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drinking sand

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

So the GA 2012 grid map has been released. I’ve waited a few days to write about it, wanting to let it marinate a bit, to get past my initial reaction, to really reflect on it. I’ll preface my comments by saying I know a lot of people put a lot of time, effort, thought, and heart into planning and negotiating and mapping out this grid.

I had a conversation with a member of my board shortly after the Charlotte GA, in which we discussed some of the work we as a faith still need to do, and I said, “There’s really a whole ‘nother GA that we need to have BEFORE we even think about having a Justice GA.”

This grid is really exactly what I had in mind for THAT General Assembly. So it’s not that I think this is a bad grid. Under different circumstances, I’d have been thrilled. My heart probably would have burst with pride. Because I know that I still need work myself, not to mention the number of people who are in the early stages or who haven’t even begun to dismantle their racial, ethnic, social, and class privilege.

But under these circumstances, I am disappointed on multiple levels.

I’m disappointed by all the vague references I’ve seen about our “Arizona Partners” over the last 15 months and even more disappointed to see the Arizona Worker Rights Center and No More Deaths listed with Puente and NDLON in today’s UU World article, Picture of GA 2012 coming into focus. I wonder what we consider a partnership. The Arizona Worker Rights Center organizers are only vaguely familiar with our General Assembly. The organizers weren’t even aware they are listed as a partner on the UUA website until I mentioned it in a conversation unrelated to GA two or three weeks ago. And while the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tucson is the fiscal agent for No More Deaths, No More Deaths is a completely autonomous organization. There has been no consensus of it’s members to endorse this General Assembly. Yet we have these organizations and many others listed as partners and continually reference the partners that have invited us, describing how much they want us to come to Arizona… these same organizations that seem to be telling us now what we should have already known… that creating a justice tourism experience for us would be an overwhelming burden and a drain on what precious few resources they have.

And while no one who was involved in the drafting of the ransom note is thrilled, and some are downright pissed… while I’ll admit I choked back tears while reading it, part of me is relieved by it. Because for months I have felt like we were crawling through the desert towards a mirage called Justice GA, doubting we would find any water, afraid half of us would drink the sand and not know the difference, and the other half would drink the sand, saying… at least it’s something (virtual prize to anyone who gets that pop culture reference).

It seems like we’re finally going to be honest with ourselves.

I truly believe that we need to have this proposed GA. But I think we should have used GA2011 and/or our district assemblies for this work.  I don’t think Arizona during a boycott is the place for it. To have a Justice GA that is primarily a vehicle for us to educate ourselves will be viewed by many as nothing more than breaking the boycott.

I still have more questions than answers; what answers there are, are still vague. Some kind of citizenship fair, school supplies drive, no real feedback about decentralizing the structure of service projects. I’m completely befuddled by the times we’re scheduled to witness. There’s not time immediately prior to either event to travel to another venue, and downtown Phoenix isn’t exactly a hotbed of nightlife or mecca of culture. What there is, is all sprawled out and not much happens in the area immediately surrounding the convention center during those hours, so I’m not sure who we’ll be witnessing to. I can only hope that the schedule is more tentative and subject to change than not.

So to answer a question I’ve been asked by several (funny how it works when you are really vocal about what you think BEFORE something gets planned, people tend to want to know what you think of the result)…

I don’t know. There is part of me that wants to hold the other end of Kat’s banner (which would tickle the Quaker to no end) and a part of me that wants to meet people where they are nudge them along with Carolina and Rob. Part of me is tired of waiting for folks to catch up and part of me can’t help but hope this could be the catalyst for us to become what we should have been all along.

a living faith

September 18, 2011 4 comments

I have felt a gulf widening between myself and the Unitarian Universalist faith over the last year. I had expected activism to change me in profound ways; I just didn’t expect part of what drew me to this faith to eventually push me away. More and more often I ask myself, “What am I doing here? What am I representing? What represents me?”

We are a faith that is very proud of our commitment to social justice. We collect donations for charitable organizations and donate the proceeds of our collection plate once a month. We participate in legislative campaigns. We buy free trade goods in our sanctuaries or from artisans we invite into our space. We attend social action luncheons and serve in soup kitchens. We show up to march in parades in decent numbers, slightly less for vigils and protests, unless there is an opportunity for us to sing or some form of “alter call” from congregational leadership. But I rarely see UU’s  when our partner groups request volunteers or hold fundraisers. We’ll invite people into our space, meet them in neutral spaces, but rarely will we meet them in theirs.

