Connecting Environmental Justice and Immigration
Presenters: Rev. Margaret Beard, Rev. Allison Farnum, Rowan Van Ness
This workshop frames the relationship between immigration and environmental justice (EJ) and demonstrates on-the-ground work with immigration/EJ issues by using two congregational case studies. A representative from the National Farm Workers’ Ministry was present.
ROWAN VAN NESS: Hi. I wanted to welcome you all to work shop 2088, Connecting Environmental Justice and Immigration. I hope you're in the right room. We're not going to the Kansas City or anything like that today. Please join us.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: Imagine if you will, a chalice here that we are kindling. Perhaps the chalice is in your heart. This is an opening reading. If you feel empty and want to be saved from purposelessness, and pointlessness, and meaninglessness, do you want to believe that you will know the meaning of the universe someday? Or do you want meaningful experience right now. Do you want an eternal life of the spirit, or do you want a spirited life? A passionate, enthusiastic life right now?
What is the real message of salvation, and what is pale imitation? If you never want to die, we Unitarian Universalists can't help you. But if your real fear is that when you die, it will be as if you have never lived, we can help you. If you want your story never to end, we can't help you. But if you want a meaningful role in a larger story, a story that will continue long after you are gone, then we can help you. In that sense, we can offer a new life, a transformed life, a real life here and now. That spirited life is our message of salvation and it is a message that the stopped pendulum people need to hear. Those are the words by Doug Muder.
SPEAKER 1: Say it again, please.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: Doug Muder. M-U-D-E-R. Muder? Perhaps I'm not pronouncing it correctly.
ROWAN VAN NESS: We're just going to take a moment to introduce ourselves. I'm Rowan Van Ness and I'm the Environmental Justice Program Associate for Partnership between the UU Ministry for Earth and the UUA. For the past two years I've been supporting congregations in environmental justice programs and advocacy around issues like mountaintop removal, climate change, and green jobs. These are issues that more adversely impact historically marginalized groups of people. Green jobs ensure that public investments in infrastructure and renewable energy help lift people out of poverty, reduce racial disparities, and contribute to healthier communities for all of us. I organized resources for UU congregations around the International Day of Climate Action for the past two years, as well as coordinated Earth Day resources around ethical eating and sacred waters. May be some few participated.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: And I am REV. MARGARET BEARD. I'm substituting for Reverend Deb Cayer, who is fine, but reassigned this workshop for me to do. And it's my pleasure to do it. I serve as the Consulting Assistant Minister at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. My portfolio is half pastoral care and half social justice. And I will tell you more what we've been up to a little bit later in the presentation. And substituting for the very wonderful Alex Jones, who got delayed in Chicago, she is the National Farmworkers staff-- they rent space in our congregation. And, evidently, there was a major power failure in Chicago. And planes were not taking off-- some of you, perhaps, heard this. And she made every effort to try to get here. And would not been able to do that until after dinner. Allison Farnum a colleague of mine from Meadville/Lombard Seminary and also about to be my minister, who is the minister of the Fort Myers UU congregation. Allison is subbing for us.
ALLISON FARNUM: Hi. It's my pleasure and joy to be pinch hitting. I am the minister at the Fort Myers Congregation in my third year. And I serve on the board for Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, which is a faith-based ally organization to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I also serve on our Lee County Homeless Coalition board. And I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Allies for Racial Equity. I'm so happy to be with you.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: Thank you for saying yes.
ROWAN VAN NESS: We wanted to find out who else was in the room here with us. Are there any Social Justice Chairs or Social Justice Committee members? Raise your hands. All right. What about Green Sanctuary Chairs or Environmental Task Force Chairs or committee members? Any Presidents of Congregations? Ministers? Seminarians? Other congregational leaders? Is anybody a staff member of some justice organization or environmental organization related to faith or not? How many of you are involved with working on immigration issues in some way, shape, or form? How many of you are involved with working on environmental issues in some way, shape, or form? We're glad to have you here.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: We know that people come to presentations like this with a variety of experience and backgrounds with whatever issue is being talked about. So we're needing to play to the middle in terms of people who might not know anything and those of you who have way more experience than any of us up here. To get us warmed up and, perhaps, in a space of connecting more with some of the people we'll be talking about today, I invite you to get comfortable, put your feet on the ground, put your pen down-- you do not need to write this down. We're going to do a little bit of a guide meditation.
A deep breath. Probably haven't taken one all day. So imagine, it is a warm spring day and you are in your garden picking vegetables for dinner: tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, lettuce, carrots. You are thinking about the dressing for the salad, one that'll be homemade and just right. The sun is getting hotter so you take off your long sleeve shirt, knowing that you will be out only a short while and don't need sunscreen and you won't get too sunburned.
15 miles out of your town it's the same spring day. And others are in the field picking vegetables. Vegetables that are not for their dinner. They don't even have to think about a special dressing. They pick way more than one person could use at one meal. They have been picking for hours, most of the day. It was chilly when they started early in the morning and they take off some of their layered clothing. The sun is getting hotter and they have to keep one long sleeve shirt on. It not only keeps the sun off of them, it gives them some protection from the harsh pesticides. A few people are wearing gloves for protection, but if they do, they can't move as quickly and they pick less vegetables when they do. And and picking less vegetables is less money for the day.
