Standing on the Side of Love & Dreams with Immigrant Families

by Bill Lace, Immigration Task Force Chair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix AZ

It seemed like a mid-January alignment of planets occurred in Phoenix, Arizona with immigration reform events, a human rights march protesting Sheriff Arpaio, and the “Dream Act” play coalescing over a period of a few days surrounding this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) and fellow UU congregations from the Valley of the Sun and Tucson, Arizona were busy in planning, participating in, and hosting the activities, along with interfaith allies, immigrant rights groups, and advocacy partners.

The Social Action Committee of UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix commissioned New Carpa Theater Company, a Phoenix company focusing on Latino and multicultural theater works, to present the “Dream Act” play at UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ of Phoenix on January 15th and 17th. “Dream Act,” written by James E. Garcia, tells the story of undocumented student Victoria Nava and her dreams of practicing medicine. In the face of anti-immigrant sentiment, she feels her dreams may be slipping away. The play is based on an National Public Radio interview of an undocumented student in Southern California and brings to life the plight faced by the 65,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school each year.

“Dream Act” was well attended by people from inside and outside the congregations including administrators, teachers, and students from several schools that teach many undocumented youth. Immigration reform activist groups CADENA – DREAM Act Arizona and Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) handed out information at booths. Each performance was followed by an interactive discussion session led by Mr. Garcia with experts on the proposed DREAM Act legislation and members of the cast.

On January 16th, thousands of people, including immigrants and immigrant rights organizations, church groups, advocates and anarchists, filled the streets outside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail for the March for Human Rights. The march focused attention to stop human rights violations, racial profiling and use of 287(g) by Sheriff Arpaio and other entities in the State of Arizona. UUCP Minister Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray, several UUCP members and other UU’s from the Phoenix and Tucson area congregations rallied and marched with UU banners and Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts in prominent display. Rev. Frederick-Gray spoke at the rally calling for all to “Stand on the side of love with immigrant families.” Members of UUCP and others worked with local Latino and Indigenous Peoples activist group Puente Arizona in the planning of the march. Marchers can assure you that despite some media stories you may have seen, the vast majority of people involved were peaceful and respectful of police monitoring the march.

UUCP’s Immigration Task Force has partnered with the Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN) and RIFA Arizona in ramping up attention on comprehensive immigration reform and has crafted a presentation to be taken throughout Arizona. The presentation is based on recommendations from RIFA and explains that many present immigration practices are unrealistic—we cannot deport 12 million people even if we wanted to(!) and that through our shared values we can work together to protect and value ALL families, including immigrant families. The task force also participated in a RIFA press conference outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office on January 14th calling upon McCain to continue his support of immigration reform. RIFA Arizona is holding a Town Hall on immigration on January 19th focusing on the faith and business communities. Members of the task force will participate and some are scheduled to speak. I feel proud to stand up with my faith and interfaith community in partnership with immigrant organizations for human rights and justice. Si Se Puede!

To take action in support of Congressman Gutierrez’s Bill for comprehensive immigration reform, go to Reform Immigration for America. (The UUA is a member.)

For more information:

Reflections on Marching for Equality

Participating in the National Equality March this past Sunday, October 11th, was one of the most sacred experiences of my life. I felt completely held and embraced by the crowd of people demanding rights for themselves, their families, friends and fellow citizens. I had never been a part of a protest that large nor with a message so strong and inclusive. We stood together on the side of love and demanded to be recognized as the free and equal people that we are. We were families, couples, neighbors and friends. We were transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and allies of many races, ages, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, faiths and perspectives.
I marched with families who took turns holding the “Standing on the Side of Love” banner together. I marched with over 1,000 other UUs who came in cars, on buses and on the metro from Arlington, and Harrisonburg, VA. I marched with people carrying congregational banners from Tuscaloosa, AL and Brooklyn, NY. I marched singing UU hymns and it was like the street became my church. I marched because this energy will feed my work for the year to come, and I marched for all those who could not march with me and who are still silenced by fear and hate and oppression.
It takes much more than a march on our nation’s Capitol to change our world and our culture, but events like this weekend’s are what help me stay in the struggle for the long haul – and not because I can see the end in sight, but because they are a place from which to begin. I take strength and inspiration from a younger generation that understands more deeply than I the intersectionality of oppression and the necessity to link together all struggles for liberation. I remember the battles for justice fought by my elders in the hopes to leave a better world for their descendants. On the most basic level, a march like the National Equality March reminds me that I am not alone.
When we come together as many voices with one demand, that our country’s policies reflect the values that call us to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger, we can be powerful. May this weekend serve as a call to action for those who were there and those who were not to learn how they can work for equality by joining this movement, by talking to their friends and families about equality, and by telling their elected officials that they will no longer be silent because they deserve nothing less than their full rights as human beings. Amen.

