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Submitted by Martha Thompson on Wed, 07/17/2013 - 8:34am.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his most famous "I Have a Dream" speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Tragically, on July 12, 2013, a jury in Sandford, Fla., demonstrated once again that that day has not yet come for this country. The jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, despite the fact that Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed teenager. It once again demonstrates to us all that our "justice system" persists in not valuing the lives of people of color the way it values the lives of white people in this country.
UUSC's Civil Liberties Program actively works against racial profiling. This case demonstrates why our society has to overcome racial profiling if we want to guarantee that every citizen in this country can enjoy and exercise their rights to life, liberty, and happiness. In the court case, both sides agreed that it was George Zimmerman's perception of Travyon Martin as a young black man that dictated his actions. Trayvon Martin was subsequently shot by George Zimmerman, who has now been acquitted. This is a tragic demonstration of how racial profiling allows harmful stereotypes to become someone's perceived identity and to make possible the suspension of a person's human rights based solely on that false stereotype.
The irony is that in the heated media discussion of a case in which a young African American man was killed because of harmful stereotypes, certain radio programs and pundits have used that discussion to continue to push those very stereotypes. Certain media outlets have continued to disseminate the despicable stereotype that young African American men are dangerous — which further endangers other young African American men.
Once the verdict came out, the NAACP immediately started a national petition to the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. The ACLU has requested a civil case against Zimmerman, and thousands of people marched in protest in cities across the country. The Department of Justice announced that they were still investigating the case.
We may have an African American president, but too many institutions and individuals are still judging children by the color of their skin — and that was fatal for Travyon Martin. We need to continue to work so that in this country the lives of children of color are valued as much the lives of white children — in practice as well as in theory.
Submitted by Kara Smith on Wed, 05/15/2013 - 11:09am.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and as the new immigration bill
moves forward, there’s been increasing fear mongering toward immigrants,
including refugees and asylum seekers.
We can’t let fear mongering derail the best chance we’ve had in years to
protect survivors of torture and others fleeing persecution. Please act now.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and as the new immigration bill
moves forward, there’s been increasing fear mongering toward immigrants,
including refugees and asylum seekers.
One of the things I appreciate most about UUSC and our supporters is how we stand firm for our basic values. Even in the face of difficult events, UUSC’s activists have been steadfast in affirming that human rights are fundamental and cannot be compromised.
Last week, UUSC supporters sent more than 1,200 e-mails to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for the protection of asylum seekers. These e-mails, in addition to follow-up phone calls from UUSC supporters, made an impact. On May 9, two amendments that would have harmed asylum seekers were rejected.
But our biggest challenge during this markup period is still ahead. Sen. Chuck Grassley has introduced amendments that would eliminate humane alternatives to detention, remove protections for stateless people, and make it possible for the United States to jail asylum seekers for even longer periods of time. He’s even proposed delaying certain sections of the bill until one year after an investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing!
UUSC's offices are in Cambridge, Mass., and the marathon bombing was close to home for us, both physically and emotionally. But at UUSC, we do not believe that safety and respect for human rights are mutually exclusive.
And we reject the idea that immigrants should automatically be treated as criminals. Instead we believe that the law should encourage due process and protections for vulnerable populations. Immigrants should “be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person," as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This respect is upheld in the principles of many Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Contact Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today. Ask him to oppose the Grassley amendments that would weaken or eliminate protections for refugees and asylum seekers in the new immigration bill. The pace at which this process will move is hard to predict, but right now it looks like Grassley's amendments could be considered as soon as Thursday, May 16.
You can also call the Senate Judiciary Committee by dialing 866-940-2439.
We can’t let fear mongering derail the best chance we’ve had in years to
protect survivors of torture and others fleeing persecution. Please act now.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 10:35am.
Honoring people who struggled for the right to vote
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case that challenges the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered a touchstone of civil rights legislation. Proceedings drew more national attention than they might have when, during questioning last month, Justice Antonin Scalia ridiculously asserted that the law is "perpetuation of racial entitlement." It's in this context that I've just finished reading Count Them One by One: Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote, a valuable book about United States v. Theron Lynd, a 1961 case that paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Theron Lynd was a voting registrar in Forrest County, Miss., who methodically denied the African American residents of his county their right to vote. Count Them One by One — written by Gordon A. Martin, Jr., one of the Justice Department lawyers who interviewed witnesses and helped prepare the case — focuses on the 16 brave black witnesses who testified against Lynd.
