On March 7, 1965—dubbed “Bloody Sunday”—civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama were violently attacked by police as they demonstrated for voting rights for Black Americans. Bones were broken; skulls fractured. In total, more than 100 people were injured. In response to this tragedy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for clergy from across the country to join him for yet another march in Selma. Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and I were on the same plane from Boston, flying south with hundreds of others to join Dr. King. We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery, held a prayer service, and then returned to Selma. That night, Jim Reeb was severely beaten as he left a restaurant where he had been dining with colleagues. He died a few days later, at the age of 38. The brutal murder of a white man, a member of the clergy, was a key moment in a series of events that led President Johnson to introduce the landmark Voting Rights Act, just days later.
Nearly fifty years later, I am reminded of Selma as I witness new voter ID laws popping up across our country. These laws will disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans this November—especially African Americans, the elderly, and college students. These voter ID laws make a mockery of the Selma to Montgomery March and the many sacrifices that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We must ask ourselves: Did James Reeb and the others who were killed as they sought voting rights for African Americans die in vain?
Let us work to ensure that is not the case! Please join me in shining the light on discriminatory voter suppression efforts underway in our country. Click here to learn more about the issue and how you can get involved.
I returned to Selma recently and visited the memorial created to honor Jim. I remember wondering what Jim’s reaction would be to our current state of affairs. Today’s voter ID laws are truly a 21st century replication of the biased policies that he and I and so many others worked to overturn.
That Tuesday in 1965, when Jim and I and hundred of others gathered with Dr. King in Selma to call for full voting rights for African Americans, was a collective expression of what it means to “stand on the side of love.” Today, our work continues as we struggle to ensure that everyone has the ability to exercise his or her right to vote.
Please speak out against voter suppression. Click here for resources to get involved this election season.
As we remember the many people like Jim Reeb who lost their lives fighting for the right to vote, and those who sacrificed so much along the way, may we all be as bold and brave in speaking out for true democracy.
Standing on the side of love,
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist minister and a “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights Movement
PS: My current project is a documentary film discussing the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and religion. Visit truthinprogress.com to learn more.
The message above went out on Thursday, September 27, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >
I grew up with many privileges. Privileges of color, class, gender, physical ability—even height! While my parents weren’t activists, they instilled in me an insistence that everyone be treated fairly.
My journey has been one of listening: listening to historically marginalized people, hearing their stories, coming gradually to understand better their struggles, their courage, and their wisdom. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from books that shook my complacency and pierced my heart. Books like The Feminine Mystique, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Rubyfruit Jungle.
But I’ve learned even more from the people I’ve met who have challenged my assumptions, shattered my stereotypes, and deepened my compassion. Alex Kapitan is one of those people.
A few months ago, Alex visited my congregation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and presented a workshop on transgender identity and inclusion. I can’t remember ever learning more in such a short time!
Now Standing on the Side of Love is offering Alex’s brilliant “Transgender Identity & Inclusion” workshop as a webinar on Wednesday, October 17, 7:00-8:15 pm ET. Click here to register.
Alex is funny, engaging, empathetic, self-deprecating, and wicked smart. He completely charmed my congregation, ranging from octogenarian Boston Brahmins to queer youth. I continue to draw regularly on the stories and insights Alex generously shared with us.
Alex’s interactive webinar will provide practical, concrete ways for increasing our mindfulness and support of people of all identities and ways of expressing gender. The workshop is for everyone—whether you’ve had zero exposure to these issues or live them every day. Participants will gain a greater understanding of terminology, the experiences of transgender people, and the ways in which all of us are impacted by gender norms and expectations.
Please join the “Transgender Identity and Inclusion” webinar. Click here to register.
Bring your questions and your curiosity and prepare to be informed, uplifted, and—perhaps most important—changed.
Rev. Fred Small
First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist
The message above went out on Monday, September 24, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >
This post was written by Annette Marquis, District Executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Southeast District and the author of a new eBook called Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County.
Angel is twenty-three years old. He came to the United States right after his first birthday. His six younger sisters were all born in the United States–only he and his mother are undocumented. In November 2011, police stopped Angel for not having a light on his license plate. The officer who stopped him appeared to be letting him go but another officer arrived and that’s when all congeniality disappeared. Perhaps he didn’t like the fact that Angel, returning home after an AIDS conference, was dressed in drag.
