This message is part of our Voting Rights Campaign blog series. Today we hear from Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy And Witness Director. Click here to see more about the Campaign.
Get inspired! UUs around the country are partnering to stop voter suppression laws and to register thousands of historically disenfranchised people to vote. Next steps are Get Out the Vote mobilizations!
If all the people who aren’t registered to vote, all whose voting rights are being denied, and all who have lost faith in voting join the Moral March to the Polls, “we can tip the balance of power toward justice in this country,” said Rev. William Barber, III, as he thanked Unitarian Universalists in North Carolina for their voter registration efforts.
Registering High School Students
At the Georgia Mountains UU Church several members of the Faith in Action Committee who joined the UUA Voting Rights webinar last month and a training at the UU Church of Gwinnett, have organized to make sure that 100% of their congregation votes and that they reach out to register voters in the community. Wearing their congregational T-shirts, they registered 32 high school students at the local high school during their lunch hour, after getting tips from their local voter registration office and then contacting the high school, which put them in a touch with a student club that wanted to register seniors as a school project.
Getting Big Money Out of Politics
Across the country, UUs brought welcoming committees out to greet Sr. Simone Campbell and the “We the People” Nuns on the Bus tour that is working to get big money out of politics. UUs joined the nuns in their voter registration drives at a local farmers market in Muskegon, MI, and in low-income neighborhoods around Des Moines, IA. You can follow the tour here http://www.networklobby.org/bus2014.
Forward Together for Voting Rights
In North Carolina, the nuns teamed up with Rev. William Barber and the Moral Mondays Forward Together movement of which UUs are a big part. Rev. Barber preached at the UU Church of Charlotte following a weekend voter registration drive conducted by the two Charlotte UU churches and the North Carolina NAACP. They were joined by a group of volunteers from the James Reeb Project of All Souls UU Church in Washington, DC. Next weekend the All Souls team will be travelling to Charlotte again to join their Get Out The Vote drive to sign people up for reminders to vote and rides to the polls.
Mobilizing New and Low-Turnout Voters
UUs around the country are engaged in congregation-based community organizing and are working with Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, and the PICO network’s Let My People Vote campaign, whose goals are to bring millions of new and low-turnout voters to the polls this fall. The St. Louis Standing on the Side of Love group is working with PICO’s voter registration and community building outreach campaign in St. Louis and Ferguson MO. Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry, of the Boulder Valley UU Fellowship in Lafayette, CO, spoke recently at the PICO Colorado Together Get Out the Vote rally, calling out the false American myth that if only we apply ourselves enough we can have access to the basics of human dignity, sharing:
“When WE go to the polls, we can change this myth, re-write the story, create a new set of principles that respects the sacredness of all people by addressing systemic oppression and providing for basic human needs. This power rests not only in the right to vote, but in exercising that right, each and every time we are given the opportunity. There are lives at stake here. Beautiful, sacred, lives.”
Voting on the Side of Love for Health Care
Today, members of the UU Legislative Ministry of Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and NAACP chapters are marching in Williamsburg for a Moral Monday Denial of Medicaid Funeral Procession. These processions are occurring in states around the country that are refusing federal funding for Medicaid expansion. Caskets will be carried to symbolize the preventable deaths due to this denial, the economic impact on communities and on workers, and the hospitals that will be closed. They will urge people to come out to vote for candidates who support health care.
Voting on the Side of Love for Workers
The UU Advocacy Network of Illinois is supporting the statewide group Raise Illinois in working for passage of a referendum to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10. UU congregations around the state have gotten hundreds of reminder postcards signed in their communities and returned the signed cards to Raise Illinois, who will remind people to vote. They also spread awareness of the referendum question and provided an opportunity to help people register to vote at city bus stops and college campuses.
Get Out the Vote and Election Protection
In Pittsburgh, the Greater Pittsburgh Unitarian Universalist Cluster of 13 congregations have mobilized 100 volunteers to work with the Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause, Planned Parenthood, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights for ongoing voter registration, voter verification, Get Out the Vote, and election protection efforts. The First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh is serving as a hub for the effort and providing training and volunteer opportunities.The UU PA Legislative Advocacy Network has been deeply involved in an effort to register returning citizens. On Sept. 27th in Vernon Park in Philadelphia they supported the Coalition Against Mass Incarceration BLOC party and rally for the formerly incarcerated to connect with re-entry services and get registered to vote.
People in love shirts are faithfully reaching out in their communities to let people know that their voices matter, their vote matters, and that a fusion coalition addressing oppression in all its forms—from lack of health care, to systemic racism and economic inequality, to the need for immigrant justice—is moving forward together.
