we can be at our best.” —Madelyn Campbell
“I wish I could do more to support this movement… It was difficult finding the time to prepare the stew and physically challenging to carry it to the site from a distant parking space. But if a large number of people were to prepare food just once, we could help keep this movement going.” –Madeleine Cousineau
“It seems to me that if yellow t-shirts and SSL banners are to be in an OCCUPY location, that accompanying Ministerial leadership is essential…I would like to support a UU presence at the DC OCCUPY, but at strategic times and with articulate faith leadership.” –John Gubbings
“These [General Assemblies] are attracting about 100-150 folks who are a diverse mix of quite sincere and very well informed men and women of all ages, descriptive of a variety of local ethnic and economic constituencies. We engage politely and respectfully in a leaderless process that is emboldened by a level of professionalism that is undeniable and compelling. The desire to project love and respect in face of those who may have other competing agendas, is a constant theme of our conversation.” –George Higgins
“I really feel that the Occupiers are living our UU values in real time—with their bodies, hearts and minds. The level of organization, harmony and community democracy is simply astounding.” —Linda Hodges
“The spirit of empowered unity is exhilarating for the most part… I feel a deep need to connect with other UU clergy. I yearn for some other UUs with whom to reflect theologically.” –Kate Lore
“I am affirmed in my sense that it takes a big commitment to put your body on the line in this protest, and those of us who are glad to see it happening can be supportive in tangible needed ways if we have the courage to reach out and find out what is needed. We may find inspiration for our commitment to democracy, new ways of communicating, or the discipline it takes to put our values into action.” –Sonya SukalskiMore >
Standing on the Side of Love received this stunning five minute video from David Nelson today. It is, quite simply, beauty, peace, justice and hope. Watch it. You will be glad you did.
“Oakland’s general strike was a wonderful event, thanks in large part to the interfaith community! I feel it helped infuse hope into this community that their voices and hearts matter. I experienced a peaceful, spirited day and enjoyed talking to your members. Gratitude to interfaith spiritual leaders for compassionate and ethical guidance.
My 5 minute video essay, “occupy the present: justice and love triumph at Oakland’s general strike”. I hope you like it and will share it’s message of unity and love with the others.”
Thank you, David!More >
Dear Mr. President,
In August, your administration declared that the focus for deportations would be on those convicted of serious crimes.
Yesterday, I witnessed hearings for 75 people charged with felonies. The whole proceeding took just a little over an hour.
The venue was the Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona—room 2013, courtroom 2A, the “Special Proceedings” room—to be exact.
When I entered the courtroom, the defendants were already there. They filled one-third of the seating area usually occupied by the general public. They also filled what is usually the jury box. In addition, six of them stood before microphones in front of the bench.
The six who stood before the bench had not accepted plea bargain agreements. They elected, instead, to stand trial.
Then, the remaining defendants were brought before the bench, seven at a time. Each stood before a microphone, some of them visibly shaking. Behind each defendant stood a public defender. Each defendant wore a headset so they could hear the Spanish translation as charges against them were being read and they were asked to enter a plea.
All of the 75 defendants were charged with the same “crime”: being in this country without the proper documents.
I listened closely as the charges were read. My hearing isn’t the best, and the judge spoke quickly and softly. From what I heard, the only “crime” committed by any of the 75 was to be in the country without proper documentation.
Of the 75, as I recollect, 6 refused plea bargain arrangements, choosing to stand trial at a later date. Charges were dismissed against one man because he was a juvenile at the time of arrest. Three were from Honduras. All the rest, from Mexico. Seven, maybe eight, were women. All were shackled, hand and foot.
The sentences handed down ranged from time served—one to three days—to ninety, one-hundred-twenty, to one-hundred-fifty days in jail. American jail.
Defendants were given the opportunity to speak. Only a handful did so.
One man clearly thought he was being charged with driving without a license. The judge patiently explained that he was being charged with being in the country illegally—a felony.