Whatever the reason, they arrested Angel and put him on an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold while they investigated his residency status. As a result, he spent four months in a Metropolitan Detention Center before being transferred to an ICE Detention Center in El Paso, Texas and then back to New Mexico, where he spent an additional three months.
Seven months total—ripped away from his family, denied the right to a trial, treated like a criminal—all because of a missing light.
But even under these horrendous circumstances, Angel found a way to make a difference. On NoPapersNoFear.org, he wrote, “Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBT when we were in detention. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBT people in detention.”
When ICE finally released him from detention in mid-June, 2012, he heard about Undocubus, the “No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice,” and knew he had to join them. This bus of undocumented immigrants planned to travel through the southern US in order to “confront power with the stories, voices, and actions of those directly affected by these immigration policies.” All along the route, which started in Phoenix, Unitarian Universalist congregations, in Denver, Albuquerque, Austin, New Orleans, Cordova, TN, Ellisville, MS, Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Asheville, Raleigh, and finally in Charlotte, offered them housing, meals, moral support, and their love. The forty or so riders came to appreciate our Standing on the Side of Love banners and t-shirts and expressed tremendous gratitude for our encouragement and assistance.
I met Angel when the bus arrived in Charlotte on September 3, 2012. By that time, he and the other riders had been on the road for more than a month. He told me he had to leave the next day, only a day after arriving in Charlotte and before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the Undocubus’s final destination, even started, because he was taking his SATs the next day in order to get into college. Angel felt proud that he had come on this journey but missed his family and was anxious to get home to them. He hated being separated from them while he was in detention and told me he doesn’t believe anyone should have to go through what he did. That’s why he is continuing his work with Puente Arizona, who supported his mother while he was in detention, and with 3rd Space, a collective of queer migrants and people of color working on social justice issues in Phoenix.
Angel opened up a whole new world to me, the world of self-identified queers who are also undocumented immigrants. They call themselves Undocu-queers and they drip courage from their pores.
Because Angel was one of the first people from Undocubus I met, I assumed his story was unique. I asked him how he was accepted on the bus as an out queer. He laughed and said, “There’s a lot of us on the bus. It’s filled with queers.” It didn’t take long before I recognized the truth behind his words.
Some riders I talked with estimated that about half of them were LGBTQ people. One day, as an Undocubus news conference wound up just outside the gates from the arena where the DNC was going on, I asked a group of four young adults why they thought there were so many LGBTQ folks on the bus. They answered without hesitation.
“We already came out once,” one responded, “we’ve already had to claim our queer identity.”
Another added, “This is another way we have to come out.”
“To be who we are,” chimed in a third.
One young adult explained further, “LGBTQ people have always been at the front of social movements. Look at Bayard Rustin who worked with Martin Luther King,”
Their clarity impressed me and their courage astounded me. They stood up against great opposition and proudly declared, “I am who I am and no one is going to take that away from me.”
Whether or not you agree with their strategy, these modern-day freedom riders, who rode thousands of miles through the hot August sun in a cramped, 1970s, un-air-conditioned bus, have to be admired for their willingness to put everything, even their own freedom, on the line to challenge a system that stands in the way of their dreams.More >
As most of you know, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was the site of a terrible act of violence on Sunday, August 5th, when an armed man entered the temple in Oak Creek and began shooting. Six people were killed and three others wounded, including one policeman who had responded to calls for help.
The next day, Standing on the Side of Love sent out a call to supporters throughout the country to submit notes of encouragement and support for the Sikh Temple. Over 2,000 of you responded!
The Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin, worked closely with UU seminarian Schuyler Vogel as well as a local contact with Brookfield’s Sikh Temple, to make arrangements for the delivery of the messages to the Oak Creek Temple.
On the evening of August 30th, the Rev. Dr. Drew Kennedy from First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen from Olympia Brown UU Church in Racine, Schuyler, and I went to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. There we were warmly welcomed by Mr. Gurmukh Singh, who was our guide and host. The walls of the foyer and fellowship rooms were covered with banners from congregations and communities of a variety of faiths, all offering good wishes and support for the people of the Sikh Temple.