I recognize that there are exceptions… but the fact that these two communities have such a small percentage of overlap is one of my biggest frustrations. I wonder if listing an organization as a partner on our website and showing up at the occasional demonstration or community event in our matching t-shirts is all we’re capable of. Displays of solidarity, participating in visible resistance efforts is a big, and important, part of justice work. But investing enough of ourselves to build the personal relationships necessary for an allied partnership seems to be beyond us more often than not. There is a reluctance to put ourselves in spaces where we would be the minority in the room, and resistant to sacrificing any of our time or investing our emotional energy. We’re all so proud of the justice work being done, but so few of us want to do it.

I’ve spoken with other allied activists & organizers and many have experienced the same frustrations. I was talking with friend and UU seminarian and commented that I was committed to my congregation thru the end of this RE year. After that, I don’t know. Unless there is a substantial shift in culture, I just don’t know. Which was followed by a discussion of whether I thought this culture was unique to my congregation or the entire faith, and how change is slow but we’re making progress. She’s not the first person to give me some version of the “arc of the moral universe” talk. As much as I love the quote, as much comfort as I find in it when applied to the folks across the aisle, hearing it applied to my faith both frustrates and outrages me.

Rage and fury and impotence aren’t really the emotions I was searching and yearning for when I went looking for a religious home. And as much as I love many, many members of my church family, as inspiring as I find my minister in and out of the pulpit, there are just far too many times that I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship. “We’re making progress.” “Change is slow.” “They’re trying… they mean well.” It sounds just like that girl, we all know her (hell, I was her), “He really loves me. He didn’t mean it. He’ll change.”

And maybe if my family looked different, if my closest friends and the vast majority of my support system looked different… if my neighborhood looked different, I might be a little more inclined to be patient. But my daughter told me last night that a classmate said to her, “You’re a black girl. Why don’t you just smack so and so?”… and it’s not the first time that kind of comment has been made. Women I love have reached out after having being hurt by someone’s unintended slur or stereotype, their colorblind ignorance… hands and voices trembling with hurt and anger. They speak of fear that speaking out will be interpreted as or strengthen certain stereotypes… or that they are most angry with themselves for having let down the wall they usually maintain with white people and being hurt because they hadn’t been on guard, hadn’t seen it coming. I have friends who have been harassed by police because of their skin color and/or accents, who get the full force of the law for minor traffic violations while we get passes for more serious infractions.

If this wasn’t my world, maybe I’d be less cynical and more magnanimous. I don’t want to be the only radical in my congregation (and that I’m considered a radical by fellow UU’s still perplexes me). But maybe I’d be willing to stick it out and be part of the catalyst for change my friends talk about. Maybe the stagnant pace of progress wouldn’t feel corrosive to my soul.

But this is my world, so forgive me, but I don’t care about your (our) good intentions anymore. I care about the impact of our individual and collective inability to live our faith and principles in meaningful and intentional allied relationships and how that effects people struggling for human dignity. I care about the people we hurt, directly or indirectly, with our good intentions.

This wasn’t easy to write. and I know that it may hurt or offend fellow UU’s, particularly those I have a personal relationship with.  But someone I love and respect asked me specifically to blog about this, and maybe she was right in that this is something that needs to be said, and heard.

Where are you on the Oppression Action Continuum? It’s not enough to educate yourself about an issue. If you are aware of an oppression and haven’t gotten involved, you are enabling that oppression. We can’t all do everything… but if we all did whatever we could instead of nothing at all, how amazing could we be? There is no small part of a justice movement; we all have our unique gifts, skills, and talents to offer even when our time or financial resources are limited.

I have found more personal fulfillment, been more deeply inspired, experienced more joy, felt more love, and seen more of God in the year I’ve been working with the activist community than I have in any church I’ve attended in all my thirty seven years.

If you haven’t invested of your self, what are you waiting for?

Oppression Action Continuum from Heeding the Call Justice Makers Curriculum

Justice GA, #UU Accountability, and the #uualtoaz hash tag

August 1, 2011 2 comments

I was mentioned in a twitter comment over the weekend by a fellow UU I’ve long admired and respected, I think as part of a twitter chat that included a couple other UU’s that I have a great deal of respect for. But throughout that conversation was a hash tag that made me terribly uncomfortable.

#uualtoaz

I immediately made my reservations known, and my concerns were acknowledged… but as blurbs from that chat are retweeted and posted in other forums, I’m concerned that hash tag may have taken on a life of it’s own, as I saw it associated with twitter posts unrelated to the original chat when I was online this morning.

