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.


UUA Presents Shareholder Resolution for Gender Non-Discrimination at Wal-Mart

Julie Skye, member of UUA's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, at Walmart's Shareholders' Meeting

In 2008, the UUA filed two resolutions on Gender Identity Non-Discrimination: both companies already had sexual orientation in their policy but this resolution asked to include gender identity in its written equal opportunity non-discrimination policy.  6% of Wal-Mart shareholders and 16% of Verizon’s shareholders voted in favor of this protection for their employees.

The 2009 Shareholder Advocacy season saw 12% of Wal-Mart shareholders vote in favor of the same resolution. Progress…but I think back to the 2001 proxy season…when Home Depot changed its written policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation because of the efforts of the UUA endowment’s shares of Home Depot stock. Management had a change of heart after the proxy statements went out, and called the UUA…saying they had considered the negative reaction from their employees who had learned that Directors did not support the resolution. Terms and conditions were agreed on, and the UUA withdrew the resolution.

This is what shareholder advocacy is all about! Change that comes through management’s awareness of how their written policies affect the people that work for them. When management “gets it” through dialogue, discussion and diplomacy, everyone wins. Why does Wal-Mart gladly take dollars from customers without regard to that person’s gender identity, but stops short of giving their employees the dignity and rights that they deserve?

Why did the largest employer in the U.S. not get it…that the employees who gave so much to the success of Wal-Mart, deserved to know their employer “affirmed and promoted the inherent worth and dignity of every person?” Why would adopting a policy that gave employees a way to resolve conflicts through corporate channels not make sense?

With the history of previous UUA filings and my 18 months as a member of UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, I drove the 2 hours from Tulsa Oklahoma to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see, firsthand, what I knew was going to be a cross between a high school pep rally and a rock concert. I was going to present the UUA resolution that said how we interpret our gender identity, was our right, not a privilege extended to us by our employer.

The Wal-Mart staff member that helped me get settled, Beth, was as friendly and helpful as the other Wal-Mart folks. As the Annual Meeting kicked off, Jamie Foxx’s message was that Wal-Mart was an advocate for the working people; “You help people save money so they live better lives.” As Josh Groban, Mariah Carey, Enrique Inglesias, and Mary J. Blige performed in between the business parts of the meeting, the message was that these associates have had their lives transformed by this company.

What remains, after the laser light show and the echoes of, “I can kiss away the pain” was as usual, the people that are affected by the work the UUA is doing to move the endowments of congregations all over the country in the direction of our values. Beth, my Wal-Mart guide, asked what the resolution was all about. She nodded as we talked about the fact that you should not be fired for the way you present yourself…for how you look, or dress. Being disciplined, reassigned, fired or not promoted because of who you were and how you looked…not how you did your job…was not right.

After I used the three minutes allowed to present the resolution asking Wal-Mart to extend these rights to their associates I received a polite applause, and took my seat. I felt a hand on my arm…and turned to meet John Wright, a minister at the UU Fellowship at Salisbury Maryland who works at Wal-Mart. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for being there. He was overwhelmed by the emotions he felt as he heard that the CEO of his company announce that the UUA was presenting this resolution. The faith tradition he was devoted to had moved into his workplace, to model the values that we have come to take as second nature. He kept thanking me, and thanking the UUA for doing this work.  This work matters. It changes people’s lives. It allows the people of this country to be a part of changing how corporate America does business.

In the end, we received 14.6% support from shareholders…small, but moving in the right direction.  The Walton family has 45% of the stock, so until they move on this resolution, we’ll keep filing each year.

All of us…our children and grandchildren, will live in a better world because of the work the UUA does.

Julie Skye is a member of All Souls Tulsa, the UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and is a Registered Investment Advisor. She acts as a Family Back Office to 85 families and helps them organize, manage and co-ordinate all aspects of their financial lives including tax, estate and retirement planning. She has been doing pro-bono work with Foundations and non-profits for two decades and sees the connection between SRI and Social / Racial Justice.  Passionate in her belief that’ we can do well, while we do good’, she is Vice Chair of the All Souls Endowment Committee and offers seminars at the Sunday Emerson Forum titled “The Free Church Financial Forum.”

Change Takes Courage and Faith: Rallying for Immigration Reform

What a time to be in Washington! This past Sunday I joined 150 UUs and over 100,000 others who came from all across the nation to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. While we rallied on the National Mall we could see the Capitol Building where Congress was deliberating on health care legislation. It was truly an historic day. President Barak Obama addressed the crowd via satellite from the White House and the exuberant crowd fell silent as he promised to fight for a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in our country. Later that night, as we all know, Congress voted to pass the health care bill, bringing health care to many more US citizens (though not the undocumented), and clearing the way for immigration reform and other vital legislation.

The rally began with an interfaith prayer service that set the tone for understanding that immigration reform is a moral issue of welcoming the stranger, the newcomers among us, and understanding the role that the US government and US business plays in driving people to migrate here. Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, minister at the Bull Run UU Congregation in Manassas Virginia spoke eloquently for our faith tradition. The spirit of the service and rally were a sharp contrast to the Tea Party demonstrators that were out in front of the Capitol hurling oppressive epithets at Members of Congress and anyone else that opposes them.

The immigrant families and their supporters who gathered on the Mall responded enthusiastically to the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign. Placards, stickers, buttons and T-Shirts were grabbed up and could be seen all throughout the crowd. Many of the UUs in attendance came with interfaith community organizations and came to the SSL meet-up point to check-in and bring SSL placards back to their contingents. UUs from Community Church in NYC, UU Church of Danbury CT, and the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset NY paid for and organized buses that brought their immigrant partners to the rally. VOICE, an interfaith organization from Northern VA, brought over 1,000 to the rally and included folks from the UU Church of Arlington, who brought along a huge Standing on the Side of Love banner. A dozen UU clergy were in attendance and we counted 20 UU congregations that sent teams of folks ranging from 5 to 50 people from Joliet IL, Philadelphia, Buxmont, and Devon PA, and several congregations from the Metro DC area. Rev. David Carl Olson of First Unitarian in Baltimore wrote a moving account of the day for the SSL blog.

On Monday I participated in the interfaith advocacy day and joined a delegation from MA that met with staffers from Senator John Kerry’s and Senator Scott Brown’s offices. Senator Kerry is a long time supporter of immigration reform. We asked for the Senator to press for legislation to be introduced that includes family reunification as a priority, non-criminalization of undocumented people already in the US, and humane enforcement at the border. Senator Kerry’s staff said that they think immigration reform legislation will be passed this year. Senator Brown’s staff agreed that immigration reform is needed but had little hope that it would be passed this year. They wanted to know how much immigration reform would cost and if we would be supportive of the framework proposed by Senators Schumer and Graham. We made clear that immigration reform is not a partisan issue and that the legislation needs a champion. We asked for the Senator to use his influence to get the three priorities listed above included in the legislation and to press for it to be introduced. We reminded them that the majority of Massachusetts voters welcome the diversity and contributions that immigrant families bring to their communities.

Before leaving Senator Brown’s office, I asked if I could go out on to the balcony. Senator Brown’s office is the office of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Teddy used to spend a lot of time out on that balcony with his beloved dog Splash at his side. He did a lot of his thinking and his deal-making there. As I stood on that balcony, looking at the view of the park across from the Senate building, I thought about how happy Senator Kennedy would be to know that health care legislation had finally passed. So much has occurred since his death and for the first time, in a long time, I felt hopeful again about what’s happening in Washington these days. As the slogan for the rally proclaimed, “Change Takes Courage and Faith” and I would add, lots of grassroots organizing and pressure. Si se puede! Yes we can!

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.

Coverage of yesterday’s FEMA hearing

On Tuesday, we offered a round-up of articles on housing recovery in the Gulf Coast in advance of Wednesday morning’s Congressional hearing on FEMA housing. Last night, the Associated Press posted coverage of the hearing, which began with the words: “The government could end up repeating mistakes seen after Hurricane Katrina without a better plan for housing people after a catastrophe . . . .”

One of the main problems that FEMA officials pointed out included that the housing they provide is meant to be temporary– and without federal or state governments stepping in to facilitate peoples’ return to permanent housing, FEMA is having to provide a service it simply isn’t equipped to provide.

“Our business is sheltering … we do not have the solution for how we re-establish housing stock,” said Craig Fugate, Director of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

FEMA is also restricted from spending a significant amount to repair permanent housing. According to Richard Skinner, FEMA’s Inspector General, FEMA is “hamstrung by federal laws limiting its role in the broader rebuilding effort.”

FEMA surely has its share of responsibility in the problems that have followed Katrina and Rita, but their testimony at yesterday’s hearing makes it clear that rebuilding and long-term recovery is a greater task than they were ever equipped to handle.

For more details, read Watchdog: FEMA still lacks housing plan.

Gulf Coast news round-up + FEMA hearing

The House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on FEMA Housing: An Examination of Current Problems and Innovative Solutions tomorrow, Wednesday July 8, at 10 am EST in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the hearing is to receive testimony on FEMA’s strategy and plans to provide displaced individuals interim housing options in the wake of future catastrophes. Footage will be available on the House website, where an icon for live/recorded video of the hearing is located at the bottom of this page.

With regard to housing recovery in the Gulf Coast generally, a coalition partner at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition compiled this list of recent news articles:


· FEMA estimates that 1,800 individuals or families in Montgomery County, Texas, with unmet needs after Hurricane Ike just began to provide the needed resources.

· The City of Galveston expects to get the money for its housing recovery plan by August. Unfortunately there are lingering concerns that many people who could have received the assistance already rebuilt their homes, through a variety of resources, and will now not qualify for the funds.


· A Biloxi news piece talks about the progress of two rebuilding programs, “My Home My Coast’ at Gulf Coast Renaissance Corp and ‘Coming Home Collaborative’ with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The two programs combined have already received more than 5,000 applications.

· George County supervisors approved “a comprehensive plan … to guide development for the next two decades” last week. The process to develop the plan began after Katrina when officials learning they could not stop FEMA trailer parks from being located in areas that they or neighbors did not want them.


· The Louisiana Weekly reports that HANO extended the deadline for people on the pre-Katrina public housing waiting list to respond to requests as to whether they would like to stay on the list. The deadline for such notification had been last Friday, June 26, but has been extended to this Friday, July 3.

· More construction begins on homes to be built on former C.J. Peete site in New Orleans.

· This Times-Picayune piece talks about the progress on the long-delayed Louisiana Katrina cottages.


· Footage of Bill Johnson, ADECA, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee concerning the Economic Disaster Area Act of 2009, which proposes a new set-aside of CDBG funds for states declared economic disaster areas by the President. Around the 59 minute mark, Rep. Waters responds to Johnson’s ask for more disaster CDBG funds agreeably and, though she doesn’t offer anything concrete, suggests that the committee revisit the unmet Gulf Coast housing needs and what has happened with previous funding.


· USA Today reports on the thousands of families still living in FEMA-provided temporary housing post-Katrina/Rita.

· Recently the UN special rapporteur on racism spoke before the UN Humans Rights Council about recommendations for how the US can tackle ongoing racial discrimination. Discriminatory treatment of people affected by Katrina, especially with regard to permanent housing situations, was included in that testimony. See the UN recommendations.

· An MIT team transformed a FEMA travel trailer into a mobile community garden. The “Armadillo” is now on a cross country trip.

· NAACP urges Congress to pass the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.

FEMA Is At It Again!! Please Act NOW to Stop FEMA Trailer Evictions

Just when you think things couldn’t get worse in New Orleans, and when federal legislation for recovery in the Gulf Coast has finally been introduced, FEMA announces trailer evictions.
Please read the post below from the Katrina Information Network. And if you haven’t already, please urge your Representative to co-sponsor the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act through the UUA’s online action campaign and/or by collecting signatures from your congregation to mail to your Representative.
FEMA has announced that tomorrow, on May 30, 2009, it will act to evict thousands of residents from FEMA trailers in the Gulf States in spite of the fact that these residents have had limited support and lots of barriers in their efforts to find permanent housing. Please act now to stop this travesty.
Mr. Ernest Hammond is a case in point. Hammond, a 70 year old, former New Orleans homeowner, could not get financial help from Louisiana’s Road Home program for his triplex since the housing structure was ineligible for a grant. To help himself, Mr. Hammond has collected almost $10,000 in aluminum cans but that won’t even begin to cover the costs to rebuild his home in the 7th Ward. His FEMA trailer is keeping him off the street while he struggles to return home.
Mr. Hammond is one of thousands of families living in FEMA trailers because they are either caught in a web of deeply flawed, bureaucratic home repair grant programs, a victim of all too rampant contractor fraud or simply priced out of a rising rental markets where affordable housing is being demolished or gentrified.

No one chooses to live in a FEMA trailer, but it is better than no home at all. Evicting residents without providing access to safe, permanent housing will only lead to homelessness and further destabilize families.
Please take a minute to click and send an email or make a call to let the Administration know that evictions are a bad idea.

Tell President Obama and Congress to extend the May 30th FEMA trailer program deadline!

Say NO to FEMA’s decision to forcibly evict residents from trailers!

The Facts:

  • Nearly 5,000 FEMA trailers continue to provide housing to residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina
    • 2,800 FEMA trailers in Louisiana, with 1, 000 trailers located in Orleans Parish, LA
    • 2,000 FEMA trailers in Mississippi
  • Most FEMA trailer occupants are elderly and/or disabled persons in desperate need of effective support and case management services to stabilize their housing and wellbeing.
  • FEMA trailer occupants are displaced homeowners and renters still struggling to rebuild their homes or secure affordable housing after Katrina and Rita.

Hold our elected leaders to their promise of Gulf Region recovery, and demand equal protection under the same human rights policy that the U.S. government applies to displaced persons in other countries.

Tell FEMA to provide an extension to all homeowners and renters living in FEMA trailers to allow them sufficient time to repair their homes and/or find alternative housing.

Additional time would allow:

  • Louisiana homeowners to appeal denials of Road Home grants, or go to a Road Home closing.
  • Mississippi homeowners to be matched with available Katrina cottages that sit idle.
  • Renters more time to obtain rental assistance or other permanent affordable housing.

Call the Obama Administration and FEMA to demand action now! Tell our government not to carry forward yesterday’s short-sighted policies and to apply the same human rights standards to displaced persons in the Gulf States. Demand a stop to the FEMA trailer deadline and the guarantee of safe, permanent housing in the Gulf Region.

  • HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (202) 708-0417
  • DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano (202) 282-8000; (202) 282-8495
  • FEMA Administrator Fugate (202) 646-2500

Ready or Not, Katrina Victims Lose Temporary Housing‘, The New York Times, 05-8-09

Residents keep nervous eye on trailers‘, The Times-Picayune, 05-03-09

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

I do. I just returned from a week of dancing the night away to funk and zydeco, from eating my weight in gumbo, boiled crawfish and jambalaya, and from listening to some of the best jazz I’ve ever heard in my life. I just returned from a week of seeing entire neighborhoods still empty and destroyed nearly four years after the events that caused this damage. I just returned from a week of hard work and learning in communities that have been traumatized fragmented and displaced. My teachers were people who come from some of the oldest and most culturally rich neighborhoods in this country and who are committed to reconstructing their lives and their city. My teachers were the strong residents of New Orleans and those who are still working against many odds to help them come home.

The work of repairing damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continues, even though it’s no longer in the media spotlight. I traveled with a group from All Souls Church, Unitarian that has worked for the past three years with local organizations, including the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center housed in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. I heard from New Orleanians who appreciate knowing that the rest of their country has not forgotten about them. They wanted me to come home and tell everyone I know what I saw, and that at least, is something that I can do for them.

I started the week at a community center in Treme, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and the main neighborhood of free people of color during the antebellum period. Treme remains an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture, and many musicians live and work there. It was also the location of a large public housing development that was dismantled after Katrina, even though it was left undamaged by the storms. The people of Treme have not experienced the same level of media attention and support as those from the lower ninth ward, and many houses in the neighborhood, though still standing, are uninhabitable.

My crew worked to help paint a community center kitchen, and although our counterpart representing the local organization working on the center was pleased with our work, I couldn’t help but notice the mold and peeling water damaged walls that would not be remedied by a coat of paint. The community center in Treme is one of 20 damaged by Katrina. Three of those centers are currently functioning, but they have by no means resumed providing all of their pre-storm services. I watched dozens of people file in for the meal after a funeral, an almost daily occurrence according to neighborhood residents. Looking down from the second floor I saw the pool where area kids used to have swimming lessons waiting to be restored.

(All Souls Church Intern Minister Walter Leflore stands outside of the Treme Community Center)

The rest of my week was spent at a community garden that’s being built by a nonprofit called lowernine.org . In response to people’s expressed needs for fresh vegetables, (there are no grocery stores currently open in the lower ninth ward) lowernine has leased a plot of land where they plan to grow vegetables to be sold at a farmers market and distributed to community members in the neighborhood. As we worked to build a tool shed, planting and the irrigation setup were being finalized, and the garden should be producing food within a couple of months. You can learn more and stay updated about its progress on the garden’s blog and read more about what’s happening in Holy Cross, another neighborhood where some members of our group helped to rebuild homes.

The work is far from done and the devastation from the 2005 hurricane season continues to affect peoples’ lives in New Orleans and many other communities all over the Gulf Coast. Please follow the links in this post and sign up for Gulf Coast Updates, a joint project of Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, by clicking the link above, entering your information and checking the box next to Gulf Coast. We can all contribute to the work of Gulf Coast rebuilding and recovery.

Rev. Cain Publishes Letter Supporting Stimulus Package

Rev. Cynthia Cain, minister of the UU Church of Lexington, published a letter-to-the-editor in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Saturday calling on the Senate to pass the economic stimulus package. She used some of the statistics within the Washington Office’s letter to the Senate calling on them to Right our Moral Balance.

The stimulus package is expected to be voted on today or tomorrow. Once voted upon, it will go to a conference committee made up of leaders from the Senate and the House of Representatives. That committee will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The reconciled bill that emerges from that committee has to be approved by the full House and Senate before going to President Obama for his signature.

Congress returns to their home districts this Friday for a week long in-district work period. It is essential that they complete this work before Friday!

Now is a crucial time to write letters to your local paper calling for your members of Congress to finish work on the stimulus package so that America can get back to work. The Washington Office for Advocacy has a resource offering many useful tips on writing a letter-to-the-editor.

Join us in supporting the stimulus package to save and create jobs, improve our shared infrastructure, develop safe and modern learning environments, and meet the sustainable energy needs of the future.

Join the UUA Washington Office’s Call for Senators to Pass Stimulus Package

Yesterday, the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy sent every Senator a letter calling for passage of the economic stimulus package and a document comparing spending components of the stimulus package with the ten largest military contracts from 2008.

Now is the time to tell your Senators to pass this important legislation. We are getting word that Senate offices are hearing far more from constituents who oppose the package. Read our document and then call both your Senators using the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them to act quickly and pass the economic stimulus plan!