General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Values into Action: Unitarian Universalists Reclaiming Democracy

General Assembly 2012 Event 315

Program Description

Speakers: Kindra Muntz, Randy Parraz, Kara Smith, Jennifer Jewell Thomas

Much is at stake in upcoming elections. Regressive policies and corporate control oppress people on the margins and disenfranchise the vulnerable. Hear from frontline activists working on the Arizona recall election and voter rights in other states, and learn what Unitarian Universalists and our partners can do together.


KARA SMITH: Today we're here to learn about some of the tools that we have and the ways we as people of faith and lived values can work with our community partners and allies to level the playing field and reclaim democracy. We know that there's a lot that can be done. So whether that's direct action, online activism, peaceful protest, community education and organizing, or all the above, the question is, how do we recognize, claim, and use our power?

RANDY PARRAZ: We all become conditioned to it, accept things as they are, and just adjust ourselves to it. And now that's happened with Sheriff Arpaio. He's been there 20 years, right?

When I got here in 2008, and as an organizer I started looking at the terrain, I was like, oh my god. Why is this guy in power? Because people become conditioned to accept it.

And the other thing that happens when you get with organization institutions is that they get invested in the work that they do so that they're almost unable to recreate themselves to meet the new challenges of the day. And so that's why I sometimes you have to break up organizations, create new organizations. That's why we created [INAUDIBLE] for safety and accountability.

That's why we created Citizens now for a Better Arizona. And I think five years for now Citizens for Arizona may not exist. We may just let it go and create something new. Because it's not about protecting your institution. It's about using institutions to make change happen. And when you have a situation where the current institutions allow bad things to happen, something needs to change.

So that's the thing when you get into organizing, trying to make change happen, there's two fundamental questions that you have to deal with when you're trying to make change at the grass roots level. It's what is it? With crystal clarity, what is the outcome that you want? What is it that you want?

And it can't be platitudes. It can't be just—it has to be very specific. What is it that you want?

And the second question, once everyone's in agreement on that—for us we want Russell Pearce recall. We want him out of office. That's what we want.

The second thins is, who or what do you need to get what you want? Well, determine who you're in coalition with. Because you don't just be in coalition because it's the right thing to do. You're in coalition because you need that power to make this change happen.

And so it's important that you have those conversations, because that will dictate who comes to the table. When you set up a coalition, you don't want everybody there, unless you need everybody there. And especially in sometimes religious communities or social justice communities, that conversation might rub people the wrong way. But fundamentally, this is about power.

How do you build the power necessary or create some maneuverability so real change can happen? How do you teach people and give them the tools to engage them? Because you don't need to go to college. You don't need a degree to do the work that we're doing.

[INAUDIBLE] just about organizing. Power is about money and people. And we've always had more people than money but yet we never invested enough to get the people organized enough to make the change happen.

KARA SMITH: As an individual citizen, you can do anything you want around political engagement. But one of the tools that we want to give you today is what you can do as a congregation, as a faith group. So I'm going to give you a couple dos and dont's for this election season, as your congregation.

So non-profit organizations, including congregations, have an important role to play in speaking to communities and candidates about the issues we care about. So there are many laws governing the role that nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status can play in the election process, but there is a lot that we can do.

We can't tell people who to vote for. We can't endorse candidates or parties. We can't make campaign contributions.

And we can't rate candidates on issues. We can't let candidates use our organizational resources unless they're made available to everyone. But if you do invite all candidates, that's fine.

So now for the can's, right. We definitely can advocate for the issues that we work on. We can ask the tough questions to our candidates. We can partner with community organizations that are working on those similar issues.

We can educate voters about the process. We can encourage and remind people to vote. We can distribute non-partisan materials about the issues we care about.

We can sponsor candidates forums to educate voters about the issues. And we can support and oppose ballot measures, ballot initiatives. That's open for us.

So while we need to follow these rules closely, I would say that we have a moral imperative to speak up about the issues that we care about and stand in solidarity with those who are most affected.