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 >
People have been crossing the border and ending up in Tucson for years. Once, before the Gadsden Purchase, there was no border. This area was part of Mexico. Then for a long time, it was very casual, with people going back and forth for business and family visits and thinking little of it.
There came a time when people fleeing violence in the South began to arrive here seeking shelter. The wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly, slowly, as these political refugees petitioned for asylum. For some, the ones from Nicaragua and some of the ones from El Salvador, their politics were not right. Along the border, a system of sanctuary churches quietly called itself into being. It was an interfaith effort, involving Catholics, Presbyterians, and Unitarian Universalists that I know of, and the memory of this forms the oldest layer of organizing around illegal border crossing in this area. When I visited the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Tucson, I saw the oddly placed sign outside the minister’s office and heard the story that it covered the hole the FBI had made when they broke in and went through the files to find out where the political refugees were being hidden.
Now, people fleeing economic catastrophe South of here have been coming, and continue to come. When there is no other way to make sure the children have food, people cross in all the various ways available to them. Another layer of organization has emerged with this new wave of economic refugees. Keeping people from dying in the desert has become an important focus of activity. In the communities where people come to live among friends and family, the focus is on keeping a low profile, avoiding detection, and knowing what rights undocumented people have. Once someone becomes part of the deportation system, there are those who help with access to legal services, visitation during detention, and keeping track of the person’s possessions so they can be returned later. The only thing positive I can see about all this is that the Hispanic communities where people live and the humanitarian communities of mostly anglos are starting to come together.
And yet, the Tucson area is the largest source of deportations in the country. I went to the “Operation Streamline” special courtroom this afternoon and watched about forty deportations be processed in a very short time. These were people who had been picked up for a second, third, or fourth time for being in the country without papers, a felony, and they had worked with the prosecutor and the public defender to reach agreement on plea deals to serve some time in jail and then be deported. The judge was attentive and responded kindly to the few questions that came forward. Still, it was chilling. I wondered if the people involved really understood what was happening and what their options had been or still were. I wondered what they had gone through in detention. And it was very sad to see people’s lives being so deeply affected for what I still can’t understand as a serious crime.
I’m getting ready to leave this adventure in Tucson and return to my other world. I have seen a lot and felt a lot of different ways. And I have come to believe that crossing borders is actually what life is about. Every day is an opportunity to exchange a smile or a word across a border of race or ethnicity, class or nationality. I come away from this experience determined to cross the borders in my own life as well as to work for justice in the complicated arena of economically motivated migration outside the framework of our laws. I would encourage others to consider doing this as well.
This blog post, by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, is third of a series on her trip to see how Unitarian Universalists can help the situation at the Arizona-Mexico border.