Road from Phoenix: Building on Justice General Assembly
General Assembly 2013 Event 2020
Speakers: Rev. Peter Morales, B. Loewe, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris
What did we learn about Unitarian Universalist (UU) justicemaking and witness from Justice General Assembly (GA)? How did we “take Justice GA home” to our congregations? UU and migrant justice leaders assess our achievements together in Phoenix and across the country, transformation in our faith, and next steps for building partnerships and Beloved Community.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Well, good morning, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: OK, I want to make sure everyone is awake. Some of us are on different time zones, and the time zone that I am in is still not yet a decent hour, so let's try that again. Good morning, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good morning!
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Good, good, good. Really glad to have you here. This is Program Number 2020, Road from Phoenix, Building on Justice General Assembly. And I am Leslie Takahashi Morris, and I am very, very glad to be with you this morning. I will be moderating this session.
And I also have the enviable position of having a panel of people who need very little introduction. How many people here were at the Justice General Assembly last year? I have a feeling we have a whole—yes, much higher percentage in here than last night. Do you notice that? Yes. So it's good. I'm glad to have you here.
So for all of you who are here, you will definitely not need introduction to these folks, but I'm going to go ahead and give a brief introduction for each of them. Peter Morales is the president of our Unitarian Universalist Association, and we are really grateful to have him here with us this morning.
Peter, I think in the context of our Justice General Assembly, also needs to be lifted up as the person who had the vision that we could do something different, that we could be in partnership in a new way. And that was part of Peter's vision. And so I think it's important to recognize that he was in some ways that first step on the road to Phoenix, as we now look back on the road from Phoenix.
And Susan Frederick-Gray is the minister of our congregation in Phoenix, but was also really our lead organizer for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She had a big and fancy title too, but really, that's what she was. She was our lead organizer. And that's what we were doing, was organizing for action. And she worked more hours than I think either of us would care to think about, Susan, working on our behalf to make sure that we could show up, to show up well, and to show up in strength for our time in Phoenix.
And B. Loewe is the communications director at the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. And I came to think of B. as sort of the soul of our planning team. He managed to always bring to us that larger frame, that big perspective to keep us always focused on our larger goal. And he was in many ways our inspiration. And he's not even a Unitarian Universalist, so go figure.
So it is a great, great panel to have here. And let's just go ahead and welcome them.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: So what we're going to do this morning is we are going to have a conversation. We're going to have the opportunity to hear from these three amazing people on our panel this morning. And we're going to reflect on Justice General Assembly.
Because as all of you who were there know, and many of you who weren't there may have also picked up, the point of going to Phoenix was both to go to Phoenix and also to continue the work that was begun in Phoenix on in our congregations and our local communities beyond that. And so that is really the frame upon which we want to reflect today, and we have some good people to think about that.
I think as we begin that I would invite us to reflect on this Justice General Assembly experience in three ways, three different levels. And we're going to have some questions that get at these different levels for our panelists, but I'd also invite you if you were there to have this sort of dialogue going on for yourself while you're here.
The first level was, what did we accomplish? What did we do? Did it matter that we showed up? Did it matter that we did that witness outside the jail in the night with those candles?
If our goal as Unitarian Universalists in the largest frame is to, as some of my colleagues will tell us from our Universalist tradition, to help create heaven on this Earth in this life, did we create a little patch of that? Did we build some better good, and leave good from our being there? Did our witness in the world and our partnership matter? That's one level of questions we can ask today.
I think there's an important second level as well. And that level is to ask, what did we learn about being, about our beings, about how we are in the world?
What did we learn about ourself? What did we learn about being in accountable partnership with those most affected by the actions we were taking, the issues we were trying to address? What did we learn about being with other religious bodies, with other people of faith who care deeply about these issues? And what did we learn about ourselves as Unitarian Universalists, and the ways we are with each other?
And then finally, what do we know now as a result of this journey that we are continuing to take together? What do we know now? How do we better understand what it means to be on this crazy path of being a human being? And what did we learn about what we can do as people of faith to attack some of the areas where that is still a very rocky path?
So those are the largest frames, I think. And we won't be talking quite that specifically on the panel, but I think that is what this experience invites us all to reflect on. So I'm really glad we have folks here to reflect on it with us.
And what I'd like to do is to ask our panelists to each address this first question. Some of you may choose to opt out of the other ones. But the first question I want to ask you to think about is, what did you see as most promising that has come out of our journey to Phoenix, and our journey from Phoenix thus far? What do you see as the most promising part of what happened at Justice General Assembly, and what's happened since last year?
And there's one mic, which we're going to very congenially pass to one another.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: Thank you, Leslie. I think there are two things that were most promising that I saw coming out of Justice. Well, not coming out, but just through that whole process.
And then number one was the partnerships that were created, the depth of partnerships that were beginning even before Justice GA, but that we've built, and that don't just exist now in Phoenix, Arizona, but that exist on a national level, and that exist in communities across the country. And so that model of partnership I think is the number one most promising thing that came out of General Assembly.
And a caveat to that for myself as a Unitarian Universalist and a Unitarian Universalist minister, an understanding about doing something in a moment of great need that was not about ourselves. I think that that was one of the things that made Justice General Assembly so powerful, and has certainly made the work that I do in Phoenix so powerful, is that it's not about Unitarian Universalism.
It is about living out our deepest commitments as spiritual people, which we understand in a Unitarian Universalist context, but really what we were doing was not about us. It was about justice and human rights, and responding to a crisis in a faithful way.
