Health Care Reform Restricts Abortion Coverage

The House of Representatives passed a comprehensive health care reform bill that takes unprecedented steps towards limiting reproductive health care for women and severely restricting coverage of abortion services.

Read Unitarian Universalist minister and Religious Institute director Rev. Debra Haffner’s reaction to Saturday night’s vote on her blog, Sexuality and Religion

Border Trip: Sunday, Nov. 8th

Part 3 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. Photos can be found here.

Sunday, November 8th. Spent the morning attending service at the UU Church of Tucson and speaking with volunteers at No More Deaths (NMD) afterwards. The people there were a mixture of NMD activists who know of the church through the partnership and/or congregants who got involved with NMD as the church did. When I asked how it is that UUCT chose to sponsor No More Deaths, everyone agreed that while the exact organization wasn’t decided upon until relatively recently (when Walt Staton brought it to the congregation), the church had known for years that it wanted a social justice ministry around which to coalesce and was pretty sure that it would be around immigration and the Border. As congregant Helen O’Brian put it, “When you live in Tucson, people turn up in your backyard who need water.” On this particular day, the congregation just happened to be assembling food and first aid packs. People had donated items such as sports drinks, socks, aspirin and then children and adult members put them together into 123 packs that will be taken to the desert. It was clear that support for No More Deaths came from the entire congregation. As we talked about the need for volunteers, a vision emerged of UU service groups coming from all over the country to volunteer in the desert the way that we do in New Orleans. I haven’t even started our Border trip yet and already I’m thinking of coming back for more.

After the meeting, Helen and her daughter were kind enough to give me a ride over to Borderlinks, the organization that will be facilitating our journey. I am the first to arrive. Our small group from All Souls DC initially had a problem. There were not enough of us to meet the required minimum number of sojourners. However, a group from the Presbyterian Church of Canada were in the same boat so we decided to join forces. The American Unitarian contingent consists of Rev. Louise Green, Jeff, Ron, and myself. The Canadian Presbyterian contingent consists of Stephen, who serves the Presbyterian Church, Mary, Joan, Christine, and Greg. Gary, a researcher from the University of Arizona who is studying religious experiential learning trips, fills us out to ten. When everyone eventually arrives, we are given a brief orientation to both Borderlinks and the trip. We learn how Borderlinks was born out of the Sanctuary movement, a religious movement in the 1980s offering refuge to immigrants fleeing political turmoil and violence in El Salvador and Guatemala. (No More Deaths was also born of the Sanctuary movement.) It exists to facilitate experiential learning through immersion trips to the Border, so that we can better understand the complex issues and bring that new-found understanding back to our communities. Historically associated with the Presbyterian church, Borderlinks is now ecumenical/interfaith. It is also bi-national, with offices in the U.S. (Tucson) and the Mexican side of Nogales. For example, our group will have three trip-leaders, two from the U.S. – Tracy and Elsbeth – and one from Mexico – MaryCruz, who is from Nogales and speaks primarily Spanish.

We’ve only spent a couple hours together so far, but already I can tell that what we had originally approached as a compromise – the pooling of Americans and Canadians – is truly a gift. We Americans will be able to see the Border/immigration not only from our own eyes, but through Canadian eyes as well. As fellow religious progressives, we share many views in common, but as the Canadians are in many ways a third party to the U.S./Mexican “dispute,” their perspective can be quite different at times.