It’s not too late to make your Get Out the Vote plans. The UU Funding Program has $500 grants available through October 31. It’s just an easy two-page application with quick turn-around that can be used to hire a coordinator to match your volunteers with partner organizations, materials, and more! For more ideas click here for the UUA Voting Rights page.
Let’s be able to say on November 5th that we did all that we could to let people know about what’s at stake in this election, what their voting rights are, and to help get out the vote. We are voting on the side of love because beautiful, sacred lives are at stake.
UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director
P.S. Please let us know what your congregation or group is doing to Get out the Vote here!More >
I want to introduce you to Kenny Wiley, Director of Religious Education at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, CO. He has written a powerful piece about his own personal experience as a black man growing up in our Unitarian Universalist community. His story about the tension between race and faith has inspired me, and I know it will inspire you. Given all that has transpired in the last few months around the killing of Michael Brown, police brutality, systematic racism, escalating tension in Ferguson and around the country—it’s time to bring police brutality to an end. It’s time to hold our police forces accountable when they abuse their powers and the citizens they have sworn to protect. And as a people of faith, we must be a loud, unified voice for change. I encourage you to organize within your own congregations and communities to work for justice. Kenny suggests one such effort – the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation on Oct. 22nd — and there will be many more actions like this one. We who believe in justice, freedom, and compassion cannot rest.
Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President
When I was nine, a white UU adult told me after the service he loved that my black family worshipped at “his” church. “It shows how far your people have come.”
That confused me—I thought the folks at church were my people.
I am a proud, lifelong Unitarian Universalist. Some days I sing Spirit of Life to myself as I make breakfast. Coming of Age and YRUU (youth group) summer camps brought me ever-mingled comfort and stress. I am also black. The struggle for black freedom has long held a grip on my soul.
Growing up, I learned that Unitarians and Universalists traveled from near and far to Selma, Alabama in 1965, answering Dr. King’s call for clergy to join him in a march to end segregation. It was one of our young movement’s finest—and most tragic—hours. The Rev. James Reeb answered Dr. King’s call; just after arriving in Alabama, he and a small group were attacked. His companions survived; the young, white Unitarian minister succumbed to brutal injuries.
At Rev. Reeb’s memorial service, Dr. King asked the gathering, “Who killed James Reeb?” “A few ignorant men,” he replied. He paused and then continued, “What killed James Reeb? An irrelevant church, an indifferent clergy, an irresponsible political system, a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy, a timid federal government, and an uncommitted Negro population.”
As they so often do, Dr. King’s forceful words speak to the present moment. On August 9, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. We cannot know exactly what happened; Brown became one of many unarmed black and brown people killed by law enforcement. The city of Ferguson—and members of the broader STL community—decided enough was enough.
Many UUs, both in St. Louis and nationally, were moved to join protests and vigils after Mike Brown’s murder. I was one of them. I co-organized several events around police brutality in the Denver area, where I work as a Director of Religious Education at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church.
I believe that as people of faith—as those who profess to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person—that we can no longer sit idly by as our unarmed black and brown family members are killed by law enforcement, nor watch as their character is posthumously assassinated by media and citizens alike. Black lives matter.
Wednesday, October 22 is National Day Against Police Brutality. I am co-organizing a Denver event, and expect hundreds of people to join me at the Colorado state Capitol. Among them will be dozens of UUs. We in Denver are joining with dozens of other events nationwide.
I urge you, my fellow UUs, to join me and find an event this coming Wednesday. Information about the national October 22 Movement, and locals events all across the country can be found on www.october22.org. Post on social media your opposition to police brutality. Show up and have the hard conversations. At these events you will hear pain, and frustration, and even anger. Live into the discomfort. What you may hear is a tragic, sometimes fatal reality for your fellow human beings.
I ask you this as a Black American. I ask you this as a Unitarian Universalist. Whether you are young and black or seventy and white, you are one of my people.
The harrowing truth is that I could be the next Mike Brown. My household had two parents. I have a college degree and a job. My pants don’t sag. In the wrong situation, though, my ‘respectable’ nature might not save me.
I sometimes wonder—would my faith stick up for me as my character got questioned, as my blackness robbed me of my humanity in the eyes of many?
These questions keep me up at night. But I have hope that you would.
Unitarian Universalists, you are my people. Black folks (several of us are both) need you to show up. They don’t need you to lead or take over, but at these events on Wednesday the 22nd, we need you there. Wear a UU shirt. Stand (and sit, and witness) on the side of love.
The next call to action for racial justice has arrived. My people of faith: Will we answer?
My people want to know.
Director of Faith Formation—Prairie UU Church in Parker, Colorado
Organizer, Coloradans for JusticeMore >
Jennifer Toth, Campaign Manager at Standing on the Side of Love, sat down with Luzau Balowa, Coordinator of the LGBTI Caucus of the Refugee Congress to talk about the important work they are doing to ensure the protection of the human rights of LGBTI refugee and asylum seekers throughout the protection process.
Jennifer: Thanks for chatting with us Luzau. Can you tell us about the Refugee Congress?
Luzau: The Refugee Congress first convened in August 2011 as part of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 refugee convention to provide a forum where refugees from across the U.S could come together to focus on protection of those who have been persecuted and to bring greater awareness to the many contributions refugees have made and are making in the U.S.
J: Would you share more about the LGBTI Caucus of the Refugee Congress and what kind of work you are engaged with?
L: The Refugee Congress LGBTI Caucus was established last December. The Caucus is committed to achieving full human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons in the U.S. Our members are refugees who came to the USA between 1975 and 2012 and are deeply grateful for having received refuge and sanctuary in this country and for the spirit of generosity in which they were received by the American people
We are highlighting the voices of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. One of the biggest areas we hope to shed light on is that too often service providers are not adequately prepared to incorporate the needs of LGBTI people in their work.
Too often, LGBTI people are being left out of broader conversations about refugees and asylum seekers. We believe service providers would benefit from more knowledge on how best to work with LGBTI refugee and asylum. We’re hoping to expand their knowledge on these issues. Now that all of these major victories have happened in the US around LGBT marriage, we consider this a new and exciting opportunity to continue to expand our work
J: What are some of the current priorities of the Caucus?
L: We’re interested in seeing policy improvements for the rights of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers within the current US admission program. We are also working to empower human rights defenders currently living exile while giving them resources to support their LGBTI base within their home countries.
J: How can people support your work?
L: Today, all members of the LGBTI Caucus are working as volunteers and we are without sufficient resources. We are currently seeking donations of five new or gently used computers. Additional resources that would be of assistance include office materials as well as volunteers who can support with specific activities including grant writing and website development. Because we are a non-profit organization, any items you donate are tax-deductible!
Standing on the Side of Love is committed to assisting the LGBTI Caucus! If you can provide some of these resources and materials, please email us at email@example.com and we will coordinate donations.
Jennifer Toth, Campaign Coordinator, Standing on the Side of Love & Luzau Balowa, Coordinator, LGBTI Caucus of the Refugee Congress
To read more about the work of the work Luzau has undertaken, check out the African Rights Activists Group here.
This message is part of our Voting Rights Campaign blog series. Today we hear from Ifeoma Ike, Esq., the co-founder and National Campaign Director of BlackandBrownPeopleVote.orgClick here to see more about the Campaign. Click here to see more about the Campaign.
This week was an important one in our legal jurisprudence, where through restraint, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to let the appeals court ruling in five states stand, clearing the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As the nation and the world celebrated this victory in civil rights, a much less covered decision in Wisconsin was a painful reminder that the long fight towards democracy is still ongoing. The 7th Circuit upheld Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which voting rights advocates say has already impacted over 300,000 registered Wisconsinites—and disproportionately impacts black and brown communities. In Judge Easterbrook’s opinion, he writes that anyone who lacks a voter ID “was unwilling to invest the necessary time.” This decision was described by election law professor, Rick Hasan, as “heartless,” “horrendous,” and “the most superficial discussion” he’s witnessed.
The fatigue of communities of color is great, especially considering that we live in a constant state of unrest, fighting daily to preserve rights that should already be protected. To add insult to injury, we are surrounded by an indifferent, privileged, plutocracy, with self-serving goals that could never succeed without the exploitation of communities of color and the working poor. Wisconsin represents the many states that justify ridiculous hurdles to citizenship, and these modern day voting taxes are crippling the ability of everyday people to participate in the political system. There is nothing post-racial about today’s conditions. So it’s time we start acting like race matters.
BlackandBrownPeopleVote.org is a project that unapologetically spotlights the importance of black and brown people in this nation. Point blank: both sides of the aisle know that our vote matters, but very little is done to improve the conditions of the people that put them into office. It was created recognizing that while other rights are being expanded, voting is still a privilege denied by millions of people across America. Our focus is not just registration or voter turnout, but civic engagement throughout the year. We are trying to break the cycle of last-minute courtships of the black and brown vote, and forcing strategists, politicians, and pundits to place the appropriate worth on the minority political muscle.
The reality is the war against the black and brown vote is much more covert than literacy tests, though it has the same impact. Many municipalities have elections during odd times, and often during non-national elections, which are the best times to conduct elections IF you truly want all to vote. We need communications strategies that alert people in methods that are realistic with their lifestyles. For that reason, BlackandBrownPeopleVote.org partnered with digital specialists to enable people to get election reminders right to their smartphones. But an app doesn’t fix everything. Through community forums, town halls, and random visits to bus stops and barbershops, we merge technology with good old-fashioned conversations, connecting issues to politics, especially for those that feel their vote can’t make a difference. Engagement activists need to meet people right where they are and be intentional about the results we all want to see.
We are empowered by the love and sacrifice of ancestors like Fannie Lou Hamer, who boldly declared “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Similar to her quest to get every black persons in Mississippi registered, our team is on a mission to transform registered voters into all-the-time voters. To do this requires more than a couple drives here and there. It requires a 365-day commitment to stretching our churches to once again serve as organizing hubs; ensuring that members of social and civic organizations pledge to show up at the polls; outreach to college students that are drastically impacted by recent voter ID laws in states; and one-on-one consultations with people who are not only struggling to get their voter ID, but all the other secondary documents required to get such identification.
We each have the responsibility to be the change we want to see. I encourage you to sign up for election text reminders here (you can also register if you have not done so). If you are a leader of a group, organization, faith-based institution, or even workout crew, take the five minutes and sign up!
My overall message is simple, but not easy: Our vote is not cheap. Before you can seek our vote, you must first nurture the value and voice of our people. I hope for a day where all people—regardless of race or socio-economic background—would come together and collectively advocate for a fairer, stronger democracy, inclusive of all people. Until that day happens, we will move forward and march, turning foot soldiers into ballot casters. In the foreseeable future, there will be no question that #YesWeVote.
Ifeoma Ike, Esq.
Ifeoma Ike, Esq. is the co-founder and National Campaign Director of BlackandBrownPeopleVote.org. Ify served as counsel for Obama for America, and was an active member of the Congressional Voting Rights Working Group while serving on the US House Judiciary Committee. Ify was the brainchild behind the “Hoodies on the Hill” demonstration post the killing of Trayvon Martin, and co-created the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys. You can find her on Twitter @IfyIkeEsq, and BlackandBrownPeopleVote.org on Facebook and Twitter @BlackBrownVote.More >
“A few weeks ago, the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County announced yet another extension for the grand jury, this time for January 7. Delay is a time-honored strategy to dissipate energy and to take advantage of the public’s short attention span. It felt like a calculating move, lacking in respect for all those waiting and praying to know if there would be justice for Michael Brown. When I arrived at our Tuesday night vigil at the church, it had started to work on me. I had gone from outraged to raggedy and disheartened. I thought: who is going to even show up after this? Then I started seeing people arrive, one by one, two by two. And when our lawn had filled with people in yellow t-shirts, carrying bright yellow banners, it was like the sun came out again. My heart was lifted. I could keep going. I remembered my favorite line of Eleanor Roosevelt’s: ‘Courage is as contagious as fear.’”
- Rev. Barbara H. Gadon, Lead Minister, Eliot Chapel, Kirkwood, MO
This weekend, thousands will gather in St. Louis for Ferguson October. It is a clarion call for people who care about racial justice. This has truly become the Selma of our time, and it is far from over. We will need a great deal of courage to face what is ahead of us, especially when the grand jury makes its announcement. We need one another to show up and make our voices heard.
Unitarian Universalists in St. Louis invite you to come this weekend to gather courage, and to share your courage with us. Our churches will welcome you with open arms and walk by your side. And when people in your home congregations see pictures of us in our yellow t-shirts and signs, they will feel the sun come out. They will want to be a part of it. We need you to stand on the side of love – here in St. Louis with us. Check out the St. Louis Standing on the Side of Love page for more details.
If you’re not able to join us here in St. Louis, check out these resources and worship materials from our partners at the PICO Network on ways to support from your home community. Let us continue to raise our voices for justice in Ferguson as we continue to grow movements for racial justice and equity across the United States.
Rev. Barbara H. Gadon, Rev. Michael Hennon, Rev. Thomas Perchlik, Rev. Krista Taves, Rev. Julie Taylor, Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, St. Louis Metro Area MinistersMore >