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Call to Support the California Prisoner Hunger Strike

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Call to Support the California Prisoner Hunger Strike Share/Save/Bookmark Jul 17, 2013

Pelican Bay Solidarity Fast LogoDear Friends in Faith,

We are writing to you with urgency to take action in support of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike. On July 8th, hundreds, maybe thousands of people being tortured in the United States began a hunger strike and work stoppage. Started by prisoners held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, the hunger strikers demand an end to many of the tortuous conditions in solitary confinement.

This protest will continue indefinitely—until the California Department of Corrections meets all Five (5) Core Demands:

  1. An end to long term solitary;
  2. An end to the illegal and immoral use of secret informants;
  3. An end to punishing whole racial groups for an individual’s actions;
  4. Improving conditions to meet basic humane standards for physical and mental health; and
  5. Providing educational programs;

People of conscience are being called to bring attention to the efforts of our family inside U.S. prisons. Locked up in brutal conditions themselves, thousands of prisoners across the state of California have risked their lives and joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the Pelican Bay hunger strikers and their five demands. The challenge for people outside prison is to match the courage of the hunger strikers, and to support the prisoners in winning their demands through every means we can.

As Unitarian Universalists, we feel called to pressure decision makers to meet the Five Core Demands, as well as engage on a spiritual level. Our faith tells us that all people have inherent worth and dignity. Our Universalism reminds us there is nothing saving about punishment. Every Monday, we will be participating in a solidarity fast. We are inviting other Unitarian Universalists to join us.

Whether you participate in the solidarity fast, write to a prisoner, or tell a friend about the hunger strike, we encourage you to find a way to take part in ending torture in the United States.

In Faith,

Rev. Jason Lydon – Community Minister, Black and Pink
Megan Selby – Chicago Area UU Young Adults Ministries Coordinator

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We Will Not Rest

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Though many of us are in the middle of summer vacations, the work for immigrant justice doesn’t stop.

If you have just an hour or two in the next week, check out these upcoming webinars from our partners. You will get an up-to-the-minute update on the status of the legislation and a briefing on how immigration reform will particularly impact women.

What’s Next for Women & Immigration Reform
Hosted by We Belong Together 
Thursday, July 18th, 1:00-2:00pm ET

Join the webinar for a discussion on the highs and lows of the final Senate bill, what to expect as reform efforts move forward in the House of Representatives, and what our exciting plans are for both on-the-ground and online mobilization.

RSVP to andrea@domesticworkers.org and log in here.

How Immigration Reform Can Reduce Abuse and Exploitation for Immigrant Women
Hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition 
Thursday, July 25th, 12:00-1:00pm ET

Many undocumented women are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation both in their own homes and in the workplace. Join the webinar to learn more about specific challenges that immigrant survivors of abuse face and why legalization and immigration reform is necessary to meet those challenges.

Click here to RSVP.

We cannot rest until Congress fixes our broken immigration system. Let’s keep up the momentum for change!

In faith,

Meredith Lukow
Program Assistant
Standing on the Side of Love


The message above went out on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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No Borders, No Bars: Reflections from the Not One More Deportation Open Mic Protest

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On a recent Monday night, I stood outside the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston, MA, alongside nearly 100 community members and across from the 1,900 immigration detainees that are held at the facility.

It was a powerful moment. As we raised our voices outside in chants and poetry and song, the men inside banged on the windows and held up signs in solidarity. Some detainees communicated directly to their wives, children, and friends, who were standing with us in the crowd, by holding up signs that said, “I love you” and forming their hands in the shape of a heart. Other men used hand motions and scribbled notepaper bearing black penned letters to tell us their “alien” identification number in a plea for connection and assistance.

Community members and detainees share messages.

This communication, across approximately 500 feet over a hedge and a highway service road, was a striking change to the isolation immigration detainees experience from the moment they are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Each year, 400,000 people are detained by ICE, the grand majority (73%) for nonviolent, often minor, crimes such as driving without a license or for immigration violations such as missing a court date. While detained, these individuals have limited communication with their loved ones – they have to pay out of pocket to make phone calls home and no visits are allowed from friends and family who are also undocumented.

