July 29: Standing on the Side of Love in Phoenix
Presenters: Sal Reza, Rev. Ken Brown, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Susan Leslie
Unitarian Universalist public witness during July 2010 SB1070 protests resulted in international media coverage, strong partnerships, and a clear message that immigrants and others harmed by racist laws are not alone. Hear lessons learned from those who put their bodies on the line that will inform your own immigrant rights work.
KEN BROWN: Hi, all. Can I get you to move a little closer? We're friendly up here. We'd love to have you move a little bit closer here. We were obviously optimistic about the people that would want to come, but we're glad to see those of you that did come.
SPEAKER 1: Some people are waiting for the movie on Saturday night. This is the live Broadway version.
KEN BROWN: And, you know, be prepared for when they get up on the table here and start dancing. And don't be afraid of the fact that there's eight of us up here. We are going to give you time for questions this afternoon, if we can.
I'm Ken Brown. I'm the district executive for the Pacific southwest district, the district that hosted the events of last July. And I see out here many of the people from the Phoenix area congregations that were part of our coalition that helped bring in folks from around the continent. And I want to start by just saying a few words about that. What happened last July only happened because of relationships. The people up here sitting on the podium, the majority of them have had relationships for years with each other. Our congregations in the Phoenix area have had relationships for a good number of years with the various local groups and organizations that have been working on these issues. And so this did not happen overnight. It happened because of the building of the relationships. So for me, one of the big learnings is how well and how powerful that can be when you really are in conversation with others.
I was asked to set a little bit of the stage following general assembly last year, where we invited people to come and join us on the 29th of July, as well as next year in Phoenix for GA [General Assembly] 2012. And this workshop is not about that. There'll be another one tomorrow afternoon, I think, at 1 o'clock that the board's sponsoring, if you want to go to that one. But I came back to Arizona and realized that there were even some deeper roots and connections that we needed to make in order to really host the people that we're talking about them wanting to come and be with us.
So not only did some of these folks that are sitting out here, from our congregations in Chandler and Phoenix, go to work to do a lot of logistical work on finding places for home hospitality, on lining up transportation for people. I went to work going to meeting after meeting after meeting. I went to meetings with folks at Puente. Went to meetings with Somos America, the coalition whose board I am now on. Went to meetings creating the interface service that those of you that were there participated in on that morning, as we started out the day with that religious service that was packed. Packed mainly because of the Unitarian Universalists that were there. I think when I turned around and looked at the group that was there, I think it was almost half Unitarian Universalist in the sanctuary of that Episcopal church.
But it was that work. It was that connecting. It was out on the ground. It was being there and connected. And then when Susan came back to town from her family time that she had after GA, she started coming and connecting to these meetings as well, and between us we connected across the board to several of the pieces that were coming together to create July 29th.
We also worked with other groups, Catalyst and Ruckus Society, to do training on civil disobedience. I had been the one who had been at least on the phone and online, coordinating people who thought they might want to do civil disobedience. And I think if you do that—you know, one of the things I was cautioned for a one point was to be careful, because one of the tools that the various sheriff's departments have begun using is the conspiracy thing. And so therefore anybody that was perceived as organizing civil disobedience in other instances across the continent have been brought to trial on those charges.
So I was cautioned to be careful with some of the language that I was using. And so if you're from some of those states, like Georgia and others where some of this work might be going on in the near future, that's one of the cautions. Although in the end I finally decided I don't really care. You know, it might actually be interesting that if they're going to arrest the district executive for doing what his job was, to help people come and act on their faith. So what?
But those were some of the things that we did. We really prepared people ahead of time. We worked in coalition with other people who did the training for us on that. And I think one of the things that I saw happen at least that evening is after we went through the training session where we had—we invited anybody that wanted to come to be part of that training—we saw the numbers that thought they wanted to do civil disobedience increase. Because people really had a sense of why they were there and what impact they might have by taking that step.
And so out of the 80, the 90 people that were arrested at several different sites across Phoenix that particular day, at least 29 of them were Unitarian Universalists [UUs] from around the country and Phoenix that were arrested. And Susan maybe will tell you a little bit more of her tale. That's still ongoing. And we have as two of our speakers this afternoon also two of the other people that were part of that process.
So I'm going to stop talking at that. That's just to give you a broad outline of how some of what we did in July 29th began. And I want to invite up now Susan to discuss the partnership and local organizing that she was part of, and has been part of.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: So Ken asked me just now to say something about the trial and the arrest that I—oh, I'm Susan Frederick-Gray. I'm the minister of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Phoenix.
So on July 29th, I was arrested as part of an action of nonviolent civil disobedience, chaining myself to Sheriff Arpaio's fourth avenue jail in an effort to stop a raid that was planned on neighborhoods that day. Sheriff Arpaio had said that he didn't care what the federal judge said about SB1070 and whether or not it was going to be held back because of its violation of the Constitution, that he was going to carry out neighborhood raids. And the federal government has actually taken away his 287G agreement, which many of you live in communities, and certainly Phoenix is a community where there are 287G agreements and local law enforcement are given federal authority to enforce immigration law. However, Sheriff Arpaio, because of abuse and civil rights violations, has been—those 287G agreement on the street has been revoked. However he was publicly announcing that he would do a raid as soon as SB1070 went into effect regardless of what the judge said.
So I and five others chained ourselves to the jail in order to stop business as usual in the Sheriff's department. To stop the planned raids. Which we did. He did later in the day do a couple traffic stops, asking people for ID who were not driving in the car, who are Latino Americans. Some of them who asserted their rights. But the raid that was planned was significantly were reduced to I think about three stops that day.
So it's 10 months later, 11 months later, and my trial just concluded on Monday. So it was a two day trial. Part of the trial was a hearing because the Sheriff's department didn't follow any of their procedures or protocols, and frankly admitted that they didn't even know what their procedures were. Meaning they never follow them. And so the first part was a four hour hearing to dismiss the charges, because things were not handled well and procedures weren't followed.
But that was denied, and so then the trial began. And at this point the trial has concluded, although the judge is not sure if we violated the statute that we're accused of, which is a traffic violation. But we were not actually disrupting any traffic. We were on jail property when we were chained there. So he's reviewing that and in about two weeks will offer a decision, and then another group of defendants from that same action will be tried on July eighth. So I'm expecting an answer about the judge's ruling at that time. So that's just an update on that.
So how we got to July 29th? And specifically the partnerships. So I've been the minister the Unitarian Universalist congregation for three years. The congregation has had a relationship with Puente from leaders of our social action committee. Specifically George and Jane Pauk, I believe, started that relationship with Tonatierra, and then Tonatierra created Puente in order to be able to do more movement work. Sal can tell you a little bit more about what's Tonatierra is. So that relationship's been maybe eight years? That's been going on for about eight years, and so I've been a part of it for three years.
And as SB1070 was coming down the legislative pike, there was an effort by Puente and Border Action Network, which is a Tucson based community organizing group that works on ground border issues, called together leaders in the community, executive directors of organizations all across the state of Arizona, to begin having planning meetings, knowing that we all work on different things and have different missions. How do we work together against SB1070? And that's where some of the organizing that led up to July 29th began. And prior to July 29th, with the 100,000 march on May 29th, which about 500 UUs marched in that march. Many from Arizona, but about 200 from around the country came and marched on May 29th.
So this broad based coalition began working together, and after trying to fight the passage and signing of SB1070, then we moved into a mode of kind of escalating from the time it was signed until it was supposed to go into effect on July 29th. One thing to lift up is even though the federal court upheld SB1070, on the ground it is still being enforced. It's being enforced by the Sheriff's department and the police department. So it's not really true that it's been stopped.