PETER MORALES: I agree with all of that. For me, I think another piece of it is that we Unitarian Universalists are very wordy people, and really good at abstractions, and kind of policy wonkish. And that's a good thing. I don't demean that. But we got an experience, a level of experience with Phoenix.
And it's not like we don't do advocacy and public witness. But to do it with that kind of planning, and intentionality, depth, I think has changed for me, and I've heard from others, a sense of what is possible in a real kind of tactile experiential setup. We know we can do it because we did it. And I think that has tremendous potential going forward.
I kept repeating at Phoenix that the real evaluation would be what our congregations are doing all over the country five years afterward. And not only on this issue, but as I said before, marriage equality. I mean, our people are getting a sense of empowerment now in a lot of communities. And the experience of working in partnership with people across a cultural border is a very powerful experience too that people are taking away.
I'll stop with that and let B. go. Is that what we're doing?
B. LOEWE: I think so.
PETER MORALES: OK.
B. LOEWE: Wonderful.
PETER MORALES: He gets one mic, and we get to share one.
B. LOEWE: Distribution of resources, you know?
If July 29 of 2010 was our hot date, then Justice General Assembly was when we decided to go steady and form a real partnership, yeah. And so I think if we had time to go around the room, the measure, like Peter says, is, what did we accomplish would be determined by being able for all of you to say, what have you done since then?
We said that if you were coming to Arizona to help Arizona, that's great. We'll take that for the three days. But really come here to be transformed so that when you go back to your communities, you can transform them as well, because Arizona exists in all of your backyards.
And I think that that message went out loud and clear. In the three days that we were there, we brought an entirely different dynamic to Tent City, a place of misery, a place of attrition, a place of suffering, and for us often a place of anger and consternation.
And there was a scene that I remember as the truck was getting turned around and all the logistics were being worked out where you all were singing. And it was something like, I breathe in peace. I breathe out love. Or you were breathing in something, and breathing out something else.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: When I breathe in, I breathe in peace.
B. LOEWE: And our folks showed up going, arrest Arpaio, not the people! Arrest Ar—not the—I breathe in people, arrest Ar—you know. And the entire dynamic just changed. And the Minutemen were there with guns, with arms, which is something that in Arizona people are very used to. But someone else walked by and said, do you always bring rifles to a church gathering?
B. LOEWE: And so again, the dynamic just changed. You showed Phoenix that Arizona was not alone, that the eyes of the world that had been ready to move on was back on the spotlight. You infused very concretely. You infused much-needed resources to two of the leading partner organizations that are there, both financially and with your spirits and with your energy while you were on the ground.
And I think that as we move forward, I'm hearing stories of transformation. Talking to Suzanne in Florida about going home to Fort Myers and connecting with the Immokalee Workers. And I'll talk more, I'm sure, about the UndocuBus Ride, the No Papers, No Fear Ride for Justice.
But this morning, hearing that extending of the neighborly hand, that offering of floor to sleep on, that offering to do the backbone infrastructure to make sure that communities in struggle have the support they need, to hear that the Immokalee Workers have that from you in Florida, to know that that's something that we've leaned on, and to guess that that's something that you all are doing all across the country. I think that that was something in process before Justice GA, but something that probably consolidated and found a spark last year in Phoenix.
PETER MORALES: Leslie?
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Yeah, go ahead, Peter.
PETER MORALES: The recent story of marriage equality states and jurisdictions is a fascinating example. Because one of the things it teaches me is, you never know—
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: I think you may need to be a little closer to the mic.
PETER MORALES: OK. That we never know when the cumulative effect of all these things is going to hit that tipping point. And so seeds that are out there—for example, I was interviewed in a British newspaper. There was national AP coverage. The cumulative effect of people seeing the message that people of faith are united, and seeing the images of sort of more privileged people uniting with undocumented people, that has a long-term—sends ripples out through the culture.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: And I want to pick up on that just a little bit too to say I think one of the other pieces that was really important was it was an interfaith effort. And that is, it allowed us to move forward. And one of the things, Peter, that you stressed a great deal last year as well was this was an important seed in the world of interfaith relations. Which is something that Unitarian Universalists often shy away from a little bit, to be really active in those circles.
PETER MORALES: And so I'm going directly from this General Assembly to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. It's meeting in Long Beach, and they're having a border thing for a couple of days. Maria Hinojosa is speaking. And I'm doing a keynote for their interfaith gathering there that's going to have 400, 500 people. So again, it helped form this now ongoing partnership with the United Church of Christ.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Well, and in that spirit, let's take this question a little bit deeper in terms of, what did we learn specifically about justice-making and witness, do you think, from your vantage points?
And B., maybe your vantage point is, what capacities perhaps did you see us as Unitarian Universalists developing as you were kind of with us on this whole journey? And I think it's important to have that. That's one of the values of having partners, is they can see you better in some ways than you can see yourself. And so we would welcome your observations on that.
But Susan, maybe you would start off, because I think you were really deeply immersed in that. And it may be less a narrative than just a story, but something that we've learned about justice-making.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: I am still learning a lot about justice-making. And I think it is difficult. It's interesting to look at history, and look at the history of previous human rights movements, or civil rights movements, and wonder about how the organizers knew what to do to be so effective.
Because one of the things that I've learned is, A, there's disagreement about strategy, and B, there isn't clarity always about what action is going to make the most difference. And there is a lot of faith that goes into the process of justice-making.
And sometimes for me and in the partner work, saying, I'm not sure this is the right thing, but I'm showing up, because I've been asked to show up. And sometimes it's incredibly more effective than I might have thought, or it's hard to judge. But that in the work, it's long, it's arduous, and one of the biggest challenges is keeping the momentum up, but you just keep working at it, and you don't always know.
