Last Thursday, I was privileged to join over 100 women—20 of whom are undocumented immigrants—in an act of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill organized by the We Belong Together campaign. We blockaded the intersection outside the House of Representatives, calling them to pass compassionate immigration reform that treats women and children fairly, with hundreds more people standing by to support us. Before we were arrested, I helped lead the group in an oath recommitting to work for immigration reform as one of several faith leaders, including Sandy Sorensen of the United Church of Christ and Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women.
The decision to risk arrest was easy on every level. As a citizen, my soul weeps at the horrific acts of dehumanization we inflict upon immigrants and citizens of color in the name of patriotism. As a mother, my heart breaks knowing how many of those impacted are children. As a religious leader, I am called to put my faith into action and my body literally on the line to say “not one more death or deportation.” We must achieve compassionate immigration reform. We cannot allow other important issues to distract us or delay that reform. The collective soul of our nation and our people is at stake. My prayer is that our leaders take quite seriously the urgency involved and get busy paving a fair and compassionate pathway to citizenship. One that honors families and protects the most vulnerable among us—our children.
For me, last week’s action was particularly important because of the focus on families. The image of families being broken apart was what helped me see migrant justice as a human rights issue in the first place. I’ll never forget the experience of marching with families protesting Arizona’s SB 1070 in 2010. It helped me understand who is really impacted by our current system and practices around immigration and detention. My hope in participating in this action was that more and more people join us in that understanding.
When I was first asked to participate in this action, I rapidly replied “yes” and signed up. I was pleased to be able to lend my body, mind, and spirit to what is surely one of the most important civil rights struggles of our day. I had assumed the event was in nearby Boston—it was only after I registered that I realized it was all the way in Washington, DC! That took a bit more doing. With commitments on either side of the day of the action, attending suddenly turned into a heavy lift and perhaps just not possible.
As I drafted my regrets, another email arrived—an email that shared the list of speakers, including an 11 year-old daughter of an undocumented parent, and the fact that over 20 undocumented women were risking arrest. As a white, well-aged woman who continues to benefit from our dominant systems, I knew I would fare well in any arrest. The “price” of participation would be primarily in travel. That the majority of the 100 were Latina and nearly one fourth were undocumented spoke miles. The decision quickly became one about the price of not participating. What does it mean when we leave the heavy-lifting, the inconvenient, and the dangerous to those already at great risk in our society? What does it say when we let questions like “is it worth it?” and “will it matter?” enter into our discernment? What does it say about our commitment when we look at this as “our work” rather than “our lives?” There are some “asks” you simply cannot ignore.
Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Rev. Wendy is a committed social justice activist and was previously arrested in an act of civil disobedience during the July 2010 protests of Arizona’s SB 1070 and inhumane treatment at the Maricopa County Jail. She also serves as the Co-Chair of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee.
For more information on last week’s civil disobedience action, check out the media round-up from the We Belong Together campaign.