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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 Rita Butterfield on Mon, 06/18/2012 - 10:27am.
Photo 2010 courtesy of Standing on the Side of Love.
I've been looking forward to General Assembly this year, especially the chance to talk with so many UUSC members and supporters about our work promoting human rights around the world. I'm also eager to return to Phoenix for the cause of justice.
On July 29, 2010, I joined dozens of other UU protestors in the intersection in front of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's plush offices to protest Arizona's anti-immigrant law S.B. 1070. It was very hot. Police were everywhere. A young seminarian sitting led us in singing, "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love." We continued chanting for 40 minutes, as our group grew ever smaller while we were arrested one at a time.
At one point, a young Latino man took my picture. I smiled at him as I sang. He leaned in closer and whispered in my ear with tears in his voice and a heavy accent: "Thank you. I will never forget you." His words assured me that I was doing the right thing. That young man's gratitude helped sustain me during the 27 hours I spent in Sheriff Arpaio's jail.
The food was terrible. Arpaio prides himself spending only 87 cents per day per prisoner. It was impossible to sleep. It was cold and there were no blankets. The bright fluorescent lights were kept on, there was no place but the concrete floor to lie down, and the guards kept inexplicably moving people between the three cells that held us. We learned from those who had been in jail before that toilet paper has many uses. A full roll makes a pretty good pillow. Toilet paper can be wrapped around bare arms to create a sweater of sorts, or unraveled to create a thin but better-than-nothing mattress.
The Phoenix police who arrested us had been surprisingly polite. The county deputies who guarded us were anything but. Whenever we were moved from our cells, we were shouted at and made to stand against the wall. I found it difficult to be treated with such disrespect and those feelings made me all the more aware of my privileged place in our society. It is a luxury, I realized, to expect to be treated with respect by the police, which I normally take for granted.
Throughout the afternoon and night, a variety of women were brought in and out of our cell. Some recognized us from the TV news. They were impressed by such "celebrities," and grateful that a group of middle-aged church ladies would stand up for their community. They were, with only one or two exceptions, women of color. I definitely learned some things about racism in the Maricopa County Jail.
I didn't go to Phoenix to learn about jail. I went because of a law that scapegoats immigrants and Latinos. I went because of an immigration system that separates families, that makes people in some communities afraid to call the police. I went because my ancestors came here on a boat a century and a half ago and they too were made into scapegoats. But there was no law insisting that they be deported, and so my grandparents were born citizens of the United States and I am an American. I went because each year hundreds of people die crossing the Sonora Desert. I chose to be arrested because my faith calls me to proclaim injustice when I see it and to offer hope when I can — which is exactly what UUSC is all about. See you in Phoenix!
Submitted by Kara Smith on Wed, 07/06/2011 - 1:01pm.
the human right to water
Exposing the truth about U.S.-sponsored torture
Asking Congress to support fair wages and working families
Urging the Senate to support women's rights
throughout the world
You can join the hundreds of people who took
action at General Assembly by taking action today!
Mother-daughter team Sarah and Molly Pearson, from Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, got the word out at General Assembly about UUSC's advocacy campaigns.
Legislative advocacy is one of the most important tools in the struggle for human rights and social justice. At UUSC, we rely on our members to speak up for the values that we want our government policies to reflect and against repressive policies. At General Assembly this year, members of our Volunteer Network helped us get the word out about legislative actions that need our attention. Right now we are working on the following actions:
the human right to water
UUSC is proud to be partnering with the UU Legislative Ministry of California (UULMCA) to support the California human-right-to-water bill package! If you live in California, visit the UULMCA website to learn more about how you can get involved.
If you don't live in California, you can support the Water for the Poor Act in Congress and make sure that the most needy communities have equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Exposing the truth about U.S.-sponsored torture
UUSC has joined with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to call upon President Barack Obama to appoint an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the history of U.S.-sponsored torture.
