On My Feet in the Phoenix Heat
Rev. Meg Riley is Campaign Director of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and a Minnesota resident.
It’s hot here in Phoenix for this Minnesotan, though the locals say it’s just “warm”—mid nineties. Still, spirits are high as people gather from across the nation to protest Arizona Bill 1070.
The folks from Arizona are visibly relieved and buoyed up by the presence of visitors. One after another tell me, many with tears in their eyes, how frightening this bill is and how angry and helpless they feel in its wake. I don’t just mean people who know me, or people of faith, or Unitarian Universalists. I’m talking about waitresses, gas station attendants—strangers.
One waitress, noticing our not-a-bit-subtle Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts, and our buttons which state “I could be illegal,” gets tears in her eyes. “THANK YOU,” she says, “I know just why you’re here, and THANK YOU.” She then goes on to say that she was visiting family in California when the bill passed. To her horror, her family members thought it was a great thing and only wished California would have a similar bill. She says, quietly, “They just don’t know what they’re talking about. I didn’t even know what to say.” And then, even more quietly, “It feels like Nazi Germany.” She is a 60-something Jewish woman, she tells me, and she can’t believe her family could support this legislation, which for her is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
She’s not the only one tearing up. I sometimes feel I could wail, watching the beautiful Latino families around me, knowing the fear that many of them live with daily as they pray for one another’s safety. And then I want to cheer, seeing the joy and courage and ease they embody in this hot sun that is melting my neck and feet.
Hundreds of Unitarian Universalists, including dozens of clergy from across the nation, gathered with one broken heart at the UU Church of Phoenix Friday night and then came to rally and march on Saturday morning. Many of the clergy, joining colleagues from other faiths, lined the street where the marchers began to offer prayer, bread for the journey (in this case, tortillas), water, and blessings. It was a great vantage point from which to watch!
In the delightful random moments of such events, I saw Sandy Sorensen, a dear old friend who directs the United Church of Christ’s Washington Office. Sandy was joined by a group of United Church of Christ colleagues.
As the march gathered, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, who seems to know everyone, introduces me to a veteran Arizona politician and organizer, by the name of Alfredo Gutierrez. Gutierrez nods to the crowd, “That’s what they’re afraid of,” he says to us, pointing to a group of children playing. He goes on, “They’re not afraid of people like me. We’re old. They’re scared because of the children—all the children. And, look at those children! They are happy, they are laughing, they are not afraid. Look at the joy around you! How could this scare people?”