Folks outside Arizona may not be familiar with the Alto Arizona. Folks not familiar with the campaign may think it simply means Stop AZ in Spanish (which it does). But Alto Arizona is a campaign of PuenteAZ and NDLON, not the Unitarian Universalist Association. Alto Arizona is also a campaign for which the UUA is not listed as a partner organization. Alto Arizona is a campaign that, among other things, calls for a boycott of Arizona.

A boycott that we are violating at the invitation of some Arizona human rights groups and to the irritation of others. Read more…

Friends and Allies

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

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It has occurred to me that if I were to blog more often, I would probably spend so much less time staring at a blank page, wondering where to begin. I’d spend less time on background info and more time making my point. So, I mentioned attending a Language Exchange with members of the Worker Rights Center, and their Wage Theft Campaign. The part I kept saying I would mention later, was that I had offered to nominate the Center for my congregation’s Share the Plate program, as they’ve recently lost some funding. The feedback I got was that financial contributions were certainly welcome, but what they really wanted was opportunities for workers to share their personal stories with various faith groups as part of their Wage Theft Campaign. So I said, I’ll look into what kind of options there are to be a guest speaker for one of our lay led services, and since I figured UUCP’s sermons were probably scheduled pretty far out, I’ll ask if there’s any interest from our sister congregation. One thing led to another, and if things work as I’m hoping, the WRC will be sharing their stories as part of a “Labor Sunday” service at one of our sister congregations here in the Valley.

This isn’t a campaign I ever saw myself involved in, but I was really touched by the time I spent with WRC workers. It seemed like I could make a meaningful contribution, even if it was just knocking on doors until someone said yes. I’ve found myself volunteering to become more involved in the campaign and some other potential projects.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my role as an ally. I’ve had to check myself a few times, ready to run full steam ahead with some fabulous idea (some of y’all know these as “Cyndi’s delusions of grandeur”), because this isn’t my party. I was invited to the party, then I volunteered to be a party planner, but the theme and the vision of the party are not mine. If I don’t keep that in mind, I am no longer an ally. So I stop and turn around, and ask for feedback and direction.

imageI was reading an article I came across at No More Deaths called Becoming An Ally. It’s a really good article overall, but I particularly like the How to section. I’ve crossed the borders of faith, culture, race, and language many times in one one one situations. I’ve crossed them as part of a multifaceted group in a supporting role, but never as an organizer. I’ve tried to keep these things in mind as I navigate my first effort at organizing an interfaith effort with racial, class, cultural, and language barriers.

Maybe it’s because this is so present in my mind right now, that I feel stung by comments from some of my fellow activists and members of my church family about the UniteAZ White Ribbon Campaign. These criticisms don’t seem to recognize the diverse theological and political views of our allied groups or their individual members.

I have friends who have worked tirelessly on the UniteAZ campaign and I have friends who feel it’s the wrong approach. I don’t see them often, but these are people who awe and inspire me with their passion and dedication. People who light up my heart every time I see them with the sheer force of their spirit, people that I can’t help but embrace when I see them. People I have prayed for, cried for, who have graced me with their support in my personal growth as an activist, their presence in my home, their gifts of serving as mentors and role models for my children and probably in many other ways I haven’t even begun to realize.

While the UUA at large and the Arizona congregations in particular have a special relationship with Puente, one in which we need to be accountable, we are also accountable to Somos America, Arizona Dream Act Coalition, National Council of La Raza… all of which have endorsed this campaign.

So when there is division among members of targeted communities, what is our role as allies?

The work that Puente does is critical, and I am a passionate supporter of their efforts. When push comes to shove, you will find me wherever the drums are nine times out of ten. That’s just me… in your face, ready to burn your eyelashes with the candle or slap you with a light bulb if that’s what it takes (but very gently, and with much love though… I promise).

But not everybody is comfortable in that role, and more importantly, there are people who will never be reached that way. I’ve seen people slow down and read the protest signs, seen looks of contemplation cross their faces, and I’ve prayed that they will seek out more information that will lead them, ultimately, to seek justice. But I’ve seen just as many people go out of their way to avoid coming close enough for direct eye contact. Those people might shove a flyer in their pocket, and look at it later…. and may also feel the call to justice.

I may not always agree with certain viewpoints or actions from individuals or groups, but I will always honor their path in this struggle. Who are we to say the effort of one targeted group is better than that of another in their fight for justice?  We are still tripping over our own insecurities and inadequacies. It is not for us, as allies, to choose sides among our friends or tell our allies what kind of party to throw when half the time we can’t even figure out what we’re supposed to bring to the potluck.

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