Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.

While You Weren’t Looking…

Back on April Fools Day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it was waiving nearly three dozen laws and regulations in order to extend the wall it’s been building along our border with Mexico. The federal, state and local laws that were bypassed include legislation that protect the environment and our health, sacred Native American lands, and the rights of property owners. As a result, a remarkably broad coalition has formed of people who oppose this enormous waste of money and trampling of legal process, from the expected environmentalists to cattle ranchers to mayors of many border towns in the U.S. Despite that, the issue has gotten little attention in the rest of the country. To read more about the Border Wall and the environmental havoc it is wreaking, check out this blog post from

I am thinking about the fact that the DHS announcement was made on April Fools Day because another announcement with wide-ranging environmental impacts was recently made on Election Day. While the nation’s attention was almost unanimously focused elsewhere, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that on Dec 19th, more than 50,000 acres of land within close proximity to three National Parks in Utah will be auctioned off for oil and gas drilling rights. The three national parks affected are Arches (home of the iconic and aptly named “Delicate Arch”), Canyonlands, and Dinosaur.

The top National Park Service official in Utah, Cordell Roy, says that his department wasn’t even notified before this announcement was made. Needless to say, the National Park Service objects to what some are calling a Bush administration “fire sale” for the oil and gas industries. While the BLM claims that this is simply business as usual and is surprised by the protest, conservation groups say that never before has the BLM “bunched drilling parcels on the fence lines of national parks.” And keep in mind that while the high price of gasoline may tempt us to consider putting part of our national heritage at risk, the Energy Information Administration says that Utah has only 2.5 percent of the country’s known natural gas reserves and less than 1 percent of its known oil reserves. Drilling around our national parks will not decrease oil prices.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that this announcement was made on the afternoon of Election Day. But with the bustle of the winter holiday season getting into full swing, we might want to keep our eyes and ears open for additional holiday surprises.

Planning for Justice in 2009: Planners and Calendars

With autumn’s arrival, many people start thinking about their schedules for the coming year. We have a few suggestions for justice-oriented planners and calendars for 2009, and for some important dates to put in them, too. This post will tackle planners and calendars, while tomorrow’s will include important social justice dates and campaigns to be aware of in the coming year.

Many people rely on their calendars to tell them which days are important, historic, and worth celebrating. Calendars frame how we view time, seasons, growth, and change. For this reason, I prefer calendars which mark the anniversaries of important strikes, protests, court decisions, and changes in the Earth and lunar cycles. My co-workers and I have compiled a list of some of our favorite calendars, and some we’ve never seen but sound cool, below.

Planners and Calendars

2009 Peace Calendar – According to the Syracuse Cultural Workers, based in Syracuse, New York, the 38th edition of their annual peace wall calendar is “greener than ever.” Printed on paper made from 100% postconsumer waste (PCW) which is processed free of chlorine and dioxin, the calendar is sold without wasteful extra packaging like plastic shrinkwrap and cardboard stiffeners. Sweatshop free, made in the USA, and Union-printed, the Peace Calendar is packed with social justice/peoples’ anniversaries, holidays of many faiths, and lunar cycles. Inside, inspirational art touches on topics including resistance to US militarism at home and abroad, urban sustainability, indigenous women, response to gay hate crime, and the celebration of the 77 year history of the Highlander Center in New Market,TN. Click here for more information.

Slingshot 2009 Organizer

The Slingshot Organizer is produced by an all-volunteer collective–“no bosses, no workers, no pay”–in Berkeley, California. The organizer has a strongly anti-capitalist tone. It opens with an essay entitled, “False Hope, Real Transformation,” which slams the notion that a new leader produced by a corrupt capitalist system can solve the nation’s problems. The essay also sounds the call to “seek forms of organization that re-localize decision making,” and make “our day-to-day existence more meaningful, engaged, and connected with others.” The following 160 pages of the Slingshot organizer mark the forgotten history of people of color, immigrants, indigenous peoples, women, working class people, and members of queer communities. Also included are a list of radical bookstores and infoshops, information on sexuality, transgenderedness, interacting with police, and a calendar for recording menstrual cycles. Click here for more information.

The War Resisters League 2009 Peace Calendar

From the War Resister’s League website:

“A desk calendar and state-by-state account of the places where radical history happened, from the civil rights and anti-racist struggles of Alabama and Mississippi to centuries of war tax resistance in Massachusetts, indigenous opposition to oil-drilling in Alaska, and union organizing in Kentucky and California.”

