Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Florida Needs Compassionate Immigration Reform!

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Members of the Clearwater UU Congregation prepare for their meeting with Rep. Bill Young’s office. (Credit: Joe Myers)

For the past week, Unitarian Universalist congregations across Florida, UU Justice Florida, and interfaith and immigrants partners have brought their immigration reform advocacy to the next level to take advantage of Congress’s annual August Recess, when members of Congress return home to work from their local offices. Standing on the Side of Love Campaign Manager Jennifer Toth has been visiting and organizing with them and documenting what a difference it makes when people get involved in hands-on advocacy in their communities.

In half a dozen cities from Orlando to Miami, delegations of UUs representing twelve congregations gathered for briefings on immigration reform and grassroots organizing filled with lots of learning and dialogue. Then, they put what they learned into practice by meeting with their House representatives’ staff along with local interfaith and community partners. Delegations shared personal stories about how deportations have torn families apart, why reform is needed now, and also prayed with congressional staff and offered the faith and moral perspective.

These meetings are making a big difference in how representatives and their staff view the immigration debate. In the Orlando area, Republican Rep. Daniel Webster came out in favor of immigration reform just days before the meeting and the UU delegation was able to thank his staff directly for taking such a bold stance. At Republican Rep. Bill Young’s office, staff shared that they are not experts on immigration and thanked members of the Clearwater UU Congregation for helping them learn more about the issues at hand. Groups also met with the offices of Representatives Mica, Buchanan, Rooney, Ros-Lehtinen, and Diaz-Balart.

UUs and partners hold a press conference outside Rep. Daniel Webster’s office in Winter Garden.

Not only are these dedicated UUs ensuring that their elective officials know that they care about compassionate immigration reform, they are also building and strengthening partnerships with interfaith and immigrant partners groups in their communities. These relationships can help shape social justice work for years to come!

Can you do the same in your hometown? Visit our immigration reform resource page for resources to help you plan your own briefing and advocacy visits to your House representatives.

Want to see more from the great immigration organizing in Florida and across the country? Click here to check out our photo album!

Special thanks to all of the interfaith and community partner organizations who have joined these meetings (including the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Church World Service, Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Council of Jewish Women, Immigration Equality, Unidos Now, CIR Now, Organizing for Action (OFA), and the Florida Immigrant Coalition) as well as clergy advocates (including Revs. Brock Leach, Amy Kindred, Mike Young, Kathy Schmitz, and Wendy Pantoja) and Kindra Muntz, UU Justice Florida Board President, for making this amazing outpouring of support possible.

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Love Wins in Pennsylvania

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Rally on Montgomery Country, PA courthouse steps

Rev. Ken Beldon of Wellsprings Congregation speaks at the rally at the Montgomery County courthouse. Post author Rev. Morgan McLean, Rev. Dave Hunter of the Unitarian Universalists of Gettysburg, and others hold the Standing on the Side of Love banner.

Love is spreading through Pennsylvania! In Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia, the Register of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a state ban.

Last weekend, over 100 supporters of marriage equality gathered on the steps of the courthouse to say “thank you” to Mr. Hanes and his staff. There were many Unitarian Universalists there, proudly standing on the side of love.

As one of the ministers at Main Line Unitarian Church in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I have had the honor to officiate three weddings for loving couples, and add my signature to these licenses. It is exciting to be part of this movement towards equality, and to witness families come together in new ways as they become fully recognized by the state. I have personally returned all these licenses and watched them be certified by the county, just as countless marriage licenses have been in the past.

The state is trying to take action against Mr. Hanes and force him to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples. He has said he will not stop, unless ordered by a judge. We know these marriages will likely face an unfortunate time of legal limbo by the state, but I am confident that the state will ultimately end the discrimination and fully recognize these marriages. As Unitarian Universalists, we know these marriages are valid in the eyes of our church, and the God of love and reason, and for all the couples and families involved.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “An unjust law is a code that a majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.” We are all joining Mr. Hanes and his staff against an unjust law.

We hope in the near future Pennsylvania will become the next state to recognize marriage equality, thanks to the courageous actions of state officials, and the people who are ready for love to win the day.

This post was written by Rev. Morgan R. McLean. Morgan is the Associate Minister at Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, Pennsylvania.

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Realize the Dream

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I grew up hearing stories about the 1963 March on Washington. As a child, this historic moment seemed immense, and far removed in time. Yet, it ingrained itself in my young conscience. Rev. King’s watershed speech galvanized an ethic that not only challenged the institutions of his time, but offered a path for the next generations to mature into. From this grounding, we as a people struggle, grow, and heal. And the work must continue.

August 24th marks the 50th anniversary of “The Great March.” Activists from all over the country will gather in Washington, DC and at a sibling witness event here in New York City and call for Dr. King’s dream to finally be realized.

Will you join us? Click here to get more information and connect with the Standing on the Side of Love contingent at the march.

The promise of our faith mirrors the promise of the United States of America: a democratic society based in the true equality of all people. Neither our faith nor our nation, however, can achieve that promise until we face and change systems that value some people more than others, some lives more than others, and some votes more than others. Both the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for Trayvon Martin’s death have made it clear just how far we have to go in this regard with respect to race.

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington provides an opportunity for us to stand on the side of love against oppression. Click here to find out how you can take part in this historic event.

Can’t make it to the march? You can still join the movement for racial justice in our communities. Click here to join the conversation on the “UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration” Facebook group.

Wherever any of us are oppressed, we are all diminished. Whenever we remain complacent, we are complicit. When we are unmoved, our faith calls us back to a place of compassion. We are all our relations. We still have a dream. May the next generations be inspired by the course of our hearts. I hope to see you in DC at the end of this month.

In faith,

Rev. Jude Geiger

Rev. Jude Geiger
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, New York

PS: Wondering why this work is still important? Read this letter from a team of clergy and religious professionals in the Metro New York District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which discusses at length why this work continues to be a matter of life and death and how our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to action.

The message above went out on Thursday, August 8, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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Welcoming Deportees with Open Arms: Support the Release of the Dream 9

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Dream 9 pose at the border.

Eight members of the Dream 9 at the U.S.-Mexico border before the action.

On Monday July 22nd, nine young immigrants (aka the “Dream 9″) arrived at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry with paperwork for humanitarian parole and asylum, requesting to come home to the United States. It was a historic and courageous action to bring awareness to those left out of the immigration reform debate–the millions of immigrant families that have been separated by detention, deportation, and border militarization.

Since then, the Dream 9 have been held in the infamous Eloy Detention Center, a private facility run by the Corrections Corporation of America. In just the past two weeks, they have received widespread national attention. Nearly 30,000 calls and letters of support have arrived from around the country and their nationwide organization, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, has led multiple protests and sit-ins calling for their release . As a result of their effective advocacy, 43 members of Congress and counting have signed a letter to President Obama urging him to take immediate action for their release.

Just yesterday, we received the good news that all nine have passed the first interviews for their asylum cases. But they still have not been released. Please join us today in asking President Obama and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their immediate release.

You can get involved by calling ICE and the White House, using the script below, or signing the online petition.

“Hi, my name is ____  and I’m from ____ . I am calling to ask that the Dream 9 be released from Eloy Immigration Detention Center in Arizona. None of the nine are a flight risk, and they were all detained trying to come home. Supporters from all over the world are asking for their release, please bring them home.”

ICE (Arizona): 602-766-7028
ICE (DC): 202-732-3000
White House: 202-282-8000

Bringing the Dream 9 home is just the beginning of the struggle they launched from the border. While in detention, the Dream 9 went on a hunger strike to protest restricted access to phone service that limited them from revealing the stories and abuses they heard from the inside. Members of the Dream 9 were also kept in solitary confinement to prevent them from building solidarity with the other detainees. Last week, more than 70 women in the detention center joined the hunger strike–some of whom have been in detention for years. This action further exposes our country’s unjust and deadly immigration and border enforcement policies, such as harsh border security, Operation Streamline, and record detention and deportations. All of this would be made worse by the border militarization provisions in the Senate’s immigration reform bill.

Surrounded by cameras, the Dream 9 arrive at the Nogales port of entry.

The Dream 9 arrive at the Nogales port of entry.

No More Deaths, a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, is proud to be actively supporting the Dream 9. The mission of No More Deaths is to stop the death and suffering of migrants in the southern Arizona desert and we recognize that many of these deaths in recent years are a result of the 1.7 million people deported under the Obama administration. Immigrants with strong ties to the United States are faced with increasingly dangerous border crossings to return to their homes and families. No More Deaths volunteer and Unitarian Universalist Dr. Kat Sinclair worked with the legal team for the Dream 9 action. “As part of respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all people, we should be welcoming our deportee community home with open arms,” Sinclair said.

The core of the struggle for immigrant rights must be led by those directly affected by the injustice. We are honored to support families and community members who are building a movement that is impossible for policy makers and law enforcement to ignore. It provides yet another opportunity for allies to listen to the voices of immigrants and act in solidarity. Even if the Dream 9 are released, thousands still remain in detention or legal limbo–making our commitment to the long-term movement that much more important.

Please help us spread the word! Forward this email to your network, post to Facebook or Twitter, issue a public statement of support from your school, congregation or organization, and keep spreading the word. #BringThemHome

This post was written by Maryada Vallet and Walt Emrys Staton, M.Div. Emrys is a Unitarian Universalist ministerial candidate and Maryada is a public health professional. Both are long-time No More Deaths volunteers and based in Tucson, Arizona.

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Remembering Oak Creek

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Remembering Oak Creek Share/Save/Bookmark Aug 06, 2013
Interfaith leaders at vigil

Post author Rev. Suzelle Lynch (left) with Rev. Jean Dow, Presbyterian minister and Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee Board President; Tom Heinen, Interfaith Conference Executive Director; and Othman Atta, Islamic Society of Milwaukee Executive Director.

On Monday evening, I was part of a group of sixteen representatives of different faiths gathered by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee at a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.

We joined a thousand people gathered there to support our Sikh neighbors, and to hear a call for an end to the gun violence that kills at least 12,000 Americans a year. There were many speakers, including government officials, community leaders, and survivors whose lives have been shattered by gun violence.

Listening to the 13-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son of Sikh priest Prakash Singh who died in the shootings–listening to them speak of finding their father dead on the floor of the gurdwara a year ago, a bullet in his eye, I felt a dizzying grief that is with me still. They are healing, their mother is healing, with the help of the community. But what pain. Their family had only been reunited for a few months when the shootings took place.

The children spoke of how they’d heard what sounded like gunshots and how their father urged them to hide with their mother in the basement.

When the shooting stopped and they re-emerged, the children tried to wake their lifeless father. Nearby, they could hear the last words of another man who had been shot. He was saying, “Waheguru, waheguru (wonderful God, wonderful God).”

The daughter said, “We will never forget that day. My heart broke in two when I realized my father was gone.”

Gun violence victim memorial

Memorial honoring those who died at the Chardhi Kala Run.

Two days before the vigil, my 14-year-old daughter and I went to the Chardhi Kala 6K Run/Walk, organized by the young people of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. Proudly wearing my Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt, we joined a thousand runners, walkers and supporters to raise funds for six $1,000 scholarships, in honor of the six people who died in the shootings last year.

Chardhi Kala, translated, means a spirit of relentless optimism; a philosophy that encourages us to remain centered and optimistic in the face of adversity, and to grow from moving through tragedy and hardship. Since the shootings last year, the Sikhs in Wisconsin have lived the philosophy of Chardhi Kala beautifully through outreach, education and community service–and I am proud that my congregation has been part of their “support team.” Immediately after the shootings last year, we reached out to the Sikh community in Brookfield, where I serve as minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West. Attending vigils and services, raising funds and sending letters, my congregation and I were able to offer our caring to the Sikh communities in Oak Creek and Brookfield and we reached out again to include our Sikh neighbors in the work of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network.

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi

Suzelle’s daughter, Grace, with Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi.

At the Chardhi Kala run, my daughter and I visited a touching memorial in honor of those who died, and we listened to speakers before the run began, including the families of the shooting victims: Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Kaleka, Sita Singh, and Suveg Khattra. Baba Punjab Singh, a visiting religious leader, was critically injured during the attack and continues to require around-the-clock, long-term care at an inpatient rehabilitation center. A representative from the Sikh Healing Collective, the mayor of Oak Creek, and Oak Creek Police Officer Brian Murphy also spoke. Murphy was the first responder to the shootings and was gravely wounded. We also heard from Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first Sikh allowed to serve in the military wearing the traditional beard and turban. Current U.S. military policy forces Sikh men to remove their religiously-required turbans and facial hair in order to join the military. Major Kalsi encouraged the crowd to contact elected officials to advocate for greater religious freedom in military service.

Our Sikh neighbors have forged new bonds, broken down barriers, and met hatred with relentless optimism this past year. The Chardhi Kala run proceeds will go to support scholarships to carry on this work for peace and wholeness.

This post was written by Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

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