We had a good discussion about Sikhism and Unitarian Universalism and then joined their worship service. At the end of the service, during their announcements, we jointly presented the messages from Standing on the Side of Love and a booklet from the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville (click here to see a copy of our remarks). Afterward, we joined in eating the delicious community meal (or langar) and chatted with several of the congregation’s members while we ate.
It was a humbling and inspiring experience, to see how this faith community has supported one another and reclaimed their space, which was so violently invaded. Mr. Singh took a few minutes to read some of the good wishes sent in from Standing on the Side of Love. He was deeply touched by the sentiments offered, and by the fact that so many people had taken the time to write notes of support. The members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin are grateful for all the support from other faith groups, and remain open and welcoming to others. I’m sure we all left with hopes of continuing to build relationships between all our churches and the Sikh community.More >
As an Italian-American, I dread the second week in October. This is, of course, when my cultural heritage is celebrated with parades and festivals in the name of Christopher Columbus, whose arrival on this continent heralded an era of European conquest. Each year, I am forced to confront my ancestors’ complicity in the European colonization of the rest of the world—and the dehumanization, genocide, and enslavement that accompanied it. Each year, I hear the language that proclaims that Columbus “discovered” America, and I struggle, knowing where this language comes from.
The language of “discovery” comes directly from a European doctrine, developed by popes and embraced by monarchs. It claimed that when Christian Europeans landed on a shore inhabited by non-Christians, they assumed all rights to the land and its people as if they had discovered it. The Doctrine of Discovery, as it has come to be known, is still the legal basis for the modern-day treatment of indigenous peoples by the U.S. government. Federal control of the lands of Native American nations, immigration policies with respect to the indigenous peoples on the U.S.-Mexico border, and Native Hawai’ian peoples’ rights to religious freedom are all decided by remnants of a centuries-old doctrine that is based on the belief that non-Christian people lack souls.
This June at our annual General Assembly, delegates from Unitarian Universalist congregations passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. We were asked to do this by a coalition of indigenous peoples with whom we were working on issues of immigration justice. We answered their call to accountability with action.
Now, we must continue to educate ourselves, our congregations, and our communities about the impact of the Doctrine and its persistence in our laws and policies. Honoring Indigenous People’s Day this October 8th provides an opportunity for us to do just that. Click here to learn more about how you can take action against the Doctrine of Discovery.
In repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, our delegates decreed that it was incompatible with a theology that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We declared that right relationship between indigenous peoples and those whose ancestors came from other continents is only possible if we sit down together as equals. We affirmed that our call to stand on the side of love means that we must work to dismantle systems built on a foundation of intolerance and division.
This means pledging ourselves to working to repeal and repudiate this doctrine wherever it shows itself in our society today. While that includes asking the U.S. government to fully implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it doesn’t end there. Right now, there are probably policies in your local communities that mean that landowners are not in right relationship with the native peoples whose ancestral lands they live on. Coalitions of indigenous peoples in your state or region are likely signing up allied organizations in their struggles to gain equality, recognition, and respect. In the coming weeks and months, there will be legislation and advocacy efforts with the potential either to perpetuate the Doctrine of Discovery or to heal wounds inflicted by it.
Native American communities have for many years asked their allies to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Doing so means more than just changing what our calendars call the second Monday in October, however. It means educating ourselves about the very real issues facing the indigenous peoples with whom our faith calls us to be in right relationship.
This Indigenous Peoples Day, I invite you to seek to understand how the Doctrine of Discovery is still at work in your community and in your country. I invite you to seek partnerships with native peoples and to practice accountability in answering their calls to action. I invite you to unite in support of policies and laws that honor those whom centuries of discriminatory policy have disrespected.
Click here for more information on how you and your faith community can honor Indigenous People’s Day and work to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
I also invite you to help me to honor my cultural heritage—with all of its complicated and messy parts—by helping me to decolonize our faith. Together, we can reject those parts of our faith that are rooted in the superiority of one group of people and embrace a radically inclusive, all-encompassing love. I invite you to practice love with me this Indigenous Peoples Day.
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester
Board of Trustees, Unitarian Universalist Association
PS: For more information on the history & significance of the resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, watch this interview that I did with our partner organization Tonatierra:
The message above went out on Thursday, September 13, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >