Pre-Election Hope

Amazingly, my partner has been sitting on a zafu cushion in a rural Buddhist retreat center since September 20, and will remain there until November 28. This means that she is sitting out the six weeks before and the three weeks after the election. She occasionally mails out a red leaf, or a haiku on a post-it note, but she does not know the ins and the outs of our lives back here at the home base. And she has not watched debates, encountered news of real and manufactured crises, or otherwise tracked the coming elections. (Relax. She did vote absentee.) I am both envious and incredulous: Were I at the retreat center I suspect I would be preoccupied with, bordering on insane about, wondering what was going on in the world.

Yet I find the thought of her steadfastly sitting on that cushion to be oddly comforting as the election cycle continues to spin. I, and most everyone I know, can hardly live within our own skin at this point. We are nervous wrecks. Being more of what’s called a “Bookstore Buddhist” myself, I opened one of my favorite Buddhist books, Sharon Salzberg’s Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, for help. I found these words profound and challenging:

To act with faith means not getting seduced by any of its ready replacements. One of the most subtle ways fear can find us, so quietly we hardly know to call it fear, is what the Buddhists call “fixated hope.” Fixated hope, like hope itself, resembles faith in that both sparkle with a sense of possibility. But fixated hope is conditional, circumscribing happiness to getting what we want…

Buddhism regards fixated hope and fear as two sides of the same coin. When we hope for a particular outcome to arise or a desire to be met, we invariably fear that it won’t happen. Thus we move from hope to fear to hope to fear to hope to fear in an endless loop. Fixated hope promises to break us free…only to lead us right back to [fear’s] narrow confines…

In these final days of a very long election cycle, I am struggling to move from fixated hope to a larger, deeper hope which is not looped into a fear cycle. Yes, I have very definite opinions about virtually every box I’ll check on my ballot. I take elections very seriously: my friends and I discuss obscure races at social gatherings. But I can’t tie my hope to the future on any of these convictions. The hope that endures is the hope Theodore Parker and Martin Luther King spoke of: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I need to align myself with the life force in everyone around me, be they Democrat, Republican, Green Party or Independent. I need to find spiritual practices which sustain my deeper hope, along with political ones that allow me to exert my best influence towards outcomes I deeply prefer.

In these final days, may we take a moment to remember life beyond election outcomes, even as we work hard to impact elections. May we remember to tell our children that, however the election unfolds, we will create a future together with all of our neighbors. May we remember to breathe! May we sit on an invisible zafu cushion even as we door-knock, canvass, engage in get out the vote work, make phone calls, poll-watch, and ride out these last few pre-election days.

Rev. Meg Riley

Prevent Voter Fraud on November 4th.

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case. Thomas Paine- 1796

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, affirm and promote the use of the democratic process…The Fifth Principle of the UUA

On November 4, the General Election will be held. With the record turnout for the Presidential Primaries, early voting in states that allow it, and a huge influx of new voter registrations, this could quite possibly be the largest election in the history of the United States.

The botched elections in Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004) have kept people on the lookout for voter fraud. The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), attempted to remedy many these problems by making it easier to register to vote, updating old voting technologies, and making voting practices more secure. While it has solved some of these issues, HAVA still has a lot of issues to work out–mostly due to lack of oversight on the appropriation of funds and unrelaiable voting machines. Today, 27 states — including such large ones as California, New York, Illinois, and Ohio require electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper trail. There is paper-trail legislation pending in a dozen more states.

There is still a need for Congress to pass a strong federal law requiring electronic voting machines to produce reliable paper records.

And there have been quite a few problems leading up to this election. The controversy surrounding ACORN’s voter registration drive (less than 1% of their registration of 1.3 million new voters have been found to be inaccurate) has created a flashpoint surrounding voting records. This has increased a clampdown in many states and making sure everyone on the rolls is a legitimate voter may have caused legitimate voters to be stricken from the records. Many Sec’s of State and Political Committees have used this opportunity to disenfranchise many voters by striking them from the voting register, a practice used long before the controversy surrounding ACORN.

To ensure your voter registration, please visit before November 4th to confirm your registration and find your polling place. Remember, your polling place should be close to your home address. You can also call your local board of elections to confirm your voter registration and polling location.

Please take note of where your polling place is and be sure of how to get to it from your residence or work place.

On November 4th, please be aware of your rights while voting.

Take time off of work. Your employer is legally obligated to give you time off of work to vote. Whether coming in late, taking a long lunch, or leaving early, you are allowed to take time off of work to vote. Do not let work or a boss keep you from casting your vote.

Stay in line. Expect long lines at your polling site. Visiting your site during off-peak hours will help reduce the time you will have to wait in line. Between 10 and 11 AM or 2 and 4 PM will have the least amount of voters. Once you are in line, do not leave. Everyone in line has the right to vote, even after the polls have closed. Anyone who is attempting to intimidate voters in line by threatening to call the police on people waiting is in strict violation of the law.

Many states require proof of identification. This may be required for all voters. Other states may require identification for first time voters or people who registered through the postal service. Please be prepared to bring proper identification.

You have the right to a provisional ballot. If you have confirmed your voter registration with your local board of elections but find that your name is not on the roster or is being challenged by one of the campaigns, do not panic. You have the right to cast a provisional ballot. Please retain any receipt the poll worker gives you (or ask for one). This will give you the appropriate information to confirm that your provisional ballot was counted.

Read any signs on the wall. This will give you clear information on your rights as a voter. Signs may include an example ballot as well as any local laws protecting your rights as a voter. For instance, signs in California, New York State and Washington DC may inform you that it is illegal to wear or display any campaign paraphernalia in the polling site. Signs may also inform you how to contact your local board of elections in order to file a complaint or describe any violations of your rights.

Bring your sample ballot. Many states offer sample ballots either through the mail or online. These sample ballots will often give helpful information on candidates or propositions on the ballot. Feel free to complete your sample ballot at home before you travel to the polls. You have every right to bring your sample ballot with you into the voting booth. You have the right to be an informed voter.

Take your time. You have the right to take as much time as you need to vote. If you have made a mistake, you may “spoil” your ballot and ask for a new one. You have every right to ask for a new ballot. Don’t let anyone rush you or harass you while voting. Many areas may have new voting technologies you may not be familiar with. You should ask for help if you need it. Many states and jurisdictions will also offer ballots in other languages. When in doubt, ask a poll worker.

When in doubt, ask a poll worker. If you have any questions, ask a poll worker. If you have a problem or concern, ask a poll worker. If your ballot is incorrect or incomplete, ask a poll worker. If you are afraid you are at the incorrect polling site, ask a poll worker. If campaign officials are harassing people in line, ask a poll worker. If you feel harassed by a poll worker, ask for a different poll worker or a precinct captain.

Pay Attention. If you find anything suspicious while voting, please keep track of it. If there is anyone intimidating you or other voters, please make note of it. If you are having a difficult time with a poll official, please make note of it. If you find your ballot is incorrect, please make a note of it. If you press the button for one candidate but find the name of another one lights up, please make a note of it. Please file any complaints to your board of elections and the Lawyer’s Committe for Civil Rights Election Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-886-867-8683).

If you have already voted either by absentee ballot or early voting, consider being an election judge or participating with video the vote a grassroots organization that is documenting any irregularities on polling day. (Remember to honor any local laws concerning voter privacy in the jurisdiction while participating in video the vote)

And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008.

The Real Rules and Faithful Democracy Help Protect Churches

On Sunday, September 28th, thirty-three conservative churches broke IRS regulations by endorsing a specific candidate for president. This action is in direct violation of a 1954 law prohibiting non-profit organizations from endorsing candidates for political office. This has brought up many questions in the media about this rule. The UUA has released several resources to help answer some of them.

The IRS designation for non-profits including churches and religious communities is known as 501 (c)(3). Named after the provision in the IRS Tax Code that protects them, 501 (c)(3)’s are prohibited from making any explicit statements for or against any political candidate. But that does not mean they are barred from participating in political conversations.

The regulations surrounding 501 (c)(3)’s are difficult and complicated. However, the UUA’s Real Rules and Faithful Democracy clearly explain what congregations and their leaders may or may not say. It gives many fine examples of what the IRS does and does not expect a church to do during election cycles.

There you will learn how congregations and its leaders may:

  • support positions and policies, but not candidates;
  • use congregational funds to support voter registration and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns;
  • and/or host a polling site but not a campaign headquarters.

Please look at the Real Rules and Faithful Democracy in order to prepare and protect yourself in this election season.

Five Reasons to Be A Poll Worker

The United States of America is facing a shortage of poll workers. It is in desperate need of people–particularly younger people–to help people vote this year. Working the polls for an election is a concrete way to ensure your local race goes smoothly.

And with the historic turnout in the primary elections this previous spring, working the polls will be more important than ever before.

All of following facts are examples of why you should register to work the polls this November. If you need more reasons for why you need to work the polls, please read my reflections on working the polls last February.

1. A New York Times editorial from two weeks ago read: No One Should Have to Stand in Line for 10 Hours to Vote”. In it, the author writes about the usual complaints we hear about voting lately: long lines, voter intimidation, and confusing or out-of-date voting machines. He looks to the 2004 elections in Ohio and shows how understaffed voting precincts coincided with the largest number of voter irregularities.

2. The Virginia Pilot reports how the state of Virginia–destined to be a battleground this election–is short some 2,000 poll workers this year.

3. Minnesota, also classified as a swing state this year, is scrambling to find enough poll workers.

4. Jackson County, Missouri has a shortage of 500 workers for their 250 polling locations. That is an additional two people per polling place in order to be fully staffed.

5. The progressive news source,, lists a shortage of poll workers as one of the “Seven Ways Your Vote Might Not Count This November“. Along with voting machine allocations and voter purges, alternet fears that a shortage of poll workers can result in flawed ballots and slow lines.

And don’t forget to get our election preparation resources called Faithful Democracy.

Faithful Democracy and the 2008 Elections

Why Registering People to Vote Matters

It takes a lot of ongoing engagement to keep democracy vibrant and working. Our fifth principle commitment to democracy and our anti-oppression commitment to strengthen the voices of historically marginalized groups provide solid religious grounding for congregational efforts to register people to vote.

Only 64% of voting age citizens in the US voted in the last federal election. However, 89% of registered voters did vote. According to the US Department of the Census Report: Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004 the key to voter turnout is voter registration. Once people are registered they are on the rolls and are contacted by the campaigns, political parties and non-partisan Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts.

There are still 55-60 million unregistered voters in our country. Youth and young adults account for 21 million of them and African Americans, Latinos and low-income women also constitute a large portion of the unregistered.

There is still time to reach out to these disenfranchised communities and get them registered. Most state voter registration deadlines are in early to mid-October. New Hampshire, Wyoming and Idaho have same day registration. See VoteSmart for your state’s deadline.

The UU Funding Panel has Voter Registration/ Get Out the Vote (GOTV) grants — $500 to $1500 grants for congregations now through October 15, 2008!

According to the same report many people didn’t register because they missed the registration deadlines and/or had a conflict with work and school schedules. It was not because they didn’t care.

So, let’s do all we can to increase participation in the democratic process, especially by helping ensure that the voices of our most oppressed communities are heard in this high stakes election.

In 2004, hundreds of UU congregations registered over 80,000 new voters. Our efforts were most successful when we did this in partnership with community group voter registration projects.

One of our partners, ACORN’s Project Vote, registered over 1.15 million new voters in 2004. This year their goal is to register 1.2 million voters in underrepresented communities — African American, Latino and low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, they plan to reach 2.8 million new and infrequent voters in GOTV campaigns.

  • Project Vote is working in 26 states including Colorado, Ohio and PA. For a listing of states and contact information see their website.

In 2004 our voter work led to some lasting partnerships and raised the profile and relevance of our congregations in our communities. Wear you Standing on the Side of Love T-Shirts while registering people and/or bring congregational banners.

The UUA has excellent resources to assist congregations in their voter registration, mobilization, and education efforts.

See our voting page where you will find Faithful Democracy: UUs and the 2008 Elections and The Real Rules for IRS Guidelines.

Registering people to vote lets people know that they matter to us.
It is an act of faith.


Today we celebrate the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed on Galveston Island in Texas, bringing news that the Civil War had ended and those who had been enslaved were now free. Below is the oldest known photograph of Juneteenth celebrations, taken in Austin, Texas, in 1900. [PICA 05476 Austin History Center, Austin Public Library]

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
–John 8:32

The truth shared in 1865 that freed the slaves on Galveston Island was a simple on update on political events and policy by today’s standards. Today, one can hardly avoid receiving constant political updates from television and online news media. Yet, almost a century and a half later, we still celebrate General Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3 on June 19th. The power of the Juneteenth news came from its embodiment of a long-denied deeper truth: that all people possess equal worth and dignity, and slavery is morally wrong.

This Juneteenth, I want to lift up modern day truth-tellers, whose words and work aspire to correct misconceptions that continue to create inequality in our nation.

History, as it is taught in our public education system, represented in the news media, and understood in common United States culture, often omits European Americans’ misdeeds and people of colors’ achievements in ways that disempower all of us. But some are working to bring to light historical facts that every American should know. One of the most famous is James W. Loewen, (a Unitarian Universalist) whose 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook got Wrong, busted myths and condemned our school system’s distortion of American history to favor European Americans. His most recent work, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, brings to light the widespread 20th century practice of towns officially excluding people of color.

Like Loewen, Katrina Browne is a powerful new voice for setting the record straight on race & racism in the U.S. Her new documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North, chronicles her family’s exploration of their Northern ancestors’ involvement in the slave trade and how their family continues to benefit from that involvement. Her cousin Thomas Norman DeWolf wrote an associated book, Inheriting the Trade. Both works reveal the North’s often over-looked complicity and direct involvement in slavery.

In Congress, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has been advocating since 1989 for the federal government to undertake an official study of the social, political, and economic impact of slavery on our nation. He has reintroduced the same bill, H.R. 40, for almost twenty years, and has pledged to continue to do so until it is passed into law. In December, H.R. 40 received its first-ever Congressional hearing. Present at the hearing were representatives of the Episcopalian Church, who in 2006 passed a resolution directing all dioceses to “document instances where the diocese has been complicit in and has benefited from the institution of Trans-Atlantic Slavery.”

In many other areas, our society needs to hear the truth. Adolescents need to hear the truth about sexually transmitted infections and birth control. Citizens and legal residents need to hear the truth about our broken immigration system. Consumers and investors need to hear the truth about how their purchases impact workers. And voters need to hear the truth about the human cost of the Iraq War.

So here’s to all the truth-tellers–Loewen, Browne, DeWolf, Rep. Conyers, the Episcopalian Church, UUs who have championed and carried out the UUA’s Truth, Repair & Reconciliation Responsive Resolution of 2007, OWL instructors, the health teacher at Fort Herriman, Utah, who has been suspended for answering students’ questions about sex, Media Matters, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and all the rest– We need and appreciate your work, and a very happy Juneteenth to all of you.

Celebrations of Racial Justice: Loving Day and Juneteenth

Happy Loving Day! Today is the 41st anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. And Juneteenth, the anniversary of the real end of slavery in the U.S., is in just one week! Read on for more information about these holidays and how you can celebrate them.

Loving Day – June 12
photo by Bettman/Corbis

In the 1950s, two teenagers named Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving fell in love in a town just north of Richmond, Virginia. Mildred was of Cherokee and Rappahannock American Indian and black racial heritage, while Richard was European American. In 1958, Mildred and Richard decided to marry. In order to avoid Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a state law that made marriage between white persons and non-white persons a felony, they drove eighty miles from their home in Virginia to D.C.

Upon returning home, the Lovings were found guilty for violating the ban on interracial marriage, and sentenced to 25 years of exile from the state of Virginia. In 1963, the ACLU helped the Lovings challenge the state’s ruling. As the case progressed, several church bodies declared their support (or non-prohibition) of interracial marriage, including the Presbyterian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1967, the Supreme Court declared the Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional, thereby ending all race-based restrictions on marriage in the United States. According to recent U.S. Census Data, today almost 5% of marriages in the United States are interracial.

“Loving Day,” the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, is celebrated as “an educational community project . . . to fight prejudice through education and to build a sense of community among people who engage in meaningful interracial and intercultural relationships.” You can find all kinds of great resources at, including a list of celebrations happening across the country, a legal history of race & marriage, and a way-cool interactive map that shows which states restricted interracial couples over the years. Happy Loving Day!

Juneteenth – June 19

Coming up in one week is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, carrying the news that the Civil War had ended and those who had been enslaved were now free.

Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ostensibly ended slavery in the Confederate states on January 1st of 1863, the actual arrival of freedom often progressed only as quickly as Union forces moved through the South to enforce it. In April of 1865, General Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, and the remaining Confederate armies soon followed suit. Now that the fighting had ended, Union forces were able enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in states they had not yet reached in great numbers.

On June 19th, Union troops led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas, carrying the news of the Emancipation Proclamation. Two and a half years after slavery was declared illegal, it was finally abolished in Texas.

There are many ways to acknowledge Juneteenth, mourning the delay of justice and celebrating its arrival. Juneteenth can be celebrated with cookouts, prayer services, informational displays in your fellowship hall, or concerts. provides a wealth of resources, including a list of celebrations happening in the U.S. and international celebrations, the history of Juneteenth, and recommendations of how to celebrate.

Check back here next Thursday for a Juneteenth blog post. In the meantime, happy Loving Day!

Words from MLK Jr. on Boycotting

You know that something serious is going on when I turn down Subway. Or when my co-worker Alex forgoes his weekly Chipotle burrito. Or when, as happened last night, my housemate laments finishing the last of her favorite sweet chili sauce from Whole Foods, because she knows that she might not buy another jar for quite a while–not until Whole Foods agrees to pay fair wages to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida.

In the wake of Burger King’s agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) two weeks ago to pay fair prices to tomato pickers, other restaurants and food companies, including Whole Foods, Chipotle, Subway, and Wal-Mart, are experiencing an increased pressure to step up. The CIW has not yet announced official boycotts. But in the meantime, several of my friends and co-workers and I have been abstaining from shopping at the afore-mentioned stores.

Last night, after my housemate finished the last of her sauce, I opened up The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today for a bit of evening reading. The book’s author, Charles Marsh, traces Martin Luther King, Jr.’s development as a Christian leader for social justice during the year long boycott of the Montgomery bus system. When, in the book, the boycott finally achieves success in integrating city buses, Marsh lifts up some beautiful words that King spoke to the Christian community of Montgomery to celebrate their victory. In his address, King talks about the tactic of boycotting in the context of our spiritual kinship with one another:

“Freedom and Justice through Love.” Not through violence; not through hate; no, not even through boycotts; but through love. It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In the struggle for justice, it can be easy to get caught up in tactics, forgetting the larger goal of right relationship. For me, King’s words were a lovely expression of the spiritual grounding of boycotts, and I thought that it would be nice to share them with you.

For more information about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their campaign for justice in Florida’s fields, take a look at their website. To request postcards for yourself, your organization & your friends to send to Chipotle or Subway urging them to work with the CIW, send an email to workers [at], letting them know how many of each you would like to receive.


  • For Alex’s reflections on holding stock in Whole Foods in light of their resistance to working with the CIW, check out his post from last week on Shareholder Advocacy.

Shareholder Advocacy

When I was in high school, I was active with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) campaign against Taco Bell. I organized the boycott on Taco Bell among my friends. And I attended a few protests at the world headquarters in Irvine.

Around that same time, I started investing in Whole Foods. As a person interested in food ethics, I found their vendor policies refreshing. Their focus on locally grown, independently owned, and environmentally sustainable foods was really appealing to me. I have been a proud stock owner of Whole Foods Market ever since. Over the years, I have seen the stocks rise and fall, voted my proxies and stayed true-blue to the company I had partial ownership in.

Imagine my surprise when yesterday I read Lisa’s post on the Coalition’s most recent successes with Burger King.

But by the beginning of 2008, other fast food companies, including Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods (yes, really–Whole Foods), still hadn’t budged towards the side of just compensation.

My Whole Foods Company had not yet signed with the CIW. I felt a complex series of emotions including heartache and betrayal. This company, whom I have stuck with through embarrassing staff mishaps and poor stock performance after a messy court case, has now refused to work with the CIW.

As someone who considers himself a socially responsible investor, I immediately wrote a letter to the Whole Foods Investor Relations Office to inform them of my disappointment. How could a company that promotes itself as a responsible and progressive company refuse to talk with the CIW? How could such a company fall behind the practices of such companies as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King?

This is one stockholder who will not let up this issue. Back in high school, when I had little to no power, I helped the CIW accomplish their goals. Now that I have shareholder power, I will continue to write my letters until the CIW gets their way.

If you hold stocks in or shop at Whole Foods, Chipotle, Subway, or Wal-Mart, you may want to write letters asking them to work with the CIW to receive a fair wage.

For more information on socially responsible investing please visit the UUA’s SRI site. And to learn how to better support the Coalition’s fight for fair wages, please visit

Systemic Racism in U.S. Drug Sentencing Policies

Typically, when people hear the words “drug policy reform,” marijuana is the first thing that comes to mind–possibly because, when it comes to drugs, news and commercial media tend to shine their spotlights on the controversial and the lurid. Unfortunately, the anti-racist/anti-classist aspects of drug policy reform activism are often lost among preoccupations over the morality of getting high and the grimy details of the most recently discovered meth lab.

This spring I was accepted as a 2008 intern for The Nubiano Exchange, a part of The Nubiano Project, which is an organization that seeks to “empower the Black community and redefine mainstream perspectives of blackness.” As an intern, I will contribute monthly articles (written from the perspective of a white anti-racist ally) to The Nubiano Exchange throughout the year. I chose to use this month’s article to explore the de facto racism encouraged by the federal crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity, as well as how the disparity came to be, and how it might be changed. You can read about the disparity in my article, One in Nine: Behind a Racially Discriminatory Sentencing Policy.

To urge your Congressional representatives to eliminate the disparity, you can send them a message through the Drug Policy Alliance. There are a number of good bills in the House and Senate which would eliminate the disparity. The message that you can send through Drug Policy Alliance is intentionally general to allow whichever bill has the best chance of passing to move forward. If you wish to express support for a particular bill, you can edit your message to reflect that. For more information about current proposed bills, take a look at Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)’s bill analyses (scroll down the page to “Crack cocaine sentencing reform.”)

To learn more about drug policy reform work, its connections to race and class, and Unitarian Universalist involvement, check out the following . . .



And resources: