Summer Reading

Summer Reading

Adam’s Pick

I recommend The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli. This book is an insightful and balanced chronicle of the economic lifespan of an actual t-shirt purchased out of a Florida bargain bin by a Georgetown economics professor. The t-shirt’s journey takes the reader from its birth in a Texas cotton field to its manufacturing in a Chinese factory, back to the U.S. marketplace and then on to the second-hand African clothing market. The story is rich with fact, intriguing characters, and fascinating textile history. This book provided me with just as much insight into the workings of globalization, as an entire semester course in college I took called “Globalization”. Read an excerpt at

Alex’s Picks
A Problem form Hell by Samantha Power. This book is written by Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent for the New Yorker Magazine, Samantha Power. Here, Power systematically traces the history of genocide in the 20th Century and the American response to these events. Power shows the daring and ironic escape of the coiner of the term “genocide” from Nazi Germany. She also shows how the United States dragged its feet while cultures were wiped out in South East Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. This is a must read for people concerned about the current state of affairs in Darfur.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I plan to reread this novel this summer. It tells the heartbreaking story of the Joad Family, a migrant family forced off the land by a bank during the Great Depression. This amazing book speaks to me right now as we see xenophobia in our political discourse surrounding migrant workers, a new generation of people without homes, and an economy teetering on the brink of collapse. It is especially special to me as my family had left their dust bowl farms for California during the Great Depression, just like the Joads.

Eric’s Pick
Three Cups of Tea-is the inspirational (and true) story of the international relationships formed between American mountain climber, Greg Mortenson, and the people of Korphe – a village in Pakistan. The book’s title is based upon a regional aphorism that, “The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family.” These relationships lead to the creation of Korphe’s first school, and ultimately to the creation of more than 50 schools in Central Asia.

Grace’s Picks
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This a great book for those interested in a comprehensive history of the United States that isn’t sugar coated. The detail and depth of this book is amazing and Zinn accurately portrays the struggles of all people in the United States.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks. Whether you are new to feminism or were on the front lines of the reproductive choice movement this book is a great read. bell hooks breaks down what feminism is and the variety of issues it addresses in an easy to understand way that leaves you feeling empowered and proud to be a feminist.

Lisa’s Picks
My Year of Meats, by Ruth L. Ozeki. Ozeki’s story follows Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American documentary maker, who is hired by a beef company to film American women preparing their favorite beef dishes for broadcast in Japan. Jane’s experiences touch on race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and the environment in ways which are both hysterical and sobering.

My second recommendation is The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs chronicles a year of trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible, and along the way he meets Isreali Samaritans, Appalachian snake handlers, biblical creationists in Kentucky, and the Pennsylvanian Amish. What Jacobs and the reader learn is that there are many, many ways to “literally” interpret the Bible. In addition to making me laugh out loud, I learned so much from Jacobs’ book that I proceeded to talk about it at work every day for the next three months.

I love My Year of Meats and The Year of Living Biblically because they fuse social concerns with art, romance, spirituality, and humor. But if you need a dose of straight up facts, you can always print out the following reports and build your activist knowledge with some powerful data about sexism and racism:

* Report of the APA Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls.
* Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008.
* Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law.

Rob’s Pick
Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin. Since I’m in seminary, the reading I do for pleasure tends to be on the lighter side. This is a fun, easy read about the relationships (friendly and romantic) of four compelling characters.

(Photos by:Paul Watson, Lin Pernille ♥ Photography, Rumintarix , Spigoo, LWY courtesy of Creative Commons)

The Clash Against Racism

Most people my age were raised by hippies. Their parents spent their young adulthoods listening to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. My parents, on the other hand, were not hippies. My parents were punks. They spent their young adulthoods listening to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and my personal favorite, The Clash. After I was born, their taste in music did not get watered down; it just got more eclectic. Riding in the car as a child, the tapes often wavered between children’s performers like Sharon, Lois and Bram or Raffi, but also the 1979 hit album “London Calling” or 1981’s “This is Radio Clash” by The Clash. By the time I was four years old, I knew all the words to both “Baby Beluga” and “Rock the Kasbah”.

Led by frontman, Joe Strummer, The Clash sang songs about working class struggle and disenfranchised youth trying to find their ways through a world filled with advertising, war, violence and drug abuse. Sure, I didn’t understand what most of it meant. But it definitely struck a chord with me.

Thirty years ago, today, The Clash headlined a concert series called “The Carnival Against Nazis.” Organized by the organization, Rock Against Racism, in response to a series of racist comments made by British rockstars, The Clash along with X Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, and The Tom Robinson Band played in front of 100,000 fans. The Proceeds of the concert went to the Anti-Nazi League. This was crucial to the strength of the Punk scene in Britain. Many places had seen their clubs overrun by skin heads and neo-nazis. But the wild and passionate work against the established evils of racism and sexism had fallen away. For The Clash and X Ray Spex to speak out against Skinheads and Nazis was a very brave move.

Today, many of the original musicians have returned to fight racism. X Ray Spex and many of the original members of The Clash—Strummer died in 2003—have come out along with newer bands like Babyshambles and played the “Love Music, Hate Racism” concert in order to combat growing neo-nazi and anti-immigrant sentiments in Great Britain.

Even though Strummer died five years ago and many of the things the Clash stood against—war, poverty, violence and racism—still exist, their music has always been a call to action for many. To this day, “London Calling” has been one of my unofficial social justice theme songs: in a world of shiny distractions and war with no end—there is still Joe Strummer and The Clash reminding me that there is some truth in this world.

Holy Cow! Meatout is in Two Weeks!

On March 20th, grassroots activists across the globe will celebrate the twenty-third international Meatout. Organized in 1985 by FARM, Meatout is a day for activists to promote a plant-based diet through leafleting, tabling, cooking, blogging, holding lectures, performances, walks, or concerts.

Why participate in Meatout? According to the Meatout website, “Kicking the meat habit holds lasting benefits for consumer health, world hunger, resource conservation, environmental quality and animal welfare.”

Since becoming a vegan seven weeks ago, I’ve been pondering the connections between reduced meat consumption, vegetarianism, veganism, and Unitarian Universalism. Or, if you’ll allow the pun, you could say that I’ve been chewing on the seventh principle: We covenant to affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As the Meatout website says, there are many reasons to eliminate or reduce meat consumption. I decided to adopt a vegan diet because I did not want to be complicit in systems of animal cruelty, such as battery caging, which house 98% of America’s egg-laying hens, or the veal industry, which is supported by the dairy industry. Dropping my resistance to learning about the cruel treatment of cows and chickens, allowing myself to be changed by what I learned, and finally going vegan has fostered a radical awareness of my accountability in the web of existence.

Other UUs follow the seventh principle in different ways. Take my co-workers in the Washington Office, for example: Adam buys local produce and commutes to our office by walking or biking. In his free time, he likes to hike and canoe. Alex uses a clothes horse to dry his laundry and subscribes to a local CSA . He and his seven housemates also practice reduced meat consumption. Grace carries reusable bags when she goes shopping, and plans to outfit her future children in cloth diapers, just like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother did.

So while I wish in my animal-loving heart of hearts that everyone would stop eating meat, or at least practice reduced and conscientious meat consumption, I know that we all have different ways of honoring our relationship with the environment and all beings.

But whether you’re a vegan, an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, a locavore, a freegan, or a lover of steak and eggs, I invite you to celebrate and learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet on March 20! . . . . And to make it fair, on March 20th I’ll use a clothes horse and walk to work.

Take a look at Meatout’s website for events, ways to get involved, resources on plant-based diets, and meat-free cooking advice. If your church is planning to do something for Meatout, you can register your event in the Meatout Event Directory. And for more information about Unitarian Universalism and animal welfare, check out UFETA, Unitarian Universalists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

I wish you all a merry Meatout!

Leap Into Action Day

This Friday is a leap day–an event that happens only every four to eight years. That means the month of February is one day longer than it usually is. This is due to the fact that the actual length of time it takes for the Earth to circle to sun is actually approximately 365.242 days. The modern algorithm to calculate leap years was developed in the 16th century by St. Gregory in order to keep the vernal equinox as close to March 21st as possible.

What exactly does this mean for people like you and me? Well, it means that Friday, not Thursday, is the last day of February. That means you have been given one extra day in the month to Leap into Action!

Leap into Action Day was created in 2004 by a group of Radical Anarchists in the San Francisco Bay Area in order to encourage people to reclaim their extra day and do something different. In encouraging people to do something different, they hope a cultural change would occur. They hope people would find that they liked working for change and justice.

I would like to encourage you to do something different and thoughtful on February 29th, 2008. There are loads of different things you could do on Leap Day. Why don’t you do something to better yourself or your community? Spend your day working for social justice! Spend your day volunteering with local aid organizations. Help your local community by working with a homeless shelter or feeding the hungry. Tutor at an after school program. Or pick up litter in your neighborhood. You could register to be a poll worker.

You could also learn a new skill. Three years ago, I learned how to knit. Now I like to trade scarves and hats for personal favors, like haircuts or books or things like that. I think I might learn how to crochet on my leap day. But you could also build a project out of wood. Or dust off your old sewing machine and make someone in your life a tote bag.

You could also start a garden. Vegetable patches and window boxes are a great way to add freshness to your surroundings and food. If you already garden, think about composting. Composting keeps tons of waste out of landfills and goes back into your garden for an inexpensive boost to your vegetables and flowers. Or you could start a worm farm in your basement.