So you can read those history books and think, wow, that was brilliant. And when you're in the midst of it, you're taking risks. Be willing to risk failure, because we were really anxious about just totally falling flat with Justice GA. But being able to say, we're going to try, and we're going to do our best, and we're willing to fail at it because we're feeling called to this.
So I think that that's part of my learning, is that you don't always know, but you do your best. You try to witness faithfully, come in a spirit of love and coalition and a sense of humility. Again, as Peter said, wonkish.
Personally, as a minister, it's often about trying to know what the right answer is, and knowing what the right thing to do is. And justice work is just responding to changing dynamics at all moments, and coming with a sense of humility and a willingness to do your best. And to fail, but fail in a way that's moving things forward towards humanity, moving us forward towards our own humanity as well as our society.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Lindi Ramsden from the UU Legislative Ministry of California is fond of talking about failing forward. And this could have been an example of where we were willing to take the risk of doing that thing. Marriage equality is a place where we talk about that a lot. Peter, do you have a thought on that?
PETER MORALES: I would like to add to that that not only do we not know, but we can't know. There are too many variables. And you can't know, so you have to integrate stuff and play your hunches and believe in the long term, the results will come.
And not only that, even afterwards, it's impossible to know which things were really responsible for the successes. Sometimes there's a kind of magic that happens, and it comes together. And I would love analytically to know, OK, this is—but the truth is that you kind of surrender to the process and make yourself a part of this larger thing. And eventually believe that this movement, like others before it, will eventually succeed.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Great, thank you. B., OK, here's the outside perspective.
B. LOEWE: Well, I think—for me, I offer this humbly, because it's a path that I walk as well. I mean, I look much more like the people in this room than the people that appointed me. So this is a path that I've been walking and figuring out alongside you all.
And so for me, I think, there is a Marge Piercy poem called "To Be of Use." And that's my guiding principle of, you find people who you respect who are in motion, in struggle, and you say, how can I be of use? In whichever way is needed, whether it's stuffing bags at a citizenship fair, whether it's getting arrested at the jail, you say, how can I be of use? Which means surrendering a little bit of our own vision, our own sense of what needs to be done to the community that you're in service or in alignment with.
And I think you said that working on the GA was about doing something that was not for yourself. But I think that when we do the work that's not about ourselves, we find ourselves in it. And I would think that if we reflected today that the experience of Arizona wasn't just one of doing something for someone else and going home to our lives, but that it that was something that we found a deeper sense of soul, a deeper sense of person in it.
And so I think the other part about where we stumble is, I was in some of the planning meetings. And the professorial nature that some of you all have—
B. LOEWE: —where you come to a point of resolution, and then someone says, let me complicate that a little. And it's just not necessary. And it's actually something that we do that keeps us from acting and keeps us from working in the world because we want to know how to act correctly. But actually we just need to act, and the action is what teaches us and informs us in the future.
And if you do that as you establish relationships with people, the people you decided to support wasn't just an analytical, strategic. It was, these are the people who you've been walking with, who we've been walking with, and who extended the invitation that you use to walk together. So you're willing to act. You're willing to learn. You're willing to mess up. But you're there to be of use, and you're there to do that in a way that's building a relationship with people who you feel are on the front lines.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Great. And the interesting thing about all of your answers is that none of them really are about technique of organizing. Even though we learned a lot about technique of organizing and getting ready and implementing this General Assembly, for those of you who were there, I think one thing we were really astounded with in light of these comments about some of our tendencies was the fact that thousands of Unitarian Universalists in an orderly fashion and somewhat meek fashion got on and off buses as directed.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: And you can say that's a small thing, but it really wasn't. It showed just what Susan was saying, that there was this feeling we were part of something that was bigger than us and not about us, but it was really important to do what we were supposed to do. And so people did it, and I think that's a very important lesson.
And I'm looking at Sandy. And I think Sandy really needs to stand and be recognized.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Because she was really—not only her logistical brains, but also logistical brawn on pretty much the entire GAs.
I want to also recognize Susan Leslie from the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff. And she's put together a few images for us. We had planned to have these at the beginning, but the images are on California time with me, and they weren't ready. But now they are slightly waking up, and we're going to go through the images just for a moment, just to have a moment to bring us back to that place.
SPEAKER 1: Can we dim the lights?
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: I don't know. You know, at convention centers you have to have special magical powers to have things like that. But we'll see. There we go. We have people with special magical powers. Yay!
So we'll see these images. And as we do, I just want us to recall—and I recognize there are people in the room that were not at this event, or may never have heard about it until this morning, or coming to this General Assembly. So what I want us to remember is what it was like to have thousands of us show up, as B. said, along with our allies from Puente and Somos and NDLON and so many other organizations in the community.
I think what was also really significant, in addition to the powerful witness, was the fact that we focused on justice-making as a major focus of that entire General Assembly. And not only did we focus on justice-making, as people who have a tendency to like to have lots of different interests, we also focused our programming largely on immigration, a single issue, which was something that people said we could not do. And I think that allowed us to go deeper, and that's something that maybe we need to remember as learning from this.
And finally, I think one of the things that's so important as I look at these pictures that I'm reminded of is that we showed we were there. We showed up, but we showed up knowing that our leadership was to be a very particular kind, to follow those who were most affected by the policies. In a way, we allowed ourselves to lead by being led.
Thank you. Let's just take a moment and be present with all that it took to be there, and all that it took to get there.
So we were able to get the lights off. We may not be able to get the lights back on right away, but that's OK. We will make our own light. We're not afraid of the dark, no. OK, so I will shift to a very hearty practical question here. And there was light.
And that question has to do with—the issue, as I said, there was a focus on a single issue. So what I want us to focus a little bit about was, how do we take Justice General Assembly home? And that could be two different ways. It might be what happened, and what was learned, and what's been happening in our community since, which I hope we'll have a chance to hear from near the end of this.
But also, how has engagement with immigration issues continued in the context in which we work? And I think it would be a good time to have just a little update too on some of the things that have happened. So B., I don't know if you would be willing to start with that, and then we can go from there.
B. LOEWE: So I think most obviously, shortly after Justice General Assembly there was a bus that left Phoenix, Arizona, for a six-week tour that went through 17 cities, I think, and landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the gates of the Democratic National Convention, saying that we want this president to be on the right side of history. We don't want him to be remembered as the deporter in chief who has removed more people than anyone else from this country. We want him to be the person who's a champion of inclusion and the rights of all people, especially migrants.
And essentially every single city that we went to, it was your floors that we slept on. It was your cooking that we ate. And often it was your yellow shirts that we witnessed side by side. And if you all keep renovating the way you are, we're not going to leave once you let us stay on the floors of the places where you are. So be careful how nice you make it. Otherwise, we might not go home.
And so knowing that out of this partnership there's a "my home is your home," "my place of witness is your place to sleep," is a very beautiful sense. And knowing that we're moving these things together, that there were strategic partnerships—when we visited Fred Hammond in Alabama, it wasn't just us getting support. It was us supporting what UUs and others are doing on the ground. And so it's a mutual relationship that we've seen formed.
I think that every single day Puente Arizona is putting up a new petition for a new person who's in deportation proceedings—every single day. You can find those at notonemoredeportation.com. And it's the mundane work as well as the sexy work of signing every single petition, calling John Morton another time, the now former director of ICE—we're happy about that. And doing that work.
And I think as this moves into the Congressional world to do the update piece of this, things get very strange when they enter the Beltway. They get divorced from the people that they're about. It becomes an issue. It becomes Democrat versus Republican. It becomes Left versus Right. But what the No Papers, No Fear ride did, and what we accompanied each other doing, was that the immigration debate is purely a debate between fear and courage.
And so as we orient ourselves towards immigration reform, I see that you have a set of principles in here that it looks like you all are approving. We have to remember the people at the center of that, and ensure that what's happening is led, supported, endorsed, and beneficial to those people.
If you look at the 2014 budget that got passed for Department of Homeland Security—which is, if you follow the money you see what's really going to happen—they passed a budget that the White House asked for this much money for the 287(g) program, the program that trained Sheriff Arpaio. And the House said, actually we're going to give you $44 million more than that.
The White House said, we want this much more money for the Secure Communities program, the program that's turned all of our neighborhoods into Arizona. And the House said, actually we're giving you $10 million more for that. The White House said, we want $8 million to do civil rights oversight. And they said, actually we're cutting that by half.
And so what we can expect in 2014, the year that they say is going to be after immigration reform, is a federally mandated minimum of 34,000 detention center beds filled every night, and a continuing quota coming from the White House of 400,000 deportations every single year. That's after the immigration reform that is expected to pass.
And so what does that mean for us as people of justice? How do we orient towards that legislation? And then how do we orient towards supporting the communities that, if you look at the line items, are going to continue to be targeted and continue to be placed in removal proceedings?
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Can you tell us [INAUDIBLE]?
B. LOEWE: Oh yeah, good news.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Yes.
B. LOEWE: So the ACLU sued Sheriff Arpaio years and years and years ago for racial profiling. And it's a civil suit, so the teeth are very without their dentures right now. But if you look at the door that people got arrested in front of, that you all got arrested in front of, if you look at the pictures from 2010, what you see is two hands in pink handcuffs that say, help Sheriff Arpaio fight illegal immigration. That's been painted over, and all you see is a badge.
Because what the courts have said is what we all have known and what brought you all to Phoenix, Arizona, that Arpaio has professionally been doing racial profiling. What he says is that it's the federal government who taught him how to do it, which I think again brings us back to a lesson for all of our own neighborhoods.
But the impact on the ground right now, I think, despite the fact that the recall didn't get enough signatures to put him back on a ballot, you see him having to take down the signs of hate that we've literally rallied in front of. He's trying to position himself now to say that instead of being a champion on a crusade against illegal immigration, he's championing age discrimination against elderly people. So for those words, silver-haired or consider yourselves elderly in the room, you may have a new ally if you want him. But still, I think that would be a strange bedfellow.
SPEAKER 2: I'm dyeing my hair.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you. Peter, do you want to update something? Or Susan?
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: Well, I would just add to what B. said, that it has been publicly announced. And obviously, just to what you said about the federal budget, and we certainly are concerned in Arizona about the realities of the suffering and the terrorizing of communities, and people that will continue even after immigration reform passes.
So I want to name that, because just as when 1070, most of it was struck down but the worst part, it was very easy to feel like, oh yeah, that issue is dead. It's gone, we've done that. And to show up again was so important. Even with comprehensive immigration reform or whatever it looks like, if it gets passed, there will still be efforts to mass-deport people, is what every indicator is.
But I did want to lift up that in the Phoenix papers, it was said that the official words from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department were that they were not going to do any more workplace raids, no more neighborhood sweeps, that they were not allowed to do those, that they were not going to be focused on immigration enforcement. So it isn't just painting the door, but at least they're—
And again, it's a political context. But to say that they will not do the workplace raids and the neighborhood sweeps is huge. And that, again, was what we were trying to stop when we chained ourselves to that jail, was to stop a neighborhood sweep, to stop the crime sweeps that he was doing that were targeting Latino communities.