The Transformation of Washington, D.C.

This inaugural weekend, there was love in the air. Washington, D.C. was filled to the brim with the most polite, positive, life-giving people I have ever met. I have never heard so many “excuse me’s” and “thank you’s.”

Two stories, neither of which I witnessed, demonstrate the willingness of the masses to find love even where hate is what they saw. An All Souls Unitarian, D.C., member, was walking towards the Lincoln Memorial with his husband, and their son, for the We Are One concert, when they came across a small handful of people protesting homosexuality. The protesters had a large sign that read “Homo-Sex Is Sin.” My friends were saddened, but they decided not to pay the protesters any attention. However, a group of gay men down from New York were not going to let it pass. In an act of creative counter-protest, they started chanting, “Homo-Sex Is In! Homo-Sex Is In!” Thousands of people all around them took up the chant and the protesters were left scrambling to reclaim their hate.

The handful of protesters returned on Tuesday for the Inauguration. A man, who I randomly hugged on the street, told me that as he was filing out after the swearing-in, he saw two men climb up on an electrical box, right next to the protesters, and start making out. The thousands of people witnessing this brave couple’s statement of love erupted in cheers.

It was abundantly clear to me this weekend that the millions of people who filled D.C. came because they were ready for more than a new President; they were ready for a new love; a love of country, a love of their fellow citizens, and a love of those who have for so long been victims of hate.

One final thing. For the first time in my three years in D.C., African Americans with cameras and fur coats are everywhere. I didn’t realize it until they appeared, but black tourists are highly underrepresented among the many tourists who come to D.C. It sort of feels like a portion of this city is being reclaimed by its rightful owners and those of us who have been occupying their portion are jubilant that its owners have found their way home. Everyone seems ready for reconciliation and reconnection. I started the day with a moment of this reconnection.

I walked out on my porch at 7:30 a.m. and an African American man was bundled up and walking hurriedly towards the route downtown. I was already feeling the historical nature of the day and when our eyes met I raised my fist in the air in a motion closely resembling the black power salute. While retaining the blanket he was holding, he awkwardly returned the gesture. Now, I am a white guy, and as he was walking away, I was thinking to myself – was that really an appropriate thing to do? Sure enough, he stopped and turned around. He walked back down the sidewalk to the bottom of my stoop. He pulled out his camera and said, “Could you do that again? I want to document everything today.” I smiled and proudly thrust my fist back in the air.

Video in Support of Marriage Equality

In light of the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Arizona, Florida and Arkanasa that restrict the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender (bglt) people, the Unitarian Universalist Association has produced a video which makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality.

The video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others!

UUs Participate in Anti-War Demonstration

Last Friday, Washington DC played host to the Interfaith Peace Witness—a project of the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership. Over 11 houses of worship, including All Souls Church, Unitarian hosted services where hundreds of faithful activists prayed and meditated for a world united in peace and justice. An interfaith service with guest speakers including Rev. Bill Sinkford was then held in the pouring rain in Upper Senate Park. Participants continued to the Hart Senate Office Building. There, a non-violent direct action was held in the atrium of the building while religious leaders met with Sen. Reid’s (D-NV) office.

The whole day was really quite powerful and more information about it can be found at What I would really like to focus on is the Civil Disobedience (CD) that happened in the Hart Building. I have been in direct actions before—at the School of the Americas as well as other events. But I have never seen a more beautiful and spiritually grounded action as this one.

The original plan for the action was to have a “pray-in” on the front steps of the building. As senators, staffers, lobbyists and tourists left the building, they were brought into our worship service for peace. Capitol Hill Police (CHP) came out of the building and began filming our service. The trickle of people leaving dried up. And after an hour, it was evident that CHP was trying to wait us out.

