About the Author
Susan Leslie

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.


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!

Organizing UUs and the Community to Assist Haitians Applying for Temporary Protected Status

by Linda Cundiff

Saturday, February 20th, there was a remarkable gathering of folks at Harvard Law School to be trained in how to assist Haitians applying for Temporary Protective Status that was organized by the UUSC & UUA. (Webinar trainings for people in other areas of the country will be offered on March 3rd & 10th). Over 40 volunteers, including law students, UUs of many backgrounds, community organizers, and others were enthralled by the presentation by Jacques Dessin, a lawyer and trainer of Haitian background. He presented clear and concise information about this new immigration process for Haitians who were here in the US before the earthquake without documentation. I had expected to be completely bored and bewildered; imagine my surprise when I found it fascinating!

Displaced Haitians receive emergency food aid in an operation led by USAID. Image courtesty of USAID taken by Prentice Colter, U.S. Air Force
Displaced Haitians receive emergency food aid in an operation led by USAID.

Many attending had questions about the most basic issue: is TPS a good thing for these Haitians? The answer to this is not easy, and volunteers need to just give the information without recommendations, as each person will have to decide this for themselves. They will be able to work, get driver’s licenses, and other important things that documented folks have. The risk they might feel is making themselves known to the “system” and what that might mean in the future.

I had been included in the planning for this first training because I am leading an initiative to address immigration issues at my church, First Parish UU in Cambridge MA, and because in my work life I lead community health outreach for a public hospital system in the targeted communities. A partnership has developed with local non-profits in the four small cities that are home to the largest numbers of Haitians in Massachusetts. These include the Haitian Coalition and anti-poverty (CAP) agencies, health departments, Haitian churches, other community coalitions and Harvard Law School. UUSC and UUA staff were instrumental to the success of this initiative. They brought together the partners, found a trainer, developed the webinars, and generally provided logistical support.

Haitians queue for water in Tapis Rouge, a neighbourhood in the Carrefour-Feuilles area of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince. Carrefour-Feuilles, a slum that stretches into the high mountains surrounding the city, has received little assistance since Haiti's earthquake. mage courtesy of Sophia Paris via the United Nations Photo Library.
Haitians queue for water in Tapis Rouge, a neighbourhood in the Carrefour-Feuilles area of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince.

Back at First Parish Cambridge UU on Standing on the Side of Love ‘Reimagining Valentine’s Day’ Sunday, we had an inspiring “To Haiti With Love” service (see Rev. Fred Small’s sermon), and members of the Haitian Coalition were there. There were requests from the pulpit to sign up for TPS training and other Haiti related events. Over 15 people signed up and half of them attended the first training.

The next step is organizing “TPS legal clinics” for the community. Systems will be set up to assist folks in completing the paperwork and submitting it. For large events in Haitian churches we will need many volunteers to help not just with the forms and processes, but to translate, and to provide food and entertainment for children and hospitality. We’re looking forward to that!

For more information about getting trained to volunteer at a TPS Legal Clinic, see the UUA’s Immigration website.

Linda Cundiff is a member of First Parish Cambridge UU and Senior Director for Community Affairs at Cambridge Health Alliance.

“Stand” and Sing Out Your Love to Haiti

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

My congregation, First Parish Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, had an amazing service yesterday that focused on Haiti and on standing with immigrant families here in the United States. Community partners from the Haitian Coalition were in attendance. We collected Valentine’s Day cards made by UU Mass Action to send to our legislators for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. People signed up to participate in Temporary Protected Status Legal clinics sponsored by theUUAUUSC and partners. People also signed up to go as a congregation for a Walk for Haiti in March sponsored by the Haitian Coalition that will raise funds to rebuild schools in Haiti. The religious education classes made valentines for Partners in Health and read Circles of Hope – a story about Haiti. The youth group sold t-shirts for the walk (1/2 the sales go to Partners in Health or you got a free t-shirt if you promised to get sponsors for your walk).

Rev. Fred Small preached a truly amazing sermon on Haiti – managing to give ‘a people’s history of Haiti’ in the context of worship and rousing folks to love and action. Truly standing on the side of love. We sang “Stand” by Amy Carol Webb in the worship service, the choir sang a Haitian ballad, and the congregation sang a calypso Alleluia. At the end of the service after eveyone had a chance to eat Haitian cake in the parlor, speak with our guests (a number of people from the Haitian community came to the service as well as the folks who work at the Coalition) and sign up for the TPS legal clinics and the walk (along with turnng in cards for CIR) – we all went out on to the front steps of the church – holding the Standing on the Side of Love Banner – and singing ‘Stand’ with Rev. Small playing guitar and singing the verses. The moment was magical, folks were filled with love, and passersby stopped to listen and cheer us on. We’re now thinking we could do this once a month around various standing on the side of love justice issues as a form of public witness.

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.

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

Witnessing on the Sixth Anniversary of the War with Iraq—Fulfill the Promise: End the Occupation

By Susan Leslie, Director, UUA Office for Congregational Advocacy & Witness

On Saturday, a coalition of Unitarian Universalist congregations from the Mass Bay District and the UUA, Military Families Speak Out, and United for Justice with Peace (a MA coalition of peace and justice organizations) gathered on the Boston Common and read the names of all the US military personnel killed in Iraq since the war began six years ago.

There were eight UU parish ministers and representatives and groups from 15 UU congregations (Marblehead, Dedham, Cambridge, Concord, Arlington Street Church, Community Church, First Parish Arlington, Sharon, Jamaica Plain, Sherborn, Middleboro, Beverly, Bedford, No Andover, and Stow). A group of UU young adults who had heard about the event on Facebook came together from Western MA to the Metro Boston area. College students from Bridgewater State also picked up on the Facebook listing, checked out www.uua.org/socialjustice and came carrying peace signs.

The names were read for six minutes at a time, followed by the ringing of a gong. Every hour there was a minute of silence for the Iraqi victims. Members of military families spoke gave testimonials including Bonnie Gorman and Gold Star Mother Malida Arredondo. [The Arredondo family circled the Common with their flatbed truck exhibit for Gold Star Families to End the War and sent passersby over to our Witness event.] They spoke of the pain and suffering of losing loved ones in an “ill-begotten war” and they called for healthcare and jobs for returning soldiers. Patrick Daugherty, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, called for a justification for President Obama’s plan to leave 50,000 troops in Iraq.

Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister, UU Church of Marblehead, MA, presided over the event and began by saying:

We gather today in worshipful remembrance of those lost in the United States war with Iraq. Although it seems unreal that we mark a sixth year of US Occupation, the consequences are all too real for many here. We mark with great sadness over 4300 US deaths. We mark with a different sadness all the Iraqi deaths. Some reports are of up to 1 million victims. Neither lesser or greater, but each arriving with a host of other emotions. We gather for more than remembrance of these lost lives, however. We come here with a call to Fulfill the Promise, to End the Occupation, to recognize the cost of the occupation upon Iraq and stand accountable. to tell the truth about those who have returned and how we as a nation will own their stories and tend to their needs. We gather because it matters. We gather because it was on our watch that we arrived in Iraq and we must be quite sure that we bring them home. Thank you for joining us here today.

She ended our time together with these words:

We gather with heavy hearts.
Among us, those grieving the unimaginable. Those who have lost loved ones.
Among us are those who served alongside comrades who would not return, and those who would return, forever altered..
Among us are those who know war too well. Those who served faithfully and know death in ways that inhabit nightmares and on some days, waking hours.

We gather with hopeful hearts as well.
Among us, those looking to a new way of being in the world. A way that will lead to a more rapid return of our soldiers.
Among us, those looking with new eyes at raising awareness of the needs of those already home, but facing economic and health issues that should shame our nation.
Among us, those who know that change will not arrive without our voice – our call to fulfill the promise, end the occupation, tell the truth and take good care.

A picture and caption of the event was featured in The Boston Sunday Globe on March 22nd. We also got some good Indy coverage including a You Tube posting with lots of footage of Rev. Wendy and others.

Mass Peace Action posted a photo album of the witness.

It felt good to be standing with UUs and partners as we work to help President Obama end this immoral war that he too opposed. We remain faithful in our witness to end this war.

Anti-Racism and Organizing: An Unstoppable Force for Change!

Susan Leslie is the Director of the UUA Office for Congregational Advocacy & Witness.

I’m just back from the UU Allies for Racial Equity Conference at All Souls UU Church in Kansas City MO, held on March 13-15th. I feel profoundly grateful for the opportunity to gather with other white allies and ground myself in an understanding of what Rev. Rebecca Parker refers to in Soul Work as my social location. To continue to cultivate an awareness of how my white middle-class position affects my worldview, my assumptions, and the ways I interact in multi-racial coalitions and organizations.

I had the privilege to be invited to speak on a panel at the All Souls Forum on March 15th on the topic of Post Racial America?

Several people asked that I post my remarks from the Forum and so I have below.

Does the election of President Obama mean that we’ve entered a post-racial era?

NO. Not yet. My understanding is that we can’t say or claim that until we have eliminated all systemic inequities based on race. And that will be not only through eliminating policies that create inequity but by redressing existing inequities through pro-active measures to create equality such as reparations. That’s going to come from a persistent effort of addressing this through government policies, the private sector, civic society – which includes us in the religious community — and changing individual attitudes and behaviors.

To claim that we are already a post-racial society is to miss the real significance and opportunity of this moment. However, whether we are or not is not really the most important question right now. What’s crucial is to grasp that there has been a sea-change – that’s been a long time coming – and the moment is here to make huge strides in dismantling racism and oppression.

A new multicultural, multiracial coalition came into being that elected President Obama – a coalition of African American, Latino, whites and others – that became possible through the growth and political activation of communities of color and because enough whites have shifted in attitudes and political understandings.

This past December, I had the privilege to attend a gathering of 3,000 people from congregation-based community organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups who came from all over the country to meet with President Obama’s Team and key congressional leaders. It was called Realizing the Promise. It was absolutely the most diverse gathering I have ever attended in terms of race, ethnicity, region, faith, class, and age. It was amazing!

The theme of the gathering was similar to the message that environmental justice leader Van Jones delivered to the UU General Assembly last year — that it’s time to learn to govern. The agenda called for universal health care, immigration reform, economic recovery, and new green jobs and asked for commitments from the White House staff and Congressional leaders – which we got. (See my report Faith-Based Community Organizations Prepare to Govern about this historic meeting and what the administration representatives said.)

We now have the opportunity to bring our visions and to make our voices heard in the White House and Congress and in the national conversation.

Dismantling racism needs to be done system by system at national policy levels and the local and grassroots level.

The new coalition that has emerged understands that we are all interconnected and that sound policy must reflect that.

To eliminate racism and oppression – to create equality – we need health care for all, more resources for schools that serve communities of color and low-income families; tax policies that DO redistribute income; immigration reform that keeps families together; trade policies that don’t drive people out of their native countries in order to escape extreme poverty; labor laws that protect workers and ensure a living wage; restorative justice not criminal justice; energy policies that create sustainability and jobs and that don’t dump toxins into the most vulnerable communities.

We now have a president that understands that the solutions to dismantling institutional oppression are interlocked and that institutional policies need to be changed in every sector – brick by brick. We have a president that models caring, compassion, and accountability, and wants to do that.

Our role is to keep lifting up and advocating for that vision, to offer solutions, and to deliver the grassroots (and grasstops), and to do that in a way that is accountable to and in solidarity with historically marginalized communities. That’s our piece of the partnership.

What does this partnership look like? It looks like the thousands who went to Phoenix a few weeks ago calling for an investigation into Sheriff Arpaio’s abusive treatment of immigrants. (The UUA and UUs from Arizona were very involved in the organizing and turnout.) And this week the Dept of Justice announced a full investigation and an overhaul of the 287g policies that authorize local enforcement of federal immigration law. We have some power here. That would not have happened 3 months ago!

This partnership looks like the passage of SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) that just covered 10 million children (including 4 million immigrants – they were not left out) that the PICO National Network organized around the country and that President Obama signed into law — and like the movement now building for universal health care led by Health Care for America Now and others.

It looks like the network of educators that our partner Spirit in Action is bringing together to address the inequalities in education and to develop a report and proposal for delivery to the new Secretary of Education.

It looks like Van Jones being appointed this week as the administration’s Green Jobs Czar. Hilda Solis, daughter of immigrant union organizers, as Secretary of Labor. Melody Barnes, as Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. Cecelia Muñoz, Senior Vice President of LaRaza’s Advocacy Office appointed as the administration’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs!

We have an organizer in the White House! We have a huge organizing job in front of us now and we have partners in power!

To be successful we need to know the rules, we need to understand how systemic racism plays out and operates, and what we have to do to undo it. We need specific solutions and policies that are based on what the people most affected identify as needed, backed by the political power to institutionalize them.

