It was not my first protest—it was my first arrest

It was not my first protest—it was my first arrest.

 Yesterday, I was arrested by the U.S. Park Police for failing “to obey a lawful order.”  143 demonstrators failed to obey a police order to move off the sidewalk in front of the White House. We were demonstrating our opposition to the construction of a 1,600 mile long pipeline that would transport a highly toxic form of oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf coast.

President Obama, who promised in his campaign to develop cleaner sources of energy, has the power to stop the pipeline and the attendant increase in the production of the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive source of energy.

 Mr. President – keep your promise.

 There are many reasons to oppose the pipeline. For me, the most compelling is that the people who live near the tar sands have been judged to be expendable. Studies have shown that arsenic, mercury, and other highly toxic pollutants are leaking from the tar sands containment ponds and adversely affecting the health of the people and wildlife, particularly fish and amphibians, in the area.  To produce the oil trees are bulldozed wholesale and the entire surface of the earth is stripped away. It’s even more destructive than mountain top removal.

The land has been judged to be expendable. Tar sands oil production threatens not only the life of the people but their entire way of life.  Transporting the tar sands oil by pipeline requires high pressure pumping. The proposed route would place it in the middle of the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world.  If a buried pipeline were to leak there who knows how long it would take it before it was detected? If it were a large spill, we would never get the stink out.

I feel obliged to add my voice to the voices of all the people whose health and way of life will be directly affected by the increased production of tar sands oil this pipeline would bring.  I feel obliged to add my voice to the voices of all the people whose land will be taken for the pipeline without their consent.  I feel obliged to add my voice to the voices of all the people whose water will be at risk of contamination by the pipeline. Their voices have been ignored or minimized.   Let us add our voice to theirs and demand,

Mr. President – hear our voices.


Rev. Craig C. Roshaven
Witness Ministries Director
Multicultural Growth and Witness
Unitarian Universalist Association

Interfaith Day of National Tar Sands Pipeline Protest Is the Biggest Day Yet


143 people were peacefully arrested, more than doubling previous days’ totals; Unitarian Universalists were the highest officially represented faith community of the protest

August 30th, 2011 – Washington, DC – People of faith from across the country converged in Washington, DC yesterday for the Interfaith Day of the two week long peaceful civil disobedience to stop the construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. The purpose of the protest is to pressure the Obama Administration, which has the sole authority to decide the fate of the pipeline. 143 people were arrested yesterday bringing the total number arrested to date to 522. It was the largest number of people arrested in one day thus far, more than doubling previous totals.

Of those representing a denomination, Unitarian Universalists were present in the highest numbers. Fourteen Unitarian Universalists were arrested, including two clergy, while an additional eleven served as observers and support, and one chaplain was present for pastoral care. Unitarian Universalists were called to participate by the denomination’s largest environmental organization and the national headquarters. One of those arrested is the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) Witness Ministries Director, Rev. Craig Roshaven.

Unitarian Universalists have historically been committed to environmentalism and racial/economic justice. In recent years these commitments have converged in recognition of the racial and economic dimensions of environmental issues, including our reliance on fossil fuels and the consequences of global climate change. Both nationally and globally, while wealthier communities consume a greater proportion of fossil fuels, the effects of the resulting pollution are disproportionately felt by poorer communities, and these communities tend to be predominantly of color. In the case of the Tar Sands pipeline, the resulting increase in the production of tar sands oil and the construction of the pipeline will devastate Native American/First Nation lands even though these peoples will not benefit from the pipeline and have had no say in its construction. Because of this, Unitarian Universalists see the construction of the pipeline and the nation’s continued commitment to fossil fuels as unjust and immoral.

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2006 statement on “The Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change” remains one of the strongest on the moral dimensions of climate change made by a religious denomination.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact croshaven @

Reflections on Water

Puddle Picture
Puddle Picture by "raindog808"

Early on Saturday morning, I was rushing to pick up coffee for an event. Rain lightly drizzled, and I ran across the parking lot. A friend was with me, and I called him to stop. “Look at that puddle,” I said.

That puddle, like almost every puddle except on the cloudiest of days, reflected the trees and the shops around us. As we walked around it, we could see the reflections change. Nature. Buildings. Penny, candy wrapper, and dead leaves at the bottom of the puddle. The magic of reflection amazes me every time and noticing puddles has become a spiritual practice of mine.

How often do we stop and notice water? The puddles, the rivers, the ocean? The showers, the washing machines, the toilets, the sprinklers? In industrialized nations, we have largely forgotten just how dependent we are on water. In most places in the US, we can turn on a tap, at any time of any day, and have clean, potable water flow until we turn it off. That is amazing!

These past few years, with hurricanes like Katrina, natural disasters like the tsunamis in Asia, and anthropogenic disasters like the BP oil disaster, I have been reminded of waters abilities to both give life and to take life. I am reminded that we cannot survive without water, as I hear about the deaths of immigrants crossing the deserts in the Southwest. And I am astounded when I hear statistics about how in Boston, people of color are four times more likely to have their water shut off. I once lost water for a day, and I became quickly aware of what it meant to not be able to flush my toilet, to not be able to turn on the sink. I can’t even imagine what this must be like to be struggling AND to have my water turned off.

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) all over are thinking about water justice, from the UU Legislative Ministry of California’s campaign to pass legislation on the Human Right to Water to congregations in New York examining the impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing on watersheds. As UUs, we are called to respect the interdependent web of all existence and water is a common thread. For Earth Day 2011, UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) is asking congregations to celebrate the sacred waters that sustain us all and to commit to 40 days of actions that will make our world more just.

I am making a commitment to water for 40 days, to take some time to deepen my reflections on water. To see the holy in the every day. And to move my actions a little more closely in line with my values of justice for all.

This past year, I have held the BP oil disaster heavy in my heart. I understand that the three main industries along the Gulf Coast are oil drilling, seafood, and tourism–and all three were devastated by this disaster. People live off that water, more closely than I ever have, and likely ever will. And yet my own demands for oil, for transportation, for heating, for my plastic watch, my plastic pens, my plastic lunch container, my plastic toothbrush…produced in oil-using factories and transported by oil-using vehicles. How am I complicit in this disaster? How much oil do we really need?

For the 40/40 Earth Day Challenge, I am trying to avoid plastic as much as possible for 40 days. It’s certainly impossible in my life right now for me to avoid it all together, but I am starting with awakening to the pervasive presence of plastics in my life and am going to see what I can do to reduce my dependence on oil.

More Resources

Lobbying for the Dream Act on Capitol Hill

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

Buoyed by the historic passage of DREAM in the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, and mindful that the prospects for a Senate vote are much more uncertain, several members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), including yours truly representing the UUA, decided to visit some key senators yesterday morning, before what was scheduled to be the 11 am vote on DREAM.

The DREAM Act would provide a pathway for earned citizenship to millions of undocumented young adults who were brought to this country by their parents as children and have since grown up in this country. The U.S. is their country in every way except for legal status.

The senate offices that we visited were those on this target list.

I won’t bore you by describing every office visit. And the few juicy tidbits about who is leaning in what direction, I’m not at liberty to say publicly. But there are two really strong impressions that I would like to share with you.

One was the fact that in every office we visited the phones were ringing off the hooks. As we waited in the seating area of various offices to see if a staffer could/would come out to see us, we could hear that the majority of the calls were about the DREAM Act. The poor folks answering the phones looked like they had been going at this rate for days. I almost felt sorry for them, but at the same time I know that this is democracy in action.

The phone call to your elected official is many times more powerful than the vote you cast in the ballot box in terms of influencing what becomes our national laws.

In the few cases where the receptionist’s ear was not glued to the phone, we asked what direction the calls were going in. ‘50/50’ or ‘pretty even’ was the answer.

With things so tight, every phone call that we make to stand on the side of love counts.

The second impression I had was when we walked into Senator Lugar’s office. As you may or may not know, Sen. Lugar of Indiana was one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act and had long been a proponent, but in these crazy partisan times, the Republican senator is now threatening to vote against his own bill.

A group of roughly a dozen young adults, many wearing colorful graduation mortar boards made out of construction paper, were gathered in a circle on the office floor, praying. They looked like they had been there for a while. They were so quiet and unobtrusive, and yet so persistent and impossible to ignore. I wish to God I had a camera then and could have shared the image with all of you. Their presence reminded me of why I am doing this work.

In truth, I was originally against the DREAM Act, having the same reservations that many Unitarian Universalists and other progressive people of faith have. From the provisions, it’s clear that one of the motivations for DREAM was to attract more recruits to the military. What changed my mind was the DREAM Act activists (or DREAMers, as they are called). These young women and men are publicly stating their undocumented status and going directly to elected officials to ask them to support their dream of being productive U.S. citizens.

They are willing to risk everything. How could I not support that?

In one of the last offices that we visited, we learned from the television tuned to C-SPAN that the Senate had tabled the vote on the DREAM Act scheduled for yesterday morning. The reason why Sen. Reid tabled his own bill is because there weren’t enough ‘YES’ votes in the senate to pass it.

The good news is that this gives us more time to change some senators’ minds.

So I am asking you to take action.

Based on what I saw yesterday – the calls coming into the Senate offices are so close, and the DREAMers need our help.

Call your senators – both of them – and urge them to support the DREAM Act. The Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.

NAFTA and Immigration

A Tidal Wave of Migration

We know that people have been migrating freely across the U.S-Mexico border since there was a border, and they continued to do so even after the border was created. In fact, the U.S. has a long history of relying on Mexican migrant labor. It officially started with the Bracero program of the mid-1940s, where Mexican farm workers were “invited” in to work on U.S. farms that were short-handed due to the war, but migrant farm work had been going on unofficially well before that. Migration across the border to look for work is nothing new. However, it is also true that the influx of Mexicans into the U.S. looking for work has jumped dramatically in the last couple of decades. Pundits are actually not exaggerating when they describe a relative tidal wave of immigration that is stressing public services and changing the demographics of many U.S. states. In the early 1990s, Mexican migration to the United States was less than 400,000 a year. By 2007 it was 500,000 a year. As Alejandro Portes wrote for in 2006 (


What Part of “Illegal” Don’t You Understand?

It sounds very simple but there is actually a great deal of confusion around the term “illegal immigrant.” Being in the country without documentation is illegal but not criminal. It is a civil offense, much like exceeding the speed limit while driving. If you’re going 50 mph in an 35 mph zone, you are breaking the law, but does that make you an “illegal driver”?

Due to the dysfunction of the current U.S. immigration system, family members face years of separation and those seeking work face years of waiting before they can find legal employment to support their families. In both cases, the situation is untenable, especially when there are young, dependant children involved. For that reason, many people choose to enter or remain in the country without documentation.


“Go Back to Where You Came From!”

Ever since April when Governor Brewer signed SB1070 into law in Arizona, I have been following developments down there with rapt attention – checking the updates of various facebook groups, scanning online news headlines, reading analyses… With each new day the news seemed to get worse and worse. First, there was the passage and signing of SB1070 itself. Before the worst parts of the legislation were suspended in July, SB1070 directed officers of the law to investigate the legal status of people “where there is reasonable suspicion” that they may be undocumented. Then came the news that the state of Arizona had also banned public schools from offering ethnic studies – classes designed to give students of color, predominantly Latin@/Hispanic and Native American students – a sense of self worth in this Euro-dominated culture. At the same time, teachers with noticeable accents were barred from teaching English. Arizona Republican Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth called for a moratorium on LEGAL immigration from Mexico.  And finally, the AZ state senator behind SB1070, Russell Pearce, intends to introduce legislation that ends birthright citizenship, in clear contradiction of the 14th amendment. Taken altogether, it seems obvious that the state of Arizona has declared war on immigrants in general and Latin@/indigenous people in particular.

Luckily, it is my job to keep track of legislation and other developments around immigration or else my obsession with the issue these last few months would have severely affected my work. It was more than just passion, more than compassion, more than the fact that my parents, paternal grandparents and uncle, maternal cousin, and many of the non-biological “aunts” and “uncles” from my childhood are all immigrants. This was personal to me to the point where I felt like it was me who was being attacked.  The reason why became clear one afternoon in May as I sat at home, reading developments as usual, and saw the story of Juan Varela, a third-generation Mexican-American who was shot and killed by a neighbor as he yelled “go back to Mexico!”


What We Accomplished in Phoenix

By Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

Monday, July 26th: After arriving in Phoenix and meeting up with the UU Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) Immigration Task Force, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the congregation’s minister, invited me to accompany her to Puente’s Monday Assembly meeting.  The open air meeting in front of the bright blue Tonatierra building where Puente is housed had over 100 people seated on folding chairs out in the parking lot surrounded by pink sky and palm trees.  Sal Reza, with his signature grey ponytail was talking to the majority Latino crowd about the political situation heading into the upcoming Day of Non-Compliance on Thursday, July 29th, when the legislation was scheduled to go into affect.  Whatever the ruling, and he said they expected it to be mixed and to not completely overturn SB1070, the day would go forward in order to protest the criminalization and repression of the immigrant community.  There was simultaneous translation provided for us English speakers in one section of the crowd near where a documentary film crew was taping.


It Takes A Village To Hold A Protest

Let me start by saying that I am not a “protest” kind of person.  My experience with numerous protests is that a lot of people assemble, shout angry slogans, maybe sing a few songs, and then go home, leaving piles of garbage in their wake.  No matter how much I cared about an issue it always seemed to part of me like protests were something that we “attend” the way that one might attend a rock concert, and that they were geared more towards letting the participants feel good about having “done something” than actually effecting change.  For that reason, I approached the Day of Non-Compliance (July 29th) in Phoenix with some personal apprehension.  Since I knew that I was not planning on getting arrested, I wondered then what exactly it was that I would be doing.  Was I flying two-thirds of the way across the country just to attend a protest?  But I tried to approach the coming days with an open heart – letting the Spirit guide me.