Includes a directory of U.S. peace and justice organizations and publications, and international contacts. Click here for more information.

Mothers Acting Up in 2009

Also produced by the Syracuse Cultural Workers, Mothers Acting Up is “[d]edicated to moments that change our lives– that take a person and give back an activist.” describes the calendar as “a weekly engagement calendar for mothers that also offers tools, information, weekly actions, and most importantly, portraits of people who inspire our own activism–from the mom next door to movie stars and elected officials.”

Click here for more information.

Autonomedia Calendar of Jubilee Saints

Features radicals & rebels for every day of the year. Last year’s “saints” included Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frida Kahlo, James Joyce, U.G. Krishnamurti, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, William Blake, Cesar Chavez, Bob Marley, and more, with short bios on each one. Check the Autonomedia online bookstore for the 2009 calendar release date, which may not be until December.

Now that you’ve got your radical calendar, now what? Check back tomorrow for a schedule of UUA Advocacy & Witness social justice campaigns for 2009.

Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy and What You Can Do

Even if you were not at General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale this past June, you have probably heard by now about the Ware Lecture. Environmental Justice advocate, Van Jones, electrified the auditorium when he outlined his vision for a new America, one where governance is based on optimism and compassion, instead of fear and competition.

(If you still haven’t seen Van’s talk yet, here it is.)

During the lecture, Mr. Jones briefly outlined his vision for how two of the greatest challenges facing us can be addressed at the same time – global climate change and economic injustice. Our current fossil fuel-based economy favors the wealthy few who control these limited resources at the expense of the middle and lower classes, resulting in more and more families slipping into poverty. Van proposes that instead of an economy based on death (fossil fuels), we switch to an economy based on life (solar, wind, and water). The same people who are currently employed mining coal and assembling SUVs can be retrained to make wind turbines and solar cells. In addition, more people can be hired and trained to weatherize low income homes, which would provide jobs (that cannot be exported) to the un- and under- employed while at the same time reducing the utility bills of those who can least afford to pay them, and reducing energy consumption.

It is a bold plan to revitalize the economy and save our earth at the same time. Largely in response to Van’s Ware lecture, the UUA has retooled our legislative objectives for the coming Congressional term, in order to make more explicit our commitment to not just addressing climate change, but our current unjust economic systems. Our legislative objectives with respect to environmental justice are:

  • Mandate a reduction of U.S. carbon gas emissions, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), while relieving the burden of increased energy costs for lowincome households
  • Create millions of green jobs to transition the U.S. to a green economy and to lift people out of poverty

This week, Van Jones’ new book was released, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, where he explains the ideas and proposals that he outlined in his Ware lecture in detail.

It’s not often that we will suggest buying something as an “action” to better the world. But strong initial sales of this book will cause the media to take notice, giving it more exposure and thus generating more sales and bringing “green economy” into the consciousness of more people. Strong sales will empower our ally, Green For All, and the entire environmental justice movement to advocate for a morally just economy – one that protects both nature and all humans. So we do urge you to buy the book (if you can afford it. Read it, and talk about it with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. And while you’re at it, Urge Both Presidential Candidates to Support a Green Economy. We have the power to make “green economy” a household term, to change the way that people think about energy and who controls it.

Gulf Coast Anniversary and Update

Three years ago, on August 24th, a tropical depression became a storm in the Atlantic ocean. Meteorologists named it Katrina. It would become the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. When it made landfall for a second time in Louisiana on August 29th (after pummeling Florida), it was the third-strongest recorded hurricane to reach the United States, and became one of our five deadliest. It laid waste to large swaths of both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Natural disasters cause wide-spread misery by definition, but the tragedy following hurricanes Katrina and Rita was largely human-caused, and revealed the devastating impact of systemic racism and classism. The levees protecting New Orleans had already been flagged as dangerously unsafe, yet these warnings were ignored. The flooding from broken levees caused more deaths than the storm itself.

Before Katrina’s arrival, evacuation plans relied on individuals to make their own way out of the hurricane’s path, ignoring the fact that many did not have access to private transportation. Fleets of buses lay unused, and then submerged. And in the hours and days following Katrina, our government failed to respond to the disaster. The lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and the violence that ensued from this chaos, claimed many more lives.

