You Are Here
Partnering Congregations and Community Organizations
General Assembly 2012 Event 418
Speakers: B. Loewe, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Felipe Findley
How do I connect my congregation with community groups leading campaigns for justice? What are the steps to building meaningful relationships between congregants and partner groups for successful actions and for building community? Hear from Unitarian Universalist ministers, social justice leaders, and community activists about what works and what hasn’t.
SUSAN LESLIE: Good morning folks. We're going to get started. Thanks for being here. Bright and early but not too early, and everybody seems in a pretty chipper mood. So hi. Welcome to number 418, partnering congregations and community organizations.
I'm Susan Leslie, congregational advocacy and witness director in the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group. There's a mouthful for you. And I'm really excited about this workshop. What's really at the heart of my work is helping congregations get into partnerships. And not only do we do justice, but we build community, and we change in the process.
We have some great practitioners here who are going to share their stories of how their partnerships have gotten started, what they've accomplished, what they've learned, both challenges and opportunities. And in the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff, I mean I do have cards in the back, and I encourage you to grab one. So you have our websites and sign up.
But what we are really learning is that the thing we can best do is find the best practices and create learning communities for us all to share our stories. And I worked very close with the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. I'm on the lead organizer. And we've been having webinars over the year, just 40-minute webinars where these kinds of stories can be shared. Carlton already did one for us in the spring, so did B. Loewe. So let me know what kinds of things you need help with, and that's the kind of thing we can deliver through the campaign.
So I'm just going to introduce the speakers. And they may tell you more about themselves. We have Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray from the UU church, congregation of Phoenix. And we have Rick Rhoads from the UU congregation or church congregation.
RICK RHOADS: Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.
SUSAN LESLIE: UU Community Church of Santa Monica. And Felipe Findley from our LA church was going to be presenting with him, because their story involves a partnership of two churches doing a partnership. Felipe and his wife just had a baby. So they're not here today.
And then, we have Reverend Carlton Elliott Smith from the UU Church of Arlington, Virginia, who's going to talk about various inter-faith and community partnerships they've been involved in and B. Loewe who's communications director and organizer for National Day Laborer Organizing Network. So thanks so much for being here. And I'm going to let the panel come up. I will remind you when we get to Q&A, you have to use the audience mics. Thanks.
Presenter Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
REVEREND SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: All right. Good morning everyone. Welcome to Saturday at General Assembly. It's going to be a really good day. I'm so glad to be here with all of you. So I'm here to talk a little bit about the relationship that I built with Puente that I've been a part of with Puente, Arizona, the CDBs, the Comites de Defensa del Barrio, Barrio defense committees, and with [? Endilon ?].
And so the story of our congregation begins—I've been in the Phoenix congregation for four years. The story begins about eight years ago with members of our social action committee participating with Tonatierra, which is an indigenous cultural center in Phoenix, as they were beginning a new part of their work called Puente, which was organizing the neighborhoods which were under attack from law enforcement who was going in and doing raids and checkpoints in their neighborhoods and just stopping everybody, knocking on people's doors in the night, asking for papers, clear violations of people's civil rights.
And so they started to organize in the neighborhoods to get neighborhood communities knowing their rights and protecting themselves, and doing actions in terms of getting police officers who were damaging the community removed from their communities and starting to build power and build a movement on the ground. And we had members of our congregation who would go into those meetings.
So when I arrived four years ago, those members helped me connect to Tonatierra and to Puente. And it was at the same time, the movement was really growing, power around combating, standing against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the illegal practices of his Sheriff's Department. And then, shortly, thereafter, I think it was my second year that SB1070 was passed. And so a broad coalition came together that we were a part of to stand against SB1070 and not to comply with that.
One of the things we did just locally in the congregation when I came is our social justice, our social action committee worked on many different projects, many different justice issues. And when I got there, I said let's try to pick one issue. Because you may experience this in your congregation, but our social action committee was like a silo. It was off to the side. They did things. They did announcements and worship. But they were not connecting to the larger congregation.
And so I said, let's look at all we're doing. Let's try to focus on one issue and bring it to the center of the congregation. Now, we're in Phoenix. So we took that into context, our context, where are we. And we chose to focus on immigration.
And so for a whole year, we did educational programs in the congregation. We had movie nights. We had moments in our service every Sunday where we talked about unpacking the myths. I don't know if you've seen like the 100 myths about immigration, and undocumented immigrants don't pay taxes. We would take a moment every Sunday to reveal the lies behind those myths.
And we had guest speakers. And we had services around immigration. So we started to build a lot more awareness and consciousness in our congregation.
At the same time, Puente was organizing marches against Arpaio, marches against 287(g), which were the first agreements between federal immigration and local law enforcement that was allowing local law enforcement to detain people, and question their immigration status, and arrest them and turn them over to ICE. So we would participate in the marches. And I was finding that the congregation was really turning out huge numbers at these marches, that there was a lot of interest. And so that propelled us further into the work.
Then, SB1070 was passed. And because of some of our work, I had been invited to one of the tables where a broad coalition of statewide organizations working on immigrant rights, working on migrant rights and human rights, came together and said we have a lot of different agendas. We work all across the state. We are together that SB1070 needs to go.
And so we started the campaign to combat SB1070. I believe that in our work that there was some timing issues that helped make Unitarian Universalist role in this issue so successful. One of those pieces of timing was Standing on the Side of Love. And I want to give a big shout-out to Standing on the Side of Love to Meg Riley who led that when this media campaign was announced.
Because when SB1070 was passed, and we were planning marches, Susan Leslie was reaching out to me. Are you going to this march? Can you do some video? Can you have someone in your congregation do some reporting and send it back to us? So we started to build a partnership nationally.
And then on May 29 with that, Standing on the Side of Love sent me an email. I want you to send an email out inviting Unitarian Universalists to come to this march. So I did that. And hundreds of Unitarian Universalists came to that march. And we all wore these T-shirts.
So not only were we another 500 or 600 people in that 50,000, 70,000, 100,000 people, however many people were at that march on May 29, but we were identified as being together. So you saw this faith community stepping out boldly and being organized.
And so Puente saw that. [? Endilon ?] saw that. I mean it was really incredible. The community saw that as for our buttons. You're the Love People. They started to get called the Love People. And that was incredible.
And so that led to then on July 29, Salvador Reza coming to our general assembly asking us to come for the National Day of Noncompliance. And again, hundreds of Unitarian Universalists came, got arrested on the street standing arm-in-arm with our human rights partners, migrant rights partners with the local community, giving up some of our privilege to stand against a system that is destroying families and creating so much devastation. So
some of that was timing, but it was also something that we haven't always done well but was incredible which was the partnership between the local congregation and the National Unitarian Universalist Association. It was incredible. The moment was ripe. And we had things in place that when SB1070 came, we were prepared to respond in a really effective way.
I want to speak just a little bit about the work within the congregation. My congregation has been incredibly supportive of this work. It has not been 100% supportive of this work, as you can imagine. So I wanted to share a few things that I think helped move the congregation on this issue.
I want to name that congregations—wow, a call, Sorry. Congregations, I believe they have one foot in the status quo and that Unitarian Universalist congregations also have one foot in a radical faith around love and justice. But we are institutions. We have to maintain our institutions. That's a part of our power.
But churches have protected status within our government, within our country. So there are areas in which we have a conservative bent. And I feel like I have to walk in both those worlds, because I have to maintain the health and strength of my congregation. Otherwise, our work for justice is not going to be as effective. So balancing those two is really important.
One of the ways that I found that I've been able to help the congregation nation move forward on this issue and be bold on this issue is number one, the education, so deciding to like do intentional and consistent education to really deepen our congregations awareness around this issue was key. And just so you know, for us, it's immigration. And this is a national issue. But it could be that in your community, what's most pressing down on the people of your community is something different. And this is our issue, and it's so personal to us.
Number two, storytelling. Storytelling opens people's heart. So we have people who are undocumented in our congregation. We've given them opportunities to share their stories. We have a member of our congregation whose husband was a city of Phoenix police officer who was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant, someone who was a dangerous criminal who had been deported several times.
The state used her story to drum up anti-immigrant fervor. And she has been, Julie Erfle, a strong and consistent opponent saying don't use my husband's name in that way. What is happening makes law enforcement more—puts them at risk that people can't trust law enforcement because of these laws, because people don't have any kind of status.
So those two stories made it personal for us. And storytelling opens people's hearts. And I think that that's been the way I've preached most effectively to my congregation to help them walk with me and walk themselves in this relationship, in this partnership.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been very effective in helping us be strong on this issue. Because my congregation members as Unitarian Universalists see his disregard for the Constitution, disregard for human rights, disregard for the inherent worth and dignity of all people. And so the fact of that is so stark helps people join this movement.
And then the other thing, which hasn't been perfect, but I have tried as a minister, and I've tried to share this with my people too is to really listen to those who are on the other side within the congregation, not to call them names, not to push them outside of the circle of love, but to listen, to have dialogue, to hear where they're coming from, to hear their fears, and to try to maintain that relationship.
And we have lost a few people. W We lost someone who was a dear person who I care very much about and just can't be with the congregation because of our work. But he sent this letter, which was attached with an email that had a picture from an immigrant rights rally that was clearly, and I checked on Snopes and everything, clearly doctored. So he's getting these emails that are just hate-filled and wrong.
And he sent it to me. And this is why I can't be a part of the congregation. But he also said but I dearly love and respect you. We don't want anyone out of the side of the circle. We want to bring more and more people in. So that spirit of love, and humanity, and listening to one another is important in this work. I think that's been important to our ability to do this work.
Finally, I want to say that this work has profoundly changed me. And if you engage in this work, whether it's the migrant rights work, or working with homeless in your community, or addiction, or fighting, police brutality, or whatever you might be working on, fighting the growing prison system, that there is incredible pain to witness too.
And one of the hardest things for me is that it seems like whenever I'm at the Puente office, whenever I'm at the CDBs, there's another family who's lost a parent. There's another child who's been discriminated by the police and pulled over and have their car taken. There's been another person who's pulled over and said when's the last time you were in jail, some 18-year-old college-bound kid who's Latino or Latina being treated terribly by the police.
Just every day, these stories are so incredibly painful. And part of the work is dealing with that pain, having a strong spiritual life to sit with that pain, and do the little that I can do to show up to try to be consistent in showing up, not perfect in showing up.
Sometimes, we got five people at a rally. Sometimes, we got 10. Sometimes, we got 50. But just showing up and sending as many people as we can and to nurture our spirits, because the work does get exhausting. And being a witness to that pain every day is just incredibly difficult.
So I pray every day. I pray every day to walk in the ways of love and to do what I'm called to do. And I pray that my congregation every day does what it's called to do. So that's my story.
Presenter Rick Rhoads
RICK RHOADS: Hi. I've been told I'm limited to 10 minutes. So the only thing I'm bringing up here is my watch. Almost exactly a year ago, my wife Peggy—Peggy, stand up. Thank you—and I were on an airplane heading for Charlotte from Los Angeles for the GA2011. And one of us said maybe we should try to pass an action of immediate witness to support the almost 70,000 supermarket workers in Southern California who are on the verge of going on strike.
And we both said, oh my God, no, because we'd been involved in trying to pass an action of immediate witness the year before in Minneapolis around getting out of Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And that's all you do at the GA when you're involved in that is collect signatures, go to mini assemblies. And it's extremely time consuming.
But then we said—we were on the flight. We had several hours to talk about it. And we said, we're in this horrible period in this country and all over the world where workers are being forced to give back everything they fought for for decades and decades. And here's some workers that don't want to give back, many issues, many givebacks demanded by the supermarket chains.
But the main overwhelming issue was they want to make the cost of health insurance so prohibitive that these workers, who don't get very much money in the first place, would just have to not have it. So we said we've got to try to support them. And we went through the AIW process, and it did pass.
And we got back to Southern California, and an organization called CLUE, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice Los Angeles, CLUE LA, was supporting the union locals that were involved in preparing for this strike. And we had already adopted a supermarket in Santa Monica, a Vons on Wilshire Boulevard. But we got involved with CLUE.
