Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Celebrating the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Carolyn Cartland

Post author Carolyn Cartland

“What makes you think you can do this job? After all, you’re in a wheelchair.”

In 1986, I worked in the insurance industry and had been employed by the same company for eleven years. The company I worked for had two major divisions, one in Connecticut and one in Pennsylvania. There was some overlap between the two divisions, including my position in Connecticut, so higher management decided to eliminate the duplication by creating a new, consolidated position. I applied for the new position and traveled from Connecticut to Pennsylvania for a series of interviews. The head of human resources in Pennsylvania interviewed me and asked me that question.

This was four years before the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed so there was nothing illegal about his question; it was offensive, but not illegal.

On July 26, 1990, the ADA made his question illegal and that is just one example illustrating how the ADA changed the lives of Americans with disabilities.

The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.

After the enactment of the ADA, a person with a disability could expect to get into a restaurant, hotel, or a grocery store. People who had a hearing loss or who were deaf could expect that closed captions would be available for their television shows. People who needed guide dogs were no longer denied public transportation. People with a disability could go to a job interview without the fear that they would be evaluated on their disability rather than their ability.

At my interview in 1986, I had no legal protection against discriminatory hiring practices. I replied that the fact I used a power wheelchair had not prevented me from succeeding in my previous positions and I saw no reason why it would be a factor now or in the future.

My story ended happily. Back in the Connecticut office, the human resources folks and the hiring manager were as stunned and outraged as I. They knew I was qualified and I got the job. Before 1990, many other people with disabilities were not as lucky and their civil rights were violated. That is why I celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This post was written by EqUUal Access President Carolyn Cartland.

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To Nourish and Sustain Us: a poem to those who have written me since the verdict

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To the mother who shared the story of her heart breaking when her six-year old autistic son told her, “don’t worry mom, they won’t kill me, I’m white,”

To the mothers, fathers and babas who have thanked me for speaking out as a white person, because they are so afraid that their Black sons could be next,

To the mother of a family of biological and adopted children who explained that since the murder of Trayvon, her young white daughter has lived in fear of her 20 year old Black brother being killed, so scared that she had her Brother call every night to tell her he was ok,

To the white people, around the country, who have reached out hungry for direction on what we can do to challenge white supremacy, end the criminalization and violence against communities of color, and do the right thing,

To the organizers and activists of color who have expressed their anger, frustration, and disappointment that more white people aren’t stepping up more often to take on racism and that even in this moment of naked truth, too many are still making excuses to not look directly at it, or trying to reduce the power of this moment of historic and institutional racism making itself plain, reducing its meaning to just being about bad individuals.

To the white anti-racists, feminists, social justice activists who are stepping up into the whirlwind of these times to bring clarity, leadership, vulnerability, analysis, and love,

To all of the beautiful people who despite the viciousness of anti-Black racism in this country, who despite seeing the racist roots of the U.S. legal system exposed, who despite all efforts to tell us that we are powerless, are marching in the streets, organizing in their communities, educating their people, and building movement for another world,

Thank you for your courageous actions, generous hearts, and tender humanity,

Thank you for helping create a better world, through your truth telling and strategic engagement, for our children.

To the white men, all of them white men, who have told me to burn in hell, to leave this country, to die a horrible death, let your hearts and minds be free of the poison of white supremacy, let go of the hatred you have for imaginary foes, who you actually have far more common with then you think.

Civil Rights organizer and legendary white anti-racist, Anne Braden, spoke of the Other America where people of all backgrounds come together to work for justice and democracy for all people. The Other America where we can live interdependently and cooperatively in our full humanity, with dignity. Reject the living hell of racism, and open your heart to the Other America. If not for yourself, then for your children.

For all of us, let the love of those who have come before us, who have take on injustice, defied illegitimate power and through their lives, created victories, legacies, poetry, culture and traditions of resistance and liberation that we inherit, let their love and all they have passed on, nourish and sustain us.

This post was written by Chris Crass. Chris is a longtime social justice organizer and author of the new book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy. He is also a member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

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Hungry for Justice

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Elizabeth Bukey

This post was written by Elizabeth Bukey, who is currently a candidate for Unitarian Universalist ministry.

I was really hungry when I woke up that morning. It had been almost 22 hours since yesterday’s bowl of oatmeal, and it was hard to think about much else as I headed out the door to Casa Latina. I have always had enough to eat. More than that, I’ve always been the kind of person who made sure to eat: when I worked as a hospital chaplain, it became a joke that I was always ducking into a corner to eat trail mix. So it was a new experience for me to chose to participate in the National Fast to say “Not One More Deportation.”