In another part of the country, perhaps, you're up early and you put your fishing tackle in the truck, hitch up your boat to the back of the truck, and you're driving to the bay. The sun's barely coming up and you get pulled over by the police because the tag on your on your trailer is two days past due. The policeman gives you a warning and tells you to take care of it tomorrow. And you thank him and say that you will. You go to the bay and you put your boat in the sun's coming up more and you head out. As you catch the fish you unhook them because they're still not safe. Toxins are in the water and the fish cannot be eaten. Your family's going to be disappointed, since they will not have fish for dinner. But it's still fun to fish, even if you have to unhook them and throw them back in.
Near the same bay, another driver of a truck and boat is pulled over. The same policeman gives the driver a hard time for an expired tag. It's only by a couple days. Police officer writes a ticket and tells the person driving to correct it today. The driver apologizes several times. The driver has time to go take care of the ticket but little money because it's been awhile since he finished. The water is too contaminated from the oil spill. Fishing was his livelihood in the country he left to come here, and it was his livelihood here. Life has been good when he could fish. He was even starting to save for a small house. It might be possible, he thought. And now, he's back to working on the golf club greens. It's hot and it doesn't pay as much. And he wants to fish. His family is getting pretty hungry.
It's been such a hot day and you can't wait to get home and take a long soak. You are glad you installed that soaker tub with jets. You are going to feel so much better afterwards. And you're thinking that you might even use your lavender body wash.
Slightly out of town, somebody else is waiting to get cleaned up. There's no soaker tub. Just one shower. And 14 people are on ahead of you online. The chemicals from the field are irritating your skin. The tobacco leaves discolor and irritate it as well. You wonder, how long will it take to get the smell off of my skin? What are the chemicals doing? You're wondering if they'll be enough soap left when you get to your time to take a shower?
All of this is going on at the same time. Picking vegetables, fishing, cleaning up, people living their lives, people living their lives in very different ways. What would be an ideal, better future? A just future? What, indeed? And what would you be willing to do? Amen.
ROWAN VAN NESS: Thanks, Margaret. The General Assembly of 2010 selected immigration as the congregational study action issue. The UU Ministry for Earth has been working on environmental issues for decades and it seemed natural to take this opportunity to explore the intersections of immigration and environmental justice. It seemed obvious, to me, that environmental issues and access to natural resources, like food and water, caused a lot of the migration in our world. And I could see how immigrants are impacted by environmental injustices in their homes and workplaces in the US. What I was most surprised to learn though, was about the anti-immigrant movement based in environmentalism.
I Googled immigration and environment to see what would come up, and every page listed on that first search screen of Google explained and listed and stated that immigration is a major cause of environmental degradation. I was pretty surprised about this. Arizona's Bill, SB1070, was co-founded by Fair, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is one of the Tanton Networks Organization.
Has anybody here heard of John Tanton? A few of you. John Tanton is an environmentalist concerned about population growth who founded, or is connected to, more than 15 different organizations to deny rights from immigrants and to prevent immigration to the US. Some anti-immigrant advocates claim that population growth is bad for people and for the environment. And the immigrants harm the environment by contributing to things like urban sprawl, congestion, pollution, waste generation, water consumption, land conversion, and loss of biodiversity. Instead of tackling the systemic causes of climate change, like high fossil fuel consumption, Neo-Malthusians focus on unfounded connections between population, immigration, and damage to nature.
The impacts of environmental issues on the health of immigrants are disproportionate and unjust. Immigrants and other people of color in the US are more likely to live in areas that do not meet the federal government's safe air quality standards. Immigration status contributes to a nearly doubled likelihood of living in close proximity to a toxic release facility. Migrant farm workers and their families are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides in both air and in the water. Chronic exposure leads to shorter life spans and a greater likelihood to die from asthma, along with increased risks of cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, and then, on top of all this, migrant workers are less likely to be insured or to have adequate access to health care. What this means is that they stand a higher chance of getting sick and then are unable to afford the treatment that they need.
In a fiscal climate the forces government to cut spending, they're choosing to keep subsidies for fossil fuel industries and to give tax breaks for the rich, but slash measures that protect their constituents from polluted air and from water. Immigrants in the US, by and large, contribute less to climate change than most Americans, and are amongst those most impacted by it.
When many of us think of climate change, we think most often of the dominant framing that's been in the public discourse. Things like polar bears, and DC lobbyists, and parts per million, and science reports, and UN convenings. By focusing instead on the way that climate change affects communities and their health is embedded in social justice and is intertwined with wasteful fossil fuel-based transportation energy and industrial facilities, we can look at the connections between the abuse of the environment and the oppressions of groups of people with the least power.
The language used around power over traditionally marginalized people mirrors the same language of domination over the environment. As the environment is changed, we can focus on green jobs, on cooperatives, and alternatives to traditional means of economic support. Immigrants typically pollute less than other Americans. Wealth is the most comprehensive indicator of fossil fuel consumption, and the subsequent carbon footprints, as people tend to consume more goods, more fossil fuel products, and products made with high-carbon emissions, as they have more money to do so. You have more money, you spend it, and you spend it on things that create fossil fuel emissions.
The median income level of people who are born abroad and are now living in the US is three quarters of the national median of people who are born in the US. Furthermore, the cities with the largest immigrant populations have some of the lowest per capita emission levels. And, similarly, the cities with the highest emission levels have really small percentages of immigrants that are living in them.
Immigrants are also particularly vulnerable to the environmental changes caused by global warming. As the climate changes, weather emergencies, like severe hurricanes and droughts, increase in frequency and in severity. Industries dependent on natural resources will fair the worst, which won't bode well for the immigrants that make up about 40% of the farming, the fishing, and forestry industries in the US. Low income families are less likely to be financially prepared for a hit to their industry or to their homes.
