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Remembering Superstorm Sandy

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Remembering Superstorm Sandy Share/Save/Bookmark Oct 02, 2013
Rev. Susan, CERG Disaster Response Coordinator, cleaning the Bay.

Post author Rev. Susan Karlson during a day of service.

Superstorm Sandy struck the Metro New York area almost one year ago on October 29th. Most people I talk to think that the recovery is complete here—that things have returned to normal or at least a “new normal.” Though many people have returned to their homes, thousands upon thousands are still displaced. The area of devastation is so widespread—much of New Jersey, the boroughs of New York City, and Long Island were affected.

Ever since the first day following the storm, I have felt called to stand on the side of love with the thousands of people displaced and suffering from the storm. I had been working on immigrant justice, living wage, and racial justice since arriving in New York five years ago to serve the Unitarian Church of Staten Island. Because of this, I was able to understand the context in which Superstorm Sandy arrived. Immigrants were not eligible for many of the programs offered to Superstorm Sandy survivors. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) worked with El Centro del Inmigrante to offer gift cards and rental assistance to 150 displaced immigrant families. People responded to our work with donations, volunteer service, and such compassion. Through these recovery efforts, I was called to a new ministry, and accepted a new position as the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a position funded by a grant from the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock.

Many of us yearn to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and I have gathered together a number of worship resources on the CERG website. You can also get updates about our ongoing recovery work on the “CERG UU Sandy Recovery” Facebook page.

We are in dire need of both skilled and unskilled volunteers in all the areas affected by Superstorm Sandy. As the CERG Disaster Response Coordinator, I am identifying for new work sites for volunteers of all ages and abilities. I am also on the lookout for more volunteer housing. Please contact me if your congregation is interested in planning a volunteer service trip sometime in the next year. I will help coordinate your stay and meet with you to tell you more about the issues facing our area before, during, and after Superstorm Sandy.

Day of Service volunteers wave at the conclusion of cleaning the bay.

Day of Service volunteers.

We are also looking for local congregations to participate in Days of Service. On Saturday, August 17th, nearly 40 members of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, UU Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, Original Blessing in Brooklyn, and First Unitarian Congregational Society Brooklyn partnered with volunteers from CERG and Sustainable Long Island to clean the shoreline along the bay in the City of Long Beach. Volunteers of all ages worked together throughout the day to repair the damage left by Superstorm Sandy last fall. Other volunteers joining the service project were from the group All Hands and residents of Long Beach and other Long Island communities. We began and ended the day with a multigenerational worship service.

More service projects to help with Superstorm Sandy recovery are being planned for October 19th and November 2nd in Long Island and November 2nd in Monmouth County in New Jersey. Please contact me at skarlson@uuma.org or (347) 979-6742 for more information about how UU congregations locally and across the country can participate.


This post was written by Rev. Susan Karlson, CERG Disaster Response Coordinator.

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Profiting Off Prisoners

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The prison system seems full of mystery. Not many people understand the workings behind the scenes, such as the difference between private and public prisons, and the people that profit from them. Check out the infographic below, which details the financial and static numbers behind the private prison system.

The United States began toying with the idea of private prisons back in 1984. From 1990 to 2009, the inmate population housed in private prisons increased more than 1,600%. The two largest private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, Inc., have generated over $3.4 billion in revenue. This is more than the GDP of Greenland and the Virgin Islands combined. The CEO of the GEO Group, Inc., Damon T. Hininger, netted $3.7 million in 2011 as his executive compensation, and CCA CEO George C. Zaloey made $5.7 million in 2011.

The CCA has 66 facilities with 90,000 beds, and the GEO group has 56 facilities with 61,000 beds. Both companies have faced legal battles as well. The GEO Group, Inc. has been fined over $7.6 million for wrongful death suits and fines involving staffing problems. Private run facilities also report a higher instance of violence–but it doesn’t stop there. Private run facilities also face criticism over racial concerns. Private facilities boast a higher number of minority inmates than state-run facilities. Private run facilities have also seen a 25% increase in the number of immigration detainees since 2003, and a 457% increase since 1994.

Private prisons claim they can boost local economies and state budgets, however, many of these dreams turn to nightmares. Once such case, in Hardin, Montana, cost their town millions. $27 million in bonds were issued for the construction of the prison, with a promise of 67 jobs. When the prison project was completed, and then unfulfilled contracts left it abandoned, the town was left to spend $8,000 to fix leaky pipes in a new building, and fork out $10,000 every month for the gas bill at a facility that remained empty.

For people of faith and conscience, these realities are particularly distressing and we must speak out against the so-called “prison industrial complex.” Last year, Standing on the Side of Love helped convince a number of major corporations to withdraw from the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), a major supporter of the private prison industry. Other faith groups, such as the United Methodist Board of Pensions, have also divested from CCA and the Geo Group.


This post was submitted by Aria Cahill.

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Mobilize for Dignity & Respect

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Maria Quezada of CIR NOW

Post author Maria Quezada of CIR NOW speaks at an immigration rally in August.

The crisis of record deportations continues to separate families at alarming rates, impacting our communities and congregations in dire ways. Parents are torn from their children, spouses fare separated from one another. The time has come to stop the deportations. Indeed, it is long past time.

Immigrant justice groups of all stripes are putting a call out to people of faith to take action on the National Day of Dignity and Respect on Saturday, October 5th. Will you join us? Click here to find an event near you.

On this day, people in more than 40 cities across the country will mobilize for compassionate immigration reform. I will be at a march near my home in Sarasota, Florida, calling for reform that recognizes the worth of my family and so many others like mine.

The following week more than 200 faith leaders from 45 states, including your own Rev. Peter Morales, will fly to Washington, DC to advocate for immigration reform, culminating in a mass mobilization on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

The time has come for us to raise our voices even louder and call Congress to stand on the side of love. On October 5th, we will march for a country where families and children can live with dignity and without fear.

We need you. Please join me, along with thousands of other immigrants and allies, on October 5th. Click here to find an event near you.

In solidarity,

Maria Quezada
Immigrant Justice Activist with CIR NOW
Sarasota, Florida


The message above went out on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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There Are Some Asks You Simply Cannot Ignore

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Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo is arrested by a police officer in an act of civil disobedience.

Post author Unitarian Universalist Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo is arrested in an act of civil disobedience. (Credit: Sidney Traynham, Church World Service)

Last Thursday, I was privileged to join over 100 women—20 of whom are undocumented immigrants—in an act of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill organized by the We Belong Together campaign. We blockaded the intersection outside the House of Representatives, calling them to pass compassionate immigration reform that treats women and children fairly, with hundreds more people standing by to support us. Before we were arrested, I helped lead the group in an oath recommitting to work for immigration reform as one of several faith leaders, including Sandy Sorensen of the United Church of Christ and Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women.

The decision to risk arrest was easy on every level. As a citizen, my soul weeps at the horrific acts of dehumanization we inflict upon immigrants and citizens of color in the name of patriotism. As a mother, my heart breaks knowing how many of those impacted are children. As a religious leader, I am called to put my faith into action and my body literally on the line to say “not one more death or deportation.” We must achieve compassionate immigration reform. We cannot allow other important issues to distract us or delay that reform. The collective soul of our nation and our people is at stake. My prayer is that our leaders take quite seriously the urgency involved and get busy paving a fair and compassionate pathway to citizenship. One that honors families and protects the most vulnerable among us—our children.

For me, last week’s action was particularly important because of the focus on families. The image of families being broken apart was what helped me see migrant justice as a human rights issue in the first place. I’ll never forget the experience of marching with families protesting Arizona’s SB 1070 in 2010. It helped me understand who is really impacted by our current system and practices around immigration and detention. My hope in participating in this action was that more and more people join us in that understanding.

We Belong Together civil disobedience

100 women block an intersection outside the U.S. House of Representatives and call for compassionate immigration reform. (Credit: Sidney Traynham, Church World Service)

When I was first asked to participate in this action, I rapidly replied “yes” and signed up. I was pleased to be able to lend my body, mind, and spirit to what is surely one of the most important civil rights struggles of our day. I had assumed the event was in nearby Boston—it was only after I registered that I realized it was all the way in Washington, DC! That took a bit more doing. With commitments on either side of the day of the action, attending suddenly turned into a heavy lift and perhaps just not possible.

As I drafted my regrets, another email arrived—an email that shared the list of speakers, including an 11 year-old daughter of an undocumented parent, and the fact that over 20 undocumented women were risking arrest. As a white, well-aged woman who continues to benefit from our dominant systems, I knew I would fare well in any arrest. The “price” of participation would be primarily in travel. That the majority of the 100 were Latina and nearly one fourth were undocumented spoke miles. The decision quickly became one about the price of not participating. What does it mean when we leave the heavy-lifting, the inconvenient, and the dangerous to those already at great risk in our society? What does it say when we let questions like “is it worth it?” and “will it matter?” enter into our discernment? What does it say about our commitment when we look at this as “our work” rather than “our lives?” There are some “asks” you simply cannot ignore.


Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Rev. Wendy is a committed social justice activist and was previously arrested in an act of civil disobedience during the July 2010 protests of Arizona’s SB 1070 and inhumane treatment at the Maricopa County Jail. She also serves as the Co-Chair of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee.

For more information on last week’s civil disobedience action, check out the media round-up from the We Belong Together campaign.

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Ask Your Senators to End Employment Discrimination

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Ask Your Senators to End Employment Discrimination Share/Save/Bookmark Sep 17, 2013

Sept. 17: FaithsCalling to End Employment Discrimination, faithscalling.orgToday, people of all faiths will be calling their Senators to advocate for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace.

Will you add your voice to the chorus and call your Senators today? Simply dial 1-888-897-0174 and say that you support ENDA. When you dial in, you’ll hear a brief recording and be automatically connected to your Senator’s office. You can also receive updates on the campaign by texting “faithscalling” to 877-877. Click here to learn more.

As a Jew, I believe that all people are created in the in the image of God. This is not unlike your commitment to affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all people. In 29 states, it remains legal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote an employee based on sexual orientation, and in 33 states, based on gender identity. We must raise our voices together as people of faith and speak out against this injustice.

The High Holidays are a time when Jews examine the commitments we have made to each other and to ourselves—both the ones we have lived up to and the places where we’ve fallen short. The sounding of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur serves as our personal and communal call to action to strive for justice and equality for all. There could not be a better time to reaffirm our support for the rights of all and call for essential legislation like ENDA.

Today is the day to take action for ENDA and your voice is critical. Will you join me and call 1-888-897-0174?

In faith,

Rachel Laser Portrait

Rachel Laser
Deputy Director
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism


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

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