New Native American Justice Pages on

We have posted new webpages on Native American Justice to!

Click on the above link for the main page, and look in the left-hand sidebar for sub-links to background information, UUA policy, and ways to take action.

The background information section includes pages on Violence Against Native American Women, Sacred Sites & Religious Liberty, the Cobell Indian Trust Fund Case, and lots more.

Please note that we will be adding to these pages over the coming months, including information about relevant federal legislation, tribal sovereignty & federal recognition, and immigration issues for Native Americans.

Below is an excerpt from the pages with three ways to get involved–check the Take Action page for more!

  1. Potential Unitarian Universalist (UU) Initiatives for Action About American Indians at the Congregational Level—Excellent resource by James W. Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Sundown Towns) which provides background information and suggests ways for UU congregations to carry out social justice work regarding American Indian social justice issues.
  2. Cradle Club through the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office—The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office is working with the Southwest Indian Relief Council’s Cradle Club to provide supplies for baskets to be given to Native American mothers of newborn babies in need. Includes links to a step-by-step guide and proposal for UU congregations.
  3. Subscribe to the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Native American Legislative Update—The Friends Committee on National Legislation runs an excellent listserv which keeps activists informed about current issues and lets them know about online actioncampaigns in which they can take part.

Photos show the arrival of the Longest Walk II in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2008.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Whole Foods announce agreement

A week ago, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Whole Foods reached an agreement to work together to provide fair wages for the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida.

The agreement was announced on September 9th, but I was en route to Columbus for the Midwest Interfaith Immigration Summit that day. So we are a week late with this bit of news, but it is truly a cause for celebrating!

Because of this agreement, workers in the fields of Immokalee will receive a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. A penny more per pound doesn’t only mark the difference between a low wage and a living wage–it marks the difference between taking advantage of workers and honoring their dignity.

According to the press release, Karen Christensen, Global Produce Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, said, “After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.”

Congratulations, Immokalee workers and allies! Hopefully, holdouts Chipotle and Subway will get on board with the CIW soon.

For more information . . . .

Read the press release and related articles

Check out CIW’s homepage

Updated actions & resources for Gulf Coast justice on

You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time. ~ Pat Schroeder

As Hurricane Gustav dissipates, Hannah moves towards Haiti, and Ike gathers strength, worry & concern can be channeled through education, action, reflection, and outreach.

The Take Action and Resources pages of the Gulf Coast Social Justice section of have been updated just this morning. Take a look for related legislation, new useful data, and ways to get involved in the continued work of rebuilding from Hurricanes Katrina & Rita.

Take Action

In case you missed last week’s post, don’t forget to check out the brand-new Gulf Coast Updates. Updates are a joint project of four UU organizations engaged in Gulf Coast rebuilding & recovery. Read the inaugural edition released last week, with contributions from the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

Read the first edition of Gulf Coast Updates from 8-28-08
Subscribe to receive Gulf Coast Updates

More Latinos, Children, Seniors, & Southerners in Poverty This Year Than Last

Every August, on what is unofficially known to policy nerds as “Poverty Day,” the U.S. Census Bureau releases its new statistics on poverty. These statistics track whether poverty rates have gone up or down over the last year, and reveal how particular demographic groups are faring. Check out this morning’s press release from the U.S. Census Bureau to see the new stats for 2007: Household Income Rises, Poverty Rate Unchanged, Number of Uninsured Down.

Although, as the Press Release title indicates, overall poverty percentage rates have remained relatively unchanged, the concrete numbers of Latinos, children, seniors, & Southerners living in poverty have gone up.

Although real median income for black and non-Hispanic white households rose, black households had the lowest median income in 2007 ($33,916), followed by Hispanics ($38,679). This compares to the median of $54,920 for non-Hispanic white households.

“Poverty Day” is a good time to ask oneself (and one’s representatives) why money is unequally distributed along race lines in the United States, and how that can be changed. Here’s some fuel for the conversation:

Persistent Race Disparities Found, by Stephen Ohlemacher. 11-14-08.

Racial Disparities, by The Urban Institute. 3-25-08.

Related Links:

The UUA’s webpages on the Living Wage Campaign

Why UU Service Committee Supports Living Wage $10 in 2010 Campaign

UU Resources for Economic Justice

Photo Credit – Olliehigh, Creative Commons.

NEW Webpages on "Truth & Reconciliation" posted to

New web pages on truth & reconciliation have been added to the social justice section of!

Click here to see them!