By the time everyone assembles and we go through the logistics of how to share cramped communal space, and the brief introduction to Borderlinks history, and some exercises designed to help us get to know both each other and the issues better, it is already quite late. But we can’t miss the Day of the Dead. Dia de Los Muertos is a time to remember and celebrate our ancestors, particularly those who have passed in the last year. A colorful alter is decorated with pictures of the deceased and their favorite foods are laid out. In other parts of the world (particularly Latin America) Dia de Los Muertos was observed last week during All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In fact, last week Taquiena Boston (of the UUA’s Identity-based Ministries) and I had attended a Dia de Los Muertos observance at the National Museum of the American Indian. But in Tucson it is celebrated one week later, today, with a parade – the Alls Souls Procession. Started by a local artist who had lost her father, the community puts together a parade to remember and celebrate those who have passed from us. In this U.S. town close to but not on the Border, the festivities are obviously syncretic. The sound of bagpipes mingles with more traditionally Mexican images of skeletons. I think of how I lost my mother in May. Unfortunately, I think her Chinese sensibilities would not have approved of all the carrying-on, but for me and our group, the atmosphere was intoxicating. At its climax, a giant urn was hoisted up via a crane and set on fire. Trip-leader Elsbeth explains to us that it contains pieces of paper bearing the names of the deceased – names that were written by people in the crowd. While done on a fantastical scale, the ritual is similar to what we’ve done at All Souls DC, similar to what the Chinese do to honor the dead, similar I’m sure to the rituals of so many cultures. Our group stood lost in the crowd and watched the giant urn glow in the night sky, and I felt like all the ancestors in world must have been there watching affectionately too, even Mom.

Border Trip: Saturday, Nov. 7th

Part 2 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border.

Saturday, November 7th. It’s the eve of our Border trip. I am flying into Tucson a day early in order to attend service at the UU Church of Tucson and speak with some of the people there who run No More Deaths. Ever since I first heard of the arrest of Walt Staton for leaving bottles of water in the desert, I have been enamored with the organization and its volunteers. It is one of many reasons why I wanted make this journey to the Border. Regardless of one’s feelings about undocumented immigration, the idea that someone could be arrested for humanitarian aid is unfathomable.

But that is tomorrow. Today on the eve, I am excited and also a little apprehensive. It’s not that I think anything will go wrong per se. It’s just that I’ve invested a lot personally into this trip, and I’m worried that it may not be what I expect… although I’m not even sure what it is that I expect. Already I have realized a disconnect between my perspective and the realities of the Border. Being the daughter of non-Euro immigrants myself, I had been approaching the trip as an opportunity to explore identity – the “border” identity of someone who lives in more than one culture. Growing up in California, I have felt some affinity with Mexican-Americans – we are both often overlooked as the national discussion on race focuses on black and white. And when we are noticed, it is often as “foreign invaders.” As a kid and even a few times as an adult I have been told to “go back to where you came from.” I thought this put me in the position to better empathize with people whom our country is rounding up and deporting. That may still be the case. However, in reflections with our group in preparation for the trip, I’m also aware that there are many differences between the experiences of the migrants who cross the Mexico/U.S. border and my Chinese middle-class family.

For one thing, the border is right there, an artificial boundary between two nations sharing the same continent. Mexican immigrants can travel back and forth between their county of origin and their adopted country. In contrast, my parents had only their memories to compare to their new homeland, and I can count on two hands the total number of visits I’ve made to Taiwan and China – a divide so wide that it was another world to me. I’ve been proud to hail from California, a “border state” with a large Mexican-American population. But now I realize that San Francisco is a world away from the border compared to Los Angeles, which is a world away compared to San Diego, which is a world away compared to San Ysidro. I do not know what it’s like to physically live on the Border. How different it must be to see every day the difference in wealth. How could one not wonder why?

Second, while my parents lacked money when they first arrived in the U.S. and some my earliest memories are of Mom calculating how much food we could afford, we were never truly poor nor really desperate. Education is a kind of wealth and my parents had the security of knowing that there would be better days ahead. Of course, I have always known that my family is middle-class while the people who brave the desert are driven, not just by a desire for a better life for their families but often by a dire need. It’s just that, it’s one thing to know this difference intellectually and another to know it experientially. This point was made clear to me while our group read a poem about crossing the desert at night.

