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—each of us, and together—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 has chosen Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment by Zach Norris (Beacon Press, 2021) as the next Common Read.

Zach Norris shifts the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward growth and support systems for our families and communities. In Defund Fear, Norris explores what has gone wrong, and why, and who has been most impacted 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, a community organizer, and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, CA. Learn about the Center’s work and read his bio.

January 2022 Update

The UU Common Read begins to roll out resources for Defund Fear on January 30 to coincide with the 30 Days of Love focus on Decriminalization, one of the UUA’s intersectional justice priorities. In a one-hour recorded conversation moderated by UU World editor Roger Santodomingo, Defund Fear author Zach Norris engages with UU religious professionals about ways the book resonates with UU theology(ies). The conversation calls UUs to respond individually and collectively with prophetic, faith-based participation in our shared public safety. A link will be posted on this page.

Common Read discussion groups can begin meeting in April with the expected publication of materials to support any congregational group or a BIPOC-only group, using a small group ministry format.

While reading Defund Fear, please keep in mind the “Guidance to the Reader” offered below: Bring self-awareness of your place in your community and the world to seek your place in our shared public safety story.

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 punishing first responses either benefited 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? 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?

How to Engage

With online gathering now a norm, readers need not live near one another to form a Common Read group. As resources for UU Common Read groups become available in the coming months you may find, based on the identities and social location that you hold, that a community other than your local UU congregation may better support your faithful exploration of Defund Fear and what it asks of you. In 2020-21, the UUA introduced two discussion tracks for the Common Read of Imani Perry’s Breathe: one for any UU group, and one that is only for people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. For Defund Fear, anticipate a range of resources geared toward identity-based groups and geographically dispersed cohorts as well as additional resources that any UU faith community can use.

Multimedia resources for this Common Read, including a traditional discussion guide, will be provided as they are developed.