Meanwhile, the detainees’ partners, parents, and children are suffering the pain of separation on the outside. In addition to the emotional impact, many families suffer the loss of their main breadwinner, and the economic impact can be devastating. For many families, the separation and pain continue far beyond the period of detention, as the majority of detainees are eventually deported.

The family of Josué Martinez, detained at Suffolk Detention Facility, participated in the protest.

As I learn more about the reality of detention and the suffering it is causing in my community, I become more and more enraged about the detention-deportation system that my tax dollars are helping to fund. At a price of nearly $2 billion per year, my neighbors and friends are being locked up, meanwhile the prisons that hold detainees and the companies that build detention facilities are making more money with each bed they fill.

While ICE purports to be promoting alternatives to detention programs that allow detainees who are a “low flight risk” to live in their communities while their case is processed, the programs do not go far enough – in Massachusetts we know that elderly and sick individuals are still being held in detention for months and years, and sometimes even being kept in solitary confinement.

Also shocking is the extent to which the detention-deportation system disproportionately impacts people of color, who are more often targeted by law enforcement in their communities, and then funneled into detention through partnership programs with ICE such as Secure Communities.

Sharing songs of solidarity at the open mic protest.

There needs to be an end to this perverse deportation-detention system that is bringing suffering to workers, people of color, families, and children, without making our communities any safer or stronger. The immigration reform bills being proposed now will not change the profit incentive for detention and do not focus on improving conditions for detainees. In fact, the bills include proposals for more harsh enforcement methods, such as $30 billion more for border enforcement and mandatory e-verify programs at workplaces.

More enforcement simply perpetuates suffering. What we need is an inclusive immigration policy that recognizes the U.S.’s role in stimulating the roots of immigration through economic and military intervention, honors the contributions of 11 million undocumented immigrants by providing a reasonable path to citizenship, and increases avenues for safe, legal entry for poor workers abroad.

I remain hopeful that a just future is possible for our communities, if we continue to build power and demand the change we really want from the grassroots level. As we sang our final songs outside the detention facility and waved our goodbyes to the detainees, we could see storm clouds gathering in the distance. We smiled and linked arms, ready to fight for the rainbow after the storm.

Me and my friend Keylin at the protest – just like the butterflies we know that migration is natural and beautiful.

To learn more about the Not One More Deportation week of action and national fast visit: http://www.notonemoredeportation.com.


This post was written by lifelong Unitarian Universalist Juliana and cross-posted from her blog “Not-So-Silent Witness.”

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Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again

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Trayvon MartinI am grieving Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death all over again. A question posed by theologian Anne Joh arises in my mind: “Is there a response to grief that doesn’t lead to violence?” From the school-to-prison pipeline to “stand your ground laws” to prison without parole, the judicial sentencing of adolescents in our society has criminalized Black and Brown bodies.

My cousin, a youth minister, posted that America has said what it thinks of him as an African American male “and it hurts.” Even our immigration policies victimize families and communities of color. Where is the justice in this? And what is a just and compassionate response to this crime against the humanity of young people?

When I think of Trayvon Martin’s last moments of life, I imagine a bewildered and scared 17-year-old acting out of the panic that even an adult would feel at being followed, stalked, and confronted by a stranger.

Trayvon Martin was a youth. George Zimmerman was an adult male.
Trayvon Martin was on foot. George Zimmerman was following Trayvon in a vehicle.
Trayvon Martin was unarmed. George Zimmerman had a gun.

If Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin posed a potential threat, why didn’t he remain in his vehicle and follow law enforcement’s instructions?

No wonder the response to the Zimmerman trial verdict has provoked anger, outrage, disappointment, sadness, frustration. Unfortunately, another reality is that the verdict has also been met with relief and joy.

Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a trigger-happy George Zimmerman. Trayvon was a victim of Florida’s bad laws. He was a victim of a society that criminalizes dark skin, criminalizes poverty, and criminalizes youth.

This criminalization of youth and young adult males of color is a mindset that has been linked to institutional racism and white supremacy–a mindset that frames youth of color as criminal and dangerous. How do we transcend this negative frame and see the humanity of our young people?

The systemic and institutional forces that resulted in Trayvon’s senseless and unnecessary death at 17 are legion. They include:

  • the school-to-prison pipeline,
  • state judicial systems that convict and sentence youth as adults without possibility of parole,
  • gun laws and gun lobbies, and
  • “stand your ground laws” that enable the George Zimmermans to act as police, prosecutor, judge, and jury on the streets.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander issued a clarion call to end the mass incarceration system that incriminates, imprisons, and disempowers communities of color. In response to the Zimmerman verdict she wrote:

“If Trayvon Martin has been born white he would be alive today… If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty–far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste.”

What is the compassionate and just response that is stronger than anger, stronger than disappointment and frustration, stronger than hate and grief?

Michelle Alexander says the response is to build a movement. She writes:

“Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you–and the millions your memory represents–that builds a movement that makes America what it must become. Rest in Peace.”

Standing on the Side of Love asserts that love is a force stronger than violence, hate, oppression, and I would add grief. But as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged, love without justice is anemic.

Let us work for love and justice by building this movement. Click here to watch the “Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow” workshop from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly and learn how to get involved.

To echo Michelle Alexander: the compassionate, ethical response to grief is to work for justice. Will you join me?

In faith,

Taquiena Boston

Taquiena Boston
Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness
Unitarian Universalist Association


The message above went out on Monday, July 15, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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Torture and Rescue

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Torture and Rescue Share/Save/Bookmark Jul 12, 2013
Imam Baga Leigh and UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts

Imam Baba Leigh with post author and UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts.

I met Imam Baba Leigh in 2003 within days of my arrival as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in The Gambia. The day before, I’d told the press that under the current government, there had been improvements in the national economy. The next day, I met Baba Leigh and he immediately lit into me about my comments to the press. I knew that I wanted this man as my friend because he would always tell me the truth as he understood it. I learned he was the only independent Imam in the Gambia. The rest did the bidding of Yahya Jammeh, president of the country since he took power in military coup d’état in 1994.

Early in 2012, I learned that Yahya Jammeh’s government had arrested over 20 gay men and ordered all the Christian and Muslim clergy in the country to preach sermons against homosexuality. All complied except Imam Leigh. To be clear, Imam Leigh continues to feel that homosexuality is a sin, but he also refuses to target gays as having committed a worse sin than any other. Later in the year, Yahya Jammeh started executing prisoners in his jails (many of whom are there for political reasons). Imam Leigh began preaching sermons against the death penalty. On December 5th, 2012, agents of the Gambian National Intelligence Agency took Imam Leigh to a secret location and began torturing him–never charging him with any wrong doing nor granting him access to his family or legal representation.

I learned of this almost immediately and, even though it was after 5 PM, went one floor downstairs from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) to the Amnesty International United Nations Office and asked for their help. They immediately got into gear and their London Office and Dakar, Senegal investigator did all they could. I called every mission and every office I knew to get Imam Leigh released.

In the end after more than 5 months of torture and isolation, the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union demanded Imam Leigh’s release and he was set free. With help from many sources, Imam Leigh is now in New York City seeing medical doctors and restoring his health.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon delivers a keynote address against the death penalty.

On Friday, June 28th, we visited the Amnesty International UN Office and thanked them for their amazing work to get Imam Leigh released. Then they invited us to a high level meeting at the UN where UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon gave the keynote address against the death penalty. The meeting was chaired by UN Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović. Imam Leigh got a chance to tell his story. He explained that while the Holy Quran says, “A Life for a Life,” it also says that Allah will reward forgiveness. Imam Leigh also said that Islamic jurisprudence calls for compensation be paid to the family of the victim and forgiveness is recommended. He also told the meeting about his detention without charge and torture.

As Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights, I am working together with the chair of the NGO Committee on the Freedom of Religion, Matt Cherry, to organize meetings and opportunities for Imam Leigh to talk about his experiences and his view of Islam as a humane and tolerant religion.


This post was written by Bruce Knotts. Bruce is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer and the current Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.

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