Some Thoughts on Phoenix and the Need for Basic Human Dignity
I have settled down after much adrenaline continued to pump through my veins after an emotional and exhilarating couple of days in Phoenix. I don’t want to recap or do a play-by-play but I feel compelled to relay some thoughts on this experience.
I can’t begin to express how humbling it is to be a part of a movement of such sacrifice, emotional desire and demand for wholeness. The people planning and implementing this week have done so with great care and vision, but also with such hope. Growing up just after the Vietnam era and the great struggles for peace and equality (both racial and gender) of the 60’s, I have never truly felt a part of a great struggle for human rights that has moved my soul. Now, with the struggle for marriage equality and for basic human rights in Arizona, I feel so honored and called to do whatever I can to play a part in these movements. It is one of the main reasons I went into nonprofit work although nonprofit really never reached this level of fulfillment. The desire to do this work is one of the primary reasons I felt called to the ministry. To stand side-by-side with strangers and friends on behalf of love during these last few days, has moved me deeply. This week I have wept with sadness but also with great hope and joy.
I feel this is a turning point for Unitarian Universalism. There we were, in our orange-ish yellow shirts, in mass, with the giant word “love” on our chests. Excuse the old marketing guy in me, but there it was, our brand, we were being called “the love people.” It was phenomenal to be a part of a coordinated effort of civil disobedience with Unitarian Universalists from every corner of this country. Lay people, ministers, administrators, association staff, all coming together. People from all over the association, linked arm in arm with brothers and sisters in the struggle and with our president leading the way, I was so proud. I was proud of our joint effort, our cooperation with local organizations and the visible power we had being there together. We were supporting each other as members of a faith, a faith steeped in the power of love to change hearts. We can do so much together as an association. Yes, we are congregationally based in our governance but when we work together and realize the power of UU as one strong body, our efforts are electrifying. Together we are a joyful, singing, force of love.
Finally, as I stood on the street corner watching those who had volunteered to get arrested stake their claim to the street, I heard a young African American girl turn to her mother and say, “what are they doing?” Her mother replied, “Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Martin Luther King, that is what they are doing.” I broke into tears. I looked around at the police, sweating in the three digit temperatures with their black uniforms and riot gear, I looked at the white faces, the brown faces, the black faces, and I thought what pain, what unnecessary pain. But I also thought there is a theme to Dr. King’s efforts, the current efforts for marriage equality and for this sweaty hot work in the streets of Phoenix; this is not about a debate on immigration, it is about the need for basic human dignity. The efforts on the streets of Selma, on the canyons of San Francisco and on the baking pavements of Phoenix continue the stream of dignity vs. oppression, cooperation vs. control and love based human sustainability vs. fear based action.
During the course of these two days in Arizona, I was personally thanked so many times for being there I couldn’t begin to count. The desk clerk and maintenance person at the hotel. Someone on the mayor’s staff I met at the Starbucks counter in city hall. People in the street. It is a community steeped in brokenness and pain and in deep need of healing. Is this really the best way for us to make policy? Is this really the best way for us to live together on this planet? Is this really the best way for us to treat each other with basic human dignity and kindness? It is not about one law, in one state, in one country. As I stood passing out water to sweating police officers and people about to be arrested, I couldn’t help but think, we have come so far since the days since Dr. King and yet we have so much further to go.
It did feel however like there was a power shift. After so much power and oppressive behavior being controlled by the Sheriff and his supporters, it felt like the agenda was finally set by someone else. The sheriff and his supporters were now reacting in a way that highlights the fact that love and nonviolence demonstrate despotism like nothing else can.
I will continue to rely on, hope and pray for the power of love to conquer the fear of change and fear of the stranger. I will continue to believe that the power of love can touch deep within even the most hardened soul to recognize the divine in the other. I will continue to pray that by living and acting in love we can save each other, heal the divides and build that beloved community of all souls.
Filled with deep gratitude for being a part of this act of love, and still with much hope for our future,
Rev. David Miller
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
Solana Beach, Ca.