And Felipe Findley who would have been here except that he and [? Marisol ?] just had a son. They have a deep belief in the future and expressing it by having a child. So he's, for that very good reason, not with us today, but he's certainly here in spirit. He had moved from our church to first UU Los Angeles because his job and his living accommodations went in that direction.
So we had already a bond. And we spoke to Felipe and others in that church, and we decided we'd both get involved with the CLUE LA campaign to support these car wash—excuse me, getting ahead of myself—to support the supermarket workers. Well, it struck a huge chord certainly in our congregation, as has been mentioned by Susan. Often, the social justice work is off on the side.
Well, everybody goes to supermarkets. And everybody talks to supermarket workers and knows them. And of course, in Southern California, it's very related to the immigration question because many supermarket workers are Latina, and many are black. So it's related to the whole question of race and immigration.
And there was a huge outpouring of support. And can you put the Vons picture? So this is about half the people from our congregation that came to the local Vons after a service on Sunday. And we presented a letter. I'm holding a copy of the letter kind of blown up to the manager who is trying to hide supporting the workers. And we marched through this door giving out 8 and 1/2 by 11 copies to everybody—patrons of the store, customers, and workers. And then, we gave it to the manager.
But as you can probably see from the picture, there were people from stroller age to on up, people even older than me. So it really moved a lot of people in our congregation. And we did all the educational stuff, articles and then newsletter, forums, talks, announcements, and whatnot.
So the strike ended up not happening. There were two strike votes over 90% in favor, delays, extensions, and negotiations. And ultimately, they settled for givebacks but not as Draconian as is changed had it initially been demanding. And that's what passes for a victory these days in the labor movement.
In fact, I was invited and went to a victory party in a hotel ballroom celebrating the fact that they'd only have to pay about $2,000 a year for their health benefits which used to be free instead of the prohibitive $8,000. So it's kind of to me, a sad victory party.
In any case, we're in this period, as I mentioned before, very difficult. Everybody knows about Wisconsin, but not so many people hear about the fact that one of the first things that President Obama did when he took office was freeze the wages of 2.3 million civilian federal workers.
But the union leadership is supportive of Democrats in general and the President in particular. So that isn't as big a union issue. But it ought to be, in my opinion.
So in any case, fast forward a little bit, CLUE LA is supporting the steelworkers union who are involved in a campaign to organize car wash workers in Southern California, many of whom are undocumented immigrants and all the horrendous things that have been talked about in many workshops at this GA.
I was in one yesterday on wage theft, happened to car wash workers. They forced to come in at, let's say 8:00 AM, but if there's not enough cars to wash for a particular group until 10:00 AM, they don't get paid for those two hours, forced to work through their lunch breaks, and watched the rags at the same time they have lunch, told to go away for two or three hours if the afternoon is slow, but make sure you come back, or you'll lose your job. And you don't get paid for those hours, tips stolen. You name it. No protective equipment. I could go on and on, but it's a disaster.
So anyways, there's this union organizing campaign. And we and many other churches, UU, and Presbyterian, and synagogues have become involved through CLUE LA. And when we went to rallies in support of the supermarket workers and marches, we get tremendous Thank you's for being there, for having passed the action of immediate witness and making it a national question, and the same thing with the car wash workers.
We've always told them is no, thanks to you, because you're struggling. We're supporting your struggle. But you're struggling not only on your own behalf but in our behalf.
We're in Santa Monica, California. People think of that as a wealthy place, mainly white, a lot of professionals, business owners. We did a survey in 2009. And our congregation, an economics survey, 10% of the people are unemployed. How many? Three minutes. OK. You've got it. Many were school teachers who had now had 45 kids in their classes and were taking pay cuts, Furlough days.
One was a private school librarian who was told you can come back next year if you're willing to work for half of what you're making now. Two people were homeless. People were losing their houses. People have been forced to take in boarders. And this is an affluent congregation.
So this is not charity when we support workers' struggles. This is supporting people who are fighting our battle. And I think that's the way we should look at it.
So anyway, we're involved in this car wash organizing campaign. And there have been three victories so far out of hundreds of car washes in Southern California. One of them is in our area, Santa Monica.
What the car wash agrees to when it's unionized so far is that they will comply with California wage and hour laws and safety laws. So they're paying slightly above minimum wage. And if the contract is actually enforced, they will stop some of these horrendous practices. But it's not even a living wage.
So again, this is a long, hard, difficult struggle and a very difficult period. But it's a struggle that has to be done. And as I said, it has all these implications around the question of immigration and fighting racism. And it's real.
We've had these car wash workers to our church many times. They've spoke in services. When our faith in action commission does the annual art wall that we have in our social hall, we put our pictures up that they come and talk. People get to meet them.
And it's important to have these theoretical discussions about immigration, and racism, and so on. But unless we're actually engaged in fighting against them, it's all talk. So we need to mobilize our congregations to support these struggles. And it's very possible to mobilize big sections of our congregations to do this and make partnerships with other faith-based organizations with community organizations and so on as we're doing. So thank you.
Presenter Rev. Carlton Elliot Smith
REVEREND CARLTON ELLIOT SMITH: Again I'm very honored to have been invited to be part of this important conversation about collaborations between community organizations and congregations. And I will just mention two of the collaborations that have happened at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Virginia where I served. Oh, there I am.
Let's start with VACOLAO then. I was going to start with another, but I'll start with VACOLAO. VACOLAO—no, it's good—VACOLAO is the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations. And I'll tell you how UUCA came to be involved with VACOLAO.
In September of 2011, our industrial areas foundation affiliate, which is called VOICE, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, the core team for our VOICE project at UUCA had a fund raising screening of a film called 9500 Liberty. I think some of you might have seen it, which is all about the immigration struggle in Prince William County in Virginia which was somewhat the precursor to SB1070.
And during that screening, it was very much a community event. We had translation that was available. We arrange for that. It was very expensive. But it was a good event to have had.
And one of the people who came to that event was Edgar Aranda who is the person who chairs the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations. And they were looking for a site to hold their first ever Virginia Immigrant Advocacy Summit. And he was looking around our building and said, hey, this would be a pretty good place to hold that summit.
And so we started a conversation from that point. And it was only maybe six or eight weeks away at that point when the event was scheduled. So we were able to come to an agreement about that. We offered them the use of our building at a very low cost out of our commitment to being in solidarity with immigrants and immigrant advocates in our state.
And there were about 200 or so people who were present for that Immigrant Advocacy Summit. And there were workshops all day long that were available to people. It was a very, very diverse audience, people coming from across the state. And that was the beginning of our relationship with the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.
And since that time, and actually it started to be somewhat of a guide for our immigration work at UUCA, because of the things that they had on their agenda, we started to take them on to ours as well. So the next time our Virginia General Assembly happened, we were part of Immigrant Advocacy Day during the General Assembly. And we actually had a chance to go from door-to-door and talk to legislators, expressing our support for immigrants and actually countering some of the claims and the things that were being said in opposition to immigrants. So that went very, very well.
And in the following year, we had the chance to become a co-sponsor of the second Virginia Immigrant Advocacy Summit. And about the same number of people turned out for that one as well. So I would start off by saying that part of the power that we have in our congregations is the capacity to make our buildings and our space available for use for our community partners who are seeking who don't have a lot of money to work with, and who are seeking venues to bring people together.
And this is actually a press conference that was held at the last Virginia Immigrant Advocate Summit. And it was really great because we've got a call—no, actually it wasn't for the summit itself. There was a press conference. There was something that was current in the news with regards to immigration advocacy.
And VACOLAO was looking for a place to hold a press conference. And we said, sure, you can use our building, our space, our sanctuary for that. And this is a gathering of those of us who spoke on that panel. And we've got some very good coverage out of that.
So it starts off with a conversation and building those relationships is what I would say how that partnership began. And we'll continue working with them. And as it turns out, Edgar Aranda who is someone I very much appreciate, has come to appreciate Unitarian Universalist values. So now, we're in a conversation with him and his wife about dedicating his child during one of our Sunday services. So that's a real gift and a real sign of the connection that I'm very, very happy about.
The other project I wanted to talk about is the DREAM Project, which is a very interesting story too about how we came to be involved with them. I have to say that at General Assembly in 2010 when we decided to come here to Phoenix for General Assembly, immigration was really nowhere on my radar. It wasn't something that had risen to the top of my attention at that point.
And I was looking to see how we might become more involved in immigrant issues. And so that fall, as I was just arriving at the Arlington, Virginia church, we organized a series of book discussion groups, The Death of Josseline. Some of you have read that also. We did a book discussion group around that, as well as having lecture series on immigration issues in the state.
And one of those lecture series, one of the community leaders, Jaime Areizaga-Soto, came and spoke to the gathered community that evening. And people were wanting to know, well, what is the thing that we should be focusing our attention on now. And he said, well, look to see about the DREAM Act. Because at that time, the DREAM Act was before Congress to vote on as well as the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
The DREAM Act, the acronym stands for the Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors, and would have provided a path of citizenship for those who would come into the United States as undocumented minors through achieving two years of college education or two years of military service. And of course, that didn't pass both Houses of Congress.
And it was right around that time that I was starting to ask the question, well, what am I going to do for the Dr. King service that was coming up. And then, a light bulb went off. And I said, oh, Dreamers and the dream of Dr. King. And the only problem was is at that point, I didn't know any Dreamers at all.
And I called one of the members of our congregation, or actually, a friend of the congregation who serves on the Arlington County Board, Walter Tejada. And he called Emma Violand-Sanchez who is the first Latino to serve on the Arlington County School Board. And she said, we would love to be part of that service with you. Because she had started working with these young people at that point.
So we had the service called Dreamers and the Dream. And we have four young Dreamers who spoke about at that service on that Sunday. This is January of 2011. And that began our partnership. And since that time, they've come and they've spoken at other programs and services that we've had. We've done workshops together. Oh, OK. It's no problem.
And so much so that we're able to continue it at such that we were able to present together the Dreamers and the Dream workshop here as part of this justice General Assembly. And we've also done a series of fundraising events around them. We have a monthly program we call Share the Plate where we raise funds for organizations. And one of those months, we actually raised money for scholarships for the DREAM Project and to provide opportunities for those young people.
And I have the great honor just a couple of weeks ago to have been asked to speak at their awards ceremony. And that was a really great privilege for me to have been invited to do that. And there were a number of people in the congregation who would also been supportive in fundraising and such with the DREAM Project. So that was a very exciting thing.
The thing that I would say also about our engagement with the DREAM Project is I'm hoping that it's an opportunity to help make some connections between things that at sometimes seem at odds with one another. I noticed that sometimes in the larger media, if you think about how the battles between the different ethnic groups are presented in our country, it's often the case that African Americans are in there somewhere. It's like blacks versus Latinos, and blacks versus Asians, and blacks versus Jews is how it's often presented.
And what I'm hoping to do through engagement with the Dreamers is to interrupt that conversation is to look and see, well, where are our similarities, where are the places where we're related. And I started thinking about the question of migration and people migrating for work.
Well, I have several people in my family, especially in previous generations who chose to relocate from the South to the North to Chicago as part of the great migration. I think about the conversations that happens amongst the Dreamers about coming out. And as a gay identified man, I could relate to that. And I think there are number of other gay and lesbian people who can too.
And then this question of access to education and making sure that for those ambitious people who want to further themselves by getting an education have the access to that, and knowing that as an African American growing up in the South, that was denied and relatively inaccessible for a very long time.
So in conclusion, I would say that as we go forward, I would encourage you to look in your local communities to see who is in your immediate sphere and where the possibilities are there and know that they start with just one conversation. Thank you very much.
Presenter B. Loewe
B. LOEWE: Good morning. Thank you. I want to talk to you all this morning about three themes—work, risk, and love. My name is B. I'm the communications director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. I've been engaged in day labor organizing since 2003 and been involved in social movement work since I was 15 years old, which is about 15 years ago as of next month.
And really, what I want us to take away from our time together when we're talking about partnership is that what we're working towards is understanding that living in the world together is living in a world where we need each other, where we have to live from a place of interconnection instead of disconnection, that the way the world has been created, the world that we're inheriting today is a world of disconnection that makes our connections invisible to the point where we live in a society where we're placing handcuffs on the hands that feed us.
