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Earth Day 40/40/40: Locavore Challenge

Guest post from Nicole McConvery, from the International Office.

I, admittedly naively, have decided to commit myself to foraging for local food only, over the next 40 days.  This was inspired by the realization that almost everything I eat comes from pretty far away; I’d never really pondered that fact until now. Much of this food has seen more of the world than I have, traversing the globe via planes, trains, and automobiles, leaving quite the carbon trail in its wake. I’m not so sure I can continue to consume blindly without committing some cognitive energy, and a little conscientious action, towards making decisions that are a little easier on the planet.

On the eve of my personal challenge, I realized with comical dread that I hadn’t yet purchased anything to feed myself over the next couple of days.  (The weekend is a much easier time to visit local farms/farmstands).  So, I decided to hit up the local Whole Foods. As I roamed the immaculately kept aisles, my eyes darted up to the tops of every food sign, which mark the origin of each product. I kind of balked at the dearth of local produce; all I could find in the veggie area were a bunch of run-down looking fiddlehead ferns, which don’t sound particularly edible.  Ever the crusader of comestibles, I grabbed a modest bunch despite my reservations. We don’t grow carrots here (in MA)? Cucumbers? Lettuce? What’s with that?! — I know that’s not true, but wow, it’s really that much cheaper to ship food from the other side of the planet than to grow some of it here?

I was equally disheartened to find only locally-made apple cider available in the fruit aisle.  Everything that I would normally gravitate towards seemed to come from California (note to self). That set the tone for my purposeful ambling; I didn’t come across much that would fulfill the constraints of my personal challenge and still provide for my dietary restrictions, but what I did find fit the bill for the next few days: locally made hummus, wraps, eggs, cheese, and those crazy ferns.

My inner monologue was pretty amusing as I examined packaging and started to question everything when I realized food distributors are not necessarily where the food/ingredients originate.  I kept arguing with myself about how I was defining “local.”  Whole Foods seemed to define it as MA, NH, VT, and ME.  That’s fine with me.  I was astonished, though, to see that the local products often cost significantly more than their from-far-away counterparts.  I decided to keep pushing the issue with myself, and widened my “local” net to include CT and NY, only if I had to.  At least the pricing forced me to keep asking myself do I really need this?

However, I needed to be honest about any exceptions I had to make with this challenge (so far): soy/tofu, spices (that I already have in my kitchen), and rice (though I will try to cut back).  I am really reliant on soy as I don’t eat much meat; luckily local fish isn’t too hard to come by.  I can’t stand milk but I am big on yogurt and cheese; thankfully Cabot and Stonyfield fall within my regional constraints. Fruit juice I can do without (I tend towards water anyways).  I don’t drink coffee (don’t look at me that way!), but sometimes tea.  And spices! For me, essential.  But what about all that wonderful ethnic food I love to eat?  By default, most of it breaches my personal contract.  How long can I go without kimchi, soba, wakame, curry, boba?  Time will tell.

I have to be completely forthcoming about one particular fact: I will need to break out the Asian sauces every so often.  To that end, I’m grateful for the discovery of Chef Myron’s delicious, locally made ponzu and szechuan. The need for these flavors does call into question the origin of ingredients in some of these locally made products; though the sauces are assembled here in MA, I know full-well that sake and cane juice are not indigenous to this part of the country (correct me if I’m wrong?).  I’ve decided to not torture myself too much about this and will evaluate items on a case-by-case basis.

Next up: getting set up with a Boston Organics account.  Whole Foods will work in a pinch (sort of), but if I’m really going to succeed with this challenge, I’ll need to dig deeper.

Reflections on the March for America

On Sunday, March 21st (the first day of Spring), several of us were blessed to be able to participate in a massive rally in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.   Organizers estimate the crowd at over 200,000 attendees.  From our vantage point, it was clearly crowded, festive, diverse, family-oriented, and filled with love.

From Rob Keithan:

As the singing of the Star Spangled Banner came to an end, I wondered how the words “land of the free and home of the brave” felt to the many immigrants in attendance. I suspect that they appreciate what freedom means more than I ever will. As brave as I like to think I am, I don’t know if I’d have the courage to move to a foreign country–leaving behind everything familiar and potentially risking everything–in order to provide for my family. Hopefully I will never be faced with that choice.

From Taquiena Boston (Director of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries)

I was moved by the number of families who attended the rally with their children, and by how many of those families have been negatively affected by current immigration policies. I was encouraged by the many religious groups represented, including Unitarian Universalists. It was heartening to see that the message of Standing on the Side of Love resonated with so many non-UUs, especially when children, youth and young adults asked for the SSL buttons, placards, and bumper stickers.

From Meg Riley:

The moment that reduced me to tears was when, strolling along, I saw this young woman holding her handwritten poster. On either side of her stood friends, holding “Standing on the Side of Love” placards. (I couldn’t fit all three of them in and still read what she had written.) I saw how love was, literally, allowing her to stand. We’re always talking about ‘deadbeat dads’–here’s a deadbeat system forcing parents away from their kids. It broke my heart.

From Kat Liu:

As a person of Asian descent, I am very aware that different ethnic minorities in the U.S. have often been pitted against each other, when we could be so much stronger united. And I know that undocumented immigration is also an Asian issue, even though Latinos/Hispanics get most of the (unpleasant) attention. So it was very important to me to see diversity represented both on stage and in the crowd. While most of the people present appeared to be descended from Latin America, there were also Asian, African and Euro faces speaking as one. Walking among the crowd, I felt we were united, strong. This IS America.

American Prayer Hour – Protesting the National Prayer Breakfast

This week, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists and faith communities are uniting in Washington DC and around the country to protest the involvement of members of the international organization The Family, (also known as the Fellowship) a religious group with disturbing ties to proponents of anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is currently under consideration by the Ugandan parliament. The bill was put forth by parliamentarian David Bahati and initially backed by President Yoweri Museveni. If passed, the new law would unleash a vicious campaign of persecution against LGBT citizens in Uganda. Bahati and President Museveni are key members of The Family in Africa. The Family hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is scheduled to take place this year on Thursday, February 4th at the Washington D.C. Hilton. President Obama is scheduled to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast.
A coalition including Faith in America, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Full Equality Now DC, an organization the emerged from the National Equality March, is responding with the American Prayer Hour. On the morning of February 4th, people of faith across the country will gather at American Prayer Hour events to affirm our inclusive values and show that cruelty and extremism have no place in our communities. A list of events is available at the American Prayer Hour website.
A press conference announcing the National Prayer Hour will take place at the National Press Club on Tuesday, February 2nd. Scheduled speakers include Moses, a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in the United States, Bishop V. Gene Robinson of the Episocpal Church, and Harry Knox, director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program.
Full Equality Now DC has also organized a protest and rally on Wednsday, February 3rd at 5:30pm at the Family’s “C Street House” headquarters at 133 C Street SE, Washington, DC.
If there is an American Prayer Hour event in your city, please consider attending. If you are in Washington, DC, please come the rally on Wednesday night as well. For more information, see www.americanprayerhour.org.

Our Last Chance to Protect Women’s Health Coverage

Senate and House leaders are in the final stages of negotiating the content of the health care reform bill that could be voted on in both houses next week. A new article on UUA.org details the experiences of three Unitarian Universalist religious leaders as advocates for reproductive justice and abortion rights and describes the harmful provisions in the current reform bills:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House health care reform bill prevents women from using their own funds to purchase an insurance plan that includes abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges — taking away essential coverage that most insurance plans provide today.

Senator Ben Nelson’s addition to the Senate bill is an unworkable and unfair approach to abortion coverage by imposing arbitrary hurdles to secure coverage for abortion care. Under this provision, women would be forced to write two different checks to their insurance provider – one for abortion coverage and one for the rest of their insurance package.

Nelson’s provision makes it less likely for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage at all and presents a significant security risk to women purchasing this coverage. Both provisions would take away the coverage that most women have today and as such, they violate the very spirit of health care reform – extending comprehensive health insurance coverage to those who are most in need.

You can read the full article on UUA.org.

The UUA believes that we all have the right to make decisions about our own bodies based on our own values. Poor women, immigrant women and women of color are among those who are already disproportionately impacted by lack of access to safe and affordable contraception and abortion care, as well as by current laws restricting the use of public funds for abortion. If either of the current restrictions in the House and Senate bills pass with the final legislation, millions more women could lose the abortion coverage that they have today. Health care reform is about expanding coverage, not taking it away.

January 22nd is the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision, which will be commemorated in Washington, D.C. by a rally sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Find out how women’s organizations in your area are commemorating this day by searching online or contacting them.

No matter where you live there is still time to raise your voice as a person of faith who supports health care reform. Please call your members of Congress today and urge them to strike the Stupak-Pitts amendment and the Nelson check provision from the final bill.

Standing on the Side of Love & Dreams with Immigrant Families

by Bill Lace, Immigration Task Force Chair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix AZ

It seemed like a mid-January alignment of planets occurred in Phoenix, Arizona with immigration reform events, a human rights march protesting Sheriff Arpaio, and the “Dream Act” play coalescing over a period of a few days surrounding this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) and fellow UU congregations from the Valley of the Sun and Tucson, Arizona were busy in planning, participating in, and hosting the activities, along with interfaith allies, immigrant rights groups, and advocacy partners.

The Social Action Committee of UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix commissioned New Carpa Theater Company, a Phoenix company focusing on Latino and multicultural theater works, to present the “Dream Act” play at UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ of Phoenix on January 15th and 17th. “Dream Act,” written by James E. Garcia, tells the story of undocumented student Victoria Nava and her dreams of practicing medicine. In the face of anti-immigrant sentiment, she feels her dreams may be slipping away. The play is based on an National Public Radio interview of an undocumented student in Southern California and brings to life the plight faced by the 65,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school each year.

“Dream Act” was well attended by people from inside and outside the congregations including administrators, teachers, and students from several schools that teach many undocumented youth. Immigration reform activist groups CADENA – DREAM Act Arizona and Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) handed out information at booths. Each performance was followed by an interactive discussion session led by Mr. Garcia with experts on the proposed DREAM Act legislation and members of the cast.

On January 16th, thousands of people, including immigrants and immigrant rights organizations, church groups, advocates and anarchists, filled the streets outside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail for the March for Human Rights. The march focused attention to stop human rights violations, racial profiling and use of 287(g) by Sheriff Arpaio and other entities in the State of Arizona. UUCP Minister Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray, several UUCP members and other UU’s from the Phoenix and Tucson area congregations rallied and marched with UU banners and Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts in prominent display. Rev. Frederick-Gray spoke at the rally calling for all to “Stand on the side of love with immigrant families.” Members of UUCP and others worked with local Latino and Indigenous Peoples activist group Puente Arizona in the planning of the march. Marchers can assure you that despite some media stories you may have seen, the vast majority of people involved were peaceful and respectful of police monitoring the march.

UUCP’s Immigration Task Force has partnered with the Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN) and RIFA Arizona in ramping up attention on comprehensive immigration reform and has crafted a presentation to be taken throughout Arizona. The presentation is based on recommendations from RIFA and explains that many present immigration practices are unrealistic—we cannot deport 12 million people even if we wanted to(!) and that through our shared values we can work together to protect and value ALL families, including immigrant families. The task force also participated in a RIFA press conference outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office on January 14th calling upon McCain to continue his support of immigration reform. RIFA Arizona is holding a Town Hall on immigration on January 19th focusing on the faith and business communities. Members of the task force will participate and some are scheduled to speak. I feel proud to stand up with my faith and interfaith community in partnership with immigrant organizations for human rights and justice. Si Se Puede!

To take action in support of Congressman Gutierrez’s Bill for comprehensive immigration reform, go to Reform Immigration for America. (The UUA is a member.)

For more information:

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The Advocacy and Witness Team has taken a few minutes to reflect on the highlights of this past year and what we are looking forward to in the year ahead. A number of successes have marked this past year and it is exciting to see what the new year holds. Here are our reflections:

Meg Riley
When I think about high points from 2009, the Inauguration glows in my mind. Yes we did! Elect our first African American president. So much hope, so much energy, a real sense of kinship. When I look forward, I commit myself to creating and sustaining more energy like that. It’s so easy to get cynical watching the sausage-making of change. I have to remember to celebrate the positive, as imperfect as it is, and to keep hope alive!

Eric Cherry
While the international office’s 2009 was full of exciting and inspiring moments, the highlight of the year for me was welcoming a large and multiculturally diverse group of Unitarian, Universalist, and/or Unitarian Universalist leaders from around the world to General Assembly in Salt Lake City. The participation of leaders from Nigeria, Romania, India and Uganda in the Opening Worship service at GA was especially meaningful and symbolic of our faith tradition’s future. And, in 2010, I’m looking forward to the increasing collaboration of UU groups focused on international work, particularly promoting “community capacity building” and leadership-training in multiple locations around the world.

Rob Keithan
My highlight from this past year was establishing a partnership between UU Ministry for Earth and the UUA that resulted in a staffperson dedicated to promoting environmental justice. Looking forward, I am excited about working with a huge, diverse assortment of religious and secular groups to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Orelia Busch
The biggest highlight of the past year for me was attending the signing of the bill legalizing same sex marriage in the District of Columbia, which was held at All Souls Church, Unitarian. In 2010, I am looking forward to organizing clergy and religious leaders to help pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and leading youth, young adults and allies in their efforts to advocate for federal support and funding of comprehensive sex education programs in schools.

Rowan Van Ness
Looking back at this past year, one of my highlights was the International Day of Climate Action. It was really inspiring to see how many UUs were involved in the more than 5200 events worldwide. In this year ahead, I am hopeful that we may pass a major piece of climate legislation. The US is still a major emitter and the effects of climate change are global, so changes here could make a positive impact all over the world. I am also excited that more and more people are thinking about the impacts of their food choices and are keeping justice and the environment in mind!

Adam Gerhardstein
The Standing on the Side of Love campaign was born in June of 2009. It has been an exciting journey that has led us through a visceral health care debate, an inspiring march for BGLT equality, successfully booting Lou Dobbs off CNN, marriage equality sorrows in Maine and joys in the District of Columbia. Local communities are where the campaign has really been brought to life. In the year ahead we will celebrate the first National Standing on the Side of Love Day, where we will re-imagine Valentine’s Day. Because this campaign is in the hands of the people who bring it down to earth on the local level, we will pursue new tactics and new partnerships, and do everything we can to support congregations who boldly stand on the side of love.

UUs Support CIW for Justice in the Tomato Fields

by Rev. Allison Farnum of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ft. Myers, FL

Unitarian Universalist congregations all along in Florida have been picketing with the CIW at Publix Supermarkets, delivering letters to the Publix managers that ask for Publix to come to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ table to talk about the tomatoes they buy. Documented cases of slavery have occurred in the fields of two large Florida tomato growers, 6Ls and Pacific. Publix continues to buy from both growers. Publix cites a policy that states they do not get involved in labor issues between those from whom they purchase and their employees. Since when is slavery a labor dispute?

Folks in our southwest Florida cluster congregations share that, when speaking with Publix employees, the managers themselves are disappointed that the corporate level will not cooperate. Even Publix employees on the front lines expect better of this corporation (the 4th largest privately-owned company in the United States, recently reported in Forbes Magazine) that claims it cares about its local community. As far as I can tell, Publix officials turning their backs on slavery in Florida tomato fields is far from caring.

Money talks. As Publix buys from growers that condone slavery in their fields, this giant supermarket chain is participating in a harvest of shame. This Sunday people of faith from Florida, Unitarian Universalists and all kinds, will gather in Lakeland, FL, home of the corporate headquarters, to send prayers of courage and caring to Publix. We will make our presence known as allies and supporters of the tomato pickers and stand on the side of love.

World AIDS Day 2009

This year for World AIDS Day, our friends at Advocates for Youth, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and SIECUS have organized a petition campaign and blog-a-thon on the Amplify website.

From now through December 6th, you can sign the online petition asking President Obama to create an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that provide the best and most comprehensive services and information to young people worldwide. Our country’s HIV/AIDS policy must respect the inherent worth and dignity of those who receive our support by giving them the resources they need to lead whole and healthy lives.

Sign the petition, and check out the blog-a-thon today!

There are many ways that you can commemorate World AIDS Day, including learning more about HIV/AIDS issues in your area and around the world. Unitarian Universalists across the United States and Canada are powerful advocates and educators with the UU Global AIDS Coalition. Here in Washington, D.C. there will be a march and rally tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 12:00pm, starting at the White House and ending at 2:00pm at the Wilson Building. RSVP and find more details on Facebook. There will also be a vigil at Dupont Circle at 5:30 pm.

Find out what’s happening in your own community for World AIDS Day here.

The UUA Washington Office Remembers Senator Kennedy

It’s unusual to feel a need to reach out to our UU community because a Senator died, but the death of Senator Edward Kennedy casts a long shadow across our nation.

Senator Kennedy’s death is a signal of the passing of the torch from one generation to another in our nation and in the world. It is a call to remember and to honor all of those elders whose struggles for justice have made our lives today possible. It is cause for both grief and for deep celebration.

In the UUA’s Washington Office on Wednesday, staff members spoke to one another quietly, remembering personal encounters with him in labors for shared goals—some which were accomplished and many which remain unfinished.

It is hard to overstate how important Senator Kennedy was to the causes we hold dear. From Voting Rights and Disability Rights to reauthorizing TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); from more than a decade working to pass anti-hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to ensuring a fair minimum wage, Senator Kennedy was a relentless supporter—if not a champion—for most of our legislative agenda. Few people in this era have done more for the health and welfare of marginalized people.

Among the many lessons we can learn from Senator’s Kennedy’s Senate career is that it is not only possible, it is actually powerful to be both extremely committed to your values and able to work with people and groups that hold different views. Most Americans know Ted Kennedy only as a bastion of liberalism. May he also be remembered as one who understood the importance of relationships and collaboration. As Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote in a reflection which appears in today’s Washington Post, Kennedy “never made his partisanship personal and, most of the time, if he believed you were sincere, he was willing to give ground to reach an agreement. He’ll be missed both for his friendship and personality, as well his ability to get things done even in the most partisan times. “

Senator Kennedy has been present to us—not just as a remote figure represented by staff people—but also as flesh and blood, as a passionate, caring, and flawed human being who strove to connect with the people working on (and affected by) the issues he cared about. A few years ago, he spoke at an event for Martin Luther King Day at our congregation in Quincy, MA, about the need to raise the federal minimum wage. He said, “We have to think, who are the recipients of the minimum wage? They are men and women of dignity…They may be making the minimum wage, but they want to do the job, they want to do it right, and they want to do it well…they deserve our respect.”

This respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person was at the heart of Senator Kennedy’s desire for our common good. May that respect live on as our legacy for Senator Kennedy—in our families, in our congregations, in our towns and cities, in our struggles for justice. May we find the strength to carry on without him.

–Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy

–Rev. Meg Riley, Director, Advocacy & Witness Staff Group, and former Director of the UUAWashington Office

Statement by UUA President the Rev. Peter Morales on the Death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Reflection on Senator Kennedy from the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, former President of the UUA and Executive Director of Amnesty International USA

Organizing for Health Care Reform

In March of this year, I went to Washington, DC, for a national lobby effort with PICO, a major national faith-based community organizing network, which was entitled: “Faith and Families: Economic Recovery Summit.” The focus of the Summit was threefold: Jobs, Foreclosures and Health Care Reform. About 300 or so PICO leaders from various local organizing committees attended, representing about 20 states, from California to Massachusetts, New Orleans to Michigan. I am part of the clergy caucus group in PICO, and represent Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), a North of Boston faith-based community organizing affiliate.

As part of our lobby efforts on health care, PICO has developed some principles around reform that we shared with our political representatives. The PICO principles are that comprehensive health care reform must: be affordable, cover all, be financially sustainable, be passed in 2009, and be focused on benefitting low and moderate-income citizens. After having our own brainstorm sessions, PICO representatives went to Capital Hill and organized a major press conference with a number of congresspeople. Afterwards, we took our message to congressional offices. Leading up to this Summit, PICO had been a major player on SCHIP legislation, concerning health care for children, and also particpated in a major summit with President Obama at the White House. PICO is also a major organizer for this week’s national conference call with the President. At the moment, this is clearly PICO’s major legislative push for 2009.

At a recent clergy caucus for the Northeast region of PICO affiliates, we discussed some of these issues and I raised with the national PICO leadership whether or not we shouldn’t be advocating for single payer. It was a lively discussion, with differing points of view, though the leadership staff of PICO suggested they had determined single payer as not feasible in the current political climate. For this reason, they decided to stick with a set of clear principles and let Congress determine how to reach these. Though the position is understandable, many of us have still lobbied our legislators to support the Kucinich bill that encourages states to implement a single payer system. Our own congressperson on the North Shore of Boston, John Tierney, is one of the co-sponsors of this bill along with about 80 others.

As the news emerges concerning the possibility of the White House backing away from the public option as part of the health care reform initiative, it seems a good time to lobby congress once again that if single payer is not currently feasible, a public option in competition with the health insurance industry would seem vitally important. Also, our local PICO afiliate, ECCO, last week helped to organize a rally outside of the office of Rep. Tierney in Peabody, MA., to counter a planned demonstration by some local anti-healthcare reform advocates. We wanted to show support for Tierney’s strong reform position. Fortunately, we outnumbered the protesters 3 to 1 (300-100). It was a good effort.

Rev. Art McDonald, PhD, Minister, First UU church of Essex, MA.

Editor’s Note: The UUA invites you to be on a phone call with President Barack Obama in an urgent faith conversation about health care reform on Wednesday, August 19.

President Obama will be on a forty minute, nationwide phone call with the UUA and other national religious denominations, along with PICO, Gamaliel and other groups on Wednesday, August 19 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern / 4:00 p.m. Central / 3:00 p.m. Mountain / 2:00 p.m. Pacific. The goal of the call is to connect and energize the millions of people of faith across the country who are concerned about health care and who want to be part of the solution. Join us Wednesday, August 19th, to hear from faith leaders across the country and President Barack Obama!

To listen in on the nationwide phone call, log on to www.faithforhealth.org/uua at the time of the call.