This past Wednesday, over 100 Unitarian Universalists from across Massachusetts gathered for “Advocacy Day.” Our goal for the day was simple: find, meet and discuss key political issues with our state legislators. We wanted them to know where we stood, hoping both to build relationships with our representatives and also to effect their vote. Led by UU Mass Action, the statewide UU advocacy network, Unitarian Universalists focused on three important issues: defeating an immigration bill similar to the controversial Arizona law, opposing a harsh and wasteful “three strikes” bill that disproportionately affects people of color, and supporting several key housing initiatives designed to help middle and lower income families.
The day began with a breakfast fundraiser in the UUA Library and featured Dan McKanan, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, award winning author and Unitarian Universalist. Dan spoke about the history of radical movements in the United States and encouraged us to see ourselves as heirs to a strong and proud tradition of religiously progressive social activists. Following the breakfast, participants worshiped together and heard from UUA President Peter Morales who exhorted us to “go make trouble.” We also heard from State Senator Will Brownsberger, a Unitarian Universalist lawmaker, who spoke about how his UU faith influenced his work in politics.
Following the breakfast, members of UU Mass Action and other UUs from Marblehead, Medford, Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville joined immigrant rights groups Centro Presente and Student Immigrant Movement at a rally to Restore Trust, Stop ‘Arizonification’ of Massachusetts, and witness in solidarity with immigrants. As the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments about SB1070 in Washington, D.C., rallies took place around the country as part of a National Day of Action against the Arizona law and similar legislation in other states.
The crowd chanted “la gente unida/ jamás será vencida” (the people united/ will never be defeated) as speakers told their own stories and gave historical and economic context for why people are forced to migrate. A youth group from First Parish Cambridge UU, as part of the UU Mass Action Lobby Day, joined the witness, as did two high school political science classes.
Rev. Hank Peirce of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA spoke on behalf of the religious community in support of immigrant families in the state. He spoke about immigrant visionaries from Massachusetts’ early history who impacted and shaped the state’s forward thinking, and called on Massachusetts to again be a leader in human rights. He asserted, “not only is it important for our national court to reject SB1070, it is important for us in this state—this state which has lead our country and our nation in important laws and important understanding of how people should treat each other—it is important for us to lead and not to follow. Not to follow other states, not to follow rules from other states, but to follow our own conscience.”
Following the rally, Advocacy Day participants split into three groups by issue, and experts on each piece of legislation spoke and took questions. And then off we went! One hundred strong filed through the State House doors, through security, and then towards the office of our lawmakers.
Within the next few hours, Unitarian Universalists emerged from their meetings feeling listened to by their representative. Many who had felt anxiety going in to their meeting were impressed by how receptive and eager their lawmakers were to meet with them. Everyone I talked with felt their conversation made a difference.
Time will tell the future of these bills, but it is rewarding to know that Unitarian Universalists made their voices heard. The experience was an empowering one; it served as a reminder that legislators are indeed “public servants” and that it is our right and responsibility to share with them our concerns and feelings. Perhaps one participant said it best standing under the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House: “Sometimes we forgot that this building is our building, that it exists for us as people of this state. All that happens within these walls should happen for our good, and if it doesn’t, we need to make sure it does.” It is wonderful that Unitarian Universalists are taking these words to heart, assuming the voice of justice in a time and place that needs it deeply.
Schuyler Vogel is a UU seminarian at Harvard Divinity School and is doing his field education with UUA Witness Ministries