Learn just what “truth & reconciliation” is anyway, how Unitarian Universalists have applied the process, what related legislation is out there and what actions you can take. Also, find resources on how you can explore truth & reconciliation with your family, congregation, or community.

The foolish neither forgive, nor forget.

The naïve forgive and forget.
The wise forgive, but do not forget.

Thomas Szász (Born 1920), Hungary/USA
Photo credit to jasoneppink

Interfaith Viewpoints: Justice and Workers’ Rights

Yesterday my co-worker Kat and I attended an interfaith dialogue on workers’ rights at D.C.’s Jewish Community Center. Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim speakers spoke on the theme of “Caring for the Caregiver.”

A Christian Perspective

A woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at [Jesus’]feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. –Mark 7:25 – 30, New International Version

Rev. Noemi Mena, from the National City Christian Church in D.C., shared reflections on a passage from the Book of Mark in which a Greek woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Rev. Mena pointed out that the clash of cultures in this story echoes tension over cultural divides between those receiving care and caregivers today.

Like many people in our time who struggle with prejudice, Jesus seems to be put off by the woman’s foreignness at first, telling her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Jesus implies that the woman does not deserve his blessing because of her ethnic origin. When the woman persists in her faith, Jesus heals her daughter.

As a child, I was taught that Jesus was intentionally testing the woman’s faith in this story. But Rev. Mena pointed out that some Christians believe that Jesus “was a man who did not fully understand God’s claim upon him at the beginning.” In this light, the reader sees not the woman, but Jesus being tested–Jesus must struggle with and overcome his own prejudice during this interaction.

With wealth and power unevenly divided along lines of color, class, and national origin, people must work for understanding that bridges cultural divides. “The miracle occurs,” Rev. Mena said, “when we begin to understand.”

A Buddhist Perspective

In five ways should a master minister to his servants and employees: 1) by assigning them work according to their ability, 2) by supplying them with food and with wages, 3) by tending them in sickness, 4) by sharing with them any delicacies, 5) by granting them leave at times. The servants and employees thus ministered to by their master show their compassion to him in five ways: 1) they rise before him, 2) they go to sleep after him, 3)they take only what is given, 4)they perform their duties well, 5) they uphold his good name and fame. –Sigalovada Sutta
Dr. Sovan Tun, president of the Cambodian Buddhist Society in Silver Spring, Maryland, shared the above excerpt from the Sigalovada Sutta, detailing the responsibilities of an employer and employee to one another.

Dr. Tun stressed the interrelationship of different walks of life. Indeed, this excerpt was particularly interesting to several of the dialogue attendees because it was one of the few scriptures discussed which elaborated on the mutuality of employer-employee relationships.

For me, one of the most interesting points that Dr. Tun brought up related to how we talk about what world religions have in common. If one views the common ground between religions as faith in God, millions of Buddhists and Jains (and many UUs) are being left out, Dr. Tun pointed out. “Common ground between religions should be service to one another,” he said.

This idea really rocked my world–especially as an atheist UU who has struggled all year in interfaith coalitions to define the similarity between our denomination and theistic religions. When the commonality between spiritual traditions has more to do with how we relate to one another and less to do with how we do or do not relate to a God or Gods, it opens up many new doors for interfaith work.

A Jewish Perspective

One who hire workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late – in a place in which it is not the custom [to do so], the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land – minhag hamakom. –Mishna; Baba Metzia 7:1

Rabbi Greg Harris opened by saying that labor issues are as old as the Torah itself. In the oldest Hebrew scriptures, one sees the concerns of employer and employee. Like Dr. Tun, Rabbi Harris emphasized the mutuality of the employer-employee relationship, which stems from respect for one another. The employer must treat the worker fairly, and the worker must ask themself whether they are “living up to the employer’s obligation back to them.”

Rabbi Harris also spoke about minhag hamakom, “the custom of the land.” This text from the Mishna’s Baba Metzia commands employers to treat their workers according to local standards. To me, it seemed that this injunction related to the Living Wage Campaign, which is based on the idea that anyone working a full-time job ought to be paid enough to be able to afford shelter, food, medical care, and other necessary expenses in their area. It also reminded me of the struggle for the rights of undocumented workers, who are sometimes underpaid and maltreated by U.S. employers who argue that $3 or $4 per hour is a good wage in an immigrant worker’s country of origin.

A Muslim Perspective

None of you has faith unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself. —An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13

Sister Asma Hanif, the Executive Director of Muslimat Al-Nissa, INC, and a member of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations, discussed several ways in which Islam speaks to workers’ rights.

