Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Rev. Mary Wellemeyer: Day 3 – Crossing Borders

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Post by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, Interim Minister of Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Colorado

Post by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, Interim Minister of Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Colorado

People have been crossing the border and ending up in Tucson for years. Once, before the Gadsden Purchase, there was no border.  This area was part of Mexico. Then for a long time, it was very casual, with people going back and forth for business and family visits and thinking little of it.
There came a time when people fleeing violence in the South began to arrive here seeking shelter. The wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly, slowly, as these political refugees petitioned for asylum. For some, the ones from Nicaragua and some of the ones from El Salvador, their politics were not right. Along the border, a system of sanctuary churches quietly called itself into being. It was an interfaith effort, involving Catholics, Presbyterians, and Unitarian Universalists that I know of, and the memory of this forms the oldest layer of organizing around illegal border crossing in this area. When I visited the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Tucson, I saw the oddly placed sign outside the minister’s office and heard the story that it covered the hole the FBI had made when they broke in and went through the files to find out where the political refugees were being hidden.

Now, people fleeing economic catastrophe South of here have been coming, and continue to come. When there is no other way to make sure the children have food, people cross in all the various ways available to them.  Another layer of organization has emerged with this new wave of economic refugees. Keeping people from dying in the desert has become an important focus of activity. In the communities where people come to live among friends and family, the focus is on keeping a low profile, avoiding detection, and knowing what rights undocumented people have. Once someone becomes part of the deportation system, there are those who help with access to legal services, visitation during detention, and keeping track of the person’s possessions so they can be returned later. The only thing positive I can see about all this is that the Hispanic communities where people live and the humanitarian communities of mostly anglos are starting to come together.

A water tank at the Borderlinks office like the water tanks placed in the desert by the humanitarian group to help migrants during their trek.

A water tank at the Borderlinks office like the water tanks placed in the desert by the humanitarian group to help migrants during their trek.

And yet,  the Tucson area is the largest source of deportations in the country.  I went to the “Operation Streamline” special courtroom this afternoon and watched about forty deportations be processed in a very short time.  These were people who had been picked up for a second, third, or fourth time for being in the country without papers, a felony, and they had worked with the prosecutor and the public defender to reach agreement on plea deals to serve some time in jail and then be deported.  The judge was attentive and responded kindly to the few questions that came forward.  Still, it was chilling.  I wondered if the people involved really understood what was happening and what their options had been or still were.  I wondered what they had gone through in detention.  And it was very sad to see people’s lives being so deeply affected for what I still can’t understand as a serious crime.

I’m getting ready to leave this adventure in Tucson and return to my other world.  I have seen a lot and felt a lot of different ways.  And I have come to believe that crossing borders is actually what life is about.   Every day is an opportunity to exchange a smile or a word across a border of race or ethnicity, class or nationality.  I come away from this experience  determined to cross the borders in my own life as well as to work for justice in the complicated arena of economically motivated migration outside the framework of our laws.  I would encourage others to consider doing this as well.

This blog post, by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, is third of a series on her trip to see how Unitarian Universalists can help the situation at the Arizona-Mexico border.

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MBWA: Ministry by Wandering Around at Occupy Philly

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Post by Rev. Peter Friedrichs, minister of the UU Church of Delaware County in Media, PA.

Post by Rev. Peter Friedrichs, minister of the UU Church of Delaware County in Media, PA.

Back in the “olden days,” and by that I mean the 1970’s and ‘80’s, business owners discovered an effective way to monitor what was going on in the shop. The practice is said to have originated with Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of the eponymous technology company, and it was described by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman in their 1982 book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. Rather than conducting lots of meetings or, worse yet, waiting for people to come to them with problems, managers in these companies discovered that they could get a better handle on what was happening in the workplace by simply wandering around. MBWA is an acronym for the practice of “management by wandering around.”

The benefits of MBWA are obvious. If done right, it builds relationships between managers and line workers. It facilitates early intervention when problems arise. It provides managers with “primary source” data about conditions in the workplace. It helps managers take the pulse of the place, providing important insights into how systems and processes affect both productivity and morale.

For the past two weeks at Occupy Philadelphia, I’ve been engaged in my own kind of MBWA. In my case it’s “Ministry by Wandering Around.” Every day that I’m at the encampment I do a lot of wandering. Those who are occupying Dilworth Plaza are in desperate need of ministry. A ministry that affirms their identity and worth as individuals. A ministry that creates a safe space for telling their stories, often desperate stories of loss and suffering. A ministry that reminds them that they still have dignity even though they don’t have jobs or homes or retirement accounts.

In my ministry at Occupy Philly, I’ve found that there are three distinct communities in need of pastoral support. First are the pre-existing residents, those who were living under tarps and blankets in Dilworth Plaza before the protests began and who will, likely, be living there long after the occupation ends. These men and women, many who suffer from mental illness and other health problems related to chronic homelessness, seem happy to have the services that the Occupy presence has created. But there is resentment, too. Suspicion that the “good stuff”—tents, coats, medical supplies—are being hoarded for protesters. Consider how you might feel, living with just a blanket to cover you when a whole village of North Face and LL Bean camping tents pops up all around you.

The second community consists of the protesters themselves. Some are there because they don’t have jobs or homes. Others live comfortably but are on site to support the movement. Still others are there to be part of something important. This group wants to be heard. They often feel powerless in our society and are anxious to communicate their rage against a system that seems stacked against them.

Finally, there are those who are in some role of responsibility with the occupation. Those who head up working groups, or are otherwise supporting the comfort, safety, sanitation and general well-being of the village. These people are carrying tremendous burdens trying to keep things working amidst the varying demands of all those living within the encampment. They are deeply committed to the success of the Occupancy movement to effect meaningful change. And as the days and weeks wear on, they are stressed, sleep-deprived, and often under-nourished. They need someone to whom they can express their frustrations and fears, or just somewhere they can go to get a few minutes to themselves.

So, what do I do when I go to Occupy Philly? I wander around. I make eye contact with people, and sit down with those who seem to invite me. I listen to their stories. I affirm their commitment and their struggles, their fears and their frustrations. By taking the time to listen deeply, by learning and remembering their names, I let them know that they are essential parts of God’s creation, even though they may feel like they’ve been disposed of or passed over. I remind them that their lives matter, and that there are people beyond the encampment who care. MBWA. Ministry by Wandering Around.

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Bringing Love to the Occupy Movement

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The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Friday, October 28, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.


The first time we held a Unitarian Universalist vespers service at Occupy Boston, I arrived hopeful and excited.  Could it be true?  A diverse group of people living peacefully together, sharing a message of solidarity, showing the way to a new hope for our nation – even our world? Were people actually living what I regularly preach we should be doing?

UUA board sm

Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees standing on the side of love at Occupy Boston.

A group of us from different congregations gathered, drawn together by the Rev. Hank Peirce’s call to ministers to participate and the Mass Bay District’s encouragement of all to come. Congregations shared the word through their own Facebook pages and Sunday morning announcements, and a ‘congregation’ of a hundred gathered at Dewey Square. All were welcome.  We offered witness to our UU values in the midst of this powerful social movement.  It was clear to me that Unitarian Universalists have much to learn from and with Occupy.

As the organization of Occupy has grown, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the integrity of the community’s work – not just to hone statements around economic policy, but to truly navigate what it means to live communally.  They ask constantly: How do we honor every person, share resources and keep the integrity of purpose and practice even under the threat of violence? It has not been easy. Navigating how to live inclusively and nonviolently in the midst of all the other stressors of life in Dewey Square has required a level of anti-oppression work that is up close, personal and challenging.

My involvement as a Unitarian Universalist in Occupy gatherings and protests is not unique.  People of faith everywhere are engaging deeply with the movement.  Others are watching from a distance, inspired but not yet motivated to take action.  And some of us may still find it ridiculous for people to camp in a public park to protest injustice.  UUs around the country are standing with the occupiers, feeding the occupiers, worshipping with the occupiers, and being the occupiers.  Others are questioning its long-term effectiveness.

People are asking for a central place to share their stories and their concerns and to create a space for dialogue.  The Standing on the Side of Love campaign wants to share what you are doing as part of the Occupy Movement.  We want you to have a place to dialogue about this new movement. Tell us what you think.

Scroll to the comments section at the bottom of this post to share your stories and comments.  Let’s start a dialogue together in community.

Standing on the side of love is what the Occupy movement is doing.   Taking shape on our city streets is a practice of building a new way — a beloved community in which all are welcome.  It is messy, joyful, deep and true work that we can’t afford not to be part of.   Standing with occupy is standing on the side of love, because the practice of Occupy itself is love in motion in our world.

Standing on the Side of Love has something to offer and value to add to the Occupy  movement, too.  We know that people of color have been disproportionately and disastrously impacted by the economic crisis.  Latinos and African Americans have the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation.  And undocumented immigrants have been scapegoated and blamed for causing unemployment!  In Boston, Occupy the Hood sprung up last weekend in Roxbury and a joint rally was held with Occupy Boston that focused on the connection between the violence in communities of color and the lack of economic opportunity for youth.   Police violence and incarceration rates for young people of color are intimately connected with the economic justice issues at the center of the movement. Now we see police attacks on one of the most diverse Occupy movements in the nation in Oakland.

As the situation grows more tense, I believe people of faith, in our yellow Love shirts, have a real role to play in witnessing for love, and insisting on loving treatment of the occupiers.  As Cornel West says, justice is what love looks like in public.

Please join me in dialogue and discernment.  Scroll to the comments section at the bottom of this post to share your stories and comments.

Let’s start a dialogue together in community.

In faith,


The Rev. Parisa Parsa

First Parish in Milton, Mass., Unitarian Universalist

PS: If you are on Facebook, check out “occUUpy,” an open forum for UUs to discuss the Occupy movement, and share their ideas, observations and experiences, and Peter Bowden’s UU Growth Blog, where you will find highlights of Unitarian Universalist participation in the Occupy movement.

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Rev. Mary Wellemeyer: Day 2-The Desert and The Wall

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Post by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, Interim Minister of Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Colorado

Rev. Mary Wellemeyer

This blog post, by Rev. Mary Wellemeyer, Interim Minister of Columbine UU Church in Littleton, Colorado, is part of a series on her trip to see how Unitarian Universalists can help the situation at the Arizona-Mexico border.


Today I joined with a community college group for a very quick tour of a few important aspects of the border experience just South of Tucson.  Our first stop was in Green Valley at the home of one of the founders of the Samaritans, a group that walks the desert trails to provide humanitarian assistance to people who are walking from the border towards Tucson. The people they help are undocumented, and the basis for the help is that it is never illegal to keep people from dying, even though it is definitely illegal to provide help in making their way into the country.  So they walk a fine line, with jugs of water, socks, shoes, and first aid supplies in their packs.

Tucson Trip Day 2 001

Signs that migrants had been waiting in the underbrush.

Walking where migrants have been walking, where migrants might be concealing themselves nearby, this is a very moving experience, even though we were not out very long. Even on this late October day, it was warm out there. The gentle warmth was a reminder that up in the hills at this time of year, the temperature drops into the 40′s.  Even though it was not particularly hilly or rough, the land was a bosque, studded with cactus and prickly shrub-like trees.  Migrants travel at night to reduce the chance of detection, and I kept thinking of how it would be to dodge through that stickery underbrush.

The spot we were touring was carefully selected—it had been near a pick-up spot, so there were signs that people had been waiting there.  Not recently, but the signs were clear: items of clothing, backpacks, water bottles, strewn by the side of the trail.  I thought of the people who had walked at least two days to reach that spot from the border—of their determination to keep going no matter what, of their desperation to find some way to survive by taking this tremendous risk, of their hope that things would get better.

The border fence in Nogales.

The border fence in Nogales.

We got back in the bus and rode to Nogales.  A border runs through it.  We stayed on the Arizona side and looked at the wall.  It used to be a solid metal wall with lots of art painted on it.  This summer, they built a new, improved, wall of metal posts just far enough apart that you can sort of see through it.  The perception of one town with a fence down the middle is even clearer—we could see Nogales, Sonora, right there, going about its business.  We chatted with a young Border Patrol agent who told us about the tunnel they had filled in just under where we were standing.  We had lunch in the park and heard the story of someone who had crossed illegally twice and decided to return for good.

I have no idea what we Unitarian Universalists should be doing to help ease this situation.  I do know that we need to inform ourselves about the whole complicated situation, get to know people who are involved, and work together to find our part in putting together a solution.

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The Story of a Hunger Striker

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Georgia hunger strikers

Salvador Zamora, Rev. Jeff Jones, & Martin Altamirano

On July 1st, 2011, Martin Altamirano and Salvador Zamora began a hunger strike to protest Georgia’s harsh anti-immigrant law, HB87.  After Salvador fell ill, Martin ended his fast to care for Salvador, who continued his hunger strike for a total of 70 days.  They hope to continue advocating for immigration reform across the country.

Rev. Jeff Jones of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Marietta, GA was inspired by their effort and joined the hunger strike in solidarity with Martin and Salvador for 7 days.  You can read his reflections here.  Another group called Starving4Justice also joined Martin and Salvador’s fast for several days.

Martin agreed to share some of his story with Standing on the Side of Love. His advocacy for immigration reform in the United States is greatly inspired by his experiences as a young man in Honduras.


My name is Martin Altamirano, I am graduated in my country Honduras in General Mechanic in 1986. I am a 45 years old, I came the first time to U.S. in 1992 and return and stay in U.S. since 1994, I am divorced and have 3 Kids, 21 years old and 17 years old undocumented Daughters, and one 4 years old American boy.

I born and was raised influenced with the teaching of a intelligent, brave rebel, with mystic knowledge, full of love and extraordinary human being, a carpenter of name Jesus of Nazareth.

While I was student in the Germany and Honduras Technical College I did get the good luck to meet in person a extraordinary man called Miguel Angel Pavon, who was also member of the Honduras Association for the Human Right Protection. He was shot dead on 14 January 1988, because He gave evidence before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on three cases against the Honduran Government concerning disappearances in Honduras between 1981 and 1984. Miguel Angel Pavon also leave a legacy to follow in my life of looking for the good of others in a pacifist way even if exposing your own life.

In 1986 after I graduate, looking to help in my community, I did learn about a community that is today known as The Red Cross. Unfortunately after five years of be a volunteer member, one volunteer co worker of name Carlos Rene Vasquez was killed for the Honduras Army associating him with a anti governmental violent group. This fact touch me very deep, for the possibility to have spent time helping my community with a extraordinary man who possibly was looking to make society changes for good of others but in a violent way. I don’t blame Carlos if he did but I don’t share the violent methods. Somehow I was start to be under persecution in my country by state intelligence and police services, only by circumstantial facts and suspicions, forcing me to emigrate first to Belize to feel safe, and after travel to U.S. The land of the free.

The Hunger Strike is the result of a work team: I am the Idea supplier, supported for Richard Pelligrino and his organization the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, La casa del Inmigrante of Norcross Georgia, The Honduran Association Inc. and my team partners Salvador Zamora and Rev. Jeff Jones. As part of the activity, we was looking for alternative tools to protest against oppression that the system is doing against immigrants. We make good choice when we did it because of what we achieve. When we start the hunger strike, we had several goals to achieve. One was to protest SB87. We was asking also to stop deportation process of not criminal people. White House already change this policy and was one achievement. Those person will start to produce and contribute to U.S. economy.

We are asking to the federal government: provide a way for undocumented immigrants start to contribute out of the shadow to the U.S. economy and pay taxes, allowing them to have access to the public schools to learn English. In this moment that is not possible under some states regulations like in Georgia. Allow them to receive a Drivers License to be able to buy a car, a insurance, allow them to buy houses and other basic services that will move on the U.S. economy. The immigrants are warranted NOT with a migratory amnesty, but with a Migratory Reform and Dream Act legislation for the young students at a Federal Level.

The people who are willing to create a better life for others, can affiliate with or support local pro-immigrant organizations to get the message faster and louder to elected officials in every State and to the elected officials in Washington. If you want to help us, you can contact us at the email boycotatlanta@gmail.com.  For right now, it is not finish.  It is first step.  It is practice. We also asked media to investigate detention corporation contributions to politician in Georgia and for DREAM Act.  We will resume in future with more people involved in our movement.

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