In response to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the UU Mass Action state advocacy network quickly organized a vigil for Love Not Fear in Massachusetts as part of their seventh annual Advocacy Day on Tuesday, April 23rd. Over 100 Unitarian Universalists gathered outside of the Massachusetts State House as a faithful presence, calling for love and compassion for all our communities and especially for immigrants and Muslims. They were joined by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK and organizer of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, who was the keynote speaker for Advocacy Day. Sr. Simone spoke of the need for us all “to touch the pain and from that pain talk with each other and our legislators.” She described how she does that in her role on Capitol Hill and announced that the nuns are going on the bus again for federal immigration reform. She also talked about the importance of not demonizing any faith tradition and applauded the message of Standing on the Side of Love. When she was finished, Jesse Jaeger, Executive Director of UU Mass Action, presented her with a Love t-shirt.
“If we respond to this tragedy with hatred, with fear, with racial profiling, with religious bigotry, with attacks upon immigrants, with a fortress mentality that demonizes and excludes—they win. If we respond with courage, with compassion, with generosity, with inclusiveness—we win. Everyone wins. We honor the first responders who risk their own lives to save the lives of others. And we—we are the next responders.”
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, Director of Congregational Development for the Massachusetts Bay and Clara Barton Districts, spoke on behalf of the District and the Unitarian Universalist Association. He said:
“Already in the town of Malden, a town I drive through each week, a white male has assaulted a hijab-wearing woman of Middle Eastern heritage out with her baby stroller. He punched her for two minutes, shouting obscenities and saying ‘Muslims, you are terrorists.’ It’s inexcusable and morally abhorrent. And yet, people whose sacred space has been violated naturally desperately want someone to blame. I shudder to think what we might add to the desecration.
“We need courage, compassion, and commitment. Courage to grieve what we have lost. Compassion for one another, for all people, all of us. Even for a nineteen-year-old boy in serious condition and in custody. And commitment to not only call on our highest values, but also to call them forth. We can respond to the actions of these two individuals by calling on our highest values, and calling them forth. Together, we can make new life out of tragedy.”
Rev. Millspaugh invited the crowd to share some of their highest values aloud and various voices called out—love, compassion, justice, dignity, respect, solidarity, courage, and more.
Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente, spoke in support of solidarity and the need to get the Trust Act passed—legislation that would bar local and state police officers from federal immigration enforcement. She said:
“In 2012 more than 61% of the people deported by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] in Massachusetts had no criminal convictions. The ICE [Secure Communities (S-Comm)] program has failed to increase community safety, has shattered thousands of innocent, hardworking families through deportations with no due process rights, and causes distrust between local police and crime victims which ultimately decreases community safety.”
She also thanked UU Mass Action for their solidarity and partnership and said Centro is also standing on the side of love.
During the vigil, a group of high school students who had been touring the State House joined the sing-along and asked for Standing on the Side of Love placards and pins, and then placed the placards on the windows of the bus as they drove away. The message resonated with those observing: one man jumped out of his car to take a photo while stopped in traffic; Duck Boat tours waved along with other supportive passersby.
Following the vigil, UUs visited state representatives to advocate for immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and teenage homelessness. A meeting with Governor Deval Patrick was held with Jesse Jaeger, Sister Simone, Susan Leslie (UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director), and several UU ministers and lay leaders, including members of First Parish in Cambridge’s youth group.
Sister Simone spoke eloquently and warmly to Gov. Patrick’s Director of Constituent Services, Thomas Reece. “The TRUST Act is really an important step to deal with the issue of Secure Communities and making sure people feel comfortable reporting crime to law enforcement and protecting them from the consequences of that, the real need is for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Compassionate state legislation can help move us in that direction.” She conveyed thanks for Governor Patrick’s support and asked that he continue to exert his influence saying, “What we need is leadership.”
Mr. Reece was receptive to the comments, and asked in return: “What I need to say to all of you is, don’t stop here at this office or at this State House. Keep pushing and putting a face to the story so our congressional leaders understand how important this is to all of you. “
Jesse delivered a letter that was also passed along to all Massachusetts legislators, signed by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, UU Service Committee President Rev. William Schulz, UU Urban Ministry Director Rev. Catherine Senghas, UUA Clara Barton & Mass Bay UUA District Executives Rev. Sue Phillips and Rev. William Zelazney, the UU Mass Action Board, and 300 UU clergy and congregational leaders from across the state, calling for Massachusetts legislators to let compassion not fear guide public dialogue and public policy, and to continue progress on immigration reform, gun control, and respect for all faiths and peoples.
This post was written by Audra Friend & Susan Leslie of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Congregational Advocacy & Witness Office. They are also Bostonians and members of our Standing on the Side of Love Team.