Yes there will be struggle –- the socialism charge continues to rear its head –- ugly racial epithets –- and worse, burnings of black churches have occurred. It’s coming from those who feel they’re losing their power. We have to take it on -– we can’t ignore it or give it too much power –- we need to go after it swiftly — be savvy and contain it.

But to be alive and awake right now is to really grasp that we have an opportunity to transform society in a way that hasn’t existed for the past 40 years.

So– post-racial society? Not yet –- but I’m betting that a post-racial United States may be where my potential future grandchildren live.

Ending ICE Raids

The call for a moratorium on ICE raids is gaining momentum! This past Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined hundreds of families Saturday evening at a church in San Francisco’s Mission District demanding an end to the immigration raids and deportations that separate parents from children across the United States. (See Pelosi Calls for an End to Inhumane Raids.)

I’m proud to say that the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations was the first religious denomination to call for an end to the raids and deportations that are tearing families apart causing fear and repression in immigrant communities and sorrow and disruption in all communities where school friends are losing parents, businesses are losing workers, and anti-immigrant sentiment is bolstered.

The UUA joined the New Sanctuary Movement in 2007 and passed an Action of Immediate Witness that year to end the raids. Since then the Catholic Conference of Bishops has called for a moratorium on the raids as well. Two coalitions that the UUA works with, Interfaith Worker Justice and Welcoming Massaschusetts, have also called for an end to the raids and unjust deportations.

Congregations wishing to take this stand can sign the New Sanctuary Movement Pledge.

(Please let me know that you did by writing to sleslie@uua.org — so far 12 congregations have done so). MA congregations can also do so at the Welcoming MA site. Soon, there will be a Welcoming America site that will include CO, GA, ID, MA, NB, NC, NY and TN and other states. The launching conference is in April.

For the first time in a long time, it’s looking like a humane and just policy toward immigrants has a likelihood of passing. See our website for more information about the UUA’s advocacy efforts for just immigration reform.

Note: In May, the Action of the Month will be on Immigration and this year’s Public Witness at General Assembly in Salt Lake City will be immigrant rights.

Working Faithfully for a Living Wage

When I attended my first Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign meeting after the 2004 election we were asked to raise our hands if we knew what the federal minimum wage was, and if we knew what the minimum wage was in our state. I was mortified that I did not know but felt slightly better seeing that many of the other denominational advocacy staff did not know either. The people in the room that did know were organizers from ACORN, Jobs with Justice, and the Let Justice Roll Living Wage organizers.

My experience was pretty typical for a middle-class, middle-aged, white person. I haven’t known what the minimum wage is since I worked for it myself as a teenager and later when I worked as a community organizer in low-income communities. (If my son was old enough to work after school I may have known!)

In any case, the experience demonstrated sharply for me how those of us doing advocacy work can get pretty out of touch with the realities of poverty and oppression in our country. I mean we know it exists, but start doing the math of living on $6.55/hour and it breaks your heart.

Through the UUA’s partnership with the UUSC on the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, I have learned who low-wage workers really are and what they are facing.

Three out of four minimum wage workers are age 21 or older. Two out of three minimum wage workers are women. Most minimum wage workers are women with children. They are healthcare workers, childcare workers, food service workers. People of color and immigrants make up a disproportionate percentage of minimum wage workers. Most minimum wage workers are high school graduates. Many teenagers working in minimum wage jobs are working to save for a college education. The next minimum wage increase of $7.25 in July 2009 (the third and final increment of the legislation passed in 2007) will affect 10% of the workforce nationally, and close to 20% in several states, particularly in the south.

It would take a $10.08 minimum wage now to match the buying power of the minimum wage in 1968—four decades ago.

I’m proud that the UUA and UUSC are working in solidarity with low-wage workers and their families. Through our joint efforts we have connected with congregations already doing living wage work and encouraged others to get involved. Hundreds of UUs participated in the Let Justice Roll Campaign to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in ten years in 2007. Now Let Justice Roll is working again to get closer to a living wage with another raise to $10 in 2010

UUA President Rev. William Sinkford’s Op Ed about the $10 in 2010 Campaign is inspiring and informative. It was run in several African American weekly newspapers over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and on several progressive websites. See Hope and Change for Low-Wage Workers.

I’m also inspired by what our congregations are doing. See reports on President Sinkford’s Living Wage Sunday at the UU Church of Nashua NH on Sunday, January 25th and