The media showed us images of white Americans and told us they were “searching for food.” The same media showed us images of black Americans doing the same thing and told us they were “looting.” We saw members of communities that were less hard hit forcibly preventing desperate people from entering their towns. For almost two days, American citizens were referred to as “refugees” in their own country. And in the analysis afterwards, it was starkly clear that the areas most affected corresponded to neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and of color.

Three years later, the misery wreaked by Katrina and Rita continues, as government bureaucracy and apathy slow the rebuilding process. Casinos and luxury hotels were rebuilt relatively quickly, but much of the old neighborhoods where the tourists seldom venture are still waiting. The Gulf Coast disaster is at least as much human-created as it was “natural.”

President William G. Sinkford’s 2005 response

UUA interview with Derrick Evans on the recovery

Make a contribution to the UU Gulf Coast Relief Fund.

And lastly, on this third anniversary we announce UU Gulf Coast Updates, a joint project of the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists (GNOUU), the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

Click here to view the inaugural issue.
And click here to subscribe to future updates.

Environmental Justice Legislation in the Senate

Last Thursday morning, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed two environmental justice bills, introduced by Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA), that help protect minority and low-income communities from being disproportionately burdened by environmental problems. They are (quoted from Solis’ office):

S.642/H.R. 1103 – Environmental Justice Act of 2007 – This legislation requires the implementation of the Clinton Executive Order on environmental justice, and strengthens federal efforts to address environmental justice problems. It also requires agencies to implement environmental justice recommendations from the Government Accountability Office and EPA’s Inspector General. Senator Durbin is the lead author of the Senate bill – Rep. Solis authored the House version.

S.2549/H.R. 5132 – Environmental Justice Renewal Act – This legislation requires federal agencies to implement plans to identify and then reduce or eliminate environmental justice threats, and to expand their efforts to gather information about environmental justice problems and help develop solutions to such serious issues. Senator Clinton is the lead author of the Senate bill – Rep. Solis authored the House version.

Given that the current Congressional term ends in late September, it is unlikely that these bills will move further this term. However, the passing of these two bills out of committee makes it much more likely that they will be green-lighted if and when they are re-introduced next term.

We would like to thank Congresswoman Solis for being a champion on this important, under-recognized justice issue. And also to pass on the information, for those of you who live in the Los Angeles area, that Rep. Solis will be holding an event on August 21, 2008 from 10am – Noon at the East Los Angeles Skills Center titled “Greening Our Capitol, Greening Our Communities: Affordable, Effective Green Investments.” The briefing will give information on ways to incorporate effective, affordable green strategies.

Ware lecture

Every year at General Assembly–the annual business meeting for the Unitarian Universalist Association–one of the highlights is always the Ware lecture. This year was no different.

The Ware Lecture began in 1920 in order to give Unitarians (now Unitarian Universalists) an opportunity to hear the prophetic voices of the day. Over the past 88 years, such voices as Jane Addams, Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, and Mary Oliver have been heard from the Ware Lecture stage.

This year, we had the privilege to hear Van Jones, founder of several environmental and racial justice Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Mr. Jones is one of the preeminent minds in the field of environmental justice.

By focusing on environmental issues with the frame of racial and economic justice, Mr. Jones showed how we are currently living in an era of “eco-aparthied” not just in the world, but also in the United States. In other words, the people who are hardest hit by environmental degradation are the poorest in our nation and are often people of color. Mr. Jones speech last night laid his plan for a deep greening of the United States Economy.

Mr. Jones began his speech by noting that progressive Americans have become very good at protesting. But we are on the verge of screwing everything up, by succeeding. Many would agree that we are currently experiencing a cultural sea change in the United States, away from the neo-conservative/neo-liberal practices of the previous Administration, toward a culture of change and love.

But he told us we are not ready to lead. To be able to lead, we need a bold agenda and a full rejection of a policy of death and destruction.

He then gave his inspiring agenda to pull our economy out of a recession, end global warming and give millions of poor and under represented Americans a step out of poverty.

The speech was extremely moving and elicited a five minute standing ovation from the packed assembly hall.

After the lecture, the General Assembly was buzzing with excitement and energy. Van Jones had inspired us to move to a new compassionate economy.

To hear Mr. Jone’s Ware Lecture- “Prepare to Govern”, and other highlights from the 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, please visit

After Lieberman-Warner

The first ever climate change legislation to be considered by Congress went down last week when the Senate failed to muster enough votes to end the filibuster. The news was bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s sad to see any climate bill rejected, even one as feckless as the Lieberman-Warner bill was. On the other hand, the bill did not set high enough emissions reduction standards, and gave away too much to the energy industries at the expense of low income families. Its demise clears the way for much better law.