I love the desert. To me it is a place of calm and stark yet delicate beauty. Yes, water is scarce and life is fragile, but that only makes more real the sense of being alive. Some of my most spiritual, mystical experiences have been in the desert – watching the lizards sunbathe, staring up at night skies creamy with stars. The quiet. The promise of being in the desert again was yet another enticement for me to make this trip. But I have always been in the desert as a tourist, with plenty of water, and food, access to shade in the day and to warm clothing and shelter at night. A car never far away, and with the security of knowing that I could call for help. Reading the poem, “La Ruta de Mujeres,” by Rev. Delle McCormick, which talked of furtive crossings at night, snakes and coyotes, rape and death… I was reminded of how dangerous and terrifying the desert actually can be. Again, I knew this intellectually – why else would it be necessary for the volunteers of No More Deaths to place water bottles in the desert? Why else is the death count so high? But there was a disconnect between the facts that I have learned and even repeated to others in arguing for more compassionate immigration policies, and my own middle-class sheltered experiences. It was a humbling realization.

And so here I sit on the eve of the trip, excited and yet apprehensive. Did I remember to pack my passport and proof of insurance? Check. Digital camera and cell phone charger? Check. I had been (and still am) excited to blog about our experiences and share them with you. Only a few days ago did it occur to me that we might not have internet access for much of the trip. Another disconnect. Oh well. No matter what I am here to learn and grow. I can already tell that it will be more than I imagined.

Help us End Employment Discrimination

I have nothing to add to Rev. Meg Riley’s poignant words below about the vote in Maine last night. What I can do is assure you that those of us at the Washington Office for Advocacy and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign will continue to do everything in our power to advocate for full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender (BGLT) individuals and communities. But we can’t do it without you.

Today, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign sent over 8,000 petition signatures to members of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee. Tomorrow morning, these Senators will hear testimony on the Employment Non Discrimination-Act (ENDA) in the first Senate Hearings on the bill since 2002. If passed, ENDA would guarantee basic federal protection from workplace discrimination for BLGT employees.
When so many people are unemployed or fear that they will be lose their jobs due to the current economy, it is unconscionable to think that many workers must also fear being fired, overlooked for promotions or being harassed just because of who they are or who they love.
The House of Representatives could vote on this bill as early as next week. It is critical that your Senators and Representatives hear from you NOW! Ask your members of Congress to stand up for justice and equality, and help us pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Standing on the Side of Love with a Broken Heart

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog. As many of you may know. our Rev. Meg Riley is director of the UUA’s Advocacy & Witness staff group and also director of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

It is the morning after election day. I went to sleep early last night, when results were still unclear in all kinds of races around the country, and learned about them as I learn about many things now—on facebook. The first posting I saw was from a ministerial colleague—I am heartbroken for Maine.

My stomach twisted and my heart sank.

We have faced so many of these ‘mornings after.’ The people who live in the states where their full humanity and their equality has been shouted about, argued about, snickered about, and ultimately voted upon, now have to get up and go about their business.

Those I feel most for are the parents, preparing their children to go to school this morning. Kids who see elections pretty much as they see sporting events, who want to be on the winning team, must now go to school to face the gloating that losers always face. We who parent send our hearts out into the world each day, and those hearts are broken today.

And yet, I know from parenting my own daughter, the strength and resilience and vision of the next generation is what pulls us through. In my daughter’s short lifetime already, we have moved quantum leaps towards marriage equality, towards valuing all families.

Part of me is amazed that 47% of the people in Maine voted for the rights of less than 10%. The whole notion of putting the rights of a minority up to a vote of the majority is blatantly undemocratic, completely counter to the notion of the Constitution as I understand it. I am incredibly proud of the work that people of faith did in Maine to present families of all kinds with dignity and love.

So, on this morning after the election, I am mostly grateful to know that I am in the company of other people of all ages, shapes and sizes whose still stand on the side of love, even with broken hearts.

(And even while my heart breaks for Maine, it lifts for the folks in Kalamazoo and Washington State, where love and justice triumphed over fear.)

International Day of Action Success!

After months of planning, the International Day of Climate Action finally came with great success. More than 5200 events in 181 countries around the world were registered on 350.org, demonstrating immense worldwide support for reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm). Many people are calling this event the largest worldwide grassroots mobilization ever.

With the support of the UUA, the UU Ministry for Earth, the UU Service Committee, the UU State Advocacy Networks, the UU-United Nations Organization, we were able to connect with congregations across the US and Canada. Over the course of the past couple of weeks, emails have been pouring in with details of the more than 110 UU-related events. This is so energizing to hear, knowing that the future of our world depends on our ability to effectively curb climate change, and the future of our brothers and sisters all over the world depends on our ability to do this justly.

Here are just a few snippets of stories that inspire me that I wanted to share with you:

  • The UU Fellowship in Columbia, South Carolina is just starting up their Green Committee. Their 350 event was their first event ever and included collecting 350 Compact Flourcent Lightbulbs (CFLs) and donating them to Habitat For Humanity as well as starting up a new Freecycle Program.
  • Members of Towson UU Church in Maryland spent four hours caulking and weather-stripping their church, reducing their need for dependence on fossil fuels for heating.

  • Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, California brought their message to all those driving on the highway.
  • Members of the UU Congregation of Binghamton, New York held a vigil outside the gates of their local coal-fired power plant.
  • Members of Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington State watched the movie HOME, followed by discussions, sharing of resources, and petition-signing.

Congregations all over the country catalyzed and supported interfaith and community-wide events. This is not only a UU issue, but something that reminds us of the interdependent web of which we are all a part. Dozens of congregations rang their bells 350 times, facilitated conversations in their congregations and communities, wrote letters to governmental officials, watched movies, sang out, and rallied!

For some, these events were a great starting point for discussion, demonstration, and action. And for others, this is just a step on a path they’ve already been traveling. The press coverage of UU events was great, sharing news of these important events with folks not in attendance. Right now, we should celebrate these great efforts, but let’s keep our motivation for these events in sight–a strong and just international agreement on climate change policies.

Standing on the Side of Love by Canvassing for Marriage Equality in Maine

There were about 80 of us gathered this weekend from Maine and other New England states at a gay bar in Ogunquit to get trained for canvassing in communities for the ‘No on 1” campaign. Question 1 on the ballot would override the state legislature’s vote which was signed in to law by the governor to legalize marriage equality beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

A group from my church—First Parish Cambridge UU—joined the volunteers, wearing our ‘No on 1’ stickers and Standing on the Side of Love pins, and carrying our Standing on the Side of Love signs. The organizers from Maine Equality loved our signs and asked if they could have some for the office along with a stack of buttons.

I canvassed with my husband and my 11 year old son. Most of the people we spoke to were voting No on 1 and so our job was to ask them to vote absentee before Election Day and to recruit them as volunteers for the campaign. We also encountered a few people who are voting against us—although they were very nice as they told us they were voting to take away people’s rights(!). We didn’t meet anyone who is still undecided. The polling, however, shows a dead heat between yes and no voters, with 4% still undecided. It is absolutely critical that we do all we can to defeat this ballot initiative. Along with canvassing, our congregation’s youth group and others are phone banking at the Mass Equality headquarters this weekend.

The most moving part of the weekend for me was in the training and debriefing of the canvassers. When the organizers asked if any of the couples in the room were married, we of course raised our hands, as did another straight married couple, and about a half dozen gay/lesbian couples who shouted out the states they had been married in – mostly Massachusetts and CA (while it was legal). It hit me profoundly how I so take for granted the right to marry. I was inspired by the people in the room who were brave and determined enough to go out into neighborhoods where they were bound to hear people tell them why they should not have this right or be treated as equals (or worse).

My family felt proud to be standing on the side of love with these courageous folks. It was definitely one of the liveliest trainings I have attended and the role play between ‘Casey Canvasser’ and ‘Valerie Vixen Voter’ deserved to be on stage! The debriefing included stories that needed to be ‘shaken off’ as people reported some of the hostility they encountered and it was another moment of recognizing the privilege I experience as a straight person. There were also wonderful stories including one about a woman who identified herself as born again Christian and felt that Jesus just wants us to love and that’s why she’s voting No on 1. The camaraderie and the compassion we witnessed this weekend were truly inspiring. My son is now more outraged and determined to work for equality than he has ever been simply from our kitchen table discussions. The experience of coming together—gay and straight—to protect marriage equality had us all feeling and witnessing the power of love to stop oppression.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act Passes the Senate!