In some ways it was a natural step: the congregation I grew up in, University Unitarian Church (UUC) in Seattle, has supported Casa Latina and has an immigration task force. In fasting, I joined two other UUC members who have been active in immigrant rights. Personally, I have been in and around the immigrant rights movement since I worked in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Washington Office and lobbied congress for reform legislation. In seminary, I studied the U.S.-Mexico Border and traveled with other seminarians to south Texas for organizing and theological reflection. I was deeply moved by attending Justice General Assembly, in particular the vigil at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Tent City” jail.

Food for breaking the fast.

This sign reads, “For the fasters.”

So here I was, hungry and learning a lot from this particular hunger. Living only on water for 24 hours is uncomfortable. But my experience over the last day reminded me that living in the shadow of deportation is more than uncomfortable: it can be terrifying. I spent the afternoon of my fast watching “A Better Life” with other activists. It tells the story of an undocumented man and his teenage son, and the painful search for ways to improve their lives and their strained relationship. After, as we discussed the movie, I learned that most people in the room knew someone who had been deported. Relatives and friends had been pulled over for routine traffic stops and never seen again. One person had complained about mistreatment at work: his bosses called immigration and he was deported. Children are in foster care because their parents have been deported.

No one should live in this kind of fear. That’s why I fasted, and that’s why, after meeting people impacted by deportation, I am called to continue speaking out. As we broke our fast that morning, activists, peer organizers, and day laborers spoke about why we do this. In this room filled mostly with women, we shared that we are looking for freedom, for rights, for a better life for our families, and for those suffering in the Sonoran desert and right here in Seattle. As our t-shirts said, we are hungry for citizenship.

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Standing on the Side of Science: Lifting the FDA Anti-Gay Blood Ban

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This post was written by David Traupman.

Like many Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country, my congregation—the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami—regularly hosts a bloodmobile on its campus. Since less than 10% of the U.S. population donates blood annually, the need for donations is great and every pint of blood collected from our members helps save a life.

As a gay man, however, whenever I see the bloodmobile at one of our Sunday services it feels like a slap in the face, saying to me, “You are less than worthy and not equal to others.” It also makes me feel like I am not truly welcome in a congregation that takes pride in being a “welcoming congregation.”

This is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indefinitely bans any gay man, or man who has had sex with a man at any time since 1977, from donating blood. This regulation is based on outdated scientific data and inaccurately identifies sexual identity/orientation as high risk rather than specific behaviors.

As I have witnessed this discrimination to institutionally and continually occur within our congregation without raising awareness about the policy and without advocating for lifting the ban, it has truly saddened my heart.

However, it wasn’t until I arrived to serve as worship associate for a World AIDS Day worship service and saw the bloodmobile parked outside our sanctuary that it hit me so deeply I almost decided to tell our minister that I could not take part in that day’s service and would need to leave.

It was the height of hypocrisy for me to stand up in our pulpit and talk about the advances made in the treatment of and reduction in AIDS cases, when right outside our doors we were allowing blood donations under a policy that unfairly discriminates against an entire portion of our population simply because of their sexual identity.

It was that day that I decided to finally take action.

I asked our board of directors to suspend the bloodmobile from our property until the FDA ban was lifted. While I presented what I thought was a principled and clear request to stand on the side of equality, I was surprised that many members were unaware of the policy. We had a productive discussion about the pro’s of hosting blood drives, while also realizing that increased awareness of the policy was needed along with research on how we could adhere to our UU principles and support our LGBTQ members and the greater gay community.

UU Miami board member Luigi
Ferrer, Banned4Life co-founders Brett Donnelly and Blake Lynch, and LGBTQ Pride worship service coordinator David Traupman.

While our congregation started to explore how to most effectively advocate for overturning the ban, we discovered that several other South Florida advocacy groups were starting similar efforts, including SAVE Dade, Unity Coalition | Coalicion Unida, and Banned4Life.

Our congregation recently held a LGBTQ Pride service to educate our congregation and to envision a way we can continue to host a bloodmobile while advocating for change with the co-founders of Banned4Life, Blake Lynch & Brett Donnelly, a national advocacy group based in Orlando working to raise awareness about the FDA policy and promote the importance of donating blood by encouraging eligible donors to donate blood in place of those who are Banned4Life.

We also hosted a coalition discussion where a wave of ideas were brought to life to build grassroots support, form an interfaith coalition, host days of action, lobby medical and legislative partners, work with city councils and county commissions to pass resolutions in support of overturning the ban, and explore drafting an Action of Immediate Witness for a future Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.

According to America’s Blood Centers, if just one more percent of all Americans would donate blood, blood shortages would disappear for the foreseeable future.

I am grateful that by raising my own voice, I am adding to the larger movement to bring full equality to the LGBTQ community as well as ensure that more individuals will be able to donate blood and save lives. And, I call upon our UU movement to “Stand on the Side of Science” and add our liberal religious voice to this important cause.

This post was written by David Traupman. David is a member of the UU Congregation of Miami, Florida, where he volunteers as a worship associate. He is also a co-organizer of Biscayne Unitarian, an emerging congregation serving Miami’s urban Biscayne corridor.

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North Carolina Moral Mondays: Standing in Solidarity and Love

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As a Unitarian Universalist, I consider social justice and community activism important parts of my faith tradition. This colors the lens through which I look at the world, the actions I take, and the circles I move in. As a person paying attention, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the intersecting systems of oppression that operate around and through me each day.

That’s partly why I relate so strongly to a broad-ranging movement like the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina, which has primarily involved a series of issue-themed demonstrations at the state house in Raleigh for the last 12 weeks in a row. The Moral Mondays (and occasional Witness Wednesdays) have been led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACPand supported by a myriad of other civic groups, faith communities, and otherwise engaged citizens. My friend Noelle Lane, who is a student and Bonner scholar at Guilford College in Greensboro, has attended four demonstrations and plans to participate in civil disobedience at the rally today. She reflected on the wide range of issues addressed by the movement, saying, “I love the fact that [the movement] encompasses every issue and is not afraid to tackle different topics… These are people who refuse to say, ‘That’s not my problem,’ and are standing in solidarity to hold elected officials accountable.”

Crowd gathers outside NC capitol building.

People pack the grassy mall outside of the North Carolina capitol building in Raleigh, facing a podium where community leaders from diverse groups speak on the issues at stake. (Credit: Tim Leisman)

The demonstrations began this past April in response to extreme policies being pursued by the North Carolina state legislature, which is fully controlled by Republicans after last year’s elections. Just a few of these include placing burdensome regulations on voting and eliminating early voting, various economic policies that hurt poor and working class people, and repealing of the state’s Racial Justice Act. The list of policies that will work to undermine living conditions for the general public is staggering, and for a good explanation I recommend this article from the New York Times.

With a body of elected officials that seems so intent on pursuing extremist policies, one can see how easy it is to get overwhelmed. Anna Fesmire, Vice President of the NC Chapter of the League of Women Voters, cited this frustration as one of the reasons people continue to come out. She emphasized that “Things are being done in a very undemocratic fashion… [Policies] are being rammed through with very little notice or only notice to one side in particular… It’s created a tremendous frustration and people feel that demonstrating is the only way to get our voices across.”

Inside the NC capitol building.

Demonstrators occupy the interior of the North Carolina General Assembly. Those on the main floor will be arrested, while those observing legally from the balcony stand in solidarity. (Credit: Tim Leisman)

At the heart of the Moral Monday movement is the belief that every person is endowed inherent worth and dignity, which is well known to Unitarian Universalists as the First Principle of our faith. This has brought together folks from many different issue areas to stand in solidarity and love, even committing civil disobedience by demonstrating inside of the capitol building. Community activist Tiffany Holland noted, “I think there are a myriad of reasons why people are choosing to get arrested because there are a myriad of ways in which this legislative body has chosen to beat people down.”

Despite the growing numbers of demonstrators and arrestees, policymakers have responded with disregard and even derision towards the demonstrations. Some even labeled them as “Moron Mondays.” Tiffany suggests that this attitude is pervasive in the North Carolina General Assembly and with Governor Pat McCrory, observing, “Their actions and their speech indicate a complete disregard for the people they are supposedly representing.” People will continue to protest, she predicts, because “the general assembly continues to put out more and more ridiculous and oppressive bills.”

UU Fellowship of Raleigh Young Adults at Moral Monday (Credit: Rev. John L. Saxon)

The Moral Mondays movement is one that resonates strongly with the mission of Standing on the Side of Love, which is “To harness Love’s power to end bigotry and oppression against people because of their identity.” I urge all people of conscience to recognize the far-reaching nature of this movement, and the critical moment in history during which we exist. Start a Moral Monday tradition in your area. It is our moral and civic duty to stand our ground on the side of love and press back against hateful and bigoted ideologies that cause more suffering in the world.

North Carolina is not an isolated case – regressive and extreme political decisions are being made all over the country. It is truly the time for us to join together in what Dorothy Day called “A revolution of the heart, one that has to start with each one of us.” Let us refuse to allow oppression and bigotry to happen in our names by those who would represent us in positions of power.

This post was written by Tim Leisman. Tim is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, a recent graduate of Guilford College, and currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina. Looking for more information on the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina? Check out these resources:

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