And the people who are doing that work are people whose entire human potential we're treating as if their only potential is to feed us. And that needs to flip. And that needs to change.
And seeing that inequality as someone who grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, white male socialized in middle class, I think my initial impulse, especially coming from a Catholic social teaching, a messianic tradition where I wrote my first parable when I was 18, there's a temptation to help. There's a temptation to save. There's a temptation to see someone else's suffering and want to alleviate that.
But if we work from a place of interconnection, we see that that suffering is our own as well. And I'm not doing this to help anyone else. I'm doing this because I don't want to live in Tea Party America. I'm doing this because there are people who are here at this conference who when they go to drive home today are unsure of whether they'll get to the door to meet their children, or whether they'll end up in Tent City, the place where we'll be protesting tonight.
And that's not just a degradation of their humanity, but it's a degradation of my own as someone who shares this conference with them. And so I want to do this work because I want to liberate myself from the fears that I inherited growing up. I want to do this work because I want to overcome the challenges that inheriting the sexism that was given to me poses to having genuine connections with anyone else who I meet.
I want to overcome the racism that I was given growing up in the suburbs segregated from other people's experience. When we go into this work of justice, it's about overcoming the injustice that we've inherited. And so at 15 years old, having grown up in good schools with great education, my older sister met Sister Dianna Ortiz, a nun who was tortured in El Salvador.
She was tortured by people who are guided by a blond-haired, blue-eyed man with a US accent, who later found out that those people were trained at a school in Georgia, the school of Americas. And so when my sister came home from leading this nun and seeing the cigarette burns on her body, I said how is it that this could be happening in this world if I'm so educated, if I'm on the track towards leadership, if I'm Charles in Charge, if I'm He-Man, if I'm everything that this society has created for.
How is it that, one, I didn't know this? And two, how is it that it's happening in my name? And so I quickly realized what many scholars will say is that there's two sides of history. There's the hunter and the hunted.
And what Howard Zinn, the professor and supporter of those Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Civil Rights would say is that you can't be neutral on a moving train, that society is moving in a specific direction. And you either choose to pull the brakes and try to derail it, or set it on a new track. But if you sit there and do nothing, you're moving in that direction, and there is no neutrality in that.
And so I think as someone who inherited a certain side of that history and inherited powerful tools of education, of wealth, of privilege, confidence, and all those things that go with it, the question is not how do I lose those things, but how do I use those things in the service of the people.
And so when I was 18, I went to a protest, and I came home with this worksheet, that on the left side had dominating behavior, and on the other side had liberating behavior. And I came home, and I sat at the kitchen table, and I cried. And I told my mom, I'm everything on the left side of this paper.
And you know what she did? She did her job as a mom and said, no, [INAUDIBLE], it's OK. That's not true. But it was. And so coming into social movements as someone who feels like I have lots to offer, it also meant learning to lead by getting out of the way. It meant learning to lead by being of use.
And there's a poem by Marge Piercy that some of you all might know called "To Be of Use." And she says the people I love best are the people who jump into work head first without dialing in the shadows. And they swim off with shore strokes almost out of sight.
She says I love people who harnessed themselves and ox to heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo with massive patience, who strain in the mud in the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done again and again. She says the work of the world is common as mud, botched. It smears the hands, crumbles to dust, but the thing worth doing well has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident, Greek amphoras for wine or oil. Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums. But you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and the person for work that is real.
And so what that's meant to me coming into partnership, coming into movements, is finding people who I respect, finding people who live on those front lines, and finding people who have a vision that I feel will take us in turn from Tea Party America to a country where we live from that place of interconnection and asking how can I be of use.
And so Susan introduced me as the communications director. My daily work is pressed these days. But I've been a bookkeeper. I've been a fundraiser. I've been an organizer. I've been a farmer. I've been a website designer. I've done whatever it is that's needed to be done and what's been asked of me by the people who I respect to be useful for the movements that can move us forward.
And when we called out in 2010 for people to come to Arizona for a summer of human rights, I saw lots of people doing that. Pam McMichael in Tennessee is the head of the Highlander Center who will be holding their 80th anniversary celebration in several months, long history of social movements.
When I met her here in Arizona, she was doing data entry, because that's what was needed to be done in those two weeks. And so the work of partnership takes on two forms. There's what Ella Baker calls the shovel work, the daily work that keeps movements going. It's not glamorous. It's not sexy. It won't be written about in the press. But it's what keeps movements going.
But also, there's the bold work. There's the work that takes risk. And especially when we're talking about migrant rights, risk has not been any even thing between those who come to the movement in solidarity and those who live on the front lines.
What we see these days is that people are losing their fear. Undocumented people in this city are standing up to Arpaio. There were several young people a couple months ago who in their own neighborhood said that this is a neighborhood that's raided by Arpaio regularly. And so if he wants to come and find us, let him get us. And they sat down in the middle of the street, and they said that you're more afraid of us than we are of you.
And there are parents who have gone to Alabama and done similar actions, standing up being arrested knowing that because of our country's policies, they may never see their children again. They may be deported. They may be taken from everything they know. And they're willing to take that risk because that's a better way to live than the way they get to live now.
That's the risk that the people who we're trying to be in partnership, who we're trying to support are willing to take. And so I think that poses a question for us as well. Talking about the shovel work, I think, is easy. It's obvious. It's not always practiced well. But we know what we can do. And I think we laid out really good examples of that here.
Offer your congregation as a space. Solidarity at its most basic level, there's a white anti-racist network that's called Showing Up for Racial Justice. And at the most basic level, partnership is about showing up again, and again, and again for whatever needs to be done. But what needs to be done now in this moment is something bolder.
And I don't have the answer to what that risk is that can match what undocumented youth and undocumented families are setting an example of today, but I think that's the question for us to grapple with is how do we share that risk. How do we take a stand just as bold?
So I think for many of us, when we come into our first experiences of social justice of movements, especially in movements where we're not in leadership, but we're supporting the leadership of others, I think we have to ask is our desire for freedom more powerful than our fear of change?
Is it more powerful than our own egos? Is it more powerful than the mistakes that we are so sure to make along the way? But if we accept that we make the road by walking, that partnership isn't about perfection but about partnership. Can we walk that road together?
