A Very Brief Primer on U.S.-Mexican History

In the early 1800s, U.S.Americans started settling into a territory of Mexico known as Texas.  Alarmed by the fact that the immigration rate was so high that U.S. settlers were starting to outnumber Mexicans, Mexico closed the territory to further legal immigration.  But U.S. settlers continued to pour in illegally.  Rather than attempting to learn the language and culture of the country to which they had immigrated, U.S.American immigrants in Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836.  (One has to wonder what the Mexicans whose families had already been living in Texas thought about that.)

In 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed as the 28th state, and President Polk was eyeing Mexico’s territories west of TX, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  The annexation of Texas, which Mexico continued to think of as a rebellious territory, caused Mexico to break diplomatic ties with the U.S., but it did not declare war.  Polk needed Mexico to be the first to engage in hostilities so that he could frame his expansionist intentions as defensive.  He sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to Texas to push its southern boundary from the Nueces river (the border that Mexico recognized) 150 miles southward to the Rio Grande (the border that the U.S. wanted).  The ploy worked; in April of 1846, a Mexican detachment attacked a U.S. patrol in the disputed area, killing 16 U.S. solders.  The U.S.-Mexican War was on.


A Victory for Marriage

Below are the reflections of Orelia Busch, outgoing Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues / UUWF Clara Barton Intern, on the Proposition 8 court decision.  You can also read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales’ statement on the ruling at UUA.org.

Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, released on Wednesday, August 4, was a resounding victory for supporters of same sex marriage.  I can honestly say that I was surprised.  In the 24 hours between the announcement that the ruling would be handed down and its actual release, both sides were preparing their appeals, and it seemed like no one could even speculate on what the judge would say.


A Split Decision Only Serves to Split Our Communities

On the day before SB1070 was to go into effect, Unitarian Universalists from across the country converged in Phoenix.  We came by air, car, bus, and some already lived here.  About 150 of us met at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix in preparation for the National Day of Non-Compliance that was to take place the next day, Thursday, July 29th, 2010.  As you can imagine it was chaotic fun to have that many UUs in one place – people greeting old friends and making new ones.  But an air of uncertainty hung over us.  What would the next few days bring?  What would we do if the federal judge did not act and left SB1070 to go into effect?  What would we do if the federal judge did act?  From following the news, we knew to expect a partial ruling.  And we knew that regardless of the ruling we would do “something” but what that something was might vary depending on what kind of law went into effect at midnight.


Meeting with Monsanto

Last November, Rev. Nate Walker, the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, wrote a sermon that was an open letter to Monsanto, voicing concerns based on his research about the company. He Fed-Exed a copy to Hugh Grant, the CEO of Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. What followed was a series of ongoing conversations and visits between Rev. Nate and Monsanto. Rev. Nate would like to see this company adopt an oath to “do no harm” and play a leadership role in getting the entire field of biotechnology to adopt a similar oath. This process led to a dialogue this past Thursday evening at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, between two senior directors of Monsanto, about a dozen leaders within the congregation and a few others like me, who are particularly interested in and knowledgeable about food issues and environmental justice. We came from a range of backgrounds, including an organic chemist and a ministerial candidate who focuses on issues of food justice.


On Borders

It was a family tradition when I was growing up that almost every summer we would pack the car and drive from San Francisco where we lived, to Yosemite National Park, then Lake Tahoe, then Reno. The city of Lake Tahoe is bisected by the border between California and Nevada. The first time I saw the Cali/Nevada border, I was disappointed and confused over the lack of a big black line, as I had seen on the map. Instead, there was only a small sign on an otherwise normal looking street. As an adult, I can now see that one direction has casinos and the other only the cheesey tourist shops, but as a kid I would look down the road in one direction and then the other, and it would pretty much all look the same to me. If the little sign were not there pointing it out, I would not have known that there was a border at all. But since there was a sign, I would hop one step to the left and say I was in California, and hop one step to the right and say I was in Nevada.   Looking back on it I see now that my child brain was trying to understand what a “border” actually meant. Yet try as hard as I might, I could not feel a real difference in the land.


Members of Congress Commit to BGLT-Inclusive Immigration Reform

On July 15th, Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness for the Unitarian Universalist Association released the following statement:

The Unitarian Universalist Association joins the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) coalition in urging the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants and their families. Our faith teaches us that we are all members of one human family. We stand on the side of love with all immigrant families to call for humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

A system that breaks apart families is itself broken. LGBT immigrant families are at extremely high risk for being denied basic rights and services not only because of their immigration status but because their families are not equally recognized by U.S. law. We will not be silent while families are separated. Same-sex couples should have the same opportunity as straight couples to prove that their families deserve to stay together. Transgender immigrants and travelers should be able to obtain documentation without undue questioning or harassment. We stand proudly behind our allies in the U.S. Congress who understand that the only way to fix our immigration system is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes LGBT individuals and families.

The UAFA coalition represents more than thirty groups, including faith groups and organizations focused on immigrant rights, worker justice, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The six members of Congress who spoke at the press conference included Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). They expressed the urgent need to change current immigration laws and called on their colleagues to help them pass comprehensive, inclusive immigration reform legislation before the end of 2010.

Also speaking at the press conference were Erwin De Leon, the immigrant half of a D.C. based bi-national couple, and Karen Narasaki, the president of the Asian American Justice Center.  Narasaki is a Unitarian Universalist who attends All Souls Church, Unitarian.  De Leon, whose husband can’t sponsor him for legal permanent residency in the U.S. under current immigration policies, spoke at the Standing on the Side of Love event on Capitol Hill in April.

For more information, see full press coverage of the event and read the joint statement released by the coalition.  To learn more about the UAFA coalition, please see the Immigration Equality Action Fund website.

Trouble the Borders

Taquiena Boston is the Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness, the new staff group resulting from the merger of Advocacy and Witness and Identity-Based Ministries.

When I became Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness on July 1 my first official UUA act was to attend President Obama’s speech on immigration reform at American University. The presence of religious leaders in the hall –- with high-profile evangelical ministers front and center — signaled that faith communities are hearing the call for immigration reform as a moral imperative.

President Obama’s speech referenced not just securing, protecting, and enforcing borders but also the human rights of the people who cross into the United States seeking opportunity. Faith leaders’ took that message further by emphasizing that immigration reform is about the humanity of those who cross the borders.

In multicultural ministry borders or “la frontera” are described as places where encounter, conflict, and transformation can occur when people of faith use our collective power to amplify the voices and concerns of the oppressed. To my mind when Unitarian Universalists voted at the Minneapolis General Assembly to act in solidarity with Puente and others to support immigrant justice, our movement waded into the turbulence of a human rights issue that puts us at odds with the majority of Americans. To paraphrase an African American spiritual, Unitarian Universalists made a commitment to “trouble the borders.”

Now that the U.S. Justice Department has challenged the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation, I hope that our movement will not think that we can relax our efforts around immigration. The debates among Unitarian Universalists that preceded the General Assembly demonstrated how this issue divides communities. While border security issues in a post 9-11 world are real, laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 that potentially “profile” people based on their racial, ethnic, or national identity creates an environment of fear and mistrust that are anti-Beloved Community.

A footnote: Intent on being on time for President Obama’s speech I hailed a taxi to American University, but one-third of the way to my destination I wondered if my District of Columbia driver’s license would be sufficient “government-issued identification” to allow me entry. Should I ask the taxi to take me back home to get my passport, too? That could mean not getting into the speech as well. Besides, I was urged by the White House contact to in line at American U by 9:30 to ensure entry. Passing a “Homeland Security” sign only reinforced my anxiety about having the right ID. As a woman of color I’m used to having to seriously consider personal safety, but strict laws that make communities fearful and suspicious have never made me feel more secure.

Reflecting Back on the Social Justice Internship Program

Last week I went to the UUA Washington Office for the last time as Director of Advocacy and Witness. I write those words, but I still don’t believe them. We still have GA to live through, and I have endless to-do lists that are yet undone, but still. My last time to the UUA Washington Office.

I grew up Unitarian Universalist. Not a single adult ever told me—including my own parents—that it mattered to them whether or not I remained a Unitarian Universalist in my adulthood. This fact has fueled my lifetime passion for religious education, youth ministry, and young adult mentoring.