One woman challenged the date of her arrest. Again, the judge patiently explained that the court was on solid ground because of the language…”on, or about…” Only she heard the Spanish translation of the judge’s remarks. Who knows what was really said, or heard?
One man, when given the opportunity to speak, begged the judge for a more lenient sentence. The judge, again, with utmost patience, explained that there was once a time when judges were given discretion in sentencing, but that those days were long gone. His hands were tied.
I tried to make eye contact with each defendant as they shuffled out of the courtroom, struggling as they were with handcuffs and ankle shackles.
Some smiled, put their hands in prayer position, and nodded. Others hung their heads in shame—especially the women.
The ones that weigh heaviest on my heart tonight are those whose eyes were too dead to meet mine, too filled with confusion and despair to comprehend that someone cared what happened to them.
Your order was to deport criminals. These people are not criminals. This court proceeding happens three times a week here in Tucson, Arizona. Just thought you should know.
The Reverend Diane Dowgiert
Tucson, ArizonaMore >
Robin Vestal is a founding member of Starving for Justice—a group dedicated to working toward civil and human rights for immigrants in the United States through nonviolent protest via a weekly fast. They have built a strong community on Facebook to support members and offer advice. You can get more information and read personal statements from other participants at http://www.starvingforjustice.org.
Deborah de Santos and I began Starving for Justice. She has been advocating for her friend Audrius who has been in detention now for over three years. We were frustrated and wanted to do more than sign petitions and complain, so we decided that one way to take a stand was to fast for justice. The decision to do a weekly fast instead of a hunger strike came with the belief that the first step in changing the world is changing ourselves. Many of the people in our group have family members affected by immigration issues and some are living outside of the country to be with family members who have been deported.
I saw the post from Rev. Jeff Jones about his fast in solidarity with Salvador Zamora and Martin Altamirano and we as a group also wanted to express our support of the hunger strike and their actions. We have also fasted in solidarity with the people of Alabama and a few fasts have been in honor of families that have been separated by deportation or detention.
Rewind to January 12, 2010, the day an earthquake struck in Haiti. The devastation was almost more than I could comprehend, especially in a country right off our coastline. In the aftermath, people from Haiti were understandably trying to leave their devastated country. I was shocked to hear Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security come out and say that the United States was not going to allow increased immigration because “they need to stay and rebuild.” Then Michael Clemens from the Center for Global Development wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about how one of the most helpful and beneficial things the United States could do was to give a “golden door” to Haitians after the earthquake so that immigrants from Haiti could effectively help their relatives left behind. I got excited about this and wrote to him. I was shocked to hear back from him that the vast majority of responses he got to his article were nasty, xenophobic, colorist, and ethnicist in nature. Undeterred, I wrote to the President, major political leaders of both parties, and my Senators and Congressmen, and received at best a form letter or no letter in response.
I started paying more attention to immigration issues and was shocked at what I found: families being torn apart, impossible decisions being thrust on people only trying to make a life for themselves and their families. Instead of welcoming people to our country I found that we were persecuting people and accusing them of “cutting to the front of the line” when in fact there was no line to stand in. This violates everything I believe in. I believe that each person is made in the image of God. I believe that an accident of place of birth and color of skin neither entitles one to great advantages over anyone else nor should condemn one to a life of abject poverty and struggle.
After learning more about the issue, I see a systemic injustice that on one hand demonizes people for being here illegally and at the same time creates a demand for a workforce that can not complain about working conditions and pay (or lack thereof). This must be corrected. I have also learned about the big money behind some of the new immigration laws that are designed to create an influx of detention for profit.
Injustice causes obvious damage to the people being oppressed but it also creates a stain on the souls of the people that are directly or indirectly involved in the oppression. At the worst, allowing hate to run rampant creates monsters of us. How do we counter this?
The only way to effectively counter hate is with loving nonviolent resistance. I have been fasting the last 14 Tuesdays as a way to bring attention to the need for justice for immigrants in this country. I hope to change myself by repenting for the ways I’ve been complicit in this evil and help others to see the injustices being done to fellow human beings.More >