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.
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 >