Among them were Addie Burger, a school teacher; T. F. Williams, a union worker at a local manufacturing plant; and Vernon Dahmer, a community leader and activist who was later killed in 1966, after the Ku Klux Klan caught wind of his plans to collect poll taxes from would-be voters to turn into local officials.
These individuals and the 13 others who joined them had attempted to register to vote — time and time again. They were told to come back another day. They were expected to jump through hoops while their white counterparts were waved along. They filled out applications that were, without explanation, deemed unfit. They were given bogus reapplication timelines.
Thanks to their testimony, Lynd was eventually convicted for contempt of court, African Americans in Forrest County began to register, and the case made other legal challenges to voter discrimination in the South possible. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 went on to suspend literacy tests, appoint federal examiners and poll watchers, and more.
In the recent Supreme Court hearings, Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked to one of the lawyers challenging the case, "Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?" I would answer no to that question. And that is why this book is important.
In today's political climate — with voter ID laws, sketchy redistricting plans, mythical "voter fraud," and woefully inadequate polling stations in communities of color where people end up waiting hours on end to cast their ballots — it's vital that we revisit the stories of the people who worked so hard for the right and the reality to vote. United States v. Theron Lynd wasn't that long ago — my mom was already alive during the case — but as a new generation comes of age, these stories and all that they have to teach us are in danger of being forgotten or lost or overlooked.
That's why I'm heartened to read this book highlighting those 16 individuals. And heartened that opportunities like the UU College of Social Justice's Youth Civil Rights Pilgrimage exist. As we work to make sure that civil rights — and human rights — are upheld, we must keep in mind the words of Vernon Dahmer: "If you can't vote, you don't count."
Submitted by Shelby Meyerhoff on Fri, 06/29/2012 - 12:31pm.
As a member of UUSC's Communications staff, I spent General Assembly (GA) Tweeting and photographing at UUSC workshops and special events. It was wonderful to meet so many UUSC supporters in person and to be inspired by your commitment to human rights.
One of the central themes of this Justice General Assembly was the importance of taking lessons from workshops and events back to our local communities. To that end, I want to highlight five resources from GA that you can use and share in your congregation!
Local Civil Rights Restoration tool kit from the Bill of Rights Defense
During the workshop on profiling, Shahid Buttar walked us through how activists can use power maps and other tools to identify local partners and start building coalitions. To me, one of the powerful things that Shahid said was that while different communities may experience oppression in different ways, the source of the oppression is often the same. So, he encouraged us not to just look at our particular grievances, but to see instead the common target that we can address together with other groups.
- The social-media training video
that UUSC made, in case you missed the presentation by UUSC, the UUA, and the UU
This video is geared toward congregations trying to decide which social-media tools to use in advancing their social-justice work. Yes, I'm biased, because this video features me! But I thought it might be helpful to people who missed the workshop or who want to bring it back to their congregations. I also very much recommend that you download the workshop slides (from all five presenters) and read the live Tweets from workshop attendees (who did a great job of reporting from the workshop).
- The UU
College of Social Justice service-learning video, which gives you a
firsthand view of what it's like to take a service learning trip
This video was shown during the UUCSJ workshop. It would be a great choice to show in your congregation if you are considering traveling with UUCSJ!
- The Blue Revolution webinar recording
with Cynthia Barnett
She was a fabulous speaker at GA, and a large crowd turned out to hear her workshop. We don't have a video of the workshop, but we have the next best thing! You can learn more from Cynthia about the water crisis in America by listening to the audio recording a webinar that she gave for UUSC supporters in spring 2012.
- UUSC's election-related
The 2012 elections workshop led by UUSC, the UUA, and the UU Statewide Networks also had a high turnout, and audience members asked questions about how congregations can participate in the election season. Don't miss the UUSC guide that addresses do's and don'ts for congregation.
Submitted by Sam Jones. on Wed, 04/04/2012 - 7:58am.
Lately on breaks at UUSC's office, we've been discussing the Hunger Games novels, especially with the recent release of the first movie. Suzanne Collins's understanding and descriptions of the tools of oppression have struck us as profound — and there are interesting parallels between the protagonist Katniss's story and those of our partner organizations. (Minor spoilers follow!)
The portrayal of District 12, the coal-mining town where Katniss grows up in, brings to mind the struggle for short-term survival versus long-term, sustainable change. For any organization working to better the world, this is a fundamental question. Katniss has been presented with the choice of taking on tessera — extra entries in the Hunger Games lottery — in exchange for more food for her mother and sister. Additionally, she hunts in the woods outside district 12 to bring home meat and gathered plants to trade or sell. Going into the woods is technically illegal, but Katniss puts herself in danger to provide food for her family. Her only goal is her sister Prim's survival.
For many in the Global South, such choices are commonplace. Eldest children often go to work in factories or businesses far away from home, sending home as much money as they can earn to support the family. These concerns take precedence over longer-term change. It's hard to take to the streets to advocate for democracy when you don't have enough food at home.
When any of us look to improve the world, we have similar questions. Is it better to provide a meal at a soup kitchen or advocate for housing reform? Both are important, but very different, ways of approaching the problem. At UUSC, we make a specific point of focusing on long-term, sustainable change. We work with small grassroots organizations to find projects that specifically address long-term needs.
The eco-village at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) is a great example. After the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, millions were without homes or sustenance. MPP, which had long worked on community organizing and sustainable agriculture, saw a chance for change amid the rebuilding. With funding and skilled support from UUSC, including hands-on construction from JustWorks volunteers, MPP has constructed homes for 10 families and trained them in sustainable farming techniques. The eco-village model has proven so compelling that MPP has secured funding for homes for an additional 40 families.
The Hunger Games themselves also illustrate a common technique used by groups in power to maintain control. By pitting the 12 districts against each other in the games, the Capitol divides and manipulates the districts against each other. Even though they are natural allies, the 12 districts have built grudges against one another over the killings of tributes - which makes an organized resistance to the Capitol that much harder.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), one of our civil-liberties partners, works to counter a similar effect here in the United States. BORDC builds diverse coalitions to put enforceable limits on local police authority to implement federal policies governing surveillance and immigration enforcement. Katniss and the people of District 12 have a good relationship with their local "peacekeepers." While the Capitol's presence is felt, the more draconian policies aren't enforced. Similarly, BORDC encourages changes on the local political level to prevent immigration status papers from being demanded during routine traffic stops and to track arrest and traffic-stop data to monitor possible profiling.
BORDC accomplishes this through building local coalitions among Latino groups concerned about immigration policies, African American groups organized around racial profiling, Muslim groups taking action against surveillance and police infiltration, and Libertarian groups organized around individual rights and privacy. While all these groups have different primary concerns, they have a similar focus: the behavior of local police and the ability of peaceful groups to organize without being infiltrated by police.
Peeta tells Katniss before the games begin that he wants to find a way to prove that he's still himself, despite the Capitol's game. This is the challenge before every one of us — to stand for justice in the world and remain true to our principles, whether by uniting people to take action against injustice or by giving people the tools to create a just recovery.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Tue, 03/27/2012 - 10:43am.
This image has been spreading over social media in the days following the murder of Shaima Alawadi. #justiceforshaima
On Saturday night in El Cajon, Calif., Iraqi-born Shaima Alawadi was beaten to death in what appears to be a clear hate crime. The perpetrator left a note reportedly reading: "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." Such a vicious crime is already horrific enough; the hateful, ignorant motivations that seem to be behind it make it even worse.
My heart and thoughts go out to Alawadi's family and community, who are surely reeling with shock and grief. And honestly, we all should be. While it's clear we live in a country where harmful stereotypes of Muslims abound and create a culture in which events like this seem on some level unsurprising, it is simply unacceptable. And we all need to stand up, speak up, and do everything that we can to stop this from happening.
Commentary on this horrific murder is all over social media, a fact which seems to garner more New York Times coverage than the murder itself. I saw a tweet the other day that poignantly drew a parallel between the murder of Alawadi and that of Trayvon Martin:
Stereotypes and profiling engender a dangerous thought process: Alawadi was a Muslim who wore a head scarf, so she must be a terrorist; Martin was a black youth who wore a hoodie, so he must be a criminal. Among other things, these attitudes distance people as "other" and dehumanize them.
The damage and pain caused by such attitudes is obvious, as we see in these recent headlines. But it's even more insidious than first glance reveals. The prevalence of individuals who engage in this kind of profiling and "othering" makes it possible to pass legislation that does the same, like the recent anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. In effect, this creates a feedback loop in which those laws bolster the individual attitudes, which further reinforce discriminatory laws, ad infinitum. Stereotyping and profiling create a culture of fear that reaches all levels of our culture, from individual interactions to broad government policy. And we must break this cycle.
We can start on an individual level. In the midst of these tragic murders, I hope that people will band together against hate and start truly building bridges of understanding among the many people and cultures our country is home to. UUSC works every day against hateful racial and religious profiling, and we want you to join us. There is no place for Islamophobia, for racism, or for oppression of any kind in the world we are trying to create.
Submitted by Bill Schulz on Sun, 01/01/2012 - 1:27pm.
The following post, "A Solution for Saleh," by UUSC President William F. Schulz, was published in the Huffington Post on December 30, 2011.
The recent decision of the U.S. government to admit the embattled President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to the country for medical treatment presents a classic human rights conundrum. Though a friend of Saddam Hussein and conciliatory toward Iran, Saleh has been an ally of the United States against al Qaeda. But according to human rights groups, he and his security forces have been responsible for hundreds of deaths since the Yemeni opposition took to the streets last spring to demand his ouster. By rights, his opponents claim, Saleh should be brought to trial, not provided top-notch medical care and, presumably, a comfortable retirement. At the same time, there is much to be said for removing him from the scene in Yemen — something Saleh has repeatedly agreed to and then reneged upon — and letting Yemen get on with its future, however fraught it may be.
If we lived in an ideal world, all those who are alleged to have committed crimes of whatever stripe would be brought before a bar of justice and, if convicted, sentenced. But just as prosecutors sometimes decide to plea-bargain a case or even not to prosecute an obviously guilty party because of extenuating circumstances such as an overriding state interest, so nations often have to decide whether it makes sense to offer a human rights offender safe haven in exchange for a chance at peace. The most recent dramatic example of that dilemma presented itself, at least theoretically, in the case of Muammar Qaddafi. Had Qaddafi been willing to flee Libya early in the conflict, thus no doubt saving scores of lives, a reasonable argument could have been made that offering him immunity might have been the better option than insisting upon justice, despite his decades of human rights violations.
One solution to this quandary is to establish a reliable system of international accountability. Were the International Criminal Court (ICC) the universally recognized arbiter of the guilt or innocence of the world's tyrants, supported by all nations, its indictments enforced, human rights offenders would know that the odds of their finding a country willing to host them and hence of their escaping punishment for their crimes were minimal. But of course major powers, including the United States, are not parties to the ICC; even some of its member states refuse to honor its indictments; and the Court has not yet succeeded in convicting anyone.
In the absence of consistent enforcement of international law, therefore, the burden of holding human rights violators to account often falls to individual victims of those crimes. Fortunately, in the United States, we have not only statutes (the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act) that allow for civil suits against alleged perpetrators but also an organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), founded in 1998, that facilitates such litigation. CJA and its clients have successfully won judgments against wrong-doers from China to Haiti, El Salvador to Peru.
So one option with regard to Saleh, following his admittance to the US, may be to bring civil suit against him on behalf of some of those he has harmed. On February 21, 2012, when the transfer of power in Yemen is finalized, Saleh will no longer be a head of state and hence protected by sovereign immunity. At that point legal action becomes at least theoretically tenable. Of course, the US may have made guarantees of immunity to Saleh and may seek to intervene to stop such a suit but that would put the government in the uncomfortable position of defending an alleged human rights criminal. If the Administration is intent on admitting Saleh and, for whatever reasons, unwilling to return him to Yemen for trial, let it at least refuse to shield him from civil suits, thereby preserving at least one clean hand in the dirty business of dealing with despots.
Submitted by Guest on Thu, 10/27/2011 - 2:31pm.
Linda McKim-Bell (second from left) with UUSC representatives Constance Kane, Bill Schulz and Dick Campbell, earlier this year.
UUSC Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator Linda McKim-Bell reports after a weekend of activism with the Occupy movement and UUSC civil-liberties partner the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Last weekend on October 15, the youthful occupiers of Occupy Portland joined the peace rally, march, and forum here in Portland, Ore. Stalwart UU veterans of the peace community were overjoyed when the youthful occupiers accepted their invitation to participate in the peace rally and march. This linked their economic issues to the diversion and misuse of tax dollars for wars and militarism. Older UU activists had brought dozens of chocolate-chip cookies for the young occupiers at the camp the night before. There was a new synergy when the young faces showed up — they brought hope and solidarity.
Four thousand people joined the rally and march. There were young people with college debt and college dreams. There were young families pushing their toddlers in strollers and worried about their children's futures. Peace buttons were passed out to those under 30! There were UUs as well as peace activists from other faiths, labor unions with signs, and military vets with flags. The Rev. Kate Lore, social-justice minister at First Unitarian Church Portland, was there with other UUs holding our church banners. The Peace Action Committee of First Unitarian Church was one of 40 community groups sponsoring and working on the rally. Signs told of foreclosed homes, health-care needs, worries about our future, and the need to stop the wars.
The energy in the crowd was electric. All had come together to make something new, something stronger that would carry the hopes of this nation's futures. The multitude of fresh, young faces and the working families that showed up to join the long-time peace community gave all a new hope. The feeling was that this time we had come together as a power to be reckoned with. Together we were stronger than we had ever been before. The coming together of the Occupy movement and the peace movement, as occurred here in Portland, is something new and something that needs to grow.
A forum was held at First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland after the march. Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a UUSC civil-liberties partner, spoke on the panel about the loss of our civil liberties since 9/11, including the impact on communities of color, religious communities, and immigrants. Laurie King of Jobs with Justice headed the panel and spoke about workers' struggles in Wisconsin. Veronica Dujon, sociology professor at Portland State University, encapsulated the history of U.S. foreign policy and militarism. Martin Hart-Landsberg, an economics professor at Lewis and Clark College, showed the linkages between foreign policy, military policy, and domestic policy and how these affect our lives here at home. Two evenings later, a reception was held for Shahid Buttar at First Unitarian Church, where he spoke about civil liberties in the time of the so-called "War on Terror."
After the forum, young activists carried the banner that asked "How is the war economy working for you?" and other signs from the march back to their encampment at Lownsdale Square in downtown Portland. They hung the banner between the trees among the tents of the Occupy Portland encampment. The signs and banners challenged passersby to think more deeply about where our tax dollars are going and showed them that the peace movement's gray-haired veterans, the interfaith and UU peace communities, the young occupiers, the labor unions, the young families, and students are all one. We had come together. This day was important because the anti-war movement came together with the economic issues movement with new creative energy — and we are a force to be reckoned with!
Submitted by Bill Schulz on Thu, 10/13/2011 - 9:00pm.
UUSC President William F. Schulz (Photo by David Vita)
The following post, "Why the Left Is Often Late to Tea," by UUSC President William F. Schulz, was published in the Huffington Post on October 14, 2011.
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) phenomenon, as nascent as it is long overdue, represents an opportunity unparalleled in recent American history for a grassroots movement motivated by progressive sentiments to change American political culture. But in order to do so, it must learn some lessons from the Left's own history, from the Arab Spring and, ironically enough, from the Tea Party with which it is so often compared.
I went to Oberlin College at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement. At Oberlin the principal focus of that movement was the military recruiters who came to campus to seek candidates for ROTC. One morning as the recruiter drove into town his car was surrounded by a group of 40 to 50 students. For more than four hours the recruiter sat in his car in his crisp uniform; the students chanted anti-war slogans; the recruiter would occasionally inch his car forward; the students would re-position themselves frantically to stop his movement; and the cries of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?" would echo across the campus.
And then, after four hours, something very human happened. The recruiter said that he had to go to the bathroom. This was not something the students had planned on. It threw them into a quandary. Finally, this being the era of "participatory democracy," the students took a vote. By a close margin it was decided that they would allow the officer to get out of the car and go to the bathroom provided that he promised to return to captivity immediately after he had flushed. The recruiter readily agreed; the students set him free; and ten minutes later the devastating news was transmitted by word of mouth to the students surrounding the now-empty car: "The recruiter has broken his word!" He had gone straight from the bathroom to the administration building and had set up his recruiting table just as he'd planned to do four hours earlier.
I have always found this one of the most telling examples of why the left wing often fails at political change. In the first place, the students had no plan--not only no plan for a full bladder but no coordinated plan for what to do with the recruiter and the car other than hold them both indefinitely. This small incident of theater was not integrated into a larger strategy. And in the second place, the students had no adequate understanding of power. Here was a military officer trained in the ways of war who represented what the students regarded as a morally bankrupt government that would stop at nothing, including killing children, to achieve its ends. And yet a majority of students thought that this officer would for some reason feel himself morally compelled to keep a promise! The students had obviously never learned or had forgotten Frederick Douglas's famous words, "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will."