So I want to lift that up, and—
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: And do you want to talk just a little bit, Susan, too about what your congregation has continued to stay involved? I think those congregational examples are important as well.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: So immediately following, or fairly quickly after Justice General Assembly, the work in Arizona was voter registration, mass voter registration work in the lead-up to the presidential election. Which we didn't participate in directly as a congregation, but members of our congregation worked with Mi Familia Vota and Promise Arizona.
And then actually we had some voter irregularity in Arizona. We had people who were registered who didn't end up getting their mail-in ballots. A lot of confusion about folks not being on the rolls who were registered. And so there was a fight, actually, about counting provisional ballots, and actually counting the ballots that were cast. So we were involved in that.
And then with the deferred action work, we have worked with organizations to train people to be a part of helping DREAM Act-eligible students apply for deferred action, and we hosted a deferred action event at our congregation.
And we do a lot of this, but now the work has really shifted both to the—absolutely as we said, the immediate, it is every day, the phone call about a new person who is in deportation proceedings, doing that with Puente, as well as the comprehensive immigration reform work. And both of our Arizona senators are part of the gang that's been working on that. So both visiting them, talking to them, supporting them, and pushing on them both at the same time.
So that's where the work has been primarily most recently, is around pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, regular calls to the Congress, as well as still fighting the deportations daily.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Peter, do you want to continue to share?
PETER MORALES: So a couple of things here. One is that one of the things that I think we did pretty well, and it was a real learning, is to do the things at the local level that belong at the local level, and the things at the national level to support that. And so at the national level kind of [? at the law and duty way, ?] local level, you guys.
So I was just a couple weeks ago with—I want to shout out to Jennifer Toth here, who's our new Standing On the Side of Love person, who arranged meetings with senators and congressmen on immigration reform.
And so one of the challenges for us as a religious movement is to balance the kind of public policy work with the hearts and minds, the religious work, because in fact that's the unique place that we have. They have a lot of purely public policy groups, but public policy is related to and often follows a change in attitudes. Again, marriage equality is a wonderful example of that.
And so some of the softening around immigration and the possibilities for some level of immigration reform is the fact that people are not comfortable morally with what they're seeing happening in their name, by their government. Lifting up the reality of these families being ripped apart, or the DREAM kids.
So I really think it's important for us not to lose that religious and moral and aspirational heart, because that's really where we can enter. Even talking with elected officials, we get a kind of hearing, and can address issues that aren't about interests in a narrow way.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Right. And so I want to just do a little poll here. And how many people as congregation have continued to work on issues around, or begin work at the congregational level around immigration in the last year? Great, that's wonderful. That's wonderful.
And I also want to mention, how many of your congregations are in a state or active in a state advocacy network, a UU state advocacy network? Because I think that's another important part of this.
And so I want to mention that as we've gone through this, our congregation has been engaged in a number of different ways, many of which Susan already mentioned. But the two others I would mention are that we had not done as extensive work as the Phoenix congregation had done when we went to General Assembly last year.
So one of the things we did is we came back and we started making appointments with the sheriff in our county, and saying, we want to ask you to be non-compliant with ICE. And then the sheriff said to us, well, I'm actually OK with that, but I would need all the local police chiefs to be OK with that. So then we started visiting all the local police chiefs.
And we were able to actually get a change in policy at the county level through a series of very small steps that finally led to a policy change. That means that there will be a very low-level of ICE cooperation only in case of the most serious crimes. So that was what we did.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: And the other piece that's important is that we continued to work with the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, which is at the state level promoting something called the TRUST Act. And that's a very important piece of legislation, because it will be a model piece of state-level immigration legislation if it is passed this year. It actually made it through both the House and the Senate last year and was vetoed by the governor, so we're trying to get it through that this year. And so that would be an important thing for all of you to watch as well.
So let's shift to the question of, what does this all mean? What does this all mean? And I'd like to leave a little bit of time at the end just to hear if there are people who would like to just do some quick popcorn about what's been happening in their congregations, because it's how we share ideas with each other. And we may need to do it from the front, because we're filming. So just be ready if you're wanting to share something quickly.
But I want to ask Susan and Peter and B. whether you believe that there will be a lasting effect on our faith community from going to this General Assembly last year. Or how in particular this particular work has strengthened us as people of faith. And so I invite any of you. Peter may want to start on this one.
PETER MORALES: Or not.
I want to go back to the theme of the experience, because that's what really changes people, I believe. And that's one of the things that you can't take away from those of you who were there. And it's related to why we've worked so hard to support things like the College of Social Justice and the experiential learning and the learning-serving thing.
I had an experience in my congregation with the Service Committee—it was seven or eight years ago—having a delegation go to a UUSC partner in Guatemala. I want to remind people, 200,000 mines were slaughtered, mostly during the early '80s. And lately Rios Montt was convicted in court in that role.
But it struck me how after that, the people who came back wanted to do something. And since then, the church started a scholarship program with a partner down there, and like $100,000 has been raised, 53 kids. And it's because the people who saw it became human rights activists [INAUDIBLE]. It's worth a thousand workshops on human rights.
