Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Vets ‘Eat In’ to Support Vandalized Iraqi Restaurant

4 Comments | Share On Facebook| Vets ‘Eat In’ to Support Vandalized Iraqi Restaurant Share/Save/Bookmark Jan 12, 2012

Rev. Lee Bluemel (left) and members of North Parish UU enjoy dinner at the Babylon Restaurant. (Credit: Julie Malakie, Lowell Sun)

Last week, a boulder was thrown through the front window of the Babylon Restaurant in Lowell, MA, in the middle of the night. This week, the restaurant was crowded to overflowing thanks to a spontaneous “Eat In” organized by local Veterans for Peace leader and Unitarian Universalist Pat Scanlon. At the Eat In, Veterans for Peace members were joined by Unitarian Universalists from the North Parish of North Andover, MA, and the UU Congregation in Andover. For two hours, participants carried flags and signs reading “Stop Hate Crimes in Lowell” in front of the restaurant and filled the dining room many times over. Their efforts made the front page of the Lowell Sun and even garnered nationwide media attention,including an article in the Daily Kos and a feature on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Check out the following video, where Pat beautifully speaks of his commitment to standing on the side of love with Lowell’s Iraqi community:

The restaurant owner, Ahmed Al-Zubaidi, was an Iraqi television journalist who immigrated to the United States after his life was threatened. An article about him and another new Iraqi restaurant owner appeared recently in the Boston Globe. His daughter Leyla said of the Eat In, Thank you, to all the veterans and others who came to support my family, you will never know what this has meant to my family and the Iraqi community. We will never forget this.”

Vietnam veteran Pat Scanlon is friends with many other Iraqi refugees in Lowell thanks to his tireless work with Veterans for Peace and Merrimack Valley People for Peace. People for Peace has led an effort to help settle new Iraqi immigrants and North Parish UU members have been involved in that effort by connecting with families, participating in furniture drives, funding a special project through the Christmas collection, and welcoming them to events at the church.


Rev. Lee Bluemel, Rev. Lara Hoke, and Pat Scanlon contributed material to this post.

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MLK Jr. Day Inspiration from Rochester, MN

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We thought you would inspired by the video below from the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, MN, the 2011 recipient of the UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action. Their congregational projects include the formation of a forty-five person Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) Rapid Response Team with a dedicated web page and a written procedure for how the congregation decides to respond to local incidents. The congregation has several justice task forces including LGBT Allies, Racial Justice, and Poverty. First UU Rochester kicked off their SSL participation with Rochester’s Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in January 2011 which garnered great coverage by local media.

We look forward to hearing how your congregation is moved by the commemoration of Dr. King’s ministry! Please share your thoughts and photos with us on, or soon after, MLK, Jr. Day so we may in turn inspire other congregations across the country. And thanks for helping us kick-off 30 Days of Love with powerful witness across the country.

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Rev. Jay Leach: My Forthright Dialogue with Lowes Executives

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Post by Rev. James C. (Jay) Leach, Sr. Minister, UU Church of Charlotte, NC

Post by Rev. James C. (Jay) Leach, Sr. Minister, UU Church of Charlotte, NC

“Lowe’s pulls ads from Muslim show, draws fire.”

This was the headline of a December 11 article appearing in the Charlotte Observer. Some variation of that headline appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and in print media outlets throughout the nation.

The Observer article explained explicitly: “The retail giant stopped advertising on TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ after a group called the Florida Family Association complained the show was ‘propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.’”

Like many, I was deeply bothered by this action. Lowe’s claims to make “diversity and inclusion a conscious part of how we run our business.” (see https://careers.lowes.com/diversity.aspx) To capitulate to fear-mongering is antithetical to that claim. So, I was pleased when I began noticing email petitions taking Lowe’s to task for its actions.

On Thursday, December 15, I was contacted by a representative from an organization called “Faith in Public Life” based in Washington, D.C. asking if I would deliver tens of thousands of these signed petitions to the Lowe’s corporate headquarters in nearby Mooresville, N.C. I contacted some other colleagues to ask if, on very short notice during the holiday season, they’d join me. My longtime friend Russ Dean, one of the co-pastors at Park Road Baptist Church, agreed. We talked with the organization and made our plans to go.

On Tuesday, December 20, Russ and I, accompanied by our Director of Religious Education for Children and Youth, Kathleen Carpenter, in her role as the current president of the board of Mecklenburg Ministries, were joined by three other Christian clergy in a board room conversation at Lowe’s. Representing Lowe’s were four high-level executives who thanked us for our visit.

They asked what we wanted to say. I invited them to tell their side of the story first. To my surprise, they began with an unequivocal admission: we have handled this whole thing very poorly. We’ve done a very poor job of communicating; we understand why people are upset; a part of why we agreed to meet with you is in hopes of saying more clearly what transpired and of addressing the damage we’ve done.

They proceeded to explain that they had bought a block of advertising on the cable channel TLC aware that “All American Muslim” could be one of the shows on which their ads might run. We knew about the content of the show, they said, and had no problem with a Lowe’s ad being aired on it.

One Lowe’s commercial ran during an episode of “All American Muslim.” By the next morning, Lowe’s Facebook page had filled with vitriol. Some of it was directed at the company for running its ads on the show. But, other messages spewed invectives back-and-forth between those posting on the page. That morning a Lowe’s team met and, aware of the thousands of strident postings prompted by the advertisement on this particular show—some directed against the company, some simply deriding others—decided to contact TLC and request that their ads not be aired again on “All American Muslim.”

Only after the decision had been made was Lowe’s contacted by the American Family Association. They indicated that they simply sent a form letter explaining the decision they had already made.

Our decision was solely a business decision, they explained. We advertise to attract customers. We didn’t think this was going to help attract customers so we discontinued them. The maelstrom that resulted, they admitted, took them completely by surprise. In trying to explain their decision, they communicated very poorly, only further fueling the backlash.

We then talked for over an hour. I left with several conclusions. First, I don’t now think Lowe’s was motivated by bigotry or acted out of some deeply held Islamaphobic attitude. To reduce it to those highly-charged accusations is neither fair nor accurate.

Second, Lowe’s clearly failed to live up to its own high corporate values. They acted solely out of concern for their bottom line without considering other implications. They had a great opportunity to respond to the backlash by holding up their own statement: “Lowe’s is committed to maintaining an environment of inclusion, fairness, and respect by understanding and valuing the many ways people are different.” They profess to “lead by example.” In this case, they offered no leadership at all. It is not what they did that I find disappointing; it is what they failed to do that troubles me.

A group of American Muslim women in "All-American Muslim" (Photo: TLC)

Third, the national media was quick to accept a self-serving claim from the Florida Family Association (which is actually little more than a website operated by a deeply divisive individual.) Though there is no evidence that this website motivated Lowe’s action, the national media immediately gave that claim credibility. I am newly chastened to question more deeply, especially when statements are made by those who are hoping to create division and rancor.

Fourth, we engaged in a forthright dialogue, one in which there were clear disagreements. However, we did so civilly, maintaining dignity and respect. I was pleased that Lowe’s accepted my request to join us in speaking to the press afterward. Doing so gave us an opportunity to demonstrate that differences need not result in name-calling, single-minded accusations, or the kind of “us/them” discourse so disappointingly prevalent now.

Did Lowe’s decide to reinstate their advertisements on “All American Muslim?” No. Would doing so have been better and more in keeping with their stated values? I certainly think so. But, for me, the issue was and is larger than that one choice. I find no value in denouncing this whole corporation as bigoted and am disappointed by those who continue to reduce their decision to that simplistic invective. Will Lowe’s keep their commitment to us that they will be more attentive going forward, actually leading by example in “valuing the many ways people are different?” Only time will tell.

Will we embody our own highest values? Our words, our choices, our actions will be integrity’s proof.

Peace, Jay

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How Can We Deepen and Broaden Our Work?

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Tuesday, January 10, 2012. You can sign-up for these emails here.

This past fall marked the third year for the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and my twentieth year serving the Unitarian Universalist Association. In all my time of providing faith-based social justice programming and resources to our congregations, I have never seen anything ‘catch fire’ like our ‘Love’ campaign.

Over 80% of our congregations report some kind of participation with Standing on the Side of Love, from gracing our buildings with banners to solidarity actions with immigrant, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities. That’s exciting and firm ground for us to inhabit together as we contemplate the moment we find ourselves in.

In the past year we’ve seen new space open up to dream about what kind of world we want to live in as the Occupy movement seized the streets and our imaginations. Around the country, faith communities and Occupy groups are meeting together to engage in collective visioning for what comes next, and channel the energy of the movement.

In light of this, I believe now is the time for us to deepen and broaden our campaign. While many clergy and individual leaders in our congregations have mobilized a faithful response to identity-based oppression, this is an ideal moment for reflection, and for engaging in congregational conversations about what this moment is calling on us all to do.

Click here to find the resources to help your congregation take part in 30 Days of Love.

Recently, I had the privilege to participate in guided reflection with Campaign Manager Dan Furmansky and several UU ministers who have been deeply engaged with faith support for the ‘occupiers,’ asking ourselves questions about how we think about this moment in time, and recognizing that within the 99%, those who are historically marginalized are suffering the most. This past Sunday, leaders from the UU Arizona Immigration Ministry joined with the Phoenix Barrio Defense Committees for a community visioning session with over 100 hundred people. Out of these and other reflections comes 30 Days of Love, this year’s National Standing on the Side of Love Month, a moment to provide your own congregation with the opportunity to reflect and to build a Story of Us and Story of Now.

In order to help your congregation “think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in light of our faith,” as UU theologian the Rev. James Luther Adams put it, we have created a number of resources, including a 30 Days of Love Theological Reflection Guide.

Click here to find the resources for your congregation for 30 Days of Love.

It’s through sharing our stories, identifying common values, and lifting up our most compelling concerns that we create a public narrative of who we are, where we stand, and where we are heading. Community organizers, the Dreamers (immigrant students advocating for the Dream Act), and most famously, perhaps, President Obama have all used the organizing method known as Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Now, to define their own leadership and inspire others to action. We’ve adapted that process for a two-hour session that can be used at community potlucks, house meetings, covenant groups, or even over the course of two worship services.

This past Sunday, my own congregation, First Parish Cambridge UU, where I serve on the Social Justice Council, launched our ‘kick-off’ for Thirty Days of Love by inviting the congregation to attend the Cambridge Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Commemoration together, wearing our ‘Love’ shirts and pins. Members of our Coming of Age group will be participating in the event. On Sunday, Jan. 15th, Senior Minister Rev. Fred Small will be preaching on racism and building the Beloved Community in a sermon called “Colorwise.” Later in the month we will be hosting a common read on Immigration Stories: The Death of Josseline. In February we are holding a workshop offered by the UUA on transgender inclusion and welcome. And on Feb. 12th we will hold what has become our annual Standing on the Side of Love service, where we will present a community Courageous Love Award.

In addition, our Social Justice Council is planning a potluck for our members to share our stories and identify and create our congregational story of us and now. Through these activities we believe we will develop a collective spirit of what we are being called to do next. Will we become a church host of Occupy Boston General Assembly? Will we strengthen our solidarity efforts with our immigrant partners? Will our understanding and acceptance of transgender people grow? Will our faith be enlivened and our mission of creating Beloved Community become more of a reality? We look forward to finding out through 30 Days of Love what comes next for our congregation.

What are the stories of the people in your congregation and in your community?

These resources are all offered to you with love and the hope that your congregation will join us for these 30 Days of Love that offer congregational and individual opportunities for action and reflection.

Dr. King knew that our dreams are what keeps our stories developing and our collective story improving. May these 30 Days of Love help you lift up your dreams.

In faith,

Susan Leslie
Standing on the Side of Love Lead Organizer
UUA Witness Ministries

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What Dr. King Taught Me in Mississippi

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Thursday, January 5, 2012. You can sign-up for these emails here.

Just weeks before I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time, I said goodbye to New York City and thumbed my way to All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington D.C., where they were recruiting for the Freedom Rides — buses headed into the segregated South to test racial segregation policies.  The first wave of freedom rides made national news when a bus in Alabama was firebombed by a mob that held its doors shut as it burned and later viciously beat the riders when they were able to escape.  The next wave of Riders, they told us, had to send a message that the bombing would not deter the protests. So, I hopped on board.

In Jackson, our group used the whites-only facilities at the train station.  It wasn’t a pretty scene – hatred surrounded us.  I had no idea how respond.  Stokely Carmichael, a fellow rider, had been down South before and was well-versed.  He asked me if I had ever heard of non-violence, offering a brief description.  “Hell no,” I said, one of the few uneducated young people in a group full of mostly college students. “Whoever heard of such a thing?”

Following others’ lead, I held my ground that day without responding to the aggression, and I gave a straight razor I always kept on me to another Rider to dispose of.  Eventually officers herded us all onto paddy wagons with billy clubs, spitting on us along the way.  I would later spend 40 days in Parchman Penitentiary for my act of civil disobedience, but for the next few days, the other Riders and I were confined in Hinds County jail, where we met Dr. King.

I remember first seeing him in person, larger than life.  Dr. King had a group of students gathered around him, and he was teaching the art of non-violent action.  He told us, it’s the most powerful weapon we have, because if we try to fight or use weapons to overcome our situation, the repercussions would be much worse than if we project love.

As I watched, it appeared to me like he was a modern-day Jesus mentoring to his disciples. This was a particularly funny feeling for me, since growing up, I was used to worshipping a blue-eyed, blond-haired, six-foot-tall Jesus.

Indeed, Dr. King wasn’t just an ordinary man; he was an extraordinary leader.  And the principles of non-violence he espoused helped save my life.

This year, communities across this country will remember the work of Dr. King on  January 16th, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Dr. King was all about love.  In our effort to continue the work that he started, can you join me in honoring the spirit of this holiday by bringing this fantastic campaign of love into your community’s commemoration of MLK, Jr. Day?

Click here to learn how you can commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with love, and receive several Standing on the Side of Love placards your congregation can bring with you to community events.

Many months later, the words of Dr. King followed me as I traveled with SNCC to embark on a voter registration project in Liberty, Mississippi, where my efforts, with Mr. Bob Moses, to escort four local blacks to the courthouse to register to vote were met by a racist, violent mob.  A crowd of a dozen whites shouted hostile questions to us about why “niggers from New York” were stirring up trouble. A thin old man named Bryant Jones was in a shaking, uncontrollable rage, talking about how black men were raping white women up North.  He began to pummel me.  Mr. Moses pulled me around the waist, trying to maneuver me out of the beating and the crowd of 15 or so people surrounding us.  The old man kept swinging, possessed of a hatred so intense that it seemed to consume what strength he had.  He was holding me so tight around the collar, I put my hands on my collar to ease the choking.  He just kept hitting and shouting, “Why don’t you hit me, nigger?”

Bryant Jones, was trying to get me to abandon the non-violent code that Martin Luther King, Jr. had taught us.  But I heeded Dr. King’s teachings.  After a while, tired, Bryant yelled to his crowd, ‘Why don’t we lynch this nigger?’  The crowd had various reactions, but made no efforts to get involved further.  When Bryant mentioned lynching and the crowd did not respond, it was the first time I realized that all white people were not evil.  Fifty plus years ago.

I told Mr. Bryant, ‘If you’re through beating me, I’d like to go now.’  One of the men who had been attempting to register then drove me away from the scene after Bryant released me.

Had I fought back, I might not be here today to share this story with you.

Thank you, Dr. King, for teaching me that non-violence and love is always the answer.  For that, and so much more, I honor you.

Please join me in honoring Dr. King’s spirit this year. Click here to get more information:


As a man in my 70s looking back on my life, including my time as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s, and thinking about what difference I can still make, I am inspired by the very notion of a Story of Us, and a Story of Now, and excited about the THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE that we are about to embark upon as a community.  I plan to participate in as many of the calls to action as possible, and to reflect on the importance of this moment in time to our country.  Please join me in signing up for THIRTY DAYS OF LOVE.

With liberty and justice for all,

Travis O. Britt, Sr.
Landover, Md.
Travis Britt, Sr.’s involvement with the Freedom Rides to end segregation in the 1960s are chronicled in books like the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Parting the Waters.”  After his time in the South, Mr. Britt lectured extensively in the northeast to enlist a new generation of activists in the civil rights movement. Years later, Mr. Britt organized a 1000-mile walk to generate support in the African American community for the Carter Presidency, which led to a personal audience in the Oval Office with the new President. At the age of 68, Mr. Britt achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Bowie State University.  Today, Mr. Britt carries on the legacy of his late wife, Maryland State Sen. Gwendolyn Britt, advocating for her signatures issues, including equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and voting rights for convicted felons.

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