When I became Director of the Washington Office in 1994, the office was housed in two small rooms in the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. Immediately, wonderful young adults began to ask if they could volunteer in the office. Unwilling to say no because of lack of room, we moved to larger (and cheaper) space over in Dupont Circle. Thus began the blessing of my life: young Unitarian Universalists, called by their passion for faith and justice, served as short-term staff in learning positions. Here’s a list of the amazing people who have passed through our offices, and what they’re doing now.

1996, Alyce Gowdy-Wright, now a community organizer, poverty issues, in Florida
1997, Rob Keithan (then in college!), now completing Wesley seminary and preparing for his ministry
1998 Richard Nugent, now Director of Church-Staff Finance at the UUA (Not your usual mode, cooling his heals for a year after seminary)
1999 Rob Keithan came on as an actual staffperson! At the ripe old age of 23)
2001 Kent Doss, now minister in Laguna Beach California
2002 Lissa Gundlach, finishing seminary at Union Theological School
2002 Emily Dulcan, organizer in California, journalist
2002 Grant Smith, community organizer, drug policy reform
2002 Robin Hoecker, graduate school for multi-media journalism, U Chicago
2003 Kierstin Homblette, Union Theological Seminary
2003 Megan Joiner, completed Union Theological Seminary
2003 Amelia Rose, community organizer
2005 Meredith Schonfeld-Hicks, organizer now beginning public health grad school
2005 Elizabeth Bukey, beginning seminary at Union Theological Seminary
2006 Adam Gerhardstein, finishing term as campaign Manager, Standing on the Side of Love, beginning law school, St. Thomas (and marrying Meredith)
2007 Lisa Swanson, law school, Northeasatern
2007 Alex Winnett, beer conosseiur, Washington DC
2007 Grace Garner, community activist
2009, Orelia Busch, finishing internship this summer
2009, Rowan Van Ness, Continuing internship till 2011.

Here are metrics on all of that:
19 interns
3 on to journalism school
7 ministers or seminarians
2 in law school
5 community organizers
1 in public health school
16 are committed Unitarian Universalists

It is that last # I am most delighted by. Every single one of these young people offers the world tremendously gifts. As a group, I offer them my thanks and promise to them, as they have promised to each other, to continue to look for ways in which young people may learn, thrive, and give.

Reproductive Justice Updates

Last week, the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS) released their monthly policy updates for sexuality educators and advocates.

Included in the May 2010 policy updates are the results of a new study from the Guttmacher Institute showing that rates of unintended pregnancy among teen women in the US may have been previously underestimated. Previous studies have counted the unintended pregnancy rate per 1,000 women in each age group surveyed without accounting for the rates among women who identify themselves as being sexually active versus those who do not. The new study shows significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy for sexually active women than for women in general nationwide, particularly among women between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.

There’s also good news for comprehensive sexuality education advocates in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. House Education Committees in both states have just voted for legislation that would allow more comprehensive sexuality education curricula in public schools and provide guidelines for what that would look like.

If passed, both new laws require schools in each state to provide sexuality education that teaches about abstinence and contraception in ways that are medically accurate. While the Pennsylvania law leaves the specifics of curriculum development up to individual school boards, it also calls on the state department of health to create a list of guidelines that programs must follow to comply with the new legislation.

In Louisiana, sexuality education curricula must provide “information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development” in order to conform with this proposed legislation.

Both states have been previous recipients of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage federal grants, but if these new laws pass, they will no longer be eligible to receive those funds. Federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs was eliminated from the 2010 federal budget by Congress and President Obama, but the funding stream was reinstated in health care reform legislation that became law this spring.

New funds available to states and community-based organizations from the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative could help states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana implement the new laws if they pass. These programs could also provide young people nationwide with the comprehensive, medically accurate sex education they need to make healthy decisions.

You can advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in your own state by researching your state’s laws and supporting legislation similar to the Louisiana and Pennsylvania bills. Consider organizing your youth group or congregation to write letters to your governor or state legislators encouraging them to reject Title V abstinence-only grants and create policies that support comprehensive sexuality education in local school districts. For the basic information on your state’s sex education policies and funding, see the SIECUS State Profiles. For resources on how to get started as an advocate, check out the Future of Sex Education website.

UUA Presents Shareholder Resolution for Gender Non-Discrimination at Wal-Mart

Julie Skye, member of UUA's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, at Walmart's Shareholders' Meeting

In 2008, the UUA filed two resolutions on Gender Identity Non-Discrimination: both companies already had sexual orientation in their policy but this resolution asked to include gender identity in its written equal opportunity non-discrimination policy.  6% of Wal-Mart shareholders and 16% of Verizon’s shareholders voted in favor of this protection for their employees.

The 2009 Shareholder Advocacy season saw 12% of Wal-Mart shareholders vote in favor of the same resolution. Progress…but I think back to the 2001 proxy season…when Home Depot changed its written policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation because of the efforts of the UUA endowment’s shares of Home Depot stock. Management had a change of heart after the proxy statements went out, and called the UUA…saying they had considered the negative reaction from their employees who had learned that Directors did not support the resolution. Terms and conditions were agreed on, and the UUA withdrew the resolution.

This is what shareholder advocacy is all about! Change that comes through management’s awareness of how their written policies affect the people that work for them. When management “gets it” through dialogue, discussion and diplomacy, everyone wins. Why does Wal-Mart gladly take dollars from customers without regard to that person’s gender identity, but stops short of giving their employees the dignity and rights that they deserve?

Why did the largest employer in the U.S. not get it…that the employees who gave so much to the success of Wal-Mart, deserved to know their employer “affirmed and promoted the inherent worth and dignity of every person?” Why would adopting a policy that gave employees a way to resolve conflicts through corporate channels not make sense?

With the history of previous UUA filings and my 18 months as a member of UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, I drove the 2 hours from Tulsa Oklahoma to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see, firsthand, what I knew was going to be a cross between a high school pep rally and a rock concert. I was going to present the UUA resolution that said how we interpret our gender identity, was our right, not a privilege extended to us by our employer.

The Wal-Mart staff member that helped me get settled, Beth, was as friendly and helpful as the other Wal-Mart folks. As the Annual Meeting kicked off, Jamie Foxx’s message was that Wal-Mart was an advocate for the working people; “You help people save money so they live better lives.” As Josh Groban, Mariah Carey, Enrique Inglesias, and Mary J. Blige performed in between the business parts of the meeting, the message was that these associates have had their lives transformed by this company.

What remains, after the laser light show and the echoes of, “I can kiss away the pain” was as usual, the people that are affected by the work the UUA is doing to move the endowments of congregations all over the country in the direction of our values. Beth, my Wal-Mart guide, asked what the resolution was all about. She nodded as we talked about the fact that you should not be fired for the way you present yourself…for how you look, or dress. Being disciplined, reassigned, fired or not promoted because of who you were and how you looked…not how you did your job…was not right.

After I used the three minutes allowed to present the resolution asking Wal-Mart to extend these rights to their associates I received a polite applause, and took my seat. I felt a hand on my arm…and turned to meet John Wright, a minister at the UU Fellowship at Salisbury Maryland who works at Wal-Mart. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for being there. He was overwhelmed by the emotions he felt as he heard that the CEO of his company announce that the UUA was presenting this resolution. The faith tradition he was devoted to had moved into his workplace, to model the values that we have come to take as second nature. He kept thanking me, and thanking the UUA for doing this work.  This work matters. It changes people’s lives. It allows the people of this country to be a part of changing how corporate America does business.

In the end, we received 14.6% support from shareholders…small, but moving in the right direction.  The Walton family has 45% of the stock, so until they move on this resolution, we’ll keep filing each year.

All of us…our children and grandchildren, will live in a better world because of the work the UUA does.

Julie Skye is a member of All Souls Tulsa, the UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and is a Registered Investment Advisor. She acts as a Family Back Office to 85 families and helps them organize, manage and co-ordinate all aspects of their financial lives including tax, estate and retirement planning. She has been doing pro-bono work with Foundations and non-profits for two decades and sees the connection between SRI and Social / Racial Justice.  Passionate in her belief that’ we can do well, while we do good’, she is Vice Chair of the All Souls Endowment Committee and offers seminars at the Sunday Emerson Forum titled “The Free Church Financial Forum.”