And so these partnerships with NDLON and Puente locally I think have a long-lasting and powerful effect on people. Because it's one thing to be for justice, but it's something stronger to know Maria or Jose, and what happened to them. So that's where I think it's not only had the impact from Phoenix, but is a lesson for us going forward, is that we've got to give our people the opportunity to experience not only the oppression but the work of working for justice, because it's addicting in the best kind of way.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: I think this is the hardest question, because we can't see the future. And I agree with what Peter said in terms of that personal experience and connection and relationship directly to people who are suffering and to the realities of people's vulnerabilities, and the way our society and government is exploiting those.
But it pulls you in and connects you in a way that has changed me, and changed my ministry, and deepened my faith. So hopefully that happened for everyone at GA, and is happening in local communities and spreading out that experience.
You know what? Something you said, Leslie, about leading by leading by being led, I read somewhere that the best leaders are good followers. And maybe there is an aspect of growing ability to follow our very good leaders, and a kind of a willingness to be led, and through that become better leaders, be better faithful leaders, leaders of faith.
So that may be something else that unfolds in our movement over time, but it's hard to see that. So that's a very hard question about how it's changed us, because we're in the midst of it.
B. LOEWE: I mean, several weeks ago Peter put his name on a letter to the president, asking him to suspend deportations as Congress moves forward on immigration reform, along with several other faith leaders. And I don't know if that was a random email request that came in from someone you didn't know, if it would have been received and been ready to be signed so quickly. Maybe it is because of the stance that you have, but I believe it was probably partly because of the relationship we have, and who the request came from, and the practice on the ground.
And so I think that what we see is these relationships strengthening. And as relationships strengthen, practice strengthens. And as practice strengthens, reflection strengthens. Which means that the road to justice, if several years ago we were bushwhacking, and now we're on a dirt path, soon—I don't know if like this anti-environmental metaphor. But you can see the road is getting more sustainable, ecological, and easier to traverse at the same time.
And I think that also helping Arizona or showing up in Arizona, again this theme of it's not for other people, it's for ourselves. Because when you stand up for justice, you're locating yourself in the world. That's what's happening.
I grew up in the segregated suburbs of Washington, DC, and so my exposure to race and the experience of people who weren't around me was through the Washington Post and through the evening news, and that gives you a very skewed perspective of what's happening in the world. And so when you have that proximity, when you know people face to face, when you have that experience you're answering a dilemma of—
People say, why do you what you do? And I say, well, I want to be able to say that when my grandchildren ask me when the Iraq War started, what were you doing to stop it? When they were marching hundreds of thousands of the detention centers, what were you doing to stop it? This isn't about showing up for someone else. It's about answering the dilemma that's for each one of us on our doorstep, on our plate, and in our soul.
And when we do that, when we get that exposure, if you watch The Matrix, when you take either the blue pill or the red pill, when you wake up to that, when you see that the world is divided into the history of the hunter and the lion, you have to make the decision, and you have that dilemma and that responsibility to live your life on the side of the people who have yet to have been able to write their own history because it's been erased by the hunter.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Right, thank you. Thank you.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: See why he gets his own microphone? That's great.
I think the other way to answer that question has to do with what we learned about how we are together. And I think that's a very important piece. Because sometimes I think that one of the only reasons that we have a religious community is it teaches us how better to live as the people we want to be, and it provides that laboratory, if you will, to try on those things that we want to be able to do and be in the world, but to do them in our own communities.
And I think one of the things we'd worked very hard at last year was to be more intentional about how we work with each other and how we listen to each other. How we listened in this case to the people within our movement who would be most affected by what we were doing together in Phoenix.
And so I think there's also a level of question that we need to ask ourselves about how we begin to do that, and I think that's another important part. Peter has an interesting perspective.
PETER MORALES: What I've seen happen again and again is that there's an amazing amount of relational capacity-building going on. Because once you learn to trust somebody and have worked with them on something, then like now, next time they ask you to do something, it's automatic. And so the capacity to act together is 5 or 10 times what it was before you had a relationship. And over time that has an enormous impact. So the relationships that we build and the partnerships that we build are going to pay dividends for years and years.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you. So if you're sitting out there, and you've been thinking, wow, I wish I had been there, remember, as every one of these folks has said, these opportunities exist in your community right now. And those opportunities for action are there, and it's just a question of going out and learning about them and finding the partners who are already working on them, which is the critical piece.
And if you're feeling that you were there, but your congregation really didn't do much with the fact that you and others were there, it's not too late. These issues continue to be right there in your backyard, and you can go out and work on them. And if you're wondering if there's a connection between your beliefs and your ability to work for justice, then that's a really good conversation that you can have with yourself or with someone that you trust.
And so I think this is an important time for us to refocus, and I want us to take some time. I want to offer the panelists at the end a chance to say anything else you want to say.
But I want to take just a few moments to see if there are just a couple examples of people who would come forward. I'm going to get to do my little Oprah thing here. Yeah, you didn't like that leaping on and off the stage. Because I'm not sure if you've got to get—and I'm going to just ask people to share briefly just little snippets. So we'll get a little bit of snapshots of things that have been happening in congregations.
NANCY PALMER JONES: I do have a testimonial as well as a question, actually.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Well, we're going to get to questions in a minute, but go ahead and talk about what you're doing.
NANCY PALMER JONES: OK. So I am Nancy Palmer Jones. I'm the senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of San Jose. We're a very active part of our PICO affiliate. That's one of the faith-based community organizing groups. And we've been working with a whole collection of congregations on immigration reform for several years. But I believe that Justice GA motivated our entire congregation to feel like it's our issue.
So I want to lift up just one event that we participated in. We took a couple of buses from San Jose—again interfaith, but the UUs were well-represented—from San Jose to Modesto, which is in the Central Valley, going to have a public witness event with Representative Jeff Denham, who's one of the conservative representatives in Congress.
And there was a specific moment when you could see his attitude shift, and the tears come into his eyes in response to the testimonies that he was hearing. And he was speaking with a veteran who was undocumented, and Denham himself is a veteran. It suddenly landed. And he's just cast a vote recently against one of the amendments that would be particularly harmful to immigration reform, including everyone. So I feel good about that.
CHARLOTTE DROOGAN: Hi, my name is Charlotte Droogan. I am from the U church in Joliet, Illinois. I'm also the lay community minister. I was already involved in worker justice issues when the Corrections Corporations of America came to Joliet and said they wanted to build a for-profit immigrant prison.
And our church, a very large contingent of our church, rallied around with an interfaith group to defeat this, including registering hundreds of people to vote and electing a candidate for the Joliet city council who said he would vote against it, marching in the street, and all the other kinds of stuff that it takes. We were told two weeks ago that Corrections Corporation of America had withdrawn its interest in Joliet, Illinois.
JANET CAUSEY: My name is Janet Causey, and I'm a member of the congregation in Gwinnett County, Georgia. And I was not at Justice GA last year, but one of the members of our congregation was. JoAnn Weiss, who is the head of our social justice council, was there, and brought back to our conversation the importance of this work. And we had workshops on immigration, and many folks from the Gwinnett County came.
And she lit the fire under us. And we are on fire for justice. And have been to Stuart Detention Center, where CCA is. And I'm on fire. And I'm bilingual, and I really want to use this for justice. Thank you.
NELY RODRIGUEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH].
SPEAKER 3: (TRANSLATING) Hi, my name is Nely Rodriguez, and I'm a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. And I just wanted to give a brief testimony to the way in which the Unitarian Universalist Church has been at our side. As the companero B. was saying previously, they always have been, but especially since a year ago we've really seen that. And I am speaking on behalf of the community, on behalf of farm workers. We have always felt that presence, the desire to be right by our side. And your ability to stand with us as we fight for our rights as human beings has been so important to us.
NELY RODRIGUEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH].
SPEAKER 3: (TRANSLATING) And most recently we went on a 200-mile march. And similarly, every night we were sleeping on UU floors, and in UU showers, and eating UU food. And it was extraordinary. So for that, we thank you.
LARRY KELLAND: I'm Larry Kelland, the congregation of South County, Rhode Island. And we developed a course on the doctrine of discovery, because very few people realize that this existed. And we also gave a sermon on the doctrine of discovery. And I would also like to just comment that yes, the Justice GA took place in last June, but actually it's still on. The whole thing is still on.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: So it is not surprising to us that our president of our association has sometimes conflicts on his schedule, and Peter does have to go to something else. So I want to take just a moment to allow him to make any closing comments he would like to do, and then we'll take a couple more stories, and I think a question.
PETER MORALES: And I'll be brief, because I have very little voice left. First, just to go from here, I hope, inspired as I am, because what you do really matters. What all of us do really matters. And you can never know when its going to be the difference.
TIM TEMERSON: Hi, I'm Tim Temerson. I'm the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, Ohio.
And I just want to affirm what Susan and Peter and B. have said about the power of partnership and relationship. My congregation, very much inspired by Justice GAs, formed a partnership with a local immigrant rights organization in northeast Ohio that does legal work and educational work. And it has opened up a whole world of justice work for us that we could have never imagined on our own. And it's all about listening and relationship.
Just a couple of quick examples. My congregation—for one, this organization told us that, well, immigrants need rides to court. So we have a team of volunteers that give folks rides. Immigrants need to learn English and GED and citizenship, so we now offer classes that church volunteers have been trained to teach in our congregation.
Probably one of the most extraordinary things we do is this organization provides legal work on deportation proceedings with almost no budget at all, and very little. So volunteers from my church actually do Google research online, finding supporting articles about in-country conditions so that folks don't have to go back. And those are actually presented in court.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Wow. Thank you.
SPEAKER 4: So I'm going to do short about what our congregation does.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Yeah, would you do that?
SPEAKER 4: Can I ask a question then?
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: I don't know, we may not have time. So go ahead and ask your question. Yeah, one question, and this may be our—
SPEAKER 4: Well, no, but I just want to say also, [SPEAKING SPANISH] OK, so I'm just showing off.
SPEAKER 4: But we can speak Spanish in our congregations. And in my congregation, we're very fortunate to be in Austin, which is, as I said, the capital. We march all the time on the State Capitol with signs and placards. And we contact our representatives in the state legislature, and then tell them where we stand on the equality of all people, and that we want people to come to our state to increase our cultural diversity and enrich our country. We do that every day.
And every day we have a new announcement from our social justice committee on the internet that says, look, come and march tomorrow. And we have a representative, Donna Howard, who was for a while the only female liberal Democrat in the state legislature. She was—
Now, here's my question. Oh, this is a simple enough question. Look, you guys are wonderful, and you're very intellectual and very professorial. But a little self-satisfied. We're congratulating ourselves on all we did in Phoenix. So what's next?
Are there people in your congregation who speak Spanish who our gardeners, who are poor people, who your people are willing to sit down next to and pray together. Or do you just say, look, you're our maid, you're our gardeners, we're going to come and give you some money. And we want you to go to school someday, but we're not asking you to come and sit in our church next to us.
And you should be a Unitarian, in my opinion, Mr. B. Loewe. Then you will be Mr. Above.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you, thank you. And we will take your question as a question that we all hold in our hearts, in our ever-expanding desire to be more inclusive and to spread our faith and our saving message to many, many people. But there are many barriers in between that. That would be a whole 'nother two-hour conversation that we will continue, though. Many of us have been working on it for many, many, many years.
I want to give the panelists a chance to close, but very quickly do you want to just say a sentence or two about each of you are doing?
KIRSTEN HOMBLETTE: Sure. And a lot of what we're doing has been said, but I just wanted to say that one model we're working with in Denver—Kirsten Homblette. I serve as a community minister in Denver—is that there are seven churches in the metro Denver area, and we are all working together as a cluster on immigration. And they've all hired me as a community minister to be in relationship and help them be in relationship with our partners in the community.
So your congregation may not be able to afford to have your own community justice minister, but together we can have more resources and more connection into the community. So think about working together and how you can really enlarge your impact.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: That's a great idea. Great idea.
SALLIE DUNNER: I'm Sallie Dunner. I'm from the UU church at Washington Crossing in Titusville, New Jersey. We serve two states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We have always been very active in social justice issues locally, and also members of the Legislative Ministry of New Jersey and PA.
But as a result of last year and General Assembly in Phoenix, we've been much more proactive, particularly in the area of the doctrine of discovery. Because our church is actually on land that was originally the Lenape Indian land. And we have done education for the church this year, had a couple of sermons on the subject, and are going to do a year-long church project, educational, bringing people in from outside this coming year so that we can officially repudiate the doctrine of discovery.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you. Thank you. Susan and B., whichever of you would like to go first.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: So I want to thank everyone for being here. I want to think those who were at Justice General Assembly. And I just want to say thank you, because personally hearing all these stories is so uplifting. And there has been recent really good news in Arizona, but this whole year following Justice GA, it's just an onslaught. It's just a daily struggle.
And so to hear what's happening all across the country and things that were started at Justice GA really helps lift me up. And we need ways to be able to lift each other up, because the work is long, and it's hard, and it's ongoing. It started well before Justice GA, and it's going to continue long after.
And I am excited and hopeful for the ways that this work and our choice to try to make a difference in Phoenix, to take a risk, to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves, I'm very excited to see how that changes us and deepens us and strengthens us with courage and in so many ways as we go forward. Thank you.
B. LOEWE: I think that those who want justice are never satisfied, because the horizon always takes a couple steps further once you get there. And on that really long walk, in order to maintain our own nourishment we have to recognize what we have accomplished, and we have to recognize what we have done, and hold those two things in tension together.
So there's always more to do. And when we pull something off that's pretty cool, let's pat ourselves on the back a little bit and say, hey, we can learn from that. Let's do that again.
And I think that's the enduring lesson, that in partnership—and I'm not married or partnered, but I know that there are highs and lows to all of those relationships. And when in intense moments, you can feel both of those at the same time. So I'm sure if we were to evaluate Justice GA, there's both highs and lows.
But the enduring thing is that you end up loving the person who you continue to walk with, and I think that this is a relationship of love between NDLON and the UUA. And I think especially shouting out the arm that manifests much of this for you all, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, Susan and Jennifer and Dan when he was here, it's really been amazing, amazing work.
B. LOEWE: And so in terms of where we need to go from here, very quickly, on May 1, a national rolling fast started with Unitarians and with members of our organizations in Mountain View, California, fasting against deportations and for inclusive reform. That fast has been going on every single day since May 1. Its next stop next week is in Boston in UU headquarters, so we invite the participation there. You can find that information at notonemoredeportation.com, the same place that you can find the petitions to sign.
And so the Right is pulling immigration reform in the direction that they want it to go in. If we want to advocate for that bill, which we need to do, we need to pull it in the other direction. Which means being hard on Republicans, which means being hard on Democrats, and anyone who is being an adversary to what the mandate for this reform is, migrant rights, migrant justice, and inclusion and equality for all of us.
And if you weren't one of the lovely people who hosted us along the ride, thank you to the Denver people. That was the one stop I was at, and you fed us so well.
We have posters here along the side that I would love to take donations for if you want a memento from the work that I think the No Papers, No Fear Ride for Justice really was, centering undocumented people, challenging fear, and being an example of courage. But it was done on UU pews and UU floors every night, so I consider that a project we did together.
And I just want to—again, I think every year I come, I say, thank you for this partnership. It's one of our favorite partnerships. And every year, like Peter was saying, as we get closer, we just get stronger, and it keeps getting more and more beautiful. So thank you for that.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Thank you. Let's thank the—
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: So I want to acknowledge a couple other people who are in the room. I want to acknowledge Suzanne Fast, who was one of my colleagues on the Accountability Group for Justice GAs. Suzanne is in the back. I think, Suzanne, there are very few of us that have the energy to be here this year after last year, so it's good to see you.
And I want to again thank Susan Leslie and Jennifer Toth, who are here from Standing on the Side of Love. They are going to be here after the session. They'll take your name. If you're not already connected with them, they will get you signed up so you can be getting the resources that they offer.
I want to say just a word about Susan. Susan's had many titles over the years, but I always just think of her as our justice person at the UUA. So I want to just have you stand for a moment, Susan.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: Love your example. Thank you.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: And let us also honor again those from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who are with us today. So we can just say thank you, thank you, to them.
LESLIE TAKAHASHI MORRIS: There are posters up here that we will be taking donations for. And let us just close by taking a moment to thank each of you for showing up, for being present, for remaining committed to what is a very long path, not only our work in the world, but our work within our own communities, our work within our own association, and our work within our own hearts.
So thank you. Now let us continue to journey forward.
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