As this kind of devastation increases around the world, migration will intensify. More people be moving trying to find the natural resources that they need to survive. Policies that target immigrants as environmental hazards are targeting low- and medium-income families, instead of the consumerism that contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions. We need to move beyond the idea that we can buy our way out of climate change, the technical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions are enough, and that only the elite can participate in the solution.
People who are fighting the negative manifestations of the fossil fuel economy in their own communities are rarely featured as being part of the climate change movement, much less portrayed as leaders. Let's partner with them and follow their lead. The Climate Justice Movement isn't just about the future severe climate events, but recognizes that the same systems that contribute to climate change are oppressing people right now. And we don't want to wait to change the system. We want to change it right now.
Anti-immigration agents are active today and continue to seed their agenda throughout the environmental movement. One of the basic tenets of immigration restriction is the idea that some people belong and others don't. This means that some people have a right to access natural resources, like water, and green space, and others don't. And it's just dependent on where you happen to have been born. What about the inherent worth and dignity of all people? What if we turn to those who already consume smaller amounts of fossil fuels to see if they might have ideas about a path forward, toward a lower emitting society?
Many of us here in the room today and in our congregations back home, are in a position to shine a spotlight on some of these issues and to work towards changing the system. We are called to strive for a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every human. To respect the interdependent web of all existence. Let us look and respect the interdependence of these issues.
Hundreds of UU congregations across the country are engaged with immigration and with environmental issues. We saw that in the room today when you were raising your hands. Since the last general assembly, a UU Climate Change and Environmental Justice Action Coalition formed, including representatives from the UU Ministry for Earth, the UUA, the UU State Advocacy Networks, the UU Service Committee, and the UU United Nations Office. And they're working together to align actions to prevent climate change and to prepare for adaptation.
Congregations across Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia, are working to and mountaintop removal coal mining, a particularly devastating form of extracted coal that employs fewer people and causes horrific impacts on the environment and the health of the people who live there. We've seen more and more congregations are working on immigration with standing on the side of love. And we'll hear, in a moment, from the REV. MARGARET BEARD about the Eno River UU Fellowship and what they've been working on in terms of farm worker justice, an issue that's at the crux of environmental justice and immigration.
What power make we gain as a movement if we saw the deep connections between immigration and environmental issues? the environmental movement can't afford to be silent on this issue. I don't want to Google environment and immigration anymore and only learn about immigration degrading the environment. Immigration is profoundly impacted by environmental issues. We must work together.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: I have served the Eno River UU Fellowship since last September, so it's not even a year. And I have the benefit of being able to share wonderful things that they've done for close to 12 years. So it's things I'm sharing with you. I'll also talk a little bit about what we've done this past year, since I've been there.
The first focus that this congregation undertook that relates to foreign workers was to get involved in the Mount Olive pickle boycott. Anybody heard of that? OK. And Mount Olive was the largest vegetable processor in the state of North Carolina. The farm workers labor-organizing committee asked Eno River UU Fellowship-- which I will now refer to as ERUUF, that's our nickname-- to please get involved. Because the conditions in the Midwest, the prices that people were being paid in North Carolina were undercutting the conditions and the peoples who were doing the same thing in the Midwest, and we need to raise the prices, obviously, more in North Carolina. So they started negotiating with Mount Olive. And for one year they went through the normal negotiations that you might imagine you would do with a big company. And they didn't get very far. And so in 1999, this congregation voted to participate, institutionally, in a boycott. And it was 95 in favor and five against. This bought great resources to the effort and also a huge amount of collaboration and partnership, which is really a theme that were going to be touching on throughout what we're saying this afternoon.
We are fortunate, on our campus, to house one of the five offices of the National Farmworkers Ministry. And it's just great. There's all kinds of power that comes out of that. Our paths cross a lot. We end up collaborating in many, many ways. And over 10 years-- and by the way, you'll get a resource at the end. But if you go to the ERUUF website, there is a report on 10 years of working in this area that is just fascinating. I commend it to you.
Over that 10 year time period, a $150,000 was moved toward this effort from this congregation. And there's numerous ways that various people participate in the congregation. You could participate in a little tiny bit, or you this can be your main passion. And there was roles for all ages and all levels of commitment. Some people just made soup. They didn't just make soup, they made soup and helped feed people, which is very important. Other people may have driven a car load of people to get to a medical appointment or get to a union meeting.
So the boycott involved leafleting stores and trying to connect with people, relationally and individually, about why they should boycott Mount Olive pickles. And for those of you who are not from the south, we like pickles here, a whole lot. So it's deep and sacrificial. All kinds of pickles. Lots of good pickles here. So they leafleted stores, they encouraged other people to boycott. Obviously, other types of congregations were involved. We're blessed that we have several large education institutions and they got involved. And there are other organizations that sprang up: Triangle Friends of Farmworkers, the North Carolina Council of Churches got involved. This became a primary issue. And obviously the boycott was nationwide.
Now a very interesting thing happened. The man who was the CEO of the Mount Olive Company was Methodist. And one summer, at the annual general meeting of the Methodists, they voted to join the boycott.
And you can imagine how that moved him. Something happened. Maybe they prayed for a softening of his heart. I don't know. But, at any rate, maybe he'd had enough. The pressure was getting too much. But, at any rate, they then were able to enter into an agreement. I'm told it was just amazing. 18,000 farm workers now benefit from an agreement with North Carolina Growers. That's 18,000. That's pretty exciting. That's, unfortunately though, 18,000 out of 150,000 workers in North Carolina. But because of this agreement that they have, which was a result of the effort with the Mount Olive Company, they now have grievance procedures, seniority, camp representatives, that are like head of the union. They're trained by the union in terms of organizing. They have the right to be informed as to what kind of pesticides are being used on the agriculture that they're picking. They have funeral leave. They have gotten wage increases up to 10% percent over the past three years. And they are officially allowed a half a day off. This is amazing. That this could even happen.
I used to be a member of the Fort Myers Congregation and I remember there was a man-- I forget his name-- but he had been a big deal in one of the AFLCIOs. And I naively said to him, I don't understand why the Immokalee Tomato Workers can't organize. Oh no, they're not allowed to organize. They're not citizens. That's what he said to me. And I said, oh. OK. I didn't know much about the issue. But this is pretty neat, that they were able to win on this and were able to organize.
A number of things happened. We started to get more involved driving farm workers to meetings, to drive them to various medical appointments, things started to shift, also, in the area of farm workers and the kinds of efforts that we got involved with. RJ Reynolds Tobacco is in Winston-Salem. Anybody from Winston here? Well when they have their shareholders meetings-- again I'm sure a number of you do this in other communities with other industries. Many of the members of our congregation have one share of Reynolds tobacco and go to the annual meetings and vote. I, myself, was a designated proxy.
Now, a very interesting thing happened one year. This group is really organized when they go to shareholders meetings. I had not done this before, but there was this massive conference call to talk about the strategy of how questions would be asked. who would ask what questions? How many clergy were we going to have? In what order would they come? Would we please wear collars? Blah, blah, blah. And it was very powerful. It really was.
And as I understand it, two years ago, they really were in a very polite-- compared to a lot of things that I might have done or you might have done-- fairly polite. Not too in your face, but evidently it was too much for the meeting. So they changed the whole format for this year, where there was virtually no questions. However, they still had a microphone for questions, like about procedure and stuff like that. So a whole strategy was developed to ask questions. But first, people who were in the batting order would say like four or five lines before they got to their questions. So the points were made at the shareholders meeting that needed to be made from the microphone that was clarifying procedure. I thought it was brilliant. I'd been involved in organizing most of my life. It was unbelievable.
Another powerful thing happened. And he can tell the story better than I can, but there's a wonderful man who's part of our congregation. His name is Bo Glen. And he was participating in this protest outside of RJ Reynolds and stopped for a moment and reflected that his uncle used to be president of RJ Reynolds. He's from an old Winston-Salem family. And there's other people who tell stories like this who come from-- or were one kind of family and are now doing whatever. Or used to be on the other side of an issue, were Ku Klux Klan people, and are now in working hard for anti-racism anti-oppression. But it's very moving to me to hear him tell his story. And, in some ways, the price he's had to pay in his family for being who he is now. He's a brave guy.
So I came on board in September, and I was very interested in helping with the Study Action issue, because I just think that's really important. I was not able to go to Phoenix, but I have lived in communities with a variety of different types of immigrants coming. And this is just on an issue that's very important.
So despite all that I've told you and way more that you could read about, upon coming, I heard we did a lot with farm workers, but I was only be able to find a handful of people who were telling me they worked with farm workers. And I thought, this is really odd. And I've been in other congregations who have said, oh yes. We do a lot for civil rights. And then you find out it was back in 1957. I'm a new minister there and so I was just kind of curious. Well, what's this about. And I think what's happened-- and I haven't totally figured it all out, because I need to ask more questions-- but there's a very important player in this effort who has been overseas because of an academic appointment for the past year. So the key person is not on site.
Well it'll be great. He's back this week. But I need to talk to him, in my way of working as a consulting minister, to really ask him, institutionally, what's going to be there? So if he goes away again, or this minister leaves, or one of us dies, or whatever, the effort can still roll along. It has not been institutionalized in terms of a structure in the congregation. I also think-- and this is just a reflection and I'm sure this might have happened in some of your congregations or other efforts you've been involved with-- it's very easy to take an issue like the Mount Olive pickle boycott and coalesce around that. You go to the store. You can hand out leaflets. People get fired up. We'll talk in a little bit about why people should get fired up, but it's not as targeted of an issue that you can point to and say, come to this march or this rally.
So we have some thinking to do about how do you focus the issues that we need to work on now to really move people back in. When I read the names of folks who had been involved, I was stunned. I had no idea. Nothing they told me at any interactions gave a clue to that. So that's more detective work for me to do. It's not that there's anything wrong, it's just that something's not structured right that continues to maintain this really important effort. So I came and I thought, OK. We're going to get more people on board with this Immigration Study Action issue. And so we decided that we would start a book group, The Death of [? Yosling. ?] How many people have read it? Pardon me?
SPEAKER 2: I've read part of it.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: Part of it. It's a great book. That's all right. No tests in this presentation. I wrote an article in the newsletter, like you do when you're starting something new, and I said, come see me during coffee hour. And I had my little clipboard. And people came up to me and said, you're new minister. I'd like to participate in the book group. And some of these people take classes because they want to meet the new minister, check us out. It's great reason to take a class. And other people would come up and say, you know, I'm not really on board with all the stuff. I don't know if I really feel about those people coming. And I would be polite, even though inside I'm kind of wincing at that those people. And there's just a lot of liberals here. I don't know if I'd be comfortable in your book group. And I said, well you know, I'm real committed to trying to create an atmosphere of safety and comfort. Because any of us can be anywhere on a continuum of a particular issue. And learning more about something and being able to talk to each other, even if everybody doesn't move along to where I am are you are, I think that's an important thing for us do in our congregations. And, frankly, we can do it on a number of issues.
There are a number of silent majorities in our congregations. They're not all monolithic and whatever I might be or you might be. And I'm just really dedicated to can we create spaces in our congregations-- I'm sure you don't have to do this-- but can I help to create spaces where we can really talk to each other, even if we have severe differences, and hear each other and not kill each other or makes somebody so uncomfortable that they leave the discussion group. Because if we're in covenant with each other, we ought to be able to have those kinds of conversations, right?
So I just kept saying this over and over again. And then we had our first class and there was a variety of opinions. And we talked about some ground rules and people were very polite, even if they were shocked. And we just really tried to hear each other.
We also were fortunate that our community has a Latino Film Festival. And so over 40 of us went to a showing of the film Brother Towns. Anybody else see the movie? Brother Towns. It's a terrific movie about folks in a particular community in central America who go to Boca Raton, Florida and who work cleaning, doing landscaping, and things like that and a relationship that develops. If you're trying to bring more people on board to the issue, it's a great place for them to start.
We were so surprised so many people were there that when Deb, the other minister, I got there we said, oh. There's our people. We're going to go over there and sit there. And we set down and we saw, oh my gosh. They're over there. There's a whole group over there. And then there's another group over there. We were all over the place.
We then, also, have been involved with The North Carolina Council of Churches. And some of us participated in a Harvest of Dignity. I did not walk across the state, but a group of people I know did walk across the state of North Carolina during the Christian Holy Week. And they stopped in various places, like privately run detention centers. Do you know about privately run detention centers? I was just aghast.
In office parks. They look like if you were working on some kind of something for a computer. I was just horrified this was going on. So they would stop at these places and have press conferences and give interviews and stuff to expose what was going on. Because they're actually pretty secret. You have to work hard to find out where they are. They ended up, and I joined them, at the statehouse on Good Friday to-- this is organized by a Catholic sister-- to walk the stations of the cross on the statehouse grounds in Raleigh.
So in the rain, a whole group of us, 50, 60 people. People who were folks who are working in the fields, religious leaders, people committed to the issue, walked in various places. I'm not Catholic, and some of you may have been Catholic before becoming Unitarian Universalists-- but instead of reading the things that one would normally read at a station, like the first sentence was read in terms of telling the story. But then we would immediately swing into economic injustice, living conditions, and at every station, something else was said. And it was pouring rain, television coverage, and it was a very moving experience to be part of. And it did make the news. And so, again, can we keep you know lifting up the issue.
We also stood in front of Wells Fargo Bank and they came and asked is could we please move down the street. We said no, we really couldn't. We wouldn't be there very long. Just kind of reading along ad a woman's there with her sign-- you guys have done this. I'm not telling something you haven't done. So in the group-- I want to just go back to that-- one of the things that I saw change in the group, and we've taught this and also the Immigration Study Action issue curriculum that's on the UUA website. Are you familiar with that? It's a great curriculum. Packs way too much in a time-limited slot. But we were able to adjust it.
One of the things that we found out by doing this was that many of us had relatives, had ancestors, who immigrated from somewhere. And part of that curriculum has us tell our stories. But for the vast majority of folks in our class, and I would dare say, possibly, in this room, our stories are very different than the folks who are coming today to work in the fields of North Carolina. The reasons are different, their journey here is different. To go through some reflection and compare and contrast, my people it was great they got out of the mines in Scotland. That's a big deal in our family. That people eventually went to college. And you have stories like that. But that's nothing. They had money to get on a boat and come over here. It's nothing compared to walking through a desert and wondering if you're going to even be able to make it, or have water. It's just profound.
Other than the man who talked about growing up as a child in Syria, and then having to move to Lebanon, and finally being able to come to this country and go through the immigration process. But his brother forgot. And so even though his brother has served in the US Military, just last year he thought maybe he should be a citizen. He is having kind of a hard time, even though he served in the military, becoming a citizen, with roots originating in Syria and having spent time in Lebanon. It's a little more challenging. So his story was touching, to hear him talk about his life.
The other issue that we struggled with is-- and I'm sure there are those of you in this room who grew up on farms, who had family farms, and you probably, during various crop seasons, worked in the fields. Perhaps you picked something. Maybe if you're a man or in a very enlightened family, you were allowed to drive some kind of equipment and do the cool stuff. But that's different. I have yet to find somebody whose family had them work 12 hours a day while school was going on with the same kind of conditions that the folks that are working near where I live have to go through. So to compare and contrast and really get into those differences, because I think sometimes folks who say those things that it's a way of being distance and kind of participating in denial. That it's not really that bad.
And that's what our Secretary of Labor says. It's not that bad. It could be much worse. She says stuff like this on TV. It's better than what they left. Not so, in many cases.
We have an endowment and it gives grants out to various parts of the church that apply for special projects. And a group of folks applied to receive some money to do a summer curriculum for youth and children-- and then we decided to make it for adults-- on immigration as a moral issue. And what's very cool is we're using some of the units that we felt really worked for the UUA curriculum, but we're combining it with young people who are-- wow. I'm blocking on the name. The dream people who walk. The Dreamers. Sorry. It was just too obvious for me to remember it all. but we're combining it with visits from them, with a man who was a US citizen but had become incarcerated because they didn't think he was really a US citizen. And he's been incarcerated for close to a year. And so he's speaking about that. And we have lots of other folks coming. So we're having people who have been living parts of the issue in a much closer way, then say, I have. And people for the farm workers ministry and a lot of other partners that we're working with.
There are probably close to 10 legislative issues that are hard to monitor, because they move and twist and turn, that affect immigrants, that affect people working in the fields. I was pretty familiar with Fair Labor Standards Act and I wasn't aware that farmers worked really hard to exempt people who work on farms. And so it is legal in our state, and probably yours, for children as young as 12 to work in dangerous occupations with big knives, and machetes, and stuff.
We were asked to be part of a documentary that a filmmaker from Duke University and his students wanted to make, to be used in legislative advocacy. And we were very fortunate to have them come and film us in some of our classes and one day, when I was preaching. It's out now. If you email me, I will give you the link because there's two versions. And they're both not up on a website that you would need to go to.
But one of the questions he asked me, which is just so obvious, but it actually sort of stopped me in my tracks, was why the growers wouldn't change and wouldn't treat people better? And I had a hard time answering that in a polite way. I came out of the Florida experience where the growers there-- people went on hunger strikes. Jimmy Carter came down. The growers wouldn't meet with Jimmy Carter. Can you imagine that? Who would not meet with Jimmy Carter. What a dis. At any rate, I try to have a compassionate heart. And, obviously, I think financial is a big reason. But I really thought, how could this Methodist guy with the pickles do what he did so long? It takes a while for our hearts to change. For us to get on board with issues, and it certainly does for other people.
But I really wonder about that, because folks who work in the fields give us quite a lot. Quite a lot. And we give back so little. I wonder how being part of a culture where the sin of slavery is part of our national history. It's obviously was prevalent in many parts of the country, not just the south. But I wonder how that affects later people, looking at other human beings as full human beings. I wonder about that. Because, certainly, people who were enslaved were not looked at in a fully human way by the people who owned them.
We talk a lot and we explore a lot the whole issue of what does it mean to be a neighbor. Who is our neighbor? And we're trying to go deeper with that and to really unpack that. How far away could our neighbor be? Could our neighbor be in another country? Could our neighbor be the person 15 miles away, who's working with insecticides on their skin in the sun? Could they be our neighbor?
What images will make people leap to their feet? I'm assuming that most human beings, if a child walked out into traffic, would grab a child. I'm assuming that most human beings would do that. Wouldn't you? If they could, they would try to save the child, even if they'd never met the child. And so I try to think what would be the same urgency, because it would never be OK for many of these people who are in a position to make decisions about legislation or about continuing to have such horrible practices on their property. It would never be their decision to have their own kin doing the same things. They would not be able to make those decisions, to have a child in their family.
And I wonder about people, the triangle area-- and some of you come from similar places. It's very hip in a lot of ways. And there's a lot of foodies. And there's farmers markets. And people have organic food delivered, this kind of thing. We talk about fair trade and are people really aware of where everything is coming from? We've got more conscious about our clothes and diamonds. What happened to the person who was trying to get the diamond for your ring.
So we're trying to really talk more about how do people get into denial and remain in denial and not get turned on to do something different? An image that stays in my brain that is in this movie that is just right here-- and you've perhaps read about this. because of the chemicals in the field, three women who were pregnant while they were working-- some of you have heard this, it did make the national news-- gave birth to babies with no limbs at all. Nothing. Not even hands. Nothing. Just little torsos and little faces. One baby died. And there's an image of this little baby was some plastic that you would use for perhaps a prosthetic leg, or perhaps football padding. But it's like a little vase, like a vase. This little baby's propped in it. I guess that's what is useful in terms of having this child be able to sit up. It's a child sitting in a vase. It's just horrifying to me. I don't know what I've done to to this microphone. It's time to stop talking.
OK. Let me wind it up because it probably is time to stop talking and also have you talk a little bit. I really wonder about that, how we can, ourselves, as people, involved in church, how we can go deeper with us and really impact that and get some clues about how to work more effectively with our brothers and sisters who are also the growers. This is my last thought about what I wonder about, and whether this could help change the situation.
With all the people in our congregations, with so many people so educated from some of the finest institutions in this country. Who perhaps go to reunions and are well connected to other people. Who are powerful people. I wonder-- and I will try to do this at my next college reunion-- how many of us take the time to say some things that are not necessarily polite about some other people who are not in the room and issues that are close to our hearts. What would that be like. I was talking to a lady who went to Oberlin, and said, I hated my reunion. We and talk about anything real. And I said, I'm thinking of talking about immigrants when I go to my reunion. At a cocktail party when they're recruiting us for gifts. I'm being a little silly, but this could be a way that those of us who do benefit from white privilege use it in a different way. Like use it because of our connections. All of us are connected in different ways. I'll stop talking here and the wilting microphone. Maybe you want to use one of those. I don't know. Or hold it. I apologize. Thank you very much.
ALLISON FARNUM: It's apropos, also, to follow you, Reverend Margaret. With all the developments that have been going on in Florida with the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I encourage you to go to their website, ciw-online.org, to learn of their many victories. So many times when talking about immigration and environmental justice work, I become, for myself, overwhelmed by stories of despair. And I have been educated that this is also joyful work in the many ways that it weaves together. And in my work in an actual ally group that is set up as an ally group to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, I have learned this great joy and hope.
I think that really speaks to our Unitarian Universalist values about how so many things come together. As a liberal religion, we look at religion and spirituality that it comes from-- we're multi-disciplinary. We're renaissance. That we understand that we are of a piece and of a whole on this planet. And in a covenantal religion, it's also about the work that I do in my ministry as having us understand and to articulate for ourselves, and call ourselves to the covenant and the promises that we've made to our Mother Earth and all her people. And I love to see things like immigration and environmental justice together. And I'd love to have all of you blogging about it so that when Rowan Googles these two topics, all of your blogs will come up as the hits on Google, instead of some of these other links that would, in the word of A. Powell Davies, these strange and foolish walls that divide us. When these are of a piece about respecting the earth and her people.
So part of that, for me, has been learning through some of the wisdom of the Standing On the Side of Love Campaign, what's going on in my own backyard. I feel like my life is very gracious in moments, when I run into people and suddenly find myself serving on a board. And meeting good activists, I see a CIW button right there. Lovely. And learning what it is to be an ally. And that's something that I've been working on for a long time.
I grew up Unitarian Universalist first at Holston Valley in Johnson City, Tennessee, and then at Tennessee Valley in Knoxville. And part of what I learned as a white, liberal, upper middle class kid in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, was this idea that I was meant to help people. And a lot of that turned into, through not being aware of white privilege, and also my class privilege, that sometimes what that meant was, for me, that I was meant to teach people. And in a way that wasn't invitational, but that was to swoop in and save. As the great savior. An ally relationship is something that's very different from that. In my work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and in this group of clergy as we gather, we take direction and leadership from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. So one of the exercises that my colleagues will do in a group of people is have people raise their hands to say, hey. Are you are you a member of the coalition of Immokalee Workers? Well unless you're a farmworker, you're not. The coalition is of farmworkers and it's led by farmworkers. And the people who choose to become allies are also agreeing to their leadership and how they're going to be doing things.
And there's something really beautiful about that and many good lessons in being an ally, in terms of-- I think for our good people in congregations in Unitarian Universalist faith communities-- about understanding followership. Our fine moderator, Jennie [? Corder, ?] once said at our district assembly in Florida, she said, if you're not able to follow, then you're not mature enough to lead. And I think there's a lot of stock to that in terms of understanding how power flows and what it's like to be mature enough to follow a group of people and trust them and trust their work.
And so the coalition has a very sophisticated analysis about how they are to proceed in their campaign for fair food, that not only addresses the band aid issues. There are sad images to be seen in Immokalee that will pull every liberal heart string until it bleeds. And the coalition is not interested in that, in the band aids. They're interested in addressing the systemic issues. And so they have created analysis that says, we need $0.01 per pound more for tomatoes. And when people sign on to an agreement to pay this additional $0.01 per pound as major retailers, they will also agree to a code of ethics. So that if there are abuses going on in the fields, those major retailers and buyers are not going to interact with anyone who has those abuses going on in the fields. There will be some kind of centering process.
There have been plenty of times when I have witnessed and I have heard from some of my fellow organizers. Plenty of times when people have, with the best of intentions, raised their hands and said, well, what are you doing about the trailers? It's $2,000 a month for rent, and you're all crowded in there. 12 people paying all this money. And I think you should do things about this. You should do this. You should do that. In the most gracious ways I've seen, our coalition leaders will redirect and say, we have chosen to focus on this. And this is how we are leading ourselves. and> I think there's something important there for all of us, even just thinking about congregational life and trusting our leaders and understanding how to follow.
So there are many lessons that I have learned in being an ally, but especially and in serving in a community where the coalition of Immokalee Workers is primarily composed of people who are from Central America, Mexico, and some folks from Haiti. It becomes very, very important. As Tim wise was speaking about to be aware of power and privilege and how that intersects, for myself, as a white person serving as an ally. And finding ways to be creative and playful and loving. And those are all things that I have learned serving as an ally to the coalition of Immokalee Workers. Does that cover being an ally pretty well? If you ever see me floating around, I'd love to talk to you more about it.
NANCY KING SMITH: Try this, too. I'm Nancy King Smith, co-chair of UU Ministry for Earth. This workshop is one we've sponsored. And I want to thank all three of our panelists for presenting and helping make these connections of interlocking oppressions. I want to give a special shout out to Rowan who has been the UU Ministry for Earth and, in partnership with the UUA, Program Associate for Environmental Justice. And Rowan will-- yes let's do give her---
Rowan will be winding up her two years with us at the end of August and we are deeply sad, but also excited that she has some opportunities to continue in the work she so ably does. And she has helped us as an organization really focus on environmental justice in substantial ways over the last two years. And we intend to continue that in a variety of ways.
UU Ministry for Earth's purpose is to inspire, facilitate, and support personal, congregational, and denominational practices that honor and sustain the earth and all beings. We do that through education. And I'm not going to go into detail on any of these. We have general resources. We have communications and a website, of course. Rowan mentioned the Earth Day resources that we put out annually. and this coming year we'll focus on immigration. And we're very excited that this fall we will be introducing a new environment and justice curriculum for congregations. We'll have the first module ready in October to help congregations engage with what is environmental justice and how to make connections in their own communities. This will help those who are in the green sanctuary process and need to do their environmental justice projects, but it will help all of us at whatever stage of engagement, with making the environment and justice connections real and pay attention to relationships and allies.
We are also very involved with advocacy. Again, Rowan has helped us be able to be in coalition with a number of the other organizations she mentioned, as well as those beyond UU, with things like the 350.org, and One Sky, Moving Planet Day coming up September 24th, and Food Day October 24th, to help congregations across the country rally around advocacy points in any number of ways and in coalition with others. And we also believe it's really important to provide inspiration and support. This is hard work. And, as Allison mentioned, it's easy to get into a place of despair. And so finding ways to support each other and work through despair to a place of joyful action is really important. And, in that note, I invite you at 6:15 to join us at the Hilton in the South Carolina Room for the UU Ministry for Earth annual meeting, which will be brief, so that we can spend the rest of the time in a mini-workshop given by Barbara Ford, Growing Action into Awareness, that really is based on how we can move ourselves from despair into the joyful action we need to carry on this work. I hope to see you there.
ROWAN VAN NESS: I just wanted to mention two more opportunities that are happening at GA, or two more things. The Coalition of the Immokalee Workers, there's postcards anybody can sign if you want to find out more information about that. And they are at the Ministry for Earth booth in the Exhibit Hall. And also I'm about to hand out a resource on connecting environmental justice and immigration with some of the key points that I made, as well as some of my very favorite articles about environmental justice, about immigration, and a couple films. And one of the films is called The Other Side of Immigration. And the Allies for Racial Equity group is going to be showing that film tomorrow night, Friday, at 9:30 PM in rooms 219 and 219. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to watch that while you're here today.
So I'll pass that out and then we'd love to take a few minutes of questions and answers, if anybody has any.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: Questions or answers.
ALLISON FARNUM: If you could please come up to the microphone, or we can hand the microphone to you if mobility is an issue, because this is being recorded?
FRED SWAN: Hi. I'm Fred Swan I'm Senior Minister First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have been very active in support of immigrant justice, both of Massachusetts and in Arizona. When I was 17, I founded a chapter of Zero Population Growth in Plainfield, New Jersey. So I guess I'm a Neo-Malthusian. It was with great distress that I saw some parts of the environmental movement and the population movement turn down the road of nativism and racism in the '70s, '80s, '90s. Of course, John Tanton had a lot to do with that. I guess I really appreciated Allison's discussion of being a good ally and taking leadership from people of color and marginalized communities. And, also, Rowan's point that the anti-immigrant movement really is based on the notion that some people belong and other people don't.
I also feel that the population is part of the equation. That no matter how much we reduce our individual environmental impacts, if population grows unchecked, then the net impact is still and disastrous. So I guess what I would invite, is all of us to be creative about how to take population into account in a way that honors inherent worth and dignity of every person. That sees it as an international issue, an issue certainly women's empowerment. And also take on the politics of talking about population, which has been almost impossible in this country, in part, because of the organized religious opposition.
So I understand that there are certainly environmentalists who were so discouraged by the politics of population policy that they looked at the numbers and thought, oh well. There are all these immigrants coming in. Maybe we can look at the issue that way. But that was a huge mistake, and I think and amoral mistake on their part. But I want to invite an understanding that we are all one. And the population is an issue we have to think of think seriously about.
REV. MARGARET BEARD: That's helpful. Thank you.
ROWAN VAN NESS: Thanks, Fred. Population is definitely huge, and controversial, and confusing, and complex, and I think that that was a really helpful comment.
EUGENE PEARSON: Eugene Pearson from Cincinnati, Ohio. We're working in an interfaith group on immigration right now. And we've been encountering advertisements from this FAIR group that have been in our news about the last three years. And we haven't had much success finding out who they are and what they're funding is from. And you mentioned a little bit about them. And could you tell us a little bit more, like who's really behind that, please?
ROWAN VAN NESS: I actually am not that well versed in the background of FAIR, but what I can say is that the Center for New Community, who is one of the websites-- I put the little thing in the handout-- they've been a really fabulous organization in outlining what the connections are between these different organizations and how they're related to each other. And I know that the Pioneer Fund is one of the funders of many of the John Tanton Network organizations. And I don't know, specifically, if that funded FAIR, but the Pioneer Fund has been a nativist and a eugenics movement funding source in the past.
JOANNE TERRELL: Hi. I'm Joanne Terrell from Bull Run Unitarian Universalists. If you want to know more about FAIR, you can go to the Southern Poverty Law web site. So there's a lot there on them.
KAREN COLE: Hi. I'm Karen Cole from St Petersburg, Florida. I think, about a month ago, on the front page of the Sunday New York Times was a full expose of John Tanton and how all these groups were formed. So if you can get on to that website-- And it was very, very informative. It tied it all together very well.
ROWAN VAN NESS: Thank you. And I forgot to mention, as well, that I brought a copy of several of the Center for New Communities materials here. if anybody's interested in taking a look at them afterwards I have them here. And they also have, in particular, a pledge that individuals and congregations can take, that says, we, the undersigned environmental leaders and activists, pledge that we will embrace diversity and reject racism as we confront the serious environmental challenges before us. We will not adopt the message that immigrants are the cause of environmental problems. We will actively support the human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees. And we will solve our environmental problems and the challenges facing our society through the energy, vision, and commitment of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. And that's available on their website as well.
NANCY KING SMITH: A Few people didn't get copies. I've just been told that we can email it to the UUA and they will put it up on the website, along with the video this workshop. So if you didn't get it, you can get it that way.
ROWAN VAN NESS: Thank you all for coming. This concludes our Workshop.
Connecting Environmental Justice and Immigration is General Assembly 2011 event number 2088.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Sunday, February 12, 2012.
- What is Environmental Justice
- Resources for Environmental Engagement
- Green Sanctuary
- Ethical Eating
- Climate Change
- Dependence on Fossil Fuels
- Access to Essential Resources
- Sustainable and Local Economy