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Take Action for Ferguson by Holding a Vigil in Your City!

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Take Action for Ferguson by Holding a Vigil in Your City! Share/Save/Bookmark Sep 09, 2014

I came home from the board meeting disturbed by the silence. It was Tuesday, just a few days after Michael Brown had been shot by a police officer in Ferguson, less than 20 miles from our church. Protests and rioting had already begun; police were already using tear gas and rubber bullets in response. It was already being called a war zone. It seemed like the whole country was talking about Ferguson except the people in my town of Kirkwood, Missouri. No one was saying a word. I was part of the silence; it was easy to do.

Part of the silence was pain. Kirkwood had been torn apart by violence and racial division just six years before when a black contractor, “Cookie” Thornton, came into city hall and shot five people, and was subsequently shot by police. I was not there, but I’ve heard the stories. No one commended Cookie for his actions, but they surfaced a lot of anger from Meacham Park, a historically black neighborhood in town. Whites didn’t really understand. Shortly after, people came together in groups to look for understanding and healing across the divides. By now, most activity stopped, and people talked about “moving past it”. And here was this odd silence.

We needed something we could do – for our church community, but also for our town. What did we have to offer? Eliot Chapel is located in the heart of our picturesque downtown, close to the Farmer’s Market, railroad station and city hall. In the late 1950s, our founders bought our old historic building from the Episcopalians for two reasons: one, they were selling it for a song! And two, because they wanted us to be of service to the community. Here was our chance. For some reason, I thought about our Christmas Eve services, which draw from the wider community. We would have a candle light service Thursday night.

People dropped everything to make it happen. Ushers used their Christmas Eve chops, hauling out candles and fire blankets. Our staff volunteered things I didn’t even think to ask. Different local groups, our community paper and local TV news helped promote it. The church was filled, with about 120 people, half from the church and half from the wider community, including about 20 from Meacham Park. After the service, we processed slowly and silently around the block with our candles. Two plainclothes police officers showed up to escort us. They had squad cars parked at all four corners, blocking traffic. We waited for the inevitable train to pass. We waded through a crowd assembled on the town plaza for a summer concert. Some asked what we were doing, but most probably knew. Afterward, people stood talking for a long time on the church lawn.

We invite UUs throughout the country to hold their own vigil in solidarity.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP! 

We have now committed to holding a vigil every Tuesday night from 6-7 pm on our church lawn. We will continue through the grand jury process and possibly beyond. We stand in our yellow t-shirts and hold signs that say “Black Lives Matter”, “We stand with Ferguson” and of course, “Standing on the Side of Love.” People honk, wave, and give the thumbs up. Some look resolutely away. But we’re there – many people who have never held a sign before in their lives. A white woman came up to us in tears and thanked us on behalf of her biracial daughter, whom she said was helped by seeing us on the corner. We may never know who we are helping, but we know that it helps us to be the church we want to be.

In Faith,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Barbara Gadon
Lead Minister, Eliot Unitarian Chapel

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Sign up for Rolling Vigils for Justice in Ferguson & Beyond

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Sign up for Rolling Vigils for Justice in Ferguson & Beyond Share/Save/Bookmark Sep 08, 2014

Initiated by Eliot Chapel in Kirkwood, MO, Unitarian Universalist congregations throughout the country are invited to participate in a rolling vigil taking place in solidarity with Ferguson each week. The vigils seek to provide a reflection and connection space for people calling for racial justice, solidarity with Ferguson and an end to police brutality.

Click here to sign up your congregation today

Below see tips for vigils, inspired by the recent experiences of members of Eliot Chapel. For more information, or to share a tip that has helped you and your congregation, please feel free to email love@uua.org.

1)    Keep your vigil simple, short, consistent and sustainable. Eliot Chapel committed to one hour a week, from 6-7 pm on Tuesdays through the grand jury process and possibly beyond.

2)    Be mindful of the ways participants have been impacted by violence. Review resources about providing support and working in solidarity with people who have lived through trauma here.

3)   Use Standing on the Side of Love banner and t-shirts to be visible. Have extras for people to borrow, and ask for a volunteer to launder them.

4)     Invite the wider community to join you, like other churches, UU or not. Invite community partners. They should be welcome to identify as a group with their own t-shirts, if they wish.

5)    Be clear on church policies and by-laws, as well as the goals and mission that your community has articulated. How does a vigil comply with the policies and promises you have in common? How does it fulfill your shared dreams?

6)    Use pre-made signs saying things like “Black Lives Matter”, “We Stand with Ferguson” or “Peace and Justice”. It’s important to know what your message is and to be consistent. If someone shows up with their own sign, it should be consistent with your message criteria.

Eliot Chapel’s signs have included:

a) Positive messages only. No complaints against the police, governor, prosecuting attorney, anyone and

b) For the present, they are not asking for a particular course of action. This helps people with different opinions come together. Also, many congregations have policies that prohibit one group appearing to speak for the church in legislative or political matters.