OK. So our two actions. I guess what I would say for my role in this partnership was organizing UUs to come to Arizona. And I worked with Ken Brown and other area ministers, and our congregations in Phoenix. What I think was most exciting about the work we did was the way that we collaborated across congregations and the way that our immigration task forces were working together and meeting together, lay people and ministers meeting together to organize this Unitarian Universalist component of what was planned for July 29th.
And so there was a lot of organizing going on among many different groups, and what I saw my role as is organizing Unitarian Universalist participation. And that took the place of being a part of the interfaith worship service. There were trainings around nonviolent civil disobedience. And then Unitarian Universalists, some who took a rest, but hundreds who helped support those who took a rest, taking an intersection with members of Puente and with other immigrant rights folks who were there in Phoenix—taking an intersection in front of Sheriff Arpaio's offices in the Wells Fargo corporate building, taking that intersection and then the separate action at the jail. Which was blocking the entrance where patrol cars or Sheriff's buses drive in and drop people who've been arrested off to be processed in the jail.
So those are the two actions. They were extremely effective in a couple of key areas. Number one was we received international press coverage for the action, making it clear that there were people in Arizona who did not agree with this anti-immigrant legislation. And that was important. The second thing was stopping the raids that day. But also—and Sal might speak to this—but the public raids and the ways in which Sheriff Arpaio had been publicly celebrating raids in workplaces and neighborhoods, and crime sweeps went down after those events. They have unfortunately gone back up recently, and there's been a number of workplace raids in Phoenix, and even a neighborhood raid. But there were several months where that really quieted down, at least from my perspective, after those actions.
The Department of Justice was all over Phoenix for that day, for July 29th. And so Department of Justice attorneys called on me, called on others who were arrested, to tell our stories about what happened in the jail. There were significant civil and human rights abuses going on in the jail. One of the protesters was beaten until he was unconscious and then continued to be beaten by Sheriff's deputies. People were not Mirandized when we were arrested, so we were not read our rights. And folks were interrogated about their immigration status and where they were born, so they say I understand legally that if you're not interrogated, you don't have to be read your rights, but people indeed were interrogated. We were treated differently based on the color of our skin and whether or not we had an accent.
We saw another prisoner—some folks, I did not personally see this, but I know other people in jail saw another person who was in jail, not one of the protesters, have her nose broken by guards in the jail. Those of us who were chained were treated quite rough, being that we were nonviolent, peaceful demonstrators. So anyway, we got to tell those stories to the Department of Justice attorneys and share what we saw in the jail, and for me, a person of privilege and credibility, based on my religious profession, speaking out to what we saw in that jail.
So the key things were stopping the raids. The raids stopping for months after that. The international attention that there are people standing up against anti-immigrant laws. The message that standing on the side of love, and the message of human dignity and love being the core issue that we're working for, and what these laws are threatening people's human dignity and human rights. And then finally, the work with the Department of Justice, which may not result in any action, but at least there is evidence, and there were stories, and there were reports and testimonies that were given and received by the attorneys at the Department of Justice.
And actually the effects of the work continue because of the trials, and because of the media attention around the trials, and the opportunities to testify once again to the to the unlawful raids that are happening, and to the moral call and the need for protection of human dignity, human rights for all people in this country. Anything else? OK.
Just one more thing. I might say this later, but as a Unitarian Universalist, I was so moved when SSL, Standing on the Side of Love, helped me make that call to the country, to the national UUs. And so moved when at GA, Sal and I gave that call to come to Phoenix, with how many people came. And gave up their freedom and put themselves on the line, and just came to support. So I just want to say thank you to all of you, and just how unbelievably moved I was by our faith and our people on that day.
KEN BROWN: That's a good transition to our next speaker, Dan Formansky, from the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. The other key component, besides all the local people, the interaction with the churches and the work, was our national UUA staff. And Susan Leslie, and then Dan Formansky particularly, from Standing on the Side of Love. I'm sure many of you who came or followed what went on in Phoenix did so by following the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. And they were great in being there and supporting us locally.
I just happened to pull out of my wallet, recognize that? One of the things they did for us was create these little cards that on one side had the phone numbers of those of us locally, so they knew how to get ahold of us if they got separated, and the address of the church where we were coordinating things from. And on the other side were three points about why people were there, so in case the press approached them and they wanted something to say, we had that out. And that's something again that was created by our national staff to be there with us.
But I want to now turn it over to Dan Formansky, who's going to share a little bit about the campaign, and SSL, and some slides about what happened.
DAN FORMANSKY: Thank you. Thank you, Ken.
I have three points today, too. Because we believe in three points with the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. And the first point actually is a reiteration of what you've already heard before, and I feel like it's worth reiterating again. And that point is partnerships, partnerships, and partnerships. And the reason why the Standing on the Side of Love campaign was able to be supportive of these efforts was because of all of the partnerships and the relationships that had been built by Ken, by Susan, and by the other congregations, most especially with Puente, over a period of several months, and in some cases several years. And so we were happy to heed that call and be a part of working to bring Unitarian Universalists, and in some cases other people of faith, from across the country to be present in Arizona on what was a very important day. So I'm standing here because we're a visual campaign. I have some visuals for everybody.
But firstly, just in case you don't know what the Standing on the Side of Love campaign exactly is, we have a whole workshop tomorrow. But in a nutshell, we're a public advocacy campaign of the UUA that works to harness love's power to end bigotry and oppression against people because of their identity. Dealing with identity based oppression. And we really started as a marriage equality based campaign and branched out into immigrant rights. And for me, the first big action that I took part in as a member of the UUA staff was to go to Phoenix and to be a part for a few days with this public witness, this profound and tremendous public witness that took place.
And for me, it was when the Standing on the Side of Love campaign actually came to life when I saw the power of this shirt that I'm wearing and the message of love. It literally breathed life into the job that I had accepted wholeheartedly, but it gave it a vision that I couldn't have even imagined. So right here, this is just a visual. This picture actually is not from Phoenix, that you see on the screen. This was from May, and I believe it comes from Philadelphia. So Phoenix actually, in July 29th, happened a few months after the law had been passed. But when the law originally had passed, several UUs had been in Phoenix in May. They were protesting. Protests were taking place across the country. And so the campaign really started to pay attention, to communicate more actively with Susan Frederick-Gray, with Ken Brown, with some of the other individuals on the ground.
And the results of our efforts was more or less encapsulated better than any of us ever could by Kim Bobo. Kim is the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice. And Religion Dispatches, if you don't know it, is a publication that many progressive people of faith read. And she wrote this article after seeing what we had all done in Phoenix, called A Primer on Activism From Unitarian Universalists. Want to know how to run a successful protest? Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice takes us to school. I think for those of us who have been doing activism through the UUA for such a long time, to be recognized by the broader progressive community for our efforts on immigrant rights was a really profound moment of pride for us.
Here we see reverend Susan Frederick-Gray with Peter Morales behind her. And is that Z? That's Ruben? This was right in front of the county jail, the Maricopa County jail. They were holding protests. And this is one of Kim Bobo's quotes. "Of the several hundred religious leaders who showed up, only the UUs seriously committed staff, money, and organizing talent to the struggle." And that's true. We had more than a dozen staff people come from across the country, UUA staff, to heed the call to Phoenix. That was a very serious investment of time and organizing resources on our part. In our staff group, Witness Ministries, there were I believe five people who came and were there for a period of several days, almost a week in some cases.
And one of the really powerful things—so point number one was partnerships. But point number two is the power of this campaign, the power of Standing on the Side of Love to change your public witness, to breathe life into that public witness. So it's the visibility of love. And it starts with faith in action. I mean, that's what this campaign is supposed to be all about, whether it's about immigration, LGBT rights, whether it's about standing with individuals, American Muslims who are targeted because of their faith. It's about faith. It's our faith in action. It's breathing life into our faith. Pride in an underlying principle of faith. And non-polarizing presence, which is a really fundamental part. When you've got "love" emblazoned on your chest, I have to say there's nothing more powerful than a visual of armed police in riot gear, and then individuals with t-shirts with "love" emblazoned across their chests.
It's an opportunity to put forth our vision into the world for so many people who came to Phoenix from across the country, to take part in training, to learn civil disobedience tactics, to really see firsthand how they could land their moral voice to this. It literally was their vision of the kind of world that we want to see, which again, of course, is what this campaign is about.
So these yellow t-shirts, the banners, the yard signs. When I first took over this job, they're not always so comfortable. I'm wearing them day after day. It's not my color. Goldenrod. It's not like I went to an Estee Lauder counter and they said goldenrod matches your skin tone. This isn't about fashion, though. This is about faith. And when we talk about that the level of unity that people saw and the level of press that we got, a lot of it was because these yellow shirts popped out so visually that it really provided something for the press to see. It provided a unity message. And all of the folks on the ground, they began to know us as the love people, the yellow shirt people. The breadth of our numbers was very obvious.
So there were other faith denominations there. There were other groups there. But because we had shown up in a coordinated visual fashion, people knew that we had represented. And part of why we show up is to stand with, to stand there. And we want people to know that we're there. We want people to feel that love. And the goldenrod shirts are a good way to do that.
It's positive messaging. So one thing I learned, my experience comes from a more secular organizing. I ran an LGBT civil rights group, and we talked about fighting. We're fighting for marriage equality. It's a battle. This battle isn't over. And I've really had to learn to change that language a little bit and to reframe it. And this is more about positive messaging. It is more about love. And sometimes it's a gentle angry love, as they say, but we try to put a positive frame around it. The Standing on the Side of Love campaign, of course, is fantastic denominational branding for the Unitarian Universalist association. What could be better than being known, oh, UUs are the love people? What could be better than that? And of course the increased media attention. This was something that Kim Bobo had said in her article. "The UUs were very visual. Their yellow t-shirts could be seen blocks away. Their giant banner was a good media visual, and they chose a smart downtown street location that attracted attention." Actually we were at multiple locations.
But these are certainly some really powerful images. Again, you've got that "love" emblazoned on the chest next to police in riot gear. People sitting down in civil disobedience protest with that love message. And these are just more love visuals that took place. I love that image on the bottom. Was that at the jail? Those who were not arrested were holding vigil outside the jail, and there was such a level of joyfulness and prayerfulness. Outside tent city. Thank you, Susie.
One of my favorite people, Susan Leslie, offered this quote. "We developed and acted upon a covenant of right relationships, and demonstrated our faith through singing, praying, holding vigil, showing care for ourselves and others the entire time. Many, many acts of kindness by people in yellow shirts were reported to police officers, to people in the community, at the jails who were not part of the demonstrations, to each other. Many, many acts of kindness towards us by Puente, the legal team, the trainers, other allies, hotel staff, cafe owners, local and national press people, local police, and people on the street were reported. Standing on the Side of Love creates love. It is a non-polarizing force for change. It has the potential to realign the political landscape in this country."
And it's true. Everywhere we went throughout that weekend, we tried really hard to stay at hotels that had come out against SB1070. And everywhere we went, people would say thank you. Are you here to protest that law? Thank you.
And I want to give special credit to the megaphone in Susan's hand. When you talk about best practices, showing up at a big rally with a megaphone pretty much guarantees that the press are going to come right up to you and ask you—basically, you could be anybody. But with the megaphone, you're a person of authority. One thing I really tried hard to do was actually to give that megaphone away. The fine individuals who had come from other migrant organizations across the country and just say, hey, take the megaphone for a while. Get your message out there.
And then the next part, sort of that third part that I think made this so successful was connecting all of it nationally. It was creating that narrative arc with local voices to encourage the in gathering. And it became really Susan Frederick-Gray as the primary voice. Certainly she's not the only minister who's been doing active engagement. And Ken Brown has been really, really active. But in terms of calling people in, we did use her voice specifically in many of the email messages that we came out. So we really wanted people across the country to feel like they knew who was calling them there to Phoenix.
We encourage people to take part in solidarity events across the country and to register them online. I believe we had about 60 folks register that wherever they were across the country, they were participating in their own national day of noncompliance events across the country. We used a variety of online calls to action. The social media component was something that we were able to bring to the efforts, which was live Tweeting. Twitpic, so that people could feel connected to what was going on. There were up to the minute Facebook status updates. Here's who's been arrested. Here's what's happening now.
And soliciting earned media. So these were couple of articles that we had solicited, that reverend Peter Morales had written. One was in the paper, I guess it was on Sunday. It was in the Huffington Post. Why is he going to Phoenix? Why are the UUs coming en mass to Phoenix? It an opportunity to really get our message out in more than just a sound bite. And then we took part in explaining what had taken place in Phoenix by having Peter submit another post that got a lot of hits across the country about his experiences being arrested and jailed.
Some of the things that we did when we were there. We tried to make a lot of videos. This was one thing. We tried to be fluid. I mean, there were so many things going on. But Interfaith Worker Justice had gotten in touch with us and said, hey, there's a wage theft action going on. There are workers who can't get their wages, and they've been summarily dismissed by Waldo's, this barbecue restaurant.
And so we had some folks go down there with some sizzle gear, and we brought the flip cams, and we got some footage. And we put it up online, so that Waldo's sort of was up online and everybody knew. They could see that they had been targeted for not paying their workers, and that they potentially were using the newly passed SB1070 as an excuse for that. Which hopefully put some pressure on them a few days before they agreed to sit down and meet with faith leaders and the workers who were being garnished in terms of wages.
We did a whole bunch of other videos. For the most part, at least 2,000 people watched them. So people were really engaged with what was going on. We had videos of Susan Frederick-Gray offering really profound remarks just moments before she was taken away, and [? Jenny ?] [? Quarter ?] at the courthouse jail.
One more quote from Kim Bobo. "The UU committed money and staff to the planning and preparation in Arizona. Presumably, the UU is cash strapped, as other denominations, and yet they committed resources to action and witness. As a result of the denomination's commitment, contributions flowed to help with bail, legal defense, and additional outreach work." And indeed, we did solicit people to help out with that legal defense fund, and we had just from our end, $5,000 came in really rapidly that we were able to funnel to the defense fund set up by the UU congregation of Phoenix to help pay for legal costs.
And then finally, just continued active engagement. I mean, one thing we want you all to take away is this isn't just about Phoenix. This is now about the whole country. It's about sort of the morality of the nation itself. And we've really tried to continue to highlight what's happening in Arizona, whether it's the ethnic studies programs that have been targeted or clubs and social groups at universities.
Action campaign. Sal Reza was banned from the Senate for a period of time by the senate president, Russell Pearce. I believe it was a lifetime ban, and we worked with folks to set up an online campaign to say to the Senate president, and to the governor, this is insanity. This is a perversion of democracy. One of many in Arizona. But in this case, we thankfully were successful in having that pressure—more unwanted pressure on their part—reduce that lifetime ban to just a couple of weeks.
No More Deaths. I mentioned No More Deaths—No Mas Muertes—which is a humanitarian organization that's also a ministry the UU congregation of Tucson. We've been working with them. We're really getting ready for them to release a fantastic report that is going to highlight more than 800 instances of human rights violations that have been tracked from individuals who have been in short term detention at the border. And these are human rights violations that would make your head spin. Many of them have been reported to the Civil Rights Division and border patrol, and there's been no action on them. So we really we want to help them lift it up, and also make sure that are actions that we can across the country take place, so that the report doesn't just go out into the world without there being pressure put on it.
And of course, the level of work that the UUA's been doing on immigration is much broader than I can tell you right now. But there's a continued engagement. Certainly GA 2012 is not a culmination, but what we hope is a long road of seeking a path of morality on this issue, focusing on human rights. We've really tried to create interfaith partnerships. To focus on ICE access and secure communities programs. To be a leading faith voice