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill. The final vote was 68-29.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, its Member Congregations, individuals across the nation, and staff at the Washington Office for Advocacy have worked for over a decade to pass this bill. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands the federal definition of a hate crime to include any and all violent crimes committed based on the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Opponents of the bill sought to make crimes prosecuted under this new statute subject to the death penalty, but this measure was defeated and was not included in the final version of the bill. President Obama is expected to sign to Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law before the end of October.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to pass this historic piece of legislation. The passage of this bill marks a milestone in the long struggle to seek justice for violence based on a person’s identity. This is also the first time that the federal government has passed any law that specifically protects transgender people. Please visit the website Love Conquers Hate for a retrospective of work on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and to share your thoughts. We hope you will continue to work with us towards the day when all people are afforded the respect and equality that they inherently deserve.

Border Trip: Pilgrimage

Part 1 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border.

A few months back I spied a notice in my congregation’s weekly bulletin about a trip to the Border being organized by Rev. Louise Green, our social justice minister here at All Souls, DC. It said that participants would be going to part of the border between Mexico and the U.S., with the possibility of also visiting Native American nations in the area. The trip, organized by Border Links, would feature immersion experiential learning and we would be expected to reflect and write on our experiences. I knew immediately that I had to go. But I also felt tremendously guilty at the idea of going. Both for the same reason.

Some of you may remember my post about bitter experiences with the health care system as my mom was taken by cancer. With Mom’s passing, the thought of taking a week to go anywhere other than San Francisco where my family is seemed incredibly selfish. But on the other hand, with Mom’s passing, I have been thinking more than ever about the journeys that she and Dad took from China to the U.S. – the many obstacles they had to overcome to get here, some recounted on this blog and others not. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be Chinese American – to be both Chinese and American and yet not fully either in the views of many.

Does one cross a border? Or does one straddle it? Or does one go back and forth?

Both the Border Links website and Louise in our group discussions leading up to the trip have asked us why we are interested in going. Fair question. Complicated answers. I am going to better understand my neighbors – their perspectives, their stories, their roots – but I am also going to better understand myself. I am going with the assumption that although our families come from different countries, different cultures and different circumstances, there will be at least as much that we have in common in the immigrant family experience as there will be differences. I also expect that there will be surprises, perspectives that I assume we share in common but are not the case. In any case, the process will be informative.

If you are interested, I invite you to stay tuned. The All Souls DC trip to the Border will take place Nov 8th – 14th and I plan to be blogging about it before, during, and after our pilgrimage.

Blog Action Day 2009 – Climate Change

Today is the annual Blog Action Day, with the intention of creating discussion. More than 8500 blogs in 148 countries are committed to discussing climate change today. With that many voices discussing this issue at this critical time, there’s a lot of opportunity to raise energy and participate in actions.

There’s only 52 days left until the United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to make an international treaty on Climate Change. The International Day of Climate Action is in just 9 days, on October 24th, and people will be doing actions worldwide to draw attention to the importance of lowering the parts per million (ppm) of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. Right now, Senators Boxer and Kerry have introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act in the Senate. There’s a little less than two weeks before the intensive legislative hearings are expected to begin, on October 27th, which means that right now there’s a window of opportunity to shape the bill in the directions we want.

In other words, we’re at a pivotal time in the environmental movement. There are opportunities at the national and the international level to shape the climate change debate; it’s an opportunity to have governmental support in the direction of justice through climate action. The most marginalized communities are the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and if we wait until the wealthier nations are directly affected, it will be too late.

I invite you to join the conversations today and blog about Climate Change. Our ally 1Sky has ideas for what to write about if you’re feeling stuck. You can register your blog on the Blog Action Day website. And then next week, participate in the International Day of Climate Action. The UU Ministry for Earth has resources available on their website, and a list of what UU congregations are doing for the event is forthcoming.