Arizona UUs March for Immigrant Rights
On Saturday, January 16, 2010, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, dozens of members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP), and several members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson (UUCT) joined thousands of activists in a "March for Human Rights," a national action to protest the inhumane and discriminatory practices of Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County.
The rally was organized by Puente, a non-violent Phoenix activist organization that "works to resurrect our humanity by teaching and learning to eradicate intolerance.” The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix has a history of supporting protests against Sheriff Arpaio, viewing his actions as persecuting Latino detainees and denying their inherent worth and dignity, in opposition to the first principle of Unitarian Universalism.
George Pauk, UUCP's march organizer, wrote, "As Unitarian Universalists our principles call us to stand up and witness for people who are racially profiled, for communities targeted and terrorized, and for children traumatized by Arpaio's 'sweeps' and raids." Pauk continued, “These actions are similar to those of the civil rights movements in the 1960’s, when our minister emeritus witnessed in Alabama. Today, the epicenter is here in Arizona. In the past year, many UUCP members and friends have participated in marches and rallies, and there is a continuing call for justice."
The march began with an assembly at Falcon Park in west Phoenix. Protesters carried signs and banners and listened to featured participants including Dolores Huerta, Linda Ronstadt, Little Joe y La Familia, Zach De La Rocha, and many others.
Seven members of the congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson drove up to Phoenix and carried their church’s social justice banner in the march. Tucson is just sixty miles from the Mexican border, and the church has adopted the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths as its primary social justice ministry. The nonprofit human rights organization works to save the lives of migrants crossing the border into the most treacherous parts of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.
Leila Pine, chair of the UUCT Immigrant Rights Working Group, said, "Our church has sent members to work as humanitarian aid volunteers, joined cross-border trips to Mexico with Borderlinks, and organized collections of clothing, water, food, and medical supplies for migrants in the desert.” Pine continued, “We have been offering educational forums, films, and panel discussions about border justice, immigrant rights, and indigenous rights for many years. We are working to get more of our members active in No More Deaths, the Samaritans, and other nonprofit, border justice organizations."
Despite the warm temperatures and advance publicity, few counter-protesters turned out. Though police in riot gear and Sheriff's office personnel were poised for trouble, the protest went off peacefully, with very few minor incidents. The Sheriff's practices draw opposition from a wide variety of participants, including Latinos, indigenous peoples, liberal faith groups, and even anarchists.
"Arpaio's pretty extreme," said James Forrest, one of the UUCP marchers. "In the rest of the country, he's an embarrassment to us."
As part of the weekend activities UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix sponsored English and Spanish language performances of the "Dream Act"written by James E. Garcia and directed by Luis Avila and Arturo Martinez. The play tells the story of Victoria Nava, an undocumented immigrant and university student who dreams of practicing medicine. Homeless and afraid of being deported in the face of an immigration crackdown, Victoria's dream of graduating from college is slipping away. Each performance was followed by a short discussion with the playwright and experts on the Dream Act, a bi-partisan proposed federal law that would provide a path to legalization for the more than 65,000 undocumented young people who graduate from high school in the United States each year. (The event was covered locally.)
UUCP Immigration Task Force and Social Action Committee members also participated in a press conference outside Senator John McCain’s office and immigration reform forums organized this past week by Reform Immigration for America and the Arizona Advocacy Network.
"It's important to be here because we are witnessing to our values, that there is only one race: the human race," said UUCP Minister Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray. "We are standing on the side of love with immigrant families. We who have privilege must stand with those who do not. It hurts our country when we do not."
UUCP has a long tradition of social engagement and commitment. It received the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) 2009 Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action. The congregation is also a long-time Fair Share contributor to the UUA’s Annual Program Fund.