The good news was that I stood on the side of love demanding greater economic justice! The bad news was that I was arrested for doing so.
Actually, I was part of a planned civil disobedience at a living wage action. This past February, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) opened up a path for many people in Pittsburgh to stand on the side of love. PIIN is a congregation-based community organization (CBCO) that includes the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, where I serve as Senior Minister. On February 27, 2014, PIIN organized a rally at the headquarters of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) in downtown Pittsburgh to urge them to pay their workers a living wage. Despite it being a bitterly cold and snowy day in Pittsburgh, more than one hundred people came to the rally. Ten spiritual leaders from PIIN congregations engaged in civil disobedience to demonstrate our demand for economic justice. We stood close together in the cold singing songs. Eventually we were arrested for trespassing. On Monday, March 3, more than one thousand people attended another rally at UPMC headquarters, and more than one thousand people attended yet another rally on March 4. Midway through that rally, we received word that the newly-elected Mayor of Pittsburgh had heard our message and would soon have a meeting with the CEO of UPMC to address our grievances.
As our region’s largest employer, UPMC employs about 60,000 people in twenty hospitals in the greater Pittsburgh region. A tax-exempt charitable institution, UPMC nevertheless collected $1.3 billion in profits over the last three years. Unfortunately, however, many of UPMC’s full-time service workers do not earn family-sustaining living wages. UPMC has $4 billion in reserves and recently spent more than $50 million for a corporate jet, while opening a food pantry for its low-wage employees and asking for contributions to the food pantry from other employees. Twenty-seven UPMC senior executive have annual salaries of $1 million or more. Meanwhile, UPMC management has strongly discouraged union organizing practices, has refused to provide affirmative action data as is required of all federal subcontractors, and has avoided paying real estate taxes, thus depriving local schools and governments of much-needed revenue. Our central concern remains that because UPMC is our region’s largest employer, when UPMC pays unfairly or inappropriately low wages, there is a ripple effect throughout our region that keeps wages unfairly or inappropriately low for many other workers as well.
It is clear that our efforts have made a difference. On April 2, 2014, the New York Times published an article about our struggle in Pittsburgh, including this observation: “Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, said in an interview that he had urged UPMC to pay more and not to ‘intervene unduly’ in the unionization drive. ‘It’s the largest employer in the state of Pennsylvania,’ he said. ‘They have the means to help their workers break the cycle of poverty and join the middle class. They probably have more of an ability to do that than any other entity.’”
At this time, when there is substantial momentum to raise the federal minimum wage, I hope you will find a way to stand on the side of love for economic justice in your community. Please see the joint UUA-UUSC Statement on Raising the Minimum Wage—A Moral Imperative. As Unitarian Universalists, we can make a difference when we put our faith into action. The UUA and UUSC are part of a broad interfaith coalition that is bringing your voice to Congress. In Pittsburgh, as in many other places, working in coalition with other groups has helped provide leverage for our Unitarian Universalist values. Learn more about UU involvement in congregation-based community organizing here.
Here is a portion of a prayer that I offered at the start of one of our rallies: “Gracious Spirit, when you asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves, you were asking us to focus on the public meaning of love, which is Justice. Gracious Spirit, we are not asking you to stand on our side. Instead, we are asking you to help us stand on your side: the side of those who experience injustice; the side of those who are treated unfairly; the side of those who are pushed aside; the side of those who are shut out; the side of those who work hard all week but are still denied a family-sustaining living wage.”
Rev. David Herndon
Minister, First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
Click here to read Rev. Herndon’s full sermon reflecting on the action at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.More >
As Passover is upon us and Easter is near, this is a special time for millions of Jews and Christians around the world. Tragically, this holy week started off with a shooting rampage at a Jewish community center in Kansas that left two adults and one teen dead. It has all the indications of an anti-Semitic hate crime, and it’s a painful reminder that the long journey to end oppression in our world also remains an urgent one.
And as is sometimes true of urgent journeys, we may need to drop everything that might cause us delay. Traveling lightly and rapidly, in fact, may be the only way to freedom.
This was certainly the case for the ancient Israelites. The Hebrew exodus narrative tells us that when the Jewish people decided to follow Moses out of Egypt, they had to leave in such a hurry that they couldn’t even wait for their bread to rise. In the words of poet Alla Reneé Bozarth, they had to “pack nothing and begin quickly” if they were to escape once and for all the horrors of slavery and open a new chapter of faith and freedom in their lives.
Bozarth writes of the Passover:
Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and
your willingness to be free. Do not hesitate to leave your old
ways behind – fear, silence, submission. Only surrender to the
need of time – to love and walk humbly with your God . . .
Begin quickly, before you have time to sink back into old
slavery. Set out in the dark . . . Sing songs as you go. You may
at times grow confused and lose your way . . . Touch each
other and keep telling the stories . . .
Her poem reminds me that the work of justice and recovering wholeness often means interrupting the ways I usually think (such as “I couldn’t possibly make time to do such and such”) and seizing opportunities that present themselves before I become captive to my old ways of acting.
As we gather together with family and friends this week and this Sunday . . . and as we hear the old stories of freedom and new life, I’m hopeful that the well-being we want in our lives and in the world is possible. I believe it will begin as soon as I’m willing to leave behind anything that stands in my way . . . and get on my way.
The Rev. Terry Davis
 “Passover Remembered” in Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey by Alla Renee Bozarth, 1998.More >
On March 30 women from several Unitarian Universalist congregations, including the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fullerton, actively participated in the UU Women’s Day of Action for Immigration by holding a vigil and 24 hour fast in Brea in front of Congressman Ed Royce’s office. During the vigil, with support from Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), the women collected 90 signed letters asking Mr. Royce to use his influence in the House of Representatives for passage of compassionate immigration reform that 1.) values the human rights of immigrants, especially that families not be torn apart, 2.) gives Dreamers (young people, who through no choice of their own, were brought to the U.S.) the chance to pursue higher education and careers, and 3.) to offer a humane pathway to citizenship. Our country was founded on welcoming immigrants and providing opportunity for those leaving adverse situations, a tradition that should be honored.
Vigil activities included oral readings from published immigration research not often presented in mainstream media, music and singing of traditional social justice songs, and engagement of the public in discussion on compassionate immigration reform. Vigil and fast participants included a wide age range of women who are citizens and not People of Color, highlighting that immigration reform is not only an issue for Latinos, Asians, and other groups, but it is an issue that affects us all. The message is that a system that breaks apart families is itself broken, and that the inhospitality and cruelty shown to immigrants today weakens our nation’s soul. People of faith are called upon to stand with the vulnerable and oppressed, and to treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. Our current immigration system disproportionately affects vulnerable women and children, burdening our foster care system (when parents are deported) and threatens the promising futures of students who have come to the US as children and consider this country to be their home.
At the conclusion of the fast and vigil, the group delivered the signed letters and photographs of the event to the staff in Mr. Royce’s office. Although his official scheduler was contacted many times (by email, phone, and in person) during the month before this event, in order to schedule a meeting with Mr. Royce or his designee for March 31st, no response was received from his office. The time is now to continue to push elected officials for the passage of compassionate immigration reform.
Social Action co-chair
UU Congregation of Fullerton
You’ve joined us across the country with the Fast for Families: Now tell Congress it is time to act!
For the past five weeks, I’ve been part of the Fast for Families Across America. We’ve stopped in over 70 Congressional offices, and have been part of countless community events. At many of these stops, I was pleased to see these bright yellow shirts I’ve come to know well. To the Standing on the Side of Love community, I want to say: thank you…and our shared work is not done yet!
The Fast will end this Wednesday at the US Capitol, where I will be joined by many faith leaders, including several Unitarian Universalist clergy and leaders (some of whom will be fasting for 48 hours on the National Mall).
We’re doing our part: now we need you!
We need your voice and signature on an urgent petition to increase the pressure on Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform that ends our nation’s greatest moral crisis — our broken immigration system.