You could also go for a hike in your local national park. You could visit a museum in town. You bike a new bike trail or take your dog for a walk a different way than usual. You could try a new recipe from a cook book you haven’t opened in years or use an ingredient you have never used before. You could write a letter to a friend. You could call a family member out of the blue. You could make a collage out of old newspapers and magazines. You could clean out your closet and donate old things to Goodwill. You could go to the library and check out a stack of children’s books. The options are endless.

But whatever you do, don’t waste your extra day! Do something different! Do something new! Do something daring and exciting. Leap into action on your leap day!

UU Activist Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

After the success of our UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide in December, we at the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy decided to do it again for Valentine’s Day. Here are some eco-friendly and social justice gifts that are perfect for loved ones.

Alex: For my gift recommendation, I give you Make Magazine and Craft Magazine. In two of my favorite magazines, people send in their homemade projects. Make Magazine shows people how to create handy machines and gadgets using mostly recycled materials and outdated technology. Craft Magazine has fun arts and crafts projects using reusable, sustainable materials. Plus, check out the cards—they are totally challenging the Gender Binary. And I think that is awesome!

Grace: Being a conscious consumer can often be very expensive. If you have a tight budget, or just want to put that extra touch of love into your gift, check out this Family Fun craft site. There are a ton of ideas for do-it-yourself Valentine’s Day gifts that are great for the entire family. Take some time this year and make handmade cards for your loved ones. No matter your artistic ability a handmade gift always comes from the heart.

Kat: Most of us have more stuff than we know what to do with. Yet we still want to get something for our loved ones to express how much they mean to us. This Valentines day, spread the love with gifts that will make a lasting difference. Make a gift to your favorite charity in your sweetie’s name. (For example, Heifer International.) Because of the ailing economy, charitable donations are down so your gifts mean more than ever.

Flowerbud is a veriflora approved flower company which means “they strive to ensure that all of our flowers are grown in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.” The flowers may be on the pricey side but knowing that you are getting beautiful flowers from a socially responsible company is worth every penny.

EcoExpress makes natural and organic gifts. Their Valentine’s Day spread includes chocolate, candles, wine and cookies. The cookies look especially delicious.

Before you make romantic dinner reservations check out Local to see if there are any restaurants in your area that use locally grown food. You can also find farms, organic grocery stores, and farmers markets in your area.

Give the gift of life. Blood supplies are often dangerously low during the winter months. An hour or two of your time could literally save a life. Find a local blood bank here.

UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season has arrived! And with it has come the annual shopping frenzy. One way to rise above what can feel like a glut of consumerism is to give and ask for mindful gifts. We at the UUA Washington Office have compiled a list of some of our favorite holiday gifts that support social justice and environmental causes. Happy shopping!


Lisa – I was born without a thumb and some fingers. Luckily, my parents were wealthy enough to pay for reconstructive surgery. So my favorite organization this winter is Love Without Boundaries, which lets you sponsor surgeries for children in China who are unable to afford surgery for birth defects.

Alex – Clothes dryers are the most wasteful and expensive home appliance. A clothes drying rack (made from reclaimed wood) can save over $1500 a year in energy costs. Also, consider a composter for your favorite gardener. But do your research—consider how much space and energy you can put into your compost pile before you plop down the money.

GraceEarth Mama, Angel Baby has a variety of all-natural products for both mother and child. Their lovely gift baskets are perfect for an expecting or new mother.

Adam – Give a subscription to GOOD Magazine, and read about people and businesses that are changing the world. 100% of the subscription fee goes to the charitable organization of your choice.

Shopping For Others – For that loved one who already has everything, why not give a gift in his or her name? Gift It Up lists organizations that let you cover the cost of shipping antibiotics to 100 patients in Gaza, or pay for one night of shelter for a BGLT survivor of domestic violence. You can give ducks, honeybees, or cows through Heifer International. You can even use Heifer International to register for weddings and anniversaries

Sponsor An Animal – A great gift for children and animal lovers! When you “adopt” a sea animal through Oceana, not only will you help protect its habitat, but you’ll also receive an animal-shaped cookie cutter and sugar cookie recipe for the holidays. With Defenders of Wildlife, sponsors receive an animal photo as well as a plush toy.

Fair Trade and Sweatshop-Free – Just want to give a pair of socks or a sweater? Check out the International Labor Forum’s handy-dandy 2008 Shop With a Conscience Consumer Guide. The Fair Trade Federation maintains an awesome search engine to help you find fair trade and/or women-owned businesses in your area.

Good Eats – Give a share in a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture. Local farms sell subscriptions for a year or a growing season, and will deliver boxes of fresh, locally grown vegetables right to your door.