Asking Congress to support fair wages and working families
It is time to make sure all of the nation's largest workforce — tipped workers — are paid fair wages for their hard work. Although the last raise in the federal minimum wage was in 2009, the minimum wage for tipped workers has remained the same for the last 20 years! We are asking members of Congress to cosponsor the Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act.
Urging the Senate to support women's rights
throughout the world
We are working to urge the U.S. Senate to bring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to a vote. The United States is one of only seven countries — including Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and three Pacific island nations — that have not ratified the convention. It's time to ratify CEDAW now!
Submitted by Lauralyn Smith on Tue, 07/05/2011 - 2:23pm.
UUSC Coffee Project volunteers tour the Equal Exchange coffee-roasting facilities.
At a recent meeting with donors during General Assembly, Esther West, the UU Interfaith Program representative from Equal Exchange, gave a presentation along with Ariel Jacobson, senior associate for UUSC's Economic Justice Program, about the UUSC Coffee Project. They noted that UUs, through their purchases of coffee, chocolate, and other fair-trade products, are the highest contributors to fair trade of any member of the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program.
Following program updates, West and Jacobson presented awards to two stars of the Coffee Project: the First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, Mich. (award received by Joan Burleigh) and the First Unitarian Society of Westchester, N.Y. (award received by John Cavallero). The Ann Arbor congregation has purchased more than $57,000 in fairly traded products since 2000, the highest sales of any congregation. The Westchester congregation has purchased over $37,000 in fairly traded products since 2002 — and it's only a small congregation!
This great event moved me to recall a recent tour of the Equal Exchange facility, where a group of UUSC Coffee Project volunteers learned about why buying Equal Exchange differs from buying other products billed as fair trade. We enjoyed a facility tour, coffee and chocolate tastings, and presentations by several of the worker-owners. I learned some key points regarding fair trade and why it is so important to choose Equal Exchange over other products.
Agencies that certify fair trade use widely varying criteria. The variations can be boiled down to two issues: whether an organization is 100 percent fair trade (versus only partial or single products qualifying for the label) and the issue of values and volume. Some purveyors are more controlled by the market and have varying levels of authentic fair-trade practices. They may help with short-term poverty alleviation for farmers but ultimately drive competition and consumer price increases (that do not always benefit farmers), and they continue a tradition of isolation through competition.
Equal Exchange uses the model that most closely aligns with its organizational values. They focus on farmer-controlled sustainable practices, preserve self-determination by worker cooperative members, and facilitate solidarity through collaboration for real long-term benefits for farmers. In addition, $0.20 is donated to the UUSC Small Farmer Fund for every pound of coffee sold, giving greater value and impact to consumer choice for the greater good.
Equal Exchange is organized with a business model that further helps it "walk its talk." As a worker-owned cooperative, each worker has the opportunity to buy shares and cast one vote. This is the same format used when collaborating with farmer partners. Workers all have a personal and financial stake in the success of the partnership. For example, when Equal Exchange moved to its facility in West Bridgewater, the enlarged space allowed it to launch its own in-house coffee roasting. They are now doing 75 percent of their coffee roasting in house, about 5 million pounds of coffee per year! This was the result of worker-owner meetings and a vote to engage in this new aspect of its business. Bringing the process in house gives them greater control of coffee quality and consistency.
Equal Exchange is an excellent choice for aligning our daily choices with our values. They are focused on consumer action and ethical sourcing, worker justice, and environmental stewardship. Go online to learn more about Equal Exchange and their mission and vision — and continue to stay informed about the UUSC Coffee Project and the Small Farmer Fund.
Submitted by Kara Smith on Tue, 07/05/2011 - 1:34pm.
When Atema Eclai, UUSC's director of programs, advocacy, and action, shared the African proverb, "No one one is too poor to give or too rich to receive," I was struck by the statement's powerful simplicity. I thought about it many times in the days that followed, which is why I closed the workshop I facilitated at General Assembly, Eye-to-Eye Partnerships and Congregational Social-Justice Work, with those same words.
We all have something to give and we all have something to receive; this is the foundation for the eye-to-eye partnership model, the basis for UUSC's work with partners around the world. In the workshop that I facilitated, the panel — both virtual and in person — and I talked about how people can use the eye-to-eye model to support their congregation's social-justice work and make positive change in the world. By building partnerships based on trust, shared goals, and a win-win strategy, we empower those we are working on behalf of.
As the facilitator of the workshop I was extraordinarily thankful for the participation of the panelists:
- Lynn Roesch, UUSC local representative from East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, Wash., taped a message for attendees about the Building Bridges event in Bellevue in May, an inspirational example of how UUs can work in partnership with Muslims to address civil liberties issues in their community.
- Gary D. Nissenbaum, Social Action Committee chair, Unitarian Church in Summit, N.J., shared the story of his congregation's unique and long-standing eye-to-eye partnership with HomeFirst, one of the preeminent charities helping to house and advocate for the homeless in northern New Jersey.
- Deborah Pembrook, Social Action Committee cochair, UU Fellowship of Santa Cruz County, Calif.; member of UU Legislative Ministry of California's Climate and Water Justice Steering Committee; and UUSC regional coordinator, taped a message for participants about the work of congregations in California to organize for policy change on the human right to water.
- Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of UU Legislative Ministry of California, joined us to discuss the exciting coalition work with community groups in support of the human right to water as well as the partnership with UUSC.
As I prepared for the workshop, I knew that I wanted to highlight many different levels of partnerships. As it came together and people shared their stories — including workshop attendees — I was pleasantly surprised at the resources we have to build a movement that promotes human rights.
What I learned and what I hope the attendees learned is that our work for social justice requires us to be in partnership with other organizations, including those based in the UU tradition — other congregations, UU state networks, UUSC — and other social-justice organizations that are working with those who are most affected by repressive policies. We must approach these relationships with the principle of "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations," seeing others as equals in the fight for justice. We must look to each other to draw our strengths and when we add the passion, such as was displayed by the workshop participants, we can make real change in the world!
Submitted by Brock Leach on Sun, 06/26/2011 - 7:39am.
Brock Leach, post author and UUSC's vice president for mission, strategy, and innovation, talking about the Haiti Volunteer Program.
Questions and discussion from the audience.
Elizabeth Ladd, Eric Cherry, and Jessica York, copresenters of the workshop.
Recent Meadville Lombard grad Elizabeth Ladd's moving story about her experience becoming ill and being taken to a rural medical clinic opened up our Haiti Volunteer Program workshop in a powerful way that got right to the heart of what it means to volunteer in Haiti. In this one incident, she encountered the twin realities of brutal Haitian poverty and American privilege — and learned firsthand what it really means to be interdependent. Thanks to the care of Haitians and the resourcefulness of her colleagues, she got the help she needed and is now fine, but most Haitians are not so fortunate.
I was honored to host this General Assembly workshop — Volunteering in Haiti: More than Just Hammers and Nails! — alongside my colleagues Eric Cherry, the UUA's director of international resources; Jessica York, the UUA's youth resources director; and the group of seminarians who recently returned from helping the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) launch their eco-village project in the Central Plateau. MPP's vision is to build a community with decent homes, potable water, and sanitation in a village that also practices sustainable agriculture, rebuilding lives and livelihoods for people that have been displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.
Through UUSC's partnership with MPP, the seminarians were helping build the first of 10 homes UUSC is sponsoring. This ongoing work will be the focus of four more Haiti volunteer trips over the next year. The first, for youth and young adults (15–23), is scheduled for August 20–27, and it will be followed by three more trips in the fall and winter for mixed ages. Our workshop also highlighted the work of our two recent medical volunteer trips and showcased some of the curriculum resources that Jessica is developing to help bring the experience back into UU congregations.