So what do we do now?

While the Senate was wrestling with Lieberman-Warner, Representatives Waxman, Markey, and Inslee began circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter around the House outlining four principles for effective climate change legislation. That is, they outlined principles that any climate change bill should uphold in order to be considered effective and just. They are:

  • Reduce emissions to avoid dangerous global warming;
  • Transition America to a clean energy economy;
  • Recognize and minimize any economic impacts from global warming legislation; and
  • Aid communities and ecosystems vulnerable to harm from global warming

These are principles in keeping with our 2006 Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, principles that we can wholeheartedly endorse. And so we decided that the most positive, effective thing that we could do was to do just that – to endorse and get other Representatives to endorse these principles. Two weeks ago, we asked folks from the UU State Advocacy Networks to collaborate on this and they enthusiastically agreed, bringing their own considerable organizational skills to bear, and together we urged people to call their Reps. Last Friday, even as Lieberman-Warner fizzled in the Senate, I created an online action campaign that allows people to fill in their name and address and automatically send emails to their Representative, urging them to sign onto the letter. I sent it out through our newslist Advocacy News Friday afternoon and by Monday morning over 200 UUs had taken action. By Tuesday afternoon, the number was over 250.

All I can say is that I am awed by my fellow Unitarian Universalists. From the passing of the 2006 SOC to the commitment shown by the State Advocacy Networks, to the awesome response of individual UUs to this action campaign, you guys demonstrate over and over again how much UUs care about global climate change. And I think we’re having an effect. When we started this effort two weeks ago the number of signatories to the Dear Colleague letter was 63. It’s now 83. That’s not to say that we can claim all the credit – other fine people and organizations are working on this with us – but it shows that together we can make a difference.

And so let’s work a little harder even, and more strategically. As Congress winds down in preparation for the Fall election and then a new session, it is even more important now to get as many Representatives as we can to sign the Waxman, Markey, and Inslee Climate Change Principles letter. It establishes the standards by which future climate change legislation is to be measured. Let’s have our Representatives on record supporting effective and just legislation.

Currently, 83 Representatives have signed the letter. We can easily make it an even 100. And if we try a little harder, we can make it 150. Please take a look at the list of signatories. If your Representative is on the list, call or email to THANK them for taking a principled stand on climate change. If your Representative is not on the list, call or email to let them know about the letter and how important it is to you that they sign on. The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121. Click here to find your Representative and their contact information. Or use the online action campaign to urge your Representative to support principles for effective climate change legislation.

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

Earth Day Congregations

Hope you had a Happy Earth Day.

About a month ago we sent out an Earth Day “e-packet”, asking congregations to devote this past Sunday to eco-conscious worship and activities, including a letter writing campaign to support effective climate change legislation. By “we” I mean a consortium of UU groups – the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy and the office of Congregational Advocacy and Witness, the UUMFE, the UUSC, and the State Advocacy Network and UU Legislative Ministries. We pooled our resources and sent them to all our lists. It was the first time we’d ever done anything that coordinated.

I got several emails from UU congregations about their Earth (Sun)Day activities, and thought I’d share what some of your fellow UUs are doing:

In all, UUs from ten congregations took the time to write. They are:

The UU Fellowship of Fredericksburg is planning their new Fellowship Hall with green practices in mind.

Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth is promoting vermicomposting.

At First Parish UU, their choir sang the song “Trash” from Sesame Street. I love that song!

For Pathways Church, it was the *first* letter writing campaign for this young congregation. Congratulations and thanks!

All Souls in Greenfield did A LOT of outreach to surrounding congregations and got some media coverage.

UU Community Church of Santa Monica happens to be represented by Senator Boxer and Representative Waxman. They are the sponsors of the climate change bill that the UUA is supporting. So the church sent their letters plus kids drawings to both of them.

Speaking of kids, Charlotte, First Parish Cohasset, Santa Monica all had intergenerational programming, which was something we encouraged. Fantastic!

And last but not least, Peter Bowden from UU Planet wrote to say that participated by featuring videos related to global warming, climate change, green living, etc.

Thanks to all who wrote and the many more who didn’t, who participated in congregational Earth Day activities this year.