And so finally, love. You all have it blazoned across your T-shirts. So what does that mean? Cornel West, someone who came to Arizona in 2010, he said justice is what love looks like in public. Compassion is what love looks like in private. I would say that partnership is what justice and compassion look like together.
And Bell Hooks in a book, All About Love, and when we're talking about love, we're talking politics, but we're talking personal as well. And so she writes a relationship book called All About Love, which actually is a guide to movement work as well to me. She's quotes M. Scott Peck. And she says love is a verb. Love and neglect can never co-exist.
So if you're loving someone, it means you're treating them right. You're not mistreating them. Love is about the will to extend oneself for the spiritual growth of oneself and another, the will to extend oneself.
How do we extend ourselves out of our comfort zone? How do we extend ourselves out of our daily lives? How do we extend ourselves out of our sense of self and humble ourselves to extend ourselves in service of a movement that will move us towards freedom, that will move us to a world of interconnection, that will move us to a world where the suffering that motivates all of us is a thing of the past, and the vision that we get to work towards is not something that we dream about while we fight the hate of Arpaio?
It's not something that we wish we could talk about while we worked to close down Tent City but that those bars have been taken down. And then, that's the daily work we get to do. And so partnership is something where we do that together. Love in partnership is what justice and compassion combines to do. I'll stop there.
Audience Questions and Comments
SUSAN LESLIE: So I'd like to open it up for you to ask questions, make comments. Please just come up to the audience mic. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My name's Bill Sax. I'm here from Green Valley, Arizona, 40 miles from the Mexican border. I'd like to pick up on something several people said. I think maybe everybody said it. And that is it isn't we love them or something, but rather that we're on the same boat.
Just to put some meat on the bones of that, there was an article in the paper the other day about the federal poverty level on how it's defined. They define it as three times the food budget that went back to, I don't know, 40, 30 years ago. And they keep track of it. And it comes out to be about something like $18,000 for a family of four.
There's a researcher in the state of Washington, Diana—I'm blocking on her last name—who does a different index, namely, what it takes for a family of four to live on. She comes up with something on the order of $48,000-$49,000. The federal poverty level is mystifying totally.
She also points out that about 49% of the people in this country fall under—to me, that on that basis, we really have a basis to be millions and millions of people. And then, if you open your eyes just a little further and you say, well, if we had a movement of millions, what would we do with that. Would we have to settle for a few reforms here and there, when every time we make a reform, it ends up being taken away from us when we're looking the other way?
Or would we be able to change the entire system and tear down Arpaio's and the corporations whose profit gives us stolen wealth like the workshop yesterday, where in prisons, 80% of black men in this country as Michelle Alexander talked about Thursday morning? So I just want to plant an idea of a vision that if we have a movement of millions, and all of those millions are in the same boat, we should think outside the box about what we could do with such a movement of millions in terms of reorganizing this world.
AUDIENCE: Morning. I'm Fritz Hudson of the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska. And Carl and I appreciated you're identifying the industrial areas foundation, a group in your area, the congregation-based community organizing for having kind of gotten you into the work. I'm not familiar frankly with that side of the country. But I did spend seven years in the Pacific Southwest district.
And at that time at least, there was an act of IAF organization here in Phoenix, Valley interfaith Project, and also, one in Los Angeles. I want to say one LA or something of that character, I took training over in LA. And my question is of all three of you, what your experience has been of doing this work of partnering with secular-based organizations as part of organizations that are they faith-based and particularly IAF organizations?
It's a lot work working with congregation-based community organizing, all those one-on-ones and going across faith lines, figure out what your common ground is. Give me a plus and a minus of investing in that way to go where you've gotten, any one of you or all of three of you, if you're able? Thank you.
REVEREND SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: Thank you Fritz. So I had worked with IAF in the past as well as Gamaliel, which is another congregational-based community organizing effort. What I would say about what's been valuable in particularly that I've appreciated in the work here in Arizona is that Tonatierra is rooted in indigenous culture. So it's not church-based, but it is spiritual.
And in a way that's been helpful for my congregation as an Unitarian Universalist. There's a little bit less translation that happens than happens when we're working with Christian congregations, I find. I think it's easier.
The second and as well, even the secular relationships, are easier because we have a unique religious culture of our own. And then, this is what I'm discovering, and everybody may not agree, and there are good congregational-based community organizing efforts, and I don't want to undermine that, but for me, because churches are places of privilege as I spoke about earlier, that it can be very easy for those organizations to get caught up in ego and power struggles within and are often removed from really the most affected people.
And so you get clergy who want to lead, because we are leaders, and that's what we do. And we're used to leading. And what I appreciate about my work with Puente is that they lead. And I just try to organize my people to follow. And that to me is a better model.
And I would also add that sometimes I think they use the patriarchal model of power that ultimately we want to overturn. So they use that to—Susan says that's changing. So I hope so.
SUSAN LESLIE: I just want to say it did come out of the old Saul Alinsky, white guy model. But Gamaliel now has hired the first executive director of a national network, Anna Garcia Ashley, a Latina woman. And I think some of those old ways of being are changing. Just as you know, our churches were once mostly male ministers, and we changed too. So I just want to say that.
REVEREND CARLTON ELLIOT SMITH: And thanks Fritz for the question. And what I would say about our IAF affiliates involvement in the issue is that it's been somewhat tangential. It hasn't been expressly focused on immigration work. But so many of the issues that VOICE is working on, Virginians Organizer for Interfaith Community Engagement, have direct impact on people of color, and immigrants and migrants as well.
So we've been doing a lot of work on affordable housing and looking at Arlington and seeing that for Arlington, the affordable housing is considered 60% of the median income. And when you're in a county that has a median income of $106,000 a year, you can imagine that that doesn't allow a lot of people who serve us in that community to be able to live there. So we're doing a lot of work on that. And of course, that affects lots of people of color and immigrants.
So that's one of the things that's going on there. And it's interesting trying to get people to be able to see the connection that there isn't to be able to look at it, not from an us-and-them perspective, but really looking at it as us all working together towards this thing. But that's one of the benefits is that we get to see each other and how not having affordable housing affects all of us.
And the other thing that I would say about what's the difference in working with secular organizations and the opportunity I see for congregations is to provide a platform for those organizations to find their own voices. Now the DREAM Project didn't incorporate until after they have their experience at our congregation for that Martin Luther King Jr. service. And that became their springboard.
A lot of them came out on that day as Dreamers and began to find their own voice. I say to the extent that we can provide that for congregation. And that's a serious advantage, a gift that we can give them.
RICK RHOADS: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. We had a car wash behind our church to raise money for some workers who have been fired in the course of trying to organize the union. And they're amazing car wash workers. You've never seen such clean cars.
In any case, after was, we had a chili dinner and got into a deep conversation with these workers who told us amazing stories. And we had a discussion about is the greed of these car wash owners just kind of a personal greed, or does it come out of the inherent need of capitalist maximized profits.
And frankly, the union leadership did not like that we had that discussion. Because they want you to limit things to just carry out the reforms struggle and don't get into bigger issues. So I would say that's one thing that comes up.
Now CLUE LA, on the other hand, had no problem with that. And the people who come from other congregations, be they Jewish, or Presbyterian, or Muslim to CLUE LA kind of self-selected to be very open to pretty much a big range of discussion, and helping, and so on, on their own particular ways.
One of the workers at this dinner that I just described, after telling his long story about what had happened to him in Mexico and then at this car wash where he had hit by a car and so on, he said, you know, we're Catholic. But the Catholic Church in Santa Monica has not joined in this struggle. And we like you Unitarians.
AUDIENCE: My name is Stephanie Simpson. And I'm from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Maryland. I'm on the Social Justice Committee and the Anti-racism Committee there.
And one of the things that we've been talking about in addressing the immigration issue is the mental health impact of what's going on, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, not only obviously in the undocumented workers, but also in the people that help them. Anyone that has any iota of mental health education knows that there is such thing as secondary PTSD.
Anyway, it's a massive, massive problem. And in my opinion, it's justification on a medical reason and for obvious reasons why maybe some of this legislation can be pushed in terms of causing permanent brain damage. All you have to do is get information on PTSD and find out, that indeed, it is a lifelong illness that must be treated for the lifelong of the individual.
I'm wondering if any of you have done any kind of partnering more with any mental health organizations. And what did you find successful and maybe not successful as well?
B. LOEWE: So I want to point out Tania Unzueta who's over here in the room from Chicago from a group called the Immigrant Youth Justice League and deeply involved in the Undocumented Youth Movement. And they actually have a website called undocuhealth.org—is that correct—specifically, taking on the questions around health issues and mental health issues for undocumented people and how do you deal with the absolute degradation and insulting of your own humanity that's going on in the world, both in a psychic as well as in a very material sense.
And so I think I offer that as a resource. And then, I think the other resource to me is our movements. Because when Zack de la Rocha came here to Arizona in 2009, he said that what Arpaio is doing, what oppression is is a collective wound, that none of this is an individual injury. It's a collective wound. And the only way that you heal a collective wound is through collective struggle.
And so I think being part of movements is where we reclaim our humanity, where we reclaim our dignity, and where we refuse to accept the lies that are told about us on a daily basis. So I think there's a very real, very concrete undocuhealth.org and resources around that. And then, I think, for me, and I think for a lot of people, the way we find healing is building a power and more powerful than the lies that are told about us.
RICK RHOADS: Yeah, It's healthy to fight back.
AUDIENCE: Tom Thomas from BuxMont UU north of Philadelphia. Susan, listening to you talk about getting your congregation more involved, this silo thing, we actually sold 50 copies of the Death of Josseline and had discussion groups around that of whom maybe 15 or 20 people came. And we had some people from Quakers and some other people come. And we've had movie nights.
But we in the Social Justice Committee are like a silo. And we struggle with getting the younger people that are involved in RE in other parts of our congregation involve. And I hear you talking about having lost somebody important. Just tell us a little more about—all of you about getting your congregation motivated.
REVEREND SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: Well, I think it's two things. For us, it was personal. And we had personal stories in our congregation. These are our people. So that helped. I mean it just made it personal.
Much of moving people from the right ideas to action has a lot to do with how much your own self-interest feels impacted by what's happening. So that was just a part of it. And I think having Dreamers come and tell their stories, really helping people see the ways that this is happening in their name is another effective way, and to have it be somewhat part of the worship life of the congregation as well, but not sacrificing that for the real spiritual work and the ways that we need to nurture our spirits.
I mean people come to churches because they're looking to have their souls spoken to, a deep place. So we can't sacrifice that. But how do we go to that place and see how it connects us to one another and says we are all one in this? So I know I don't have just one clear answer. But that's a part of it.
And one of the things I just want to name is that, for me, as a white person of privilege and for others, I think, you actually can go through the world and not see what's really happening. I mean the system is set up so that you can believe that the police aren't going into neighborhoods. Because they're not coming into my neighborhood or your neighborhood.
So breaking down that wall and helping people see the reality is important. So I just want to say that when we say we're all one, it's really easy not to actually see that, not to see what's happening to other communities, to migrant communities, the wage workers, to all kinds of people. So helping folks see that reality is a piece of work too.
RICK RHOADS: Another great question. And in our case, we just had something happened along these lines. We wanted to figure out how to involve more of the young adults in the church in the campaign to organize car wash workers. And my wife and I actually sat down with some other people and said OK, who are the key people who would be inclined to help but haven't really been specifically asked to do so. And we came up with two.
One is very influential among the young parents in the RE program and also has been a major figure in the stewardship committee raising money for the church. And the other one is the designated social action person and organization called fUUsion, F-U-U-S-I-O-N, which is mainly the young adults who don't have children in the RE program.
Well, we invited both of them over to dinner and had long talks with them about their need to get involved and get others involved. And then my wife and I had to go to central Europe for a few weeks at the very moment when two key events happened in the car wash organizing campaign, one of which involved going to the Santa Monica city council meeting and staying there until 2:00 in the morning to testify on behalf of these car wash workers.
And lo and behold, both of these people did it and then also invited others to come to the next two events. So a lot of it is just figuring out who to ask, and asking them, and explaining why.
REVEREND SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: I just want to add the importance of believing in the people of your congregation. So one of the things we saw from my perspective was that some of the ways we were doing social justice, sometimes the message was the congregation doesn't care. They don't care. They're apathetic. We don't have any support.
And so there was a bitterness there. And that was never going to pull people to the heart of the cause. So you got to see everyone in your congregation as a loving human being, and treat them with love, and help bring them along. So if there's accusations, or bitterness, or things like that, those aren't going to feed the movement. I mean what B. said about love being the foundation of this is really important.
REVEREND CARLTON ELLIOT SMITH: And I just had a quick piece to add on to that, and that is that for whatever connections we hope to make, we have to start early. And I would encourage us to be persistent and consistent with our choices around that.
I'm just thinking one of the things that we were trying to do as we were putting together racial justice conference for our district was to have it be a multi-generational event that involved our youth as well as our adults and young adults alike. And just trying to get everybody in the room, it was very difficult.
We also wanted the Dreamers to be involved. But it's like, for, us to have pulled that off, we started focusing on it maybe, I don't know, 3 or so months before, but maybe we should have started like a year before to actually get the effect of that. So I would say, yeah, I couldn't really start.
SUSAN LESLIE: So I think we have time for one more comment/question, and then B. has a closing for us.
AUDIENCE: My name is Margaret White. I'm from the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, New Jersey. I could just say that getting one's congregation involved, we spent a whole year on immigration about two years ago. Carlton may remember that when he was in Paramus.
But what we have found most useful is we just asked them for money, because there's a lot of money in the Unitarian Society. And they liked to sort of pay attention to where their money goes. But that's not what I want to talk about today.
I'm part of an organization called the Community of Friends in Action that works with a large community of day laborers about 15 miles from Ridgewood, but it's like the other side of the world. And I have a very specific question and then a larger question. When you did the work with CLUE in the supermarket campaign, and you went into that supermarket, how did the police respond to that?
RICK RHOADS: We were into the supermarket and out in about 10 minutes. And the police never arrived. I just wanted to add one thing to the last question. I think our attitude toward the people in our congregation should be everyone can help in some way. And it's our job to figure out what to ask them to do, even if it's just putting a piece of paper in front of them that we've written a draft of and saying, can you improve this, for example. Everybody likes to be a critic.
AUDIENCE: My larger question has to do with the risk. As I said, we work a lot with the Guatemalan community, the Guatemalans, because they've been beaten down for 40 years of civil war, and then the results of CAFTA and NAFTA. Their approach to life is to keep their head down and not be noticed, please, and be able to send the money back to the kids at home.
But we worked a lot with wage theft, the messy little one-by-one, four-by-four, three-people wage theft cases where you end up having to go to the employer's house, which may be next door to the laborer's house. We are hesitant to ask the workers to go with us. I'm talking about us old white people who go and stand on the street. Because we feel like we would be putting them at risk. Because ICE is there. How do you deal with that? You spoke about it from [? Endilon ?].
B. LOEWE: So I think we have this theme of we're all interconnected. We're all one. And one thing to tease out of that as well is that we're also all different at the same time. And difference can be that point of connection for us. And sometimes, we gloss over those differences, and we gloss over how risk is different for people as well when we start talking about we're all one.
And so I think part of what we're talking about once we recognize our interconnection is also supporting people's self-determination, that you know best for yourself. And I think that you're absolutely right. We have the survival strategies that we're told in life, where you put your head down, and you get through.
Another way is you scam through life, and you get over. Other people just try to hide and get by. And the work of organizing is to tell everyone that the much harder way of doing things is actually the better one of getting together. And that's a process of consciousness raising. And that's a process of finding one's own value and one's own worth in the world, and seeing that be recognized as being possible as well.
So I think it's setting up a movement that respects people to choose the risks that they want to take and meeting that where it's at along the way. And I think in two minutes, the complexities of that, we can't really tease out completely. But I would say, how do we create an environment where people are willing to take risks because it feels like there'll be support along the way, and how do we play roles that we're being asked to play and letting people determine their own leadership in that process as well, I think, is like the overly simplified answer I would give to that right now.
AUDIENCE: Since I have the mic, can I make one shameless pitch?
SUSAN LESLIE: I'm very sorry—
AUDIENCE: We have a video.
SUSAN LESLIE: I want to thank you for the great work you're doing, and we need to close out. Can you say the video in one—
AUDIENCE: It's called Why I Am Here. It's the story of one of the day laborers telling his story. And you can Google it.
SUSAN LESLIE: Thank you.
B. LOEWE: Awesome. And we have a poster. We just had our national assembly in February. And we have a poster that translates to basically, when you work from below, you defend the whole world. And so respecting people's self-determination is also recognizing that when we work from below, we bring everyone with us. When we work from anywhere else, we're leaving someone else behind.
And so it's a strategic decision of supporting day laborers, domestic workers. The lowest on the economic runs are those who are going to lift the ladder highest.
So just a quick closing for us, we're talking about how we're interconnected. We're talking about how we need each other. And the president has actually been really good at taking the most inspiring slogans from our movement, si se puede, yes we can. And in 2008, he also told us that we are the ones we've been waiting for. But that was an Alice Walker saying to begin with. Correct?
But that doesn't mean it's not true. It just means that there's something funky when we're waiting for someone else to lead our movement. And the president is telling us that we're the ones we've been waiting for. So I think on this theme of partnership, on this theme of stepping into leadership on taking risks with love, what we want you to do is just find someone next to you.
And if you're comfortable with it, reach out—and can you stand with me, Susan? Reach out and hold each other's wrists, not each other's hands, but each other's wrists. So you're going to go like this. Right?
This is something that I saw the poet, Sonia Sanchez, do with her audience. And when you do this, you feel someone's pulse. You feel that in all the theoretical things we've been talking about, what we're talking about is living, breathing, pulsing human beings, and that we are the ones we've been waiting for.
So what I'm going to ask you to do is person one, look at the other person and say, you are the one I've been waiting for. And person two, when that person tells you that, tell them, I will not fail you. And now, person two, tell that person, you are the one I've been waiting for. And person one, respond by letting them know, I will not fail you. We are the ones we've been waiting for. Let's walk this road together in partnership in love. Thank you.