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!