Asma’s first observation was that the two women on the panel–herself and Rev. Mena–both mentioned self-care in their talks, while the two men focused on the employer-employee relationship–which set me to thinking about different ways that men and women may approach workers’ rights.

Sister Asma Hanif also observed that each speaker had mentioned a version of the “Golden Rule,” or ethic of reciprocity, found within their faith tradition. The ethic of reciprocity simply holds that one should treat others as one would like to be treated. The Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith records Mohammed as saying, “None of you has faith unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (I am fascinated by the small variation between this Muslim version of the ethic of reciprocity and the Christian version I grew up with, which is almost identical except for that lead-in: “None of you has faith unless . . .”) Stated in any of a variety of ways, the ethic of reciprocity is a profound injunction to all those who have power over others, including employers, supervisors, customers, and consumers.

Finally, Sister Asma Hanif explained that in Islam, “Your body has rights over you.” For example, “Your body has the right to eat and sleep,” she said. “You have to take nourishment.” Things are designed to keep people from over-taxing themselves; bodies impose limits that each person must respect. It is important to honor the rights of the body, and to make sure that workers who care for others are in turn able to care for themselves.

Labor in the Pulpits/Labor on the Bimah/Labor in the Minbar

Last night’s dialogue was sponsored by

as a lead up to Labor in the Pulpit/Labor on the Bimah/Labor in the Minbar, which will take place in hundreds of churches, synagogues, and mosques across the United States on Labor Day.

Labor in the Pulplit/Bimah/Minbar is an annual joint project of Interfaith Worker Justice and the AFL-CIO. Last year over 600 churches participated in 52 cities.

For more information on interfaith perspectives on worker justice and labor issues, including a four page booklet on The Qur’an and Worker Justice, a handout on American Buddhists and Worker Justice, a Prayer for Labor Day, and much, much more, check out Labor in the Pulpits.

Words from MLK Jr. on Boycotting

You know that something serious is going on when I turn down Subway. Or when my co-worker Alex forgoes his weekly Chipotle burrito. Or when, as happened last night, my housemate laments finishing the last of her favorite sweet chili sauce from Whole Foods, because she knows that she might not buy another jar for quite a while–not until Whole Foods agrees to pay fair wages to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida.

In the wake of Burger King’s agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) two weeks ago to pay fair prices to tomato pickers, other restaurants and food companies, including Whole Foods, Chipotle, Subway, and Wal-Mart, are experiencing an increased pressure to step up. The CIW has not yet announced official boycotts. But in the meantime, several of my friends and co-workers and I have been abstaining from shopping at the afore-mentioned stores.

Last night, after my housemate finished the last of her sauce, I opened up The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today for a bit of evening reading. The book’s author, Charles Marsh, traces Martin Luther King, Jr.’s development as a Christian leader for social justice during the year long boycott of the Montgomery bus system. When, in the book, the boycott finally achieves success in integrating city buses, Marsh lifts up some beautiful words that King spoke to the Christian community of Montgomery to celebrate their victory. In his address, King talks about the tactic of boycotting in the context of our spiritual kinship with one another:

“Freedom and Justice through Love.” Not through violence; not through hate; no, not even through boycotts; but through love. It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In the struggle for justice, it can be easy to get caught up in tactics, forgetting the larger goal of right relationship. For me, King’s words were a lovely expression of the spiritual grounding of boycotts, and I thought that it would be nice to share them with you.

For more information about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their campaign for justice in Florida’s fields, take a look at their website. To request postcards for yourself, your organization & your friends to send to Chipotle or Subway urging them to work with the CIW, send an email to workers [at], letting them know how many of each you would like to receive.


  • For Alex’s reflections on holding stock in Whole Foods in light of their resistance to working with the CIW, check out his post from last week on Shareholder Advocacy.

Burger King Signs Agreement With CIW

“El arco del universo moral es largo, pero se inclina hacia la justicia.”

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted by Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at Friday’s press conference

On Friday morning last week, workers, activists, politicians, and business people gathered in the United States Capitol building to witness Burger King sign an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to improve farm wages and working conditions in Immokalee, Florida.

The agreement with Burger King was a victory achieved by many years of hard work on the part of the tomato pickers of Immokalee and their allies. In their eight-year fight to end unjust working conditions and poverty wages, CIW forged agreements with Yum! Brands and McDonalds in 2005 and 2007, respectively, in which the fast food companies agreed to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. This small increase in price represented an enormous increase in wages for the tomato pickers. But by the beginning of 2008, other fast food companies, including Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods (yes, really–Whole Foods), still hadn’t budged towards the side of just compensation.