7)    Inform the police department of your action. Work with them whenever possible. Maintaining relationships with police can at times help you in your own justice work. It’s also good for police to be aware of you in case someone does decide to challenge the group.

8)    Stay in one spot. (We stand on church property, which doesn’t require a permit, and helps identify our group. If other churches want to join in, we will consider moving to a more neutral location. Moving as a group makes a traffic hazard. We saw how a simple march around the block required an escort.) We need to be in this for the long haul; we don’t want to tax our system or be a nuisance to neighbors or the fire department.

9)    Praying, singing, quiet conversation or silence helps remind us that this is holy work. We have a binder with readings that people take turns reading from to inspire the group.

10)    If people engage us in a negative fashion, we don’t engage them. *WE* are responsible for maintaining a civil tone.

11) Have a few people who understand the basic premise of the vigil and can review the guidelines each time. It helps people who have never participated in a vigil before know what to do. Have at least three people agree to participate on specific dates.

12) Publicize before, during and after!  Announce it on your weekly email. Send out press releases and get on community calendars. Have people post, tweet and text during. It’s especially important to share pictures on your social media, as well as the SSL pages. Put up pictures on your bulletin board or have a coffee hour display. Help people who couldn’t be there to feel a part of it. You have no idea how much you will inspire others. Check out these media resources for more ideas as well as these suggestions from the UUA. Click here to see Eliot Chapel’s Press Release to get inspiration for your own.

13) Allow room for dissent. Eliot Chapel has already instituted both on line and coffee hour feedback desk for all church matters. You don’t have to shut down your vigil until everyone agrees to it (because when does that happen?) but it’s important to find ways to make people feel heard.

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Moral March to the Polls: UU Voting Rights Call Next Thursday 4pm EST

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Moral March to the Polls: UU Voting Rights Call Next Thursday 4pm EST Share/Save/Bookmark Sep 04, 2014

This email is part of our Voting Rights Campaign blog series. Today we hear from Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Susan Leslie & Jennifer Toth. Click here to see more about the Campaign.

“Not only are we gunned down in the streets, but we are also gunned down by regressive policies, attacks on our livelihoods, mass incarceration, and a roll back on voting rights.”

Those are the words of a youth leader in North Carolina. Young people led the charge on Day 4 of last week’s Moral Week of Action as they protested racial profiling and police violence against young black and brown people, both in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country.

The week’s focus? Voting rights. The week of action culminated with ‘Vote Your Dreams, Not Your Fears’ rallies and voter registration drives in fourteen states across the South and other states where voter suppression is being implemented.

As the UUs and others who participated in the Moral March in Raleigh last February and in last week’s actions know, defending democracy for all must be at the heart of our interconnected justice efforts. We must show up for voting rights and voter registration, demanding a moral government! Rev. William Barber, II, President of NAACP NC and leader of the Forward Together Movement has issued a call “for people to organize a Moral March to the Polls across the country by building on the most sacred values of our faith traditions.”

UUs are answering the call and organizing! We have a long history of supporting democracy and civil rights that is deeply embedded in the core of our faith tradition. Please join a Voting Rights Organizing Call for UUs next week, September 11, 2014, 4 pm EST.

Join us–Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director; Jennifer Toth, Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, Manager; and Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director–as we cover the state of the movement, how we can each plug in and connect our efforts, and what’s on the horizon as we enter mid-term election season and beyond. Learn how we will be commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign in March 2015. Join via this AnyMeeting (will go live just before the call) or by phone at (213) 416-1560 (pin: 885 360 202#). Get full details on our voting rights page.

Also, tonight (September 4th) be inspired by Rev. Barber, who is joining the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network Let My People Vote Campaign kick-off call at 8 p.m. eastern. He will be joined by Congressman John Lewis, Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life, and Rev. Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC)!

The UUA and Standing on the Side of Love are partnering with the Forward Together Movement and PICO on this campaign.

UUs are also supporting the next Nuns on the Bus Tour with Sister Simone Campbell that is hitting the road to call on “We the People” to stand up against big money in the 2014 elections and make inequality the heart of campaign conversations. The Nuns will be going to low-income and immigrant communities to register voters, connecting with existing Get Out the Vote efforts. You’ll learn more about the tour on our organizing call.

A new fusion coalition for justice movement is building and UUs are a key part of it. Please join us at next week’s Voting Rights Organizing Call for UUs on Thursday, September 11, 2014, 4 pm Eastern. Join via this AnyMeeting or by phone at (213) 416-1560 (pin: 885 360 202#). We are all needed!

In faith,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Toth, Standing on the Side of Love Campaign Manager

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director

P.S. The Moral Movement is taking action throughout the country! Read Rev. Fred Hammond’s reflection on his participation and civil disobedience in the Moral Week of Action at the Alabama State Capitol.

