Political Flavors


Letter Writing Sunday – Stop Jeff Sessions

Posted in Editorials on November 20th, 2016
by
Tags:

You may have heard that the man who may become our next Attorney General was nominated to a Federal Judgeship before but was rejected because of his racist remarks. From Fortune:

During that hearing, Sessions was criticized for joking in the presence of a Civil Rights Division attorney that the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana. He was also said to have called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”

This happened in 1986, when I was a toddler. When I heard that Jeff Sessions may become AG, I cringed because I remembered something much more recent. In 2009 when President Obama appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the questions Jeff Sessions asked her during her confirmation hearings were racist, absurd and illogical. He was obsessed with his own misinterpretation of her famous “wise Latina” quotation:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,””

And he battered her about it for a long time. Here’s just a sample of the back and forth:

SOTOMAYOR: I think if my speech is heard outside of the minute and a half that YouTube presents and its full context examined, that it is very clear that I was talking about the policy ramifications of precedent and never talking about appellate judges or courts making the policy that Congress makes.

SESSIONS: Judge, I would just say, I don’t think it’s that clear. I looked at that on tape several times, and I think a person could reasonably believe it meant more than that. But yesterday you spoke about your approach to rendering opinions and said, quote, “I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of the justice system,” and I would agree. But you have previously said this: “I am willing to accept that we who judge must not deny differences resulting from experiences and heritage, but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.” So first, I’d like to know, do you think there’s any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?

SOTOMAYOR: Never their prejudices. I was talking about the very important goal of the justice system is to ensure that the personal biases and prejudices of a judge do not influence the outcome of a case. What I was talking about was the obligation of judges to examine what they’re feeling as they’re adjudicating a case and to ensure that that’s not influencing the outcome. Life experiences have to influence you. We’re not robots to listen to evidence and don’t have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside. That’s what my speech was saying…

SESSIONS: Well, Judge …

SOTOMAYOR: … because that’s our job.

SESSIONS: But the statement was, “I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage, but continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.” That’s exactly opposite of what you’re saying, is it not?

SOTOMAYOR: I don’t believe so, Senator, because all I was saying is, because we have feelings and different experiences, we can be led to believe that our experiences are appropriate. We have to be open- minded to accept that they may not be, and that we have to judge always that we’re not letting those things determine the outcome. But there are situations in which some experiences are important in the process of judging, because the law asks us to use those experiences.

SESSIONS: Well, I understand that, but let me just follow up that you say in your statement that you want to do what you can to increase the faith and the impartiality of our system, but isn’t it true this statement suggests that you accept that there may be sympathies, prejudices and opinions that legitimately can influence a judge’s decision? And how can that further faith in the impartiality of the system?

SOTOMAYOR: I think the system is strengthened when judges don’t assume they’re impartial, but when judges test themselves to identify when their emotions are driving a result, or their experience are driving a result and the law is not.

SESSIONS: I agree with that.

But he didn’t really because it went on for another eight pages. [You can read the whole thing here. Start on page 12.] What Senator Sessions was getting at is that Latina women have a race and a gender, but white men do not. That (straight) white (christian) men are the default and do not have a sexuality or a religion that can influence their worldview – but everyone else does.

So what I would like to see from my Senator, Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is that he and other Democrats take each of his outrageously racist statements and make him spend an hour or more defending them. If he could question Justice Sotomayor for simply stating that people of different genders and ethnicities have different viewpoints, let’s see what we can do with “The KKK was ok until I heard they get stoned” and “The NAACP is un-American.*” Seriously. Beat the dead horse until it putrefies. Make him sit there for eleven fucking hours like we spent on Benghazi.

And then don’t vote for him.

Here’s the letter I’m sending to Senator Schumer. You should contact your representatives too, especially if you have a senator on the Judiciary Committee.

Dear Senator Schumer,

I am writing to ask you to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States. His racist remarks make him unfit for office.

I would also appreciate it if you pressed him to explain what he meant by those remarks during the confirmation hearings.

Thank you,

*The state of Alabama actually banned the NAACP in 1956. Perhaps Senator Sessions would like to defend that action?

Dear America, Stop Gaslighting Me

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 12th, 2016
by
Tags:

Dear America,

Well here we are at the end of the second election during my 33 years and the fourth in our 240 years where one person (ooh I get to say “person” now and not “man”) has won the popular vote for the presidency but lost the electoral college. God, our system is arcane and incomprehensible.

I’m sad and I’m angry and I will probably be OK. Probably. As long as we get one thing straight. Stop gaslighting me. Stop telling me Donald Trump didn’t say the things that he said, that I didn’t hear him with my own ears, or worse that he didn’t mean them. Despite being a mixed ethnicity liberal woman in New York City I have a very simple approach to interpersonal relations: listen to what people say. “Listen, don’t just wait to talk” is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. And I try to live by it every day.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou

So believe me when I say I was listening to Donald Trump. And I heard him. Loud and clear.

Hell, now that he’s issuing policy papers I don’t even have to suffer his terrible oratory. I can read what he has to say and we can look at it together America. Right there in plain English.

If you have managed to convince yourself that his whole campaign was some big fucking joke, that he didn’t really mean it, that he would never actually, could never do those things – STOP. You can’t know that. Telling yourself you somehow have an alternate way of knowing how another person will act aside from their previous words and actions may comfort you, but in the end you are hurting yourself by believing in a delusion that will not come true.

“You think you know someone. But mostly you just know what you want to know.” -Joe Hill

And you are HURTING ME. Every time someone tells me “it’s going to be ok.” “Everything is going to be fine.” “The Republicans will stop him.” You are causing me pain. You are telling me that I did not see the things I saw or hear the things I heard. You are telling Mexicans that he didn’t call them rapists. You are telling Muslims that he didn’t say he would ban them from entering the United States. You are telling women he didn’t brag about grabbing by them by the pussy. You are telling girls that he didn’t walk into their dressing rooms unannounced to leer at their naked bodies.

I really don’t like 1984 analogies because I think they are trite and I thought we were more headed towards Huxley’s Brave New World, but when you say Trump didn’t say those things you are holding up four fingers and telling me there are five. When you tell me he didn’t mean the things you said you are Gul Madred showing Captain Picard four lights and torturing him until he says he there are five. When you tell me “everything is going to be ok” you are Petruchio insisting Katarina say that the sun is really the moon. Please stop doing this. You are hurting me. You are making me doubt my sanity and it’s not fun. And you are hurting other people – who don’t have the resources to escape what this administration will unleash – much worse.

And finally, a word about the people who voted for Donald Trump. Jay Smooth said we should focus on “that racist thing you said/did” rather than “you are a racist.” I can’t know what’s in the hearts of 60 million Americans. I know what the Trump supporters I know personally have said (lots of racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic comments, climate change denialism…) and I know what the person they voted for said. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that voting for Donald Trump is a racist act. And it doesn’t matter what’s in their hearts.

If you voted for a racist sexual predator because he said he would repeal NAFTA, YOU STILL VOTED FOR A RACIST SEXUAL PREDATOR.

If you voted for an Islamophobic fascist because you wanted a tax cut, YOU STILL VOTED FOR AN ISLAMOPHOBIC FASCIST.

And just to pre-empt the comments: I voted for Hillary Clinton because I wanted to repeal the Hyde Amendement, raise the minimum wage, get paid maternity leave, slow climate change, and rebuild our infrastructure. BUT I STILL VOTED FOR SOMEONE WHO HELPED START THE IRAQ WAR, RACE BAITED ABOUT SUPER PREDATORS AND RAN A SHITTY RACIST CAMPAIGN AGAINST BARACK OBAMA IN 2008. I own my shit, and I expect Trump voters to do the same. Fair is fair.

So please America. I’m not stupid. I know what I saw. I know what I heard. Stop telling me to doubt my own memories and perceptions to ease your own conscience about what you did, or soothe your anxieties that we have elected a president who is a fascist. No one knows what will happen next. But I certainly know what happened in this campaign over the past two years, I will not deny it and you cannot take my knowledge away from me.

Happy Holidays!

Elizabeth

Feminist Coffee Hour Episode 11: Rev Hope Johnson, Juneteenth, The Living Legacy Project

Posted in Podcast Episodes on June 16th, 2016
by
Tags:

Episode Eleven: Rev Hope Johnson, Juneteenth, The Living Legacy Project

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Listen to episode in browser/Right click to download file

Discussed in this episode:

Make Juneteenth A National Holiday

NYT: Housing Bias Outlasts Ruling in a Long Island Village

The Living Legacy Project

“Lessons from Selma” (Video) Rob Eller-Isaacs and Rev Hope Johnson

The Divided Methodist Church

‘Black Lives Matter’ signs stolen off church lawn in Hartford

How the Children Feel When Their Church is Wounded

***

Our theme song is composed by Bridget Ellsworth, check out her sound cloud page!

We’ve joined the Apple affiliate program. If you’re going to sign up for Apple Music, please do so by using this link.

On Having Conditional White Privilege During The Trump Campaign

Posted in Editorials on June 13th, 2016
by
Tags:

Last week Ralph Nader said in an interview about the popularity of Donald Trump:

There were Negro-joke books, Jewish-joke books, Polish-joke books, Italian-joke books. They used ethnic jokes to reduce tension in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s. And they’d laugh at each other’s jokes and hurl another one. But it still flows through ethnic America, you know. There are hundreds of things that people would like to say. So here’s this guy — he doubles down on them, he blows their minds. So that’s the first way he got their attention.

And I wanted to ask him, “Don’t you know white privilege is conditional?” Nader is Lebanese and in the United States many people would not consider him white if they knew that.

I have personal experience with this, I have discussed my mixed ethnicity on this blog. Many people who have conditional white privilege – Jews, light skinned Latinos, Arabs and other POC who pass as white – will have a moment in a conversation with a white person where some detail about their heritage is made known and something shifts in the white person’s tone or body language and you know they’ve just recategorized you in their head. I know Ralph Nader has had this moment, and it’s why I find his statement inexcusable.

Recently I got called out for something I did with my white privilege. In my post about why there is no progressive case for Donald Trump, I said:

For Latinos, Muslims, and many other Americans, Donald Trump is that bear trap and the vote for Hillary Clinton is the gnawing off of one’s leg.

Nezua and I had the following exchange:

I think it’s true that white people should not speak over or for people of color. There is a fine line between being an ally and taking up space that should be reserved for someone else. I also think that if you have privilege you should call out oppression and hatred where you see it, not to talk over or for other people but because it’s the morally right thing to do.

I don’t expect Nezua to intuit my heritage, and even if he knew that my father is a Colombian immigrant, his point would still stand as I do benefit from white privilege and I am not Mexican.

The reasons that I feel the need to call out Trump’s racism are both moral and personal.

I believe strongly that I should consider how my vote impacts everyone, not just myself.

I think that Trump’s comments, while specifically anti-Mexican encourage hatred against all Latinos including my family and possibly myself.

Finally, there is an ugly strain of “they’re coming for our women” underlying Trump’s remarks. Through a series of inadvisable clicks I spent a good portion of a recent afternoon reading through an infamous misogynist blog which has become a pro-Trump White Nationalist hellhole. And I read a lot of comments. Many Trump supporters are insecure men obsessed with their fear white women having sex with and bearing children with men of color. As the daughter of a white American mother and a Latino immigrant father, it was deeply unsettling to read these comments. I am a person who, in their mind should not exist. I am a mistake, an abomination, the worst outcome their fevered imaginations can muster. I am “White Genocide.” My mother is a ruined woman and my father is pure evil depravity. These are the people who filled the rallies for Donald Trump, the people who voted for him in Republican primaries, and who will vote for him in November. This is what they think of me.

I do not ever want to speak over or for groups I do not belong to. I only want to speak for myself. In my words and actions, believe I am morally obligated to consider how I impact other people from other groups.

Some thoughts on the UUA Common Read: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials on May 23rd, 2016
by
Tags:

Last week, I co-led a service at my UU Congregation about this year’s UUA Common Read, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Here’s what I had to say:

In 2005, the UU General Assembly passed a Statement of conscience, which reads in part:

As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to affirming the inherent goodness and worth of each of us. As Americans, we take pride in our constitutional promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all, including those who have violated the law. Yet the incarceration rate in the United States is five- to tenfold that of other nations, even those without such a constitutional promise. Our corrections system is increasingly rife with inequitable sentencing, longer terms of detention, racial and ethnic profiling, and deplorable jail and prison conditions and treatment. The magnitude of injustice and inequity in this system stands in stark contrast to the values that our nation—and our faith—proclaim. We are compelled to witness this dissonance between what America proclaims for criminal justice and what America practices. We offer an alternative moral vision of a justice system that operates in harmonious accord with our values as a community of faith. This vision includes the presumption of innocence, fair judicial proceedings, the merciful restoration of those who have broken the law, the renunciation of torture and other abusive practices, and a fundamental commitment to the dignity and humane treatment of everyone in our society, including prisoners.

Although Americans take great pride in the freedoms we espouse, the American prison system violates basic human rights in many ways. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States endorsed in 1948, states in Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” American correctional practice often subjects inmates to abusive treatment, such as torture and rape, and neglects basic human needs such as health care and nutrition. Some suspects are detained without charge, legal counsel, or access to family. While indigent defendants have exactly the same rights to competent counsel as non-indigent defendants, in many states indigent defendants are not provided equality of representation.

The American penchant for retribution squanders opportunities for redemption, rehabilitation, and restoration of the individual offender. Failures in the criminal justice system have created a disenfranchised, stigmatized class who are predominantly from lower-income backgrounds, poorly educated, or from racial and ethnic minorities. The punishment for crime is often simply separation from society, and the sentence one serves is the punishment. In our penal system, punishment often continues even after those convicted have completed their sentence. They are often stripped of voting rights, denied social services, and barred from many professions. If convicted of a drug crime, they become ineligible for federal student loans to attend college. Our criminal justice system makes it exceedingly difficult for anyone to reintegrate into society. People returning to their communities find that they lack opportunity, skills, and social services to fully function in society and hold down jobs, maintain families, or participate in their communities. Therefore, an unacceptable percentage of those released from our prisons and jails recidivate.

Not all prisoners who enter the system leave. One of the most shameful aspects of our current criminal justice system is the death penalty. Many countries have abandoned the practice of capital punishment. Studies fail to demonstrate that the death penalty actually deters crime. While the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the execution of juvenile offenders, the death penalty is still legal in the United States. Experience shows that judges and juries wrongly convict defendants. Given the number of death row inmates released on account of innocence, it is highly likely that we have executed innocent people and will do so again in the future unless we abolish the death penalty.

The first two Principles of Unitarian Universalism address the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Consistent with these fundamental principles, a new corrections policy must place a primary emphasis on community alternatives.

Appalled by the gross injustices in our current criminal justice system, we the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association commit ourselves to working in our communities to reform the criminal justice and correctional systems and effect justice for both victims and violators. We act in the spirit that we are indeed our sisters’ and our brothers’ keepers. Love is our governing principle in all human relationships. Therefore, that we may speak with one voice in unity, though not uniformity, we commit ourselves, our congregations to make good on our Unitarian Universalist heritage and our American promise to be both compassionate and just to all in our society. Through our diligence and perseverance in realizing this promise, we can live the core values of our country and extend the values of our faith to the benefit of others.

And so with this in mind, it is easy to understand why the UUA chose “Just Mercy” as the common read for this congregational year. The book, by Bryan Stevenson chronicles his career as an attorney working to for people on death row, mostly in Georgia and Alabama who have no other access to representation. He built the Equal Justice Initiative which litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment.

Just Mercy’s main thread follows the story of Walter McMillian, a man wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death on scant evidence, false testimony and racist rumors. And while his story is compelling, Stevenson puts it in context of the criminal justice system we have today. It’s clear that his work isn’t just about one person. It’s to address the ongoing crisis of our broken criminal justice system.

I was left in awe and amazement at the tenacity and patience of Bryan Stevenson. I am so astounded by people who can spend their whole lives fighting an uphill battle. The book is not about him and gives few details about his personal life. He is very modest about his many great accomplishments in fact. And this perspective of humility and hope frame the book.

Something I keep coming back to when I think about the death penalty is that I, like everyone else, am a fallible human being subject to amoral impulses. There is an anecdote in the book about about a man who was the victim of abuse as a child and was suffering from PTSD after serving in Vietnam. After returning to the United States, he tried to win back an ex girlfriend by PUTTING A BOMB on her porch. In his distorted mind, he would save her from the bomb, and win back her love. But that didn’t happen. It went off, killed a young girl and maimed another in the process. It was and is very hard for me to feel sorry for him. But I think that’s exactly why we need to be careful in how we adjudicate these crimes. Our emotions cloud our judgement. In my outrage over his crime I do not care about the mitigating circumstances of this man’s victimization as a small, helpless child or the mental illness he could not avoid after his country drafted him and sent him to fight in a war. But Stevenson included this story in the book to show how brutal the death penalty is. The chapter details the visceral horror of the electric chair, which this man was put to death in. And even though somewhere in my heart I want vengeance for his victims, I know that his execution did nothing to help them. In fact, the surviving girl’s family approached Stevenson and asked him for help. They told him that putting someone else to death would not heal her. And I do feel some dissonance that we, to quote and old slogan kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong.

Although I know this book was meant to expose the injustice of our current system, I was also left with the gladness that people like Bryan Stevenson exist. His optimism and his accomplishments are an inspiration.

In Which We Fight Ignorance About Microaggressions

Posted in Podcast Episodes on November 10th, 2015
by
Tags:

Are you on the edge of your seat waiting for episode three of Feminist Coffee Hour? (Coming very soon, on Thursday!) Listen to Karen and Elizabeth on “In Which We Reveal Our Ignorance” where we discuss microaggressions with Stephen, Sam and Mike.

American Politics Is Eating Itself

Posted in Editorials on November 9th, 2015
by
Tags:

Last week, Deport Racism PAC offered a $5,000 prize to anyone who would interrupt Saturday Night Live and call Donald Trump a racist. And so the show got out in front of it. Sonia Saraiya wrote in a review of Donald Trump hosting SNL:

This was most on display in the opening monologue, when a man heckled Trump, yelling “You’re a racist!” It was a plant—Larry David, who had been in the cold open, reprising his role as Bernie Sanders—but the punchline, if there was one, went nowhere. Trump was unflappable, because he knew the heckle was coming, and David’s “character” immediately admitted he’d taken cash to yell at Trump. In a few moments of adroit comic shuffling, the show introduced racism, let Trump defuse it, and then revealed it as insincere. That’s a set of actions with profound commentary for what it means to allege racism in this media climate; naturally, then, no performers of color were on stage. To include them would have meant underscoring how messed-up the bit was, and “Saturday Night Live” was not interested in critical thinking last night.

Rumors are circulating that Deport Racism PAC is linked to the Hillary Clinton campaign, but as the Daily Dot explains, all we really know is that the PAC was founded by a Clinton supporter.

But the PAC’s link to Clinton is irrelevant when you consider Saraiya’s critique. Larry David legitimized Donald Trump. His “joke” was that we all know Trump isn’t really a racist. C’mon you guys it’s just internet crazies and angry Latin@s saying that.

And in response, Deport Racism PAC has said that they’re giving the money to Larry David.

Irony is dead.

In declaring Larry David the “winner” they either don’t get the “joke,” are pretending not to, or don’t care. I’m leaning towards the latter. Which should make it very hard for anyone to take them seriously as a legitimate anti-racist organization in the future. So in this weekend’s showdown between a xenophobic megalomaniac and a nominally anti-racist PAC, the winner was Lorne Michaels. He played this whole thing expertly, as he should, having been in television for so long.

But in not using satire to speak truth to power, Michaels and David reveal that the game is rigged. Trump looks good, SNL has some of the best ratings in years and Deport Racism PAC insists that they also won somehow. What’s left is a meaningless discourse that’s more about getting attention than making a coherent point or changing anything. “Both sides” are feeding off of one another like a snake eating it’s tail (an example of the tagline for my podcast about the “political ouroboros.”) And the end result is that Trump improved his reputation. After all, that liberal Larry David didn’t think he was a racist!

I truly believe that the totality of American politics is a lot more than Donald Trump. But from conversations with friends and family who aren’t glued to Twitter, cable news and alternative media the way I am most people aren’t thinking about what Paul Ryan will do as Speaker, the climate conference in Paris or the TPP. When most Americans hear “politics” they think “Donald Trump.”

I am #WhiteGenocide

Posted in Editorials on October 22nd, 2015
by
Tags:

I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the presence of white supremacists on social media and the internet in general. While structural racism has always been a part of the United States, it feels like we are going backwards if people feel comfortable expressing these viewpoints openly. Cracked recently had a podcast about this, and after inadvertently responding to a white supremacist on Twitter, and seeing #BoycottStarWarsVII trend on Twitter it seems like these people are everywhere. So I’m going to take Amanda Marcotte’s advice, and I’m going to feed the trolls.

I have written before about how dog whistle rhetoric Republicans use about “taking their country back” feels strangely isolating to me. In general I pass as a white person but every once in a while I am reminded that my status as the daughter of a Latino immigrant means my privilege is conditional on the whims of other white people. And the whole idea that there is a “white genocide” going on is just such a reminder.

The slogans and propaganda of white supremacists are becoming more and more commonplace online. “Antiracist = antiwhite” and “#WhiteGenocide” pop up when you’d least expect to see them. Like in the responses to this tweet about the governor of Minnesota congratulating the Lynx for the WNBA championship.

The entire concept of “White Genocide” is preposterous and offensive. Immigration is the foundation of the United States, and I believe that we are better equipped to deal with it socially and culturally than much of Western Europe, simply because we have been doing it on a larger scale for longer. But they will figure it out eventually. Underneath alarmist rhetoric about immigration is a fear of white women having children with non white men. That’s at the core of the obscenity “cuckservative” – a conservative who doesn’t oppose immigration (or doesn’t oppose it strongly enough) is therefore assumed to be sexually aroused by the idea of their white wife having sex with a man of color. Underneath the racism is misogyny and natalism.

And this is where it gets personal. As an American with a white mother and a Latino father, I can’t help but feel unsettled by these attacks. That there was something nefarious about their marriage or something wrong with my existence and my heritage. On another level, I can take some sardonic pleasure in knowing that such terrible people consider me to be “wrong.” But it’s unsettling.

There is no wrong way to have an ethnicity or a nationality. The existence of immigrants and people of color is not genocide, and to say so is both bigoted and contrary to the founding principles of this country. So many great Americans were immigrants or the children of immigrants. And we are better and stronger and richer for their contributions. Anti racist does NOT equal anti white. But to be anti-immigrant is anti-American.

Image Credit: Shane. Released under a creative commons license.

Building A New Way – Black Lives Matter at UU General Assembly

Posted in Editorials on August 24th, 2015
by
Tags:

This blog post is modified from a service I co-led at my UU Congregation on August 23, 2015. The theme of the service was “Building A New Way” – the same as this years UU General Assembly. I and others who attended reported back to the congregation on our experiences. Although the events described happened almost two months ago, they still weigh heavily on my mind and my heart.

This past June I attended my second Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. It was a rewarding experience. I got to see Portland, Oregon, a place I had wanted to visit for years. The Rose City charmed me with it’s magnificent gardens, strong coffee, and hipster bohemian vibe.

I proudly carried the banner for my congregation in the banner parade, and I said hello to friends I had not seen in years.

I watched UUA President Peter Morales call up all of the same sex couples in attendance to the stage to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling which struck down bans on same sex marriage throughout our country. People sang and danced with joy.

I attended an event where members of the Lumi nation told us of the destruction that coal mining was threatening to do to their land, and I got to see Civil Rights hero John Lewis accept an award from the UU Service Committee.

I participated in my second General Assembly Sunday morning worship service, where Rev Alison Miller brought me to tears with her eloquence and I got a taste, just for a minute of what a UU megachurch might be like.

But what stayed with me the most, what I know will stay with me the longest, is something that happened hours before the convention drew to a close. Every year at General Assembly, the delegates vote on three actions of immediate witness or AIW. During the first few days, anyone can propose an AIW and collect signatures for them. Later a vote is taken on the AIWs that meet the criteria and the three with the most votes are brought up again on Sunday afternoon for final approval. The first AIW passed quickly – End Immigrant Child and Family Detention Now. The second had a few minor amendments “Support a Strong, Compassionate Global Climate Agreement in 2015: Act for a Livable Climate.” The third one though, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement” That took a while.

Our statement on Immigration was approved in 90 seconds. Climate change? Six minutes.
But the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association took one hour and forty five minutes to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

The main controversy was over the portion of the action which stated that it “encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition.”

Prison abolition can sound like a scary concept if you’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it conjures visions of the horror film “The Purge” where society suspends all laws for 24 hours. Murderers and rapists would rampage about destroying society. That’s not what prison abolition is.

I like to say that my motto is “Word have meanings, context matters.” And context in this case is everything.

The prison abolition movement is a movement that seeks to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with more humane and effective systems. Delegates in favor of the statement tried to explain this, but it was very difficult for them to be heard. People were so caught up in what they thought prison abolition meant, they were risking the passage of the AIW at all.

When I returned home, I educated myself further – I read “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and “Abolition Democracy” by Angela Davis. And what I begun to understand is that the prison abolition movement is about moving away from a punitive system which seeks to punish those who have done wrong to a rehabilitative, restorative system where the outcomes look more like justice than vengeance.

During the debate at General Assembly, Elandra Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tennessee spoke powerfully when she said “Jails aren’t a solution. If you pass something weak, you’ve passed nothing at all. If you pass it to make yourself feel good, you didn’t do it. It means nothing. Fight for what we asked for, not for what you want.”

Another speaker said “To be good allies, we should not try to lead when we ought to follow.” And that was the heart of the matter. Were we making a statement of support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Or were we telling the Black Lives matter movement what we wanted them to do?

The Youth Caucus started to tell people that if the prison abolition language was removed, they would be withdrawing the AIW altogether.

There were votes and recounts and procedural mayhem. The tension in the room was palpable. Being a religious organization, there were breaks so that people might cool down. Moments of silence, prayers for guidance. Someone ran out to find Matt Meyer. He took the stage and led us all in meditative singing.

I wanted to do what was right, even if it seemed hard. I tweeted, “I want a faith that challenges me. The idea of prison abolition pushes me out of my comfort zone but I want to get there so I’ll vote for it.”

Eventually, eventually, there was a compromise. Through some parliamentary jujitsu we left in the words “prison abolition” and added after them in parenthesis “which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable.”

The motion passed, and I know I was not the only one who felt exhausted.

I’ve been attending my UU Congregation since 2008, I signed the book in 2009. But I know my history. This is not the first time that Black UUs have told our denomination that they are not being heard. And sadly, I don’t think it will be the last.

Some UU Congregations have posted “Black Lives Matter” signs in front of their congregations. Some of those signs, like the one in River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda Maryland have been vandalized. Members of the congregation were shocked but undeterred. According to a local ABC news affiliate, “In a couple of days, the church said the damaged banner will be replaced with another one with the very same message. If vandalism happens again, congregants said they will only put up another sign.” That article was published on July 30. True to their word, RRUUC put up another sign. On Tuesday, August 11, it was vandalized again. They put up a third sign. On Tuesday August 18th, that third sign was reported stolen. RRUUC plans to put up a fourth sign.

Building a new way means supporting emerging social and civil rights movements that are in accordance with our values.

At the Starr King’s Annual President’s Lecture at this year’s General Assembly, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt suggested Robin DiAngelo’s essay “White Fragility” for allies who don’t know where to start. It’s available free online and I encourage everyone to read it.

New York City based writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones organized the “National Moment of Silence” last year – a vigil for victims of police brutality. Last week she started the hashtag #NoMoreSilence encouraging people to speak out. She wrote “You can tweet that Black Lives Matter but imagine the impact when you add a councilwoman’s name? A state senator? What if you emailed your local representative every single week demanding action re: police brutality? When was the last time you talked to your councilperson? The person you elected? Do you know their names?

This month’s edition of UU World, contains an article “Five ways UUs can support the black lives matter movement” by Kenny Wiley. He writes “It is imperative, whatever our level of education or our privileges, that none of us looks away. If we are to live up to our First Principle, and truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then we must proclaim, with words and deeds, that black lives matter.”

A question about Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback apologists…

Posted in Editorials on December 9th, 2014
by
Tags:

There’s a line of rationalization I’ve been hearing from (white) people in the wake of police killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio this past November 22. Tamir was playing with a toy gun in a public park. Police, responding to complaints of a juvenile with a gun that was “probably fake” arrived and shot him dead in seconds.

What did he expect? He was playing with a gun in a park! He was waving around a gun! The orange tip was off!

I wonder how many of these same people will sit down on the 25th an watch “A Christmas Story” and root for Ralphie, a nine year old white boy to get a gun for Christmas and then go outside and play with it, even fire it Christmas morning. How many of them will spend money on or already own merchandise from the film? How many will go to see the touring production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”?

And how many of them will see no contradiction?