What stands out for me most, though, is the commitment of our volunteers. They are accumulating amazing personal stories of encountering political, economic, and cultural difference; of learning how to become allies; and of taking those lessons home. Volunteers have already given sermons, written newspaper articles, raised money, and volunteered to serve as advocates for Haiti in the halls of power. They are living out their faith in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and acknowledging through their actions that all of us are ultimately interdependent.
Submitted by Bobbi Woodward on Sat, 06/25/2011 - 12:44pm.
UUSC President and CEO Bill Schulz is a powerful speaker. As I sat in the Plenary Hall at General Assembly, I could tangibly feel the motivation building as he went over the basics of UUSC. UUSC works to get everyone access to potable water. UUSC aims to put a stop to employers withholding fairly earned wages from workers. UUSC works to stop torture. UUSC gives people the chance to rebuild their lives after a disaster. These are simple, basic needs for which our modest resources can make the most difference.
Bill explained that we don't merely want to do things on people's behalves, but give everyone who wants it the opportunity to do hands-on work for justice. Our new College of Social Justice was designed to give all UUs that chance. We will help any congregation to be a more effective agent of social change, offer those preparing for the ministry the chance to be exposed to work in the Global South, and give every UU youth the opportunity to live out their religious values through an institution founded on UU values.
Each point was punctuated with applause as people shared their support from the audience. Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, with whom we are becoming true partners, we struggle for a more just world. Bill closed with a quote from E. B. White: "As long as there is one upright man . . . [or] compassionate woman . . . the contagion may spread." He hopes that people hearing him this day are as proud of UUSC as he is and invited everyone to help spread that contagion.
Watch full video of Plenary IV (Bill's speech begins at approximately 01:10:00):
Submitted by Lauralyn Smith on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 12:46pm.
Gary Nissembaum, chair of the social-action committee at the Unitarian Church of Summit, N.J., signs a copy of his book at the UUSC booth.
One workshop we've been really excited about at General Assembly this year was Supercharging Your UU Social-Action Committee. I had the honor of copresenting this workshop with Gary Nissenbaum, chair of the social-action committee at the Unitarian Church of Summit, N.J. Gary has developed a very effective model for organizing highly functioning social-action committees.
Part of Gary's model includes a new method of conducting plate collections that groups them into four consecutive weeks. This approach provides time to raise awareness, create congregatrional connection to the project, and generate commitment and financial support for the work. Several studies of plate collections show that they actually increase congregational giving; over three years, Gary's model has demonstrated that the link to programmatic awareness has more deeply engaged the congregation and raised even more than one-off plate collections. The whole process facilitates more giving with greater impact and also creates a sense of community and accomplishment for the congregation.
The Summit congregation has worked with UUSC to identify tangible projects with specific goals. As a result, the congregation been integral not only in funding particular projects, but also — because it was tied to UUSC's approach to the work — creating additional ripple effects that improve international processes. For example, the Camp Oasis pilot project in Haiti, which creates secure housing for unaccompanied girls, has become a new innovative solution that provides safety, centralized medical care, and education as well as a nurturing environment; the model is already being touted by other nongovernmental organizations as one to follow. So the efforts of one congregation in New Jersey improved the lives of 40 girls in Haiti and helped UUSC create global systemic solutions.
This is something our fellow UUs have hungered for — there were 140 people in attendance at this workshop! Gary Nissenbaum has documented his model in his new book, Assembling the Pieces, which gives practical and inspirational instructions on how congregations can put that model to work. The book has been on sale at UUSC's booth, and Gary has been signing copies and chatting with attendees eager to engage their congregations in more effective social-justice work.
Submitted by Eric Grignol on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 11:05am.
Eric Grignol, post author and UUSC's senior associate for marketing and multimedia, with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf receive the UUSC Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from Board Chair John Gibbons and President and CEO Bill Schulz.
The UUSC Gala, held across from the Charlotte Convention Center at the Westin Hotel last evening, demonstrated the powerful potential for transformation that our Building Bridges program offers. Even though the room was packed with well over 400 people, the atmosphere made the audience feel as if they were intimately involved in the conversation. The dialogue between President and CEO Bill Schulz, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Daisy Khan was inviting and informal.
Rich discussion flowed naturally between Schulz and the two guests of honor, as they delved into issues such as women's role in Islam, the current status and progress for the Cordoba Center in New York City, and how LGBT rights could be realized within the Muslim community. For their tireless work, they were presented with UUSC's highest honor, the UUSC Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, by Schulz and outgoing Board Chair John Gibbons.
Even though much of the furor from last year's public outcry over the Cordoba Center has largely died down, Rauf and Khan's reflection over the events demonstrated that an affront to people's civil liberties anywhere is an affront to civil liberties everywhere. They poignantly described how the media facilitated the deceptive recasting of the peaceful center for education, association, and worship (much like a Christian YMCA) into "the Ground Zero mosque" to stoke fear and anger from the public. Rauf noted that the struggle is not between Islam and Christians, or Muslim Americans and Christian Americans, but between the voices of truth and extremists of any of those groups. Khan discussed how the rights of women varies globally from state to state, and much of what is viewed as how Islam treats women is as much an issue of how a particular culture or tradition of a nation is treating women, rather than what is written in religious law.
To further participation and engagement, attendees were given an opportunity to write questions on index cards while UUSC Vice President for Mission, Strategy, and Innovation Brock Leach moderated the inquiries as the remaining time allowed. Khan and Rauf offered their thoughts on what non-Muslim religious communities can do to support tolerance for diversity and reduce anti-Muslim rhetoric. Khan commented about what she perceived to be the success of the Arab Spring: the fact that a new generation is boldly claiming their rights and that, in Egypt for example, the people stayed in Tahrir Square until dictators — who promised peace, but delivered nothing but pain, suffering, and hardship — gave the people what they wanted.
The UU Musicians Network, conducted by Leon Burke, played three songs of traditional Sufi music. Rauf told the crowd that the opening number, "Welcome to the Prophet," was particularly meaningful to Muslims, and that the presentation of it at this gathering illustrated how two cultures, traditions, and beliefs can actually enrich each other. When we take the time to understand perspectives different from our own and gather experiences directly from the source, we are living the eye-to-eye partnership model. Tonight's reception showed not only what building bridges within the Muslim-American community looks like but also gave those in attendance a taste of what is possible.
Submitted by Lauralyn Smith on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 10:37am.
Gay Ann Gustafson, national cochair for UUSC's Volunteer Network, and Lauralyn Smith, senior associate for member development, ready to engage General Assembly attendees in "roaming advocacy."
Thursday morning, we had two dozen participants attend our volunteer appreciation breakfast. It was great to see our volunteers from around the country, and we were excited to host the first-ever public viewing of our newest UUSC video (you'll see it soon)! This breakfast is a special way for us to acknowledge the invaluable support and efforts of our network of volunteers.
UUSC President and CEO Bill Schulz greeted everyone and gave an overview of the plans ahead for 2011–2012. And then we had greetings from National Cochairs Gay Ann Gustafson (western territory) and Bob and Irene Keim (central territory).
Kara Smith, UUSC's associate for grassroots mobilization, updated everyone on four ongoing advocacy campaigns, which we will be conducting during General Assembly to help raise awareness in the denomination about these issues. We're encouraging people to take action on several specific issues, including ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, implementing important human-right-to-water legislation, passing a bill that will increase minimum wage for tipped workers, and calling for a Commission of Inquiry on U.S.-sponsored torture. This is Torture Awareness Week, so the latter is a particularly timely campaign.
Following the advocacy presentation, we broke out into small groups to look at our advocacy kits — a UUSC apron and materials to help volunteers be visible in the crowd and interact with people effectively. Check out our photos on Facebook!
Following our orientation on "roaming advocacy," we had thank-you comments from Maxine Neil, who noted that volunteers, through their efforts with UUSC, generate about 13 percent of our annual budget. We could not do the essential work of advancing human rights without the support of our dedicated volunteers!