This spring, CIW intensified their campaign to urge Burger King to pay workers a just wage–just a penny more per pound. In March, I attended an inspiring rally at Capitol Hill Park, where Senators Sanders & Durbin and Representatives Kucinich & Conyers signed CIW’s National Petition to End Sweatshops and Slavery in America’s Fields. As the petition gathered signatures, the pressure on Burger King built, and in April, the Senate held a hearing on farmworker exploitation in Florida tomato fields. And this Friday, May 23rd, Burger King signed an agreement to not only pay an additional penny per pound, but to also reimburse the tomato growers for incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the tomato pickers’ farmworkers’ increased wages–a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.

Now Burger King is joining the CIW and other fast-food industry leaders in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for Florida tomato harvesters. But the struggle is far from over.

Lucas Benitez, a member of the CIW, spoke through an interpreter at Friday’s press conference about the challenges ahead, saying, “Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Social responsibility in this country’s food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida’s farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.”

Specifically, Benitez cited Chipotle, Whole Foods, Subway, and WalMart as companies that must step up and commit to paying a just wage for Florida’s tomato pickers. “To all of you,” Benitez said, “who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida’s tomato fields truly universal.”

For more information about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and to find out how you can support their campaign for justice, check out their website at

CIW workers, activists, faith advocates, politicians, and Burger King representative

The Longest Walk 2 Needs A Little Help

February 11th saw the beginning of the Longest Walk 2, a five month journey from California to D.C. initiated by Native Americans, intended to raise awareness of the need to clean up Mother Earth and protect Sacred Sites. Three months into the walk and less than two months away from reaching D.C., the Longest Walk is going strong, but needs a little help.

I am planning to join the walk in July when the Northern and Southern routes pass through Maryland and Virginia and meet in D.C. But at yesterday’s organizational meeting, the coordinators told us that despite numerous attempts to work through proper channels, they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to obtain proper camping permits at surrounding parks, especially in the D.C. area, and use of the National Mall when they arrive in D.C. on July 11, 2008.

The organizers told us that they’ve mailed in their application three times, starting in December, only to be told each time that the National Park Service never received it. After that, organizers tried to deliver the application in person four separate times, only to be told, each time, that they needed to go to a different office–twice they were told to go back to the office that they had just been to.

Tomorrow the Longest Walk 2 coordinators will be having a meeting with the National Park Service at 11 AM. In the meantime, they are asking that as many people as possible send an email to the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne by 11 AM, Tuesday, May 20. If you have fifteen seconds to click on the link, type in your name and address and hit send, the organizers of the Walk would greatly appreciate it.

To learn more about the Longest Walk 2, you can read stories, see photos, and watch videos from the walk. The walkers still need support, especially as two of their transport vehicles along the Southern Route have broken down. You can sponsor a walker through Paypal, or make a general donation.

Previous post on the Longest Walk 2:

2-11-08 – Native American Activists and Allies Embark on Longest Walk for Healing and Justice

Systemic Racism in U.S. Drug Sentencing Policies

Typically, when people hear the words “drug policy reform,” marijuana is the first thing that comes to mind–possibly because, when it comes to drugs, news and commercial media tend to shine their spotlights on the controversial and the lurid. Unfortunately, the anti-racist/anti-classist aspects of drug policy reform activism are often lost among preoccupations over the morality of getting high and the grimy details of the most recently discovered meth lab.

This spring I was accepted as a 2008 intern for The Nubiano Exchange, a part of The Nubiano Project, which is an organization that seeks to “empower the Black community and redefine mainstream perspectives of blackness.” As an intern, I will contribute monthly articles (written from the perspective of a white anti-racist ally) to The Nubiano Exchange throughout the year. I chose to use this month’s article to explore the de facto racism encouraged by the federal crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity, as well as how the disparity came to be, and how it might be changed. You can read about the disparity in my article, One in Nine: Behind a Racially Discriminatory Sentencing Policy.

To urge your Congressional representatives to eliminate the disparity, you can send them a message through the Drug Policy Alliance. There are a number of good bills in the House and Senate which would eliminate the disparity. The message that you can send through Drug Policy Alliance is intentionally general to allow whichever bill has the best chance of passing to move forward. If you wish to express support for a particular bill, you can edit your message to reflect that. For more information about current proposed bills, take a look at Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)’s bill analyses (scroll down the page to “Crack cocaine sentencing reform.”)

To learn more about drug policy reform work, its connections to race and class, and Unitarian Universalist involvement, check out the following . . .



And resources: