Earth Day Updates!

As congregations have been registering their Earth Day events, I have become totally inspired by the great work Unitarian Universalists are doing right now!

Plans for lifting up and celebrating Ethical Eating this Earth Day are underway in at least 14 states.  The Second Unitarian Church of Omaha in Nebraska will have a booth at a community Earth Day event, giving away shopping and gardening tips, seed packets with church info on them, and are selling fair trade coffee and teas.  The UU Congregation at Rock Tavern in New York will clean up trash in local wetlands, including a portion which flows through one of the few remaining dairy farms in the region which produces and sells milk locally.   The Accotink UU Church in Virginia will follow their Earth Day Service with tastings from the “Cooking—All Things Considered” class and plan to kick off the 40/40/40 Campaign, getting 40 members to commit to an Ethical Eating action for 40 days in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  See a list of events planned (PDF), as of March 30th.

Join the movement!
Information and suggestions on issues ranging from the field to the table, with links to congregational stories, worship materials, ideas for actions in your own community are available on the UUMFE Earth Day website.  Go a step further by participating in the 40/40/40 Campaign, and get 40 people from your congregation (or 40%) to commit to take action.  Register your Earth Day event to be included in a national press release and the final count of participating UU congregations, and check out resources on media and messaging to share your message beyond church walls.  If you register your congregation’s event, you will be entered in a raffle to win a $50 gift certificate to the UUA Bookstore.  Share the story of your event afterward to be entered a second time!

A Salad Bar of Worship Ideas
Here are a number of activities you can do in a smaller group worship setting, whether it’s an RE class, a covenant group, a circle worship, or for a group meeting specifically for the event.  Feel free to pick and choose from these resources.

For additional resources around faith and ethical eating, please check out the Ethical Eating Supplemental Worship Resources page:

  • Select some quotes related to ethical eating.  Pick quotes from a variety of sources, such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, the Bible, and Thich Nhat Hanh.  Have people select a quote that appeals to them.  Go around the circle and have people read the quotes aloud and share their reactions to the quotes.
  • Lead a ritual to wash away the things that are preventing us for eating more ethically.  Have each person silently think of something that is blocking them from focusing on their faith or from making mindful decisions around food.  Have them write it on a dish with a washable marker.  Provide a pitcher and bowl for people to silently wash away these barriers to action.
  • Lead a guided meditation on tangerines (or some other food).  Thich Nhat Hanh has a short essay on this in his book, Peace in Every Step, which discusses this more.  Have people think about the origins of the fruit and all the people and natural resources involved in getting the tangerine to them.  Engage each of the senses in the fruit, one at a time.  Finish each bite before starting the next.  Truly focus on the fruit and be aware of the gift it is to us.
  • Have people write down what they ate in a recent meal.  Pose questions for people to think about, as they reflect on that meal.  Ask them to take notes, and to especially note questions to which they don’t know the answers.  Some examples of questions might be: Where did the food come from?  Were pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of the foods?  Were the workers paid fair wages?  How far away did it come from? Discuss the answers.  How might we move forward from here? Can we turn any of the “I don’t knows” into things we are aware of?  Being aware of how our food is produced reduces the chances that living beings are being exploited.
  • Give people an opportunity to meditate and consider what they’ve learned about ethical eating and food justice.  Have little containers filled with soil and seeds and let people plant seeds as they share a commitment to one change, big or small, they’d like to make in their lives, on their journey toward ethical eating.

Personal Message from Rev. Meg Riley

Dear Advocates and Witnesses,

Effective August 15, I have accepted the position of Senior Minister at the Church of the Larger Fellowship.  As thrilled and excited as I am about that, I am sad to leave this work that has been so fulfilling, engaging, and faith-building for me.  The main reason I have loved it is YOU.  I will say much more in the months between now and my departure, but wanted to note this transition here on this blog page.

Please know that this work that I love is not ending, only morphing into a different form.  I look forward to knowing you in future incarnations!

Standing on the Side of Love,
Meg Riley

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!

Reflections on the March for America

On Sunday, March 21st (the first day of Spring), several of us were blessed to be able to participate in a massive rally in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.   Organizers estimate the crowd at over 200,000 attendees.  From our vantage point, it was clearly crowded, festive, diverse, family-oriented, and filled with love.

From Rob Keithan:

As the singing of the Star Spangled Banner came to an end, I wondered how the words “land of the free and home of the brave” felt to the many immigrants in attendance. I suspect that they appreciate what freedom means more than I ever will. As brave as I like to think I am, I don’t know if I’d have the courage to move to a foreign country–leaving behind everything familiar and potentially risking everything–in order to provide for my family. Hopefully I will never be faced with that choice.

From Taquiena Boston (Director of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries)

I was moved by the number of families who attended the rally with their children, and by how many of those families have been negatively affected by current immigration policies. I was encouraged by the many religious groups represented, including Unitarian Universalists. It was heartening to see that the message of Standing on the Side of Love resonated with so many non-UUs, especially when children, youth and young adults asked for the SSL buttons, placards, and bumper stickers.

From Meg Riley:

The moment that reduced me to tears was when, strolling along, I saw this young woman holding her handwritten poster. On either side of her stood friends, holding “Standing on the Side of Love” placards. (I couldn’t fit all three of them in and still read what she had written.) I saw how love was, literally, allowing her to stand. We’re always talking about ‘deadbeat dads’–here’s a deadbeat system forcing parents away from their kids. It broke my heart.

From Kat Liu:

As a person of Asian descent, I am very aware that different ethnic minorities in the U.S. have often been pitted against each other, when we could be so much stronger united. And I know that undocumented immigration is also an Asian issue, even though Latinos/Hispanics get most of the (unpleasant) attention. So it was very important to me to see diversity represented both on stage and in the crowd. While most of the people present appeared to be descended from Latin America, there were also Asian, African and Euro faces speaking as one. Walking among the crowd, I felt we were united, strong. This IS America.

Blogswarm: Demand LGBT Employment Rights Today!

Note: This reposting comes from a blogswarm today with Daily Kos, Open Left, Americablog, Towleroad, Pam’s House Blend, Joe My God, Michelangelo Signorile, David Mixner, Daily Gotham, Culture Kitchen, Taylor Marsh, PageOneQ, Dan Savage, GoodAsYou, and many others all blogging about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employment rights. We’re asking our readers to contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask that she move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3017) to a floor vote.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, first introduced in 1994, would prohibit job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But LGBT people have never been able to achieve the enactment of the bill, known by the acronym of “ENDA”. Last year, the Administration’s highest ranking gay official, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, indicated that ENDA was highest priority on the LGBT civil rights agenda.

“If we can get ENDA enacted and signed into law, it is only a matter of time before all the rest happens,” he said. “It is the keystone that holds up the whole bunch, and so we need to focus our energies and attention there.”

Hearings were held last Fall in the House and in the Senate to demonstrate the need for the bill, and testimony was heard on the severe unemployment, underemployment and harassment experienced by LGBT workers. Witnesses testified to the scientific studies demonstrating this.

Call an End to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining!

Call your Representative today to ask her/him to support H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, which would help to end mountaintop removal coal mining!

In 2002, President Bush expanded the legal definition in the Clean Water Act of material fill to include mining waste.  This new definition made it much easier for coal companies to engage in mountaintop removal coal mining across Appalachia, dumping the fill in the nearby valleys and streams, polluting the water.  Appalachian coalfield residents face frequent catastrophic flooding, pollution, health issues, and loss of drinking water as a result of this devastated landscape.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that close to 2000 miles of streams and rivers have been polluted and more than 450 mountains and 1.5 million acres of land have already been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining. Everyone deserves access to a just economic system and a healthy environment, and this is not currently happening in Appalachia and the situation is getting worse.

This week, nearly 200 citizens from Appalachia and across the US are lobbying as part of the 5th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington – and hundreds more will show support by making a simple phone call today. The coal industry is also working overtime to block urgently needed legislation that would protect the mountains and its people.   UU congregations voted in a 2006 Action of Immediate Witness to “End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.”  It’s time to put our faith into action and take a stand for the mountains and the people who live there.  Call your Representative today!

International Women’s Day 2010 – Ending Discrimination Against Women

On March 8th, thousands of events in countries all over the world will mark International Women’s Day and call for full equality for women in every nation.  International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time at a 1909 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark – its creation largely inspired by the courageous actions of women who worked in deplorable conditions in garment factories in New York.

Today’s  “Democracy Now!” news report details the irony that although women from the U.S. helped to shape what we know as International Women’s Day, the day passes unnoticed in many parts of this country.  The United States also remains among the seven UN countries, including Iran, Somalia and Sudan, that have not ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women, officially known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

CEDAW was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and has since been ratified by 186 countries around the world.  The Unitarian Universalist Association supports CEDAW as “essential to a claim by the U.S. of moral leadership in human rights,” and asserts that its ratification would “deter discrimination against women and advance their political and economic equality.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all voiced their support for US ratification of CEDAW, but Congress and the Obama Administration have made no moves yet to ratify this important treaty.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by learning more about this issue from the advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions and taking action to support CEDAW.

Hope For Our Administration: Clean Energy Economy Forum at the White House

When Barack Obama was campaigning for his presidency, hope was a clear theme. Now, over a year later, I had the privilege of going inside the White House complex and being filled with that hope he promised. Yesterday afternoon, I attended the Clean Energy Economy Forum, in the company of mayors and business people, non-profit directors and faith-based advocates.

The Forum was split into two parts, with an opportunity to hear both the federal perspectives on why action now is important as well as what community leaders are doing at local and regional levels. The focus was on “livability” and “sustainable communities,” with discussion around collaboration between groups with different interests and purposes striving for more comprehensive solutions, examining transportation, housing, energy, environmental, and health impacts.

Secretary Ray LaHood from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Secretary Shaun Donovan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lifted up both the success of their collaboration with each other as well as the impact of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They talked about how greening public housing improves health conditions for people of lower incomes, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and saves the government money. Housing and transportation are two of the largest costs people pay for, and good planning can help reduce the personal and environmental impacts of long commutes for all people, especially people of lower incomes. Approximately $100 million will be available this year for funding regional integrated planning initiatives, and grant recipients will be selected by the partnership between HUD, DOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Secretary Donovan said that communities of color cannot be left behind in this movement, like they were in the tech boom of the 1990s. I hope to see policies reflect that!

A moderator led a question and answer session between the panel and the audience. It was incredibly powerful to witness the Administration’s commitment to working towards livable cities and their willingness to seek guidance and feedback from people on the ground. Sitting in that forum made me feel like I actually live in a democracy–one that cares about seeking input from a variety of sources.

The practitioners on the panel in the second section were quite sharp and full of good insights. Doris Koo, President & CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. started off saying, “Smart growth is not smart unless it is equitable,” and quickly made clear her commitment to greening affordable housing. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director & Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke eloquently about the clear connections between religion and environmentalism (“creation care”), and the unique role that faith-based community organizing can play. Religious groups are concerned with a multitude of issues, which can bring into light the synergy between seemingly different issues, and at the core, carry a special responsibility to the poor. With some 400,000 congregations nation-wide and about 150 million members, churches can carry profound influence in public policy.

There is much work yet to be done, but this meeting has strengthened my faith that we’re on the right path and having some of the right conversations. To paraphrase Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of HUD, there are some people who say these things can’t happen. Then don’t do them! But don’t stand in the way of those who will make them happen. Rumi said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” As a religious community, let us be the ones that seek love. Let us break down the barriers and make things happen.

Senate Bill Introduced to Repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

UPDATE: Watch news Coverage of UU Joan Darrah.

Earlier today, Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced legislation in the United States Senate that would end the ban which prevents bisexual, gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Carl Levin, and Roland Burris were among the 11 original co-sponsors of the bill (officially titled the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010), which would repeal the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and instead ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

It’s been a busy day for UUs! Retired Navy Captain Joan Darrah, and Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett (ret), both members of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA, spoke today at two different press events in Washington, D.C. announcing the introduction. Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, sent a letter to all 50 Senators asking them to support the bill. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on the version of the bill that is currently before the House of Representatives.

In addition to celebrating this step forward, let’s move our advocacy efforts into high gear. Please take a moment now to email your members of Congress and tell them how important it is that they pass legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010!

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.