CNN's Don Lemon recently said to the media spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street: "The Tea Party's message is 'No new taxes' and 'Smaller government.' What's yours?" The answer: "Active democracy and every voice counts." But those are instrumental messages. What OWS and its potential allies need is a demand--"Tax the 1%," perhaps. The Tea Party knows that demands can be rejected but they cannot be ignored. Vague stirrings of discontent, even rage, can be dismissed unless they are either channeled into political change within the system or grow so massive that they threaten to bring down the whole political infrastructure.
The latter is what happened in Tunis and Cairo. So many people took to the streets that they brought down the rulers themselves. But note two things. First, that they had very concrete demands: "Mubarak out!" and "Yes to human rights!" And second, that they succeeded because the police and military ultimately turned, at least temporarily, against the ruling elite. That is hardly a possibility in this country so it leaves the option of political transformation.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has gotten hold of profound truths: that after nearly destroying the economic underpinnings of the society, for example, corporations have managed largely to avoid meaningful new regulations and are now holding onto more than $2 trillion in cash and liquid assets--assets that could be used to put people back to work but are instead being hoarded by the already wealthy.
It ought to be a slam dunk to exploit such a situation for political change. And it will be if the Left learns what the Tea Party already knows. As one of its chief financiers, Charles Koch, put it: "To bring about social change [requires] a strategy that is vertically and horizontally integrated, [spanning everything] from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action." Or, as an old Zen saying has it, "After ecstasy, the laundry." Occupy Wall Street has tapped into the hope and the energy. Now it needs to channel that enthusiasm into strategies that can change the country.
William F. Schulz is president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and former executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Tue, 10/11/2011 - 10:09am.
Sign at Occupy Boston camp.
Post author Jessica Atcheson, UUSC's writer and editor, at Occupy Boston's Dewey Square camp.
A group of UUs gathered in solidarity with (and as part of) the Boston occupiers, holding a service and vigil at Dewey Square on Sunday evening.
Check out more photos and join the conversation about the Occupy movement on UUSC's Facebook Page!
In the wake of mass arrests and reports of police brutality at Occupy Boston last night, it feels important to do two things: reiterate why people are occupying Dewey Square and highlight the incredible ways in which they are doing so. Occupy Boston is part of an inspiring movement, just one of the offshoots of Occupy Wall Street that are now under way throughout the country. I witnessed this movement firsthand when I visited the Occupy Boston camp on Sunday and Monday. What I saw — a rousing and poignant UU-led service and solidarity vigil; the impressive process of Occupy Boston's general assembly; a spirited march of hundreds, maybe thousands, of labor supporters, students, and occupiers together in solidarity — made it clear to me that this is a strong movement dedicated to economic justice and nonviolent protest.
Let's underscore that — people are occupying Dewey Square in the name of economic justice. They are using nonviolent action and exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly to call attention to corporate greed, to undue influence of corporations on the political process, and to the ways that the 99 percent that have been disenfranchised by this country's broken systems. For further elucidation of this movement's concerns, check out the clip of Keith Olbermann reading the Occupy Wall Street protesters' declaration below.
Further, the people of Occupy Boston are carrying out their nonviolent protest in powerful — and incredibly well organized — ways. There are at least 12 working groups in action, addressing everything from safety and food to facilitation and arts. As you walk through the camp, you see tents for logistics, media, medical services, sign making, outreach, spirituality, and more.
Occupy Boston is governed by horizontal democracy based on consensus. On Sunday night, I took part in the general assembly. As one of the facilitators explained, "The general assembly is a decision-making body that uses consensus. Our definition [of this] is a process of nonviolent conflict resolution. The expression of concern and conflicting ideas is valuable and important." After an explanation of the people's mic, consensus process and accompanying hand signals, and updates from the working groups, proposals are made and the consensus process begins.
That night, an ad hoc working group made a proposal to dedicate Friday's general assembly to anti-racism and anti-oppression training, a proposal that was met with vast support. The consensus process is long, hard, thorough work. But it ensures that concerns are addressed — one of the concerns about this proposal was the effect of not having the usual decision-making time that general assembly offers — and that there is group support and buy-in for all decisions made. The proposal passed; support for the essential work of addressing oppression and privilege in the movement was clear.
Today, I'm tired from staying up till after 1:00 a.m. refreshing my Twitter feed (great alternative and complement to mainstream coverage for all things #occupy) for on-the-ground updates from Occupy Boston in Dewey Square. But while I may be physically tired, I am truly energized by what I've witnessed. The Occupy movement is powerful nonviolent collection action and a momentous call for economic justice that cannot be ignored.