So the plans changed. It was decided that the CD would head inside where it was warm and dry. Those risking arrest sat in the middle of the Office Building’s Atrium in a circle and began to sing hymns and pray. CHP came within a matter of minutes to break this up.

As CHP entered, they came to intimidate. They marched in and made a circle around the protestors. The rest of us then made a circle around CHP. We now had about three concentric circles. The CHP captain came with a bull horn to inform every one sitting that they had gathered without a permit and they needed to move. After three warnings, CHP brought out the handcuffs. At this moment some one stood up and started to pray in a loud, strong voice.

They thanked God for their ability to stand strong and peacefully in the face of injustice. They said that the police had no need to be afraid as we were peace loving people. They thanked the United States for being a good land to live safely in. And finally, they thanked CHP for doing such a good job, keeping our building safe. They prayed to God to protect every one, from the police officers to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the people suffering in war torn regions. At this moment, the spirit of the room changed.

I could visibly see the tension of the police officers leave. They no longer felt the need to intimidate. The Quakers have a saying that “The Light came into the room.” And I could feel that. The bullhorn went away. And police officers crouched or sat on the ground in order to have conversations with the people they were arresting. The officers told folks that they could move along and not get arrested. They gently helped people up from the ground and gave them an option of whether they wanted to be handcuffed in the front or the back.

Those of us who were not getting arrested, were polite and professional as well. We followed directions well and thanked the officers for their work. We clapped for every one getting arrested. One by one, each of our 41 participants were handcuffed, had their picture taken and were gently led to the police vans. They were then all taken to jail.

Back at our hospitality site, we could only wait. We called each of the contacts for the arrested and let them know what we knew—which was not much. We expected a minimum of 4 to 8 hours of holding time. But after only 2 hours of waiting, we found that people were already getting released! Reports from those getting released showed that CHP continued to act in a professional and peaceful manner. They moved people along, giving them an option to Post and Forfeit—a legal option similar to a traffic violation or parking ticket. Just four hours after the first arrest, every one was released. All but three people took the Post and Forfeit, choosing instead to take this case to trial.

Like I said before, I have seen a lot of CD’s end in arrest. I have seen police officers get tough and mean. Once, a White House Police officer threatened to hit me with his cruiser! I have seen people being held in uncomfortable situations, sometimes for hours. I have never before seen such a beautiful, respectful, honor filled and peaceful action as this one. My compliments go to every one involved, activists and officers alike for respecting the inherent worth and dignity and the divine spirit of every one in that room.

Interfaith Peace Witness and 10,000 Feet of Hope

On March 7th, thousands of faithful peace activists will converge on Washington DC in order to pray for peace. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Quakers and Unitarian Universalists will worship, pray and march together in the name of peace and justice.

Sponsored by the Olivebranch Peace Partnership, an interfaith coalition of religious peacemakers of which the Unitarian Universalist Association is a member, this rally will bring a religious voice that will speak truth to power.

As religious people who love creation, peace and equality, we are tired of an illegal and immoral war in the Middle East. We are disgusted by thousands of displaced refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are embarrassed by the dehumanizing effects of war on our citizen soldiers and the terrible treatment of our veterans after their return home. And we are afraid of future wars with no planned end.

Unitarian Universalists will gather together on March 7th at All Souls, Unitarian in Washington DC where they will hear the inspiring words of our President, Rev. William G. Sinkford along with Rev. Robert Hardies and guests from the Unitarian Universalist Community. We will then join the larger interfaith community in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

As a united voice, we will call for an end to this war and promote peaceful means to transform our conflicts.

For more information on this event, please visit and download our flier.

We recognize this may not be an event that all can attend. However, even if you cannot be there in person, your congregation’s thoughts and prayers for peace can be present with our 10,000 feet of hope.

We are asking all religious communities to send a rope with prayers and hopes for peace tied to it to be sent to Washington DC. We will then take these ropes-of-hope and encircle the Capitol Building with our prayers for peace.

Please send your Rope-of-Hope by March 1st to:
10,000 Feet of Hope
c/o Clarendon Presbyterian Church
1305 N. Jackson St.
Arlington, VA 22201

And may we all share in a prayer for peace.