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On the Front Lines of Justice: Reflections From General Assembly 2019

From Massachusetts to Washington, UUs came together at General Assembly to make their voices heard for justice.

By Katie Ingegneri on July 3, 2019

UUSC’s presence at the 58th Annual General Assembly helped raise awareness among Unitarian Universalists of our work in social justice and human rights. Below we reflect on our participation in this year’s workshops, events, protests, and festivities.

UUSC’s Workshops: Renewing Focus on Migrant Justice and Climate-Forced Displacement 

UUSC’s work involves partnering with grassroots organizations and communities directly impacted by oppression and crises; to that end we hosted two workshops to educate attendees about our work.

At our “The Criminalization of Solidarity: A Global Challenge,” UUSC’s Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Freed and Policy Analyst Josh Leach were joined by our partners Parker Deighan of No More Deaths and Milena Zajović Milka of Are You Syrious?.

No More Deaths has been in the news lately due to Dr. Scott Warren, a volunteer whose trial for helping migrants in the Arizona desert ended in a hung jury (but who now faces a retrial). Deighan was one of a cohort charged with misdemeanors earlier this year for providing aid to migrants, and discussed her role as No More Deaths’ abuse documentation coordinator. The panel reflected on the many global similarities in criminalization of humanitarian aid work and the creeping rise of authoritarianism, from the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border to the criminalization of pipeline protests and closing of Hungary’s borders.

Rachel Gore Freed, Josh Leach, and Parker Deighan, joined remotely by Milena Zajović Milka

As this year’s General Assembly theme reflected on “The Power of We,” our second panel, “The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships” highlighted our partnership model in working with First and Indigenous communities affected by climate change. Ironically and poignantly, our partner Dr. John Pingayak of the Chevak Tribe was unable to join because climate change had affected the traditional fishing schedule of his community—highlighting the urgent nature of this issue. Our partner Fenton Lutunatabua joined via video from Fiji and spoke with Josh Leach and Dr. Bob Stilger about climate change in the Pacific. They reflected on UUSC’s recent Alaska Convening and the importance of partnering with affected communities, prioritizing their voices and needs as we address the climate crisis.

Public Witness Rally: No New Jail in Spokane

General Assembly participants took to a local park and joined activists as they declared opposition to plans to build a new jail. UUs showed up in force to chant, “No New Jail!” and reflect on sobering statistics like how 87 percent of people in the Spokane County Jail are there for non-violent offenses, disproportionately affecting communities of color, the poor, and those living with mental illness, addiction, and disabilities. The action succeeded in helping catch the eye of local media—who counted the rally attendees at nearly 1,000. (See header photo of this article.)

Award Ceremony for Rinku Sen 

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn & Rev. Ned Wright with Rinku Sen

UUSC honored Rinku Sen—author, activist, strategist, former executive director of Race Forward and publisher of ColorLines.com—with 2019’s Human Rights Leadership Award, featuring her in conversation with Rachel Freed and a festive celebration. We reflected on her important work in a campaign pressuring the media to drop the term “illegal” when discussing immigrants, and in a powerful and truthful speech Sen discussed today’s struggle between communalism and individualism, the temptation of authoritarian figures, and joining in solidarity even with those we disagree with. “Love, power, anger—they’re only words unless we have the courage to define justice as something better than proportionate revenge,” said Sen.

President’s Reception: Thank You to Our Donors

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn welcomes supporters to our reception

UUSC hosted a private President’s Reception for a group of donors whose generosity allows us to continue fighting for human rights around the globe. Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, UUSC President & CEO, and Rev. Ned Wright, incoming UUSC board chair, presented the Spirit of Justice Congregation Award in recognition of the extraordinary support of the Old Ship Church in Hingham, Massachusetts and Goodloe Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bowie, Maryland, whose work advances our shared values.

Community Organizing: Strategy Sessions

UUSC’s Senior Grassroots Organizer Hannah Hafter reflects on her community organizing meetings on behalf of Love Resists, the joint anti-criminalization project of UUSC and the UUA:

“This UUGA, the Love Resists team offered individual strategy sessions for activists and social justice teams to talk through their organizing and local partnerships with one of our staff. We received an overwhelming response, with nearly 30 requests! We found time to connect with about half of them at GA and will be doing video sessions over zoom with the rest. It was so interesting and inspiring to talk with congregations about their work—everything from campaigns to shut down immigrant detention centers to one church partnering with local immigrant leaders to start up a free legal clinic.”

Hannah Hafter working with General Assembly participants

Please join UUSC at General Assembly next year in Providence, Rhode Island!

Header Photo Credit: Hannah Hafter, UUSC; Other photos by Katie Ingegneri, UUSC

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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