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Taking Action for the Moral Movement in Alabama

No Comments | Share On Facebook| Taking Action for the Moral Movement in Alabama Share/Save/Bookmark Sep 04, 2014

In the state of Alabama, over 700 people die each year because they lack the resources to afford medical care. They fall into the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Venus Colley-Mims was one such person. Unemployed she didn’t have medical insurance, when in 2007 she discovered a lump in her breast. She went to the Emergency Room, which is where many without medical insurance go to receive treatment. It is the only place that will see a patient who does not have insurance. There she was told don’t worry about it. Six months later the lump had grown and had become painful. She again went to the Emergency Room and was given medication for the pain. This went on for two years, when finally a doctor took one look at her breast and sent her to oncology. She had stage four cancer. Treatment came too late for Ms Colley-Mims. She died in 2013.

This past week, Save OurSelves: A Movement for Justice and Democracy held a Jericho March and rally at the capitol of Montgomery in solidarity with the Moral Monday Movement of events in five southern states. The seven day event focused on a different area where justice has been thwarted by the current State Legislature and Governor Bentley. The areas covered were Immigration reform, Women’s Rights, Education and Youth, Prison reform, Voting rights, Medicaid Expansion, and Worker’s Rights/Living Wage.

Governor Bentley, a doctor by profession, has refused to expand Medicaid because he opposes President Obama. In a state where the unemployment rate has risen in sharp contrast to the national trend, refusing Medicaid expansion that would also bring in 30,000 living wage jobs into Alabama; this callousness towards the welfare of the people of Alabama for the sake of political posturing is evil, plain and simple.

On Thursday in an attempt to get Governor Bentley’s attention to the plight of the citizens he is elected to serve, I joined six other attendees of the final Jericho March and entered the capitol, before closing to hold a 24 hour prayer vigil for the state. Within ten minutes after closing, we were asked to leave. We thanked them but stated we needed to pray for the governor to change his heart on the matter of Medicaid expansion. He is killing people with his refusal.

The Secretary of the Governor eventually came down to speak with us and pleaded with us to leave the building. We stated we would not leave unless Governor Bentley expanded Medicaid and saved people’s lives.

We were arrested. And in what appears to be an act from the Governor’s office, we received a trespassing charge in the second degree which carried a $500 bond. Court date is set for September 15. We could have received a trespassing charge in the third degree which is unlawful presence and carries a small fine.

When the stake is the potential of saving 700 lives annually by demanding Medicaid Expansion to cover the 300,000 people in the state who fall in between the current eligibility and the parameters of the Affordable Health Care Act, a little inconvenience of being arrested is nothing in comparison. I will choose to stand on the side of love, every time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Fred L. Hammond

Minister, UU Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL

P.S. Wondering how you can get involved involved in support of protecting the human rights of people throughout the country, including throughout the South? Check out information about the Living Legacy Project Pilgrimage coming up this November here and Re-Visiting Selma next March here.

 

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Faith Leaders Call on Obama to End Inhumane Immigration Enforcement

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Faith Leaders Call on Obama to End Inhumane Immigration Enforcement Share/Save/Bookmark Aug 27, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC  20500

 

Dear Mr. President,

On July 31, over 100 faith leaders and immigrant rights activists were arrested in front of the White House to urge you to end the inhumane immigration enforcement policies that are destroying families and fracturing our nation. Congress’s refusal to enact immigration reform has ensured that deportations of immigrants continue at an alarming rate. Only administrative action will stop the deportations now.

As you consider executive action to protect immigrant families, we implore you to include three things:

  1. Stop deportations immediately. Every day, roughly over 1,100 people are being forced from their homes and sent back to countries of origin that many fled for fear of poverty, hunger, and violence. Deportations are not the solution to fixing the immigration system. Stop the deportations. Stop this injustice.
  2. Expand deferred action to immigrant workers and families. You can use the power of the presidency to keep families together by granting deferred action as you did for the “Dreamers,” the children brought to this country by their parents seeking a better way of life for their families.
  3. Protect unaccompanied children who have sought refuge within the United States border. Give the children who are fleeing violence in Central America due process hearings to be considered for refugee status. Detentions and deportations are not the answers. Mercy and relief for children desperate to escape gang- and drug-related violence are needed now.

The world waits to see how you will handle our broken immigration system. Will you take the first step to finding a humane solution?

As a nation of immigrants, we must stand on the side of love with immigrant families. As a religious community, we cannot ignore the moral call to help those who are suffering. And as citizens of the world, we must respect the inherent worth and dignity of all.

 

In faith,

Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
The United Methodist Church, Los Angeles Area

Rev. Dr. Susan T. Henry-Crowe
General Secretary, Board of Church and Society, the United Methodist Church

Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO, Church World Service

Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 

This letter was sent to the White House today, providing important follow-up to support the coalition of clergy and faith leaders who took action and engaged in civil disobedience to urge deferred action for the immigrant community and refugee status for children at the border on July 31, 2014.

 

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