I just returned from the Interreligious Organizing Initiative’s Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race. The event brought together people who were formerly incarcerated, congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs), congregational representatives, policy experts, and funders. Throughout the summit, we shared stories and statistics, brainstormed about strategies and made commitments.
We heard stories from people directly impacted by the mass incarceration crisis. One speaker in prison for 28 years, including 20 years on death row, for a murder he didn’t commit. He was finally exonerated by the Innocence Project. Another speaker, an Iraq War veteran, is the mother of two teenage sons in jail who received a combined 200+ year sentences for reporting a violent crime. Because witnesses placed them at the scene! Story after story was told of communities and families under duress from systemic violence and policing, non-violent drug offenses and harsh prison sentences, and lack of re-entry options for people coming out of prison.
We heard about facets of the crisis including:
The Business of Prisons
Prisons have expanded at unprecedented rates in recent decades. This is, in part, due to the monetary gains to corporations involved in the prison industrial complex. Attendees talked about the connection between private prisons, big business and low-wage labor for prisoners coupled with the systemic employment discrimination people face when they return home.
Human rights violations surrounding the prison industrial complex including policing, detention and incarceration were discussed as pressing issues for advocates to address. The U.S. has one of the largest numbers of people in solitary confinement, considered torture after 15 days by the United Nations, in the world.
As prisoners are moved within their home state and nationally, census numbers shift. Though prisoners cannot vote while incarcerated, and many states have laws barring formerly incarcerated people from voting, they count as residents in the creation of voting districts.
And we brainstormed solutions:
I’m grateful for the folks who shared their stories throughout the weekend pushing attendees to ask questions about leadership. Countless speakers emphasized the need for efforts to end mass incarceration that are led by formerly incarcerated people. Their experiences, coupled with their visions for the future, will transform how we build new organizations and institutions.
Leading with Who We Are
Aptly titled a Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race, the convening was centered in an analysis and guiding principle that racism and white supremacy in the U.S. have been a primary cause of our current “carceral state.” From policing and detention to incarceration and return our identities (including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, language, and ability) impact our experiences with the criminal justice system. Our organizing must recognize the centrality of that reality.
Faith in Action
Faith, religion and spirituality were central to each activity of the convening. The moral imperative to understand and take action on the issue was made clear by the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton’s opening convocation about putting faith to work because as he reminded us, “Faith without work, is dead.”
What You Can Do
• Support the Smarter Sentencing Act – Join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales on this Clergy Sign-On
• Lay Leaders can sign this petition from Families Against Mandatory Minimums:
• Join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration
• Read the UUA Statement of Conscience on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform and find out how your congregation is already working on these issues
• Check out resources on the UUA website about work already happening to end mass incarceration
• Learn more about efforts to end mass incarceration led by formerly and currently incarcerated people with Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement, All of Us or None, and Black and Pink, among many organizations.
• Research folks working on mass incarceration, prison reform and abolition in your community
Join us as we continue to explore and support efforts to end mass incarceration.
Standing on the Side of Love
Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting with President Barack Obama.
I was invited to the White House as part of a small group of Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) business, community, and religious leaders. The meeting coincided with the beginning of AAPI Heritage month, an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of AAPI people to our nation.
The President had called the meeting to discuss the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform. He and members of the White House Senior Staff noted that the legislation that had passed the Senate last year would be the most significant legislation that the House could pass in the next few months to revitalize the economy, rejuvenate the workforce, and strengthen the solvency of the Social Security Fund.
The President was clear-cut and forthright with us. He said, “Immigration reform is my highest priority”. He noted that the political landscape around immigration had significantly shifted in the last few weeks. Several Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), had come out publicly in favor of immigration reform and there being potential Republican votes in the House on individual immigration reform bills. The President sought our help for what he described as a “two month sprint” to pass immigration reform in the House of Representatives.
We also heard from the President about providing administrative relief from the ongoing impact of detention and deportation that are tearing families apart. His staff shared that a review of immigration enforcement policies was underway in the Department of Homeland Security.
When I got a turn to speak, I thanked the President for his strong commitment to immigration reform and said we’re ready. I shared that Unitarian Universalists have been working with other progressive, interfaith, and immigrant justice partners for many years for comprehensive immigration reform; that Standing on the Side of Love’s “have a heart” and “keeping families together” messages have been very effective in mobilizing people to call or write to their representatives in Congress; and that we continue to be deeply committed to working to put pressure on House Republican members to support comprehensive immigration reform. I also shared that families need relief now and that we are supporting their request for executive action.
I came away from the meeting deeply moved by the President’s strong and genuine commitment to fixing the broken immigration system through legislative action in the next couple of months. And I was inspired by the group’s enthusiasm to work with the President and his senior staff to help make it happen.
So, what can we do?
We can work in local communities to reach out to members of the Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino/a, Arab American, African, East European communities and allies who have a stake in fixing the broken immigration system. We could make in-district advocacy visits and calls to their House representatives and put pressure on them to support HR 15.
If we do these things, and do them well, we have a really good chance of not only winning on immigration reform, but also energizing immigrant communities to continue working together on issues of mutual concern regardless of what happens in Congress this summer.
Our current immigration system, instead of welcoming the stranger, leaves families living in fear of deportation, prevents young people from achieving their dreams, and obstructs immigrants from sharing their gifts and improving the economy.
As religious people who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are called to change this. We are being called to work together with other faith, immigrant, and community partners to encourage our lawmakers to take action. We have a historic opportunity to help create a pathway to belonging and hope for 11 million immigrant brothers and sisters.
I fervently hope you will join me in making it a reality.
Rev. Abhi Janamanchi
Senior Minister, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
P.S. Use these hashtags on social media to continue to raise awareness with your friends and family, and encourage them to contact Congress to #DemandAVote because the #TimeIsNow to #PassCIR.More >
Picture it: It’s summer time in Maine. You finally have time to truly unwind, and disconnect from all the stressors in your daily life. There are no unwanted distractions, and the only things that fill your schedule besides rest and beach time are things that fill your soul.
Sound good? Then join us this summer at Ferry Beach!
Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) has teamed up with Ferry Beach to offer a special program for people who want to strengthen their connection with others doing love + justice work. Holly Near, singer, songwriter and longtime community activist, will be at Ferry Beach from August 16th through August 19th. She will conduct workshops on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings after her very special concert on Saturday night, August 16th.
Holly’s workshops will include ways we use music to advance our social justice/social action work in the community. She will help us consider how we can use songs and the spoken or written word creatively to bring our messages to the world. She will also guide us in thinking about how we can use our creativity to nurture ourselves as well.
Joe Jencks, singer, songwriter and activist will be at the Beach from Wednesday through Friday, also providing inspiration and activation for your SSL team.
Stay for the whole week so you can join Standing on the Side of Love Campaign Manager Jennifer Toth, who will also be at Ferry Beach offering afternoon workshops on building and nurturing your SSL justice work on Thursday and Friday, Aug 21st-22nd. These very special workshops will be energizing and uplifting for your SSL work in your community.
A special rate will be offered for SSL teams of 2 or more coming from the same congregation. If you register for at least 4 nights (the whole week is 7 nights) and have 2 or more people coming from the same SSL group, we will discount your stay by $200. That’s a 40% savings!
Won’t you join us this summer for this very special opportunity to further your social justice and social action work by re-energizing your volunteers in this way?
Cathy Stackpole, Executive Director, Ferry Beach
Jennifer Toth, Campaign Manager, Standing on the Side of LoveMore >
Standing on the Side of Love is thrilled to announce our upcoming collaboration with the UU College of Social Justice. This fall we will join them on a delegation to witness and call attention to the human rights violations taking place on the US-Mexico border. We will meet with civil society and religious leaders on both sides. And we will continue to call for immediate action to stop deportations and for comprehensive immigration reform. Click here to learn more about their witness trips including the Mississippi Civil Rights Journey this summer. We’re pleased to re-post this reflection from UUCSJ’s Director, Rev. Kathleen McTigue.
The long morning walk in the desert that stretches along the Arizona-Mexico border was eye-opening and heartbreaking. I was there a few weeks ago with a group of seminary students on our program with BorderLinks called “Theology and Migration.” We hoped to better understand the reality of these borderlands between countries and the many entwined justice issues that lead so many people to literally risk their lives — in the simple, essential search for work.
We walked through a stunningly beautiful landscape, filled with spring birdsong and blossoms, the horizon formed by sharp desert mountains. But the sun, harsh terrain, and lack of water made it a profoundly dangerous place to walk, even in broad daylight with sturdy shoes. We were warned to watch out for the cholla cactuses and even so, several of us got them caught in our shoes and clothing; they pierce easily and are very painful. The migrants who try to cross this desert do it at night, in cheap shoes that can fall apart in a matter of hours. For them, stepping on a cholla — or having the soles come off their shoes — can mean the end of their lives.
We learned that in this area over the past ten years, the remains of over 3,000 people have been found. Three thousand human beings in ten years! And the desert is a big place: those are just the bodies that have been found. Volunteers with groups like Samaritans and No More Deaths mark the places where people have died with simple white crosses of wood or pipe, with the word desconocido — “unknown person” — and the year they were found. In an effort to keep others from dying, they go out along these migrant trails every day, carrying gallons of water and the willingness to bring those they find into town to a hospital — an act that risks a felony charge under current law.
We spent a full week in Arizona and Mexico, hearing stories from migrants, clergy, volunteers of many stripes, and immigration officials. We sat in on court hearings as migrants in shackles were sentenced to many months in prison because they were caught for a second or third time crossing the border. We prayed at the border wall, a towering steel structure surrounded by stadium lights, mounted cameras, and armed guards. We saw first hand the degree to which an issue of civil law has been thoroughly militarized: our borders are like a war zone.
Now I am back home in Boston, more determined than ever to add my own voice to the demand for immigration reform. I urge you to consider joining us in the coming year on one of these journeys to the border, or contact us about scheduling a group from your congregation for this program. You will be moved, inspired and empowered — because no matter where we live, immigration justice calls us to action.
The Rev. Kathleen McTigue
Director, UU College of Social JusticeMore >
We have been humbled by the outpouring of support, actions and love received from our supporters over the last five years. You have shared your photos and stories, and have taken action online and on-the-ground. Now it is time to share a love note commemorating five years of Standing on the Side of Love.
We’re thrilled about our plans to celebrate and keep the momentum going at General Assembly, online, and in our communities. Can’t make it to GA? We still want to hear from you, so be sure to share your story. We can’t do this work without you. With your support we will continue to combat oppression as we call for justice and love.
See you soon!
Jennifer Toth, Campaign Manager & Nora Rasman, Campaign Coordinator
Standing on the Side of LoveMore >