The UU Common Read

A graphic illustration shows the head and shoulders of nine different adults in individual squares, as in an online meeting.

Even when we cannot gather in person, a Common Read can still bring us together.

The UU Common Read builds community in our congregations and our movement by giving diverse people a shared platform for reflection and a shared focus for action. Further, a Common Read can take us on a powerful faith journey as we explore what it means to be human and accountable in a pain-filled world.

A book titled "Defund Fear" by Zach Norris is held in the hands of someone whose hands are light brown; only their torso is showing.

Common Read 2021-22: Defund Fear by Zach Norris

The UUA chose Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment by Zach Norris (Beacon Press, 2021) for this Common Read.

Zach Norris shifts the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward support systems for our families and communities. In Defund Fear, Norris explores what has gone wrong, and why, and who has been most harmed by repressive and racist policing systems. He offers a new blueprint for public safety that holds people accountable while still holding them in community.

Norris is a lawyer and community organizer who until early 2022 served as Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, CA. Learn about the Center’s work and read his bio.


The UU Common Read began rolling out resources for Defund Fear in January to coincide with the 30 Days of Love focus on Decriminalization, one of the UUA’s intersectional justice priorities. Resources available:

  • A recorded conversation (Vimeo, 1:10:00), moderated by UU World executive editor, Roger Santodomingo, engages author Zach Norris with UU religious professionals on ways the book resonates for UUs. The conversation calls us to respond individually and collectively with prophetic, faith-based participation in our shared public safety.
  • A discussion guide, for any UU congregational group (Word, 59 pages), offers a single 90-minute session and a three-session option for online or in-person gatherings.
  • The interactive Share map allows groups to open your Common Read to new participants or simply "put your group on the map"!
  • While reading Defund Fear on your own, use the “Guidance to the Reader” (below) to activate self-awareness of your place in your community and the world and find your place in our shared public safety story.
  • If you are in, or would like to join, UU activist networks, consider the six-session, abolition-focused program of study and action for the Defund Fear Common Read, developed by the UUA’s Side with Love team.
  • To move forward into practice with your Common Read or congregational group, find entry points in the document, "Defund Fear: Next Moves for UUs" (Word, 4 pages).

Guidance to the Reader: Defund Fear

As Unitarian Universalists, the matters raised in Defund Fear invite us to respond to public safety in the U.S. today through a lens of faith. We urge you to grapple theologically with big, tough questions about who we are and the meaning and purposes of our lives.

Norris illuminates and examines society’s “punish first” public safety practices, in part, by exposing the traumatic and dehumanizing experiences of individuals who have shared them for the sole purpose of opening minds and hearts to bring change. Our values call us to approach this book with humility toward these stories and appreciation of the tellers’ generosity and purpose. Everyone has a place in the stories Norris offers. Bring self-awareness of your place in your community and the world to seek your role in the stories and in the challenges they call forth.

For your care, for your growth, and for the care and growth of others in your community with whom you will discuss Defund Fear, it is strongly recommended that you enter this book with these questions by your side:

  • What is my connection to the stories told and the harms named? Where am I in these stories? In what ways have the system's "punish first" responses either benefitted or harmed my community?
  • What is my story of public safety? In what ways has fear shaped my assumptions and experiences about public safety?
  • What is my complicity? Does my sense of safety help to create "un"-safety for someone else? What shape does, or could, my accountability take?
  • What support do I have and what do I need, in bringing my raw self to this book and the faith questions it asks me?

A Conversation with the Author, Zach Norris

As part of the Common Read, four UU religious professionals talk with Zach Norris about why the call to achieve community safety and security for everyone matters to people of faith in our Unitarian Universalist movement. Join Norris and Rev. Ranwa Hammamy, Rev. Jason Lydon, Rayla Mattson, and Carey McDonald for a one-hour-and-ten-minute conversation moderated by UU World executive editor Roger Santodomingo.