Tell the House leadership that as a person of faith you want Congress to stop the suffering and to be on the right side of history. It’s time for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to schedule a vote on immigration reform.
Fast for Families is taking our message for immigration reform across the country and will be delivering your petition signatures on April 9 as the bus tour arrives in Washington DC.
Although the Fast for Families bus tour will come to an end, our work is far from over. We’ll be counting on your support throughout the year, until we have ensured commonsense immigration reform that keeps families together.
Si se puede!
Fast for Families
Eliseo is a long time farmworker and labor activist. He helped start the Fast for Families and fasted for 22 days straight on the National Mall in 2013 when the Fast began.More >
I joined the Fast for Families Across America bus tour last week, and I can honestly say it has been a life changing experience for me. That isn’t a phrase I use lightly; being able to hear first hand so many heart-wrenching stories of immigrant families has encouraged me to re-double my own efforts to help make compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform a reality this year. I’m sharing this reflection because I hope you, as a dedicated Standing on the Side of Love supporter, will also recommit and join one of our many actions alongside Immigrant Justice groups in coming days and weeks.
For one week, I rode with our partners as the bus wove through Florida, making numerous stops per day at Congressional offices, local City Halls, community centers, and houses of worship. Throughout it all, Dreamers, farmworkers, day laborers, domestic workers, church members, community activists—all aspiring citizens—showed incredible spirit and tenacity while sharing their hopes and demands for reform. I was honored to join UU leaders Rev. Robin Gray and Rev. Kathy Schmitz, along with congregants in their communities as they too welcomed the Fasters and rededicated themselves to this work.
My personal highlight from the trip was one late night traveling on the bus when most of the work for the day was finally over, sharing stories and laughs with Fast for Families leader Eliseo Medina, a long time farmworker and labor activist who worked alongside Cesar Chavez for many years. The next morning while outside a Congressional office in my own hometown of Miami, I stood a few feet away from Eliseo as he got arrested for attempting to exercise his democratic rights and deliver a letter to a Member of Congress. When Eliseo was released from custody nearly 12 hours later, with an undiminished spirit, his determination drove home for me the pressing nature of this fight. I also got to spend time with an amazing group of Florida immigrant women called the Dreamers’ Moms. These mothers are glad their children are able to access DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) but long for the day when their entire family can be kept together with assurance. I told these strong women that I would be fasting for them this coming Sunday, and while fasting doesn’t come easy for me, I know it’s nothing compared to what they go through on a daily basis.
You may have noticed an increase in our work and communications on immigration justice lately, from our call to join our UU Women’s Fast this coming Sunday on March 30, to UUA President Rev. Peter Morales asking us to join a National Day of Action on April 5 to stop deportations, to this message today. That’s because immigrant communities are steadfast in their efforts to stop deportations and get real reform this year, and so are we.
Because of the courage and commitment, I will join our companer@s on the frontlines in DC for four days, from April 5-9. These days of action will include marches to the White House to urge the President to issue an executive action to stop deportations and a Fasting Tent on the National Mall led by our sisters at We Belong Together. The Fast for Families Bus will arrive on April 9th,making its final stop in DC, and I will re-join my colleagues to demand that Congress take action this year. Before the bus arrives in DC, it will be making several more stops across the country, and I hope you will consider greeting the bus if it stops near you.
There are many ways you can get involved: check out our updated immigration resource page where you can find information about all of these upcoming actions. Whatever you are able to do will make a difference; because the time is now to Act Fast.
This will be a busy year for immigration reform. One of the best things I heard while on the bus, over and over again, were these reassuring words: We always know we can count on the “Yellow Shirts” and the “Love People” to show up and bear witness with us. Let’s continue to stand with our partners this year and beyond, until we make sure that with the power of love, we have done all we can to keep families together and recognize the human worth and dignity of all people in our country.
Si Se Puede!
Campaign Manager, Standing on the Side of Love
PS: Want to feel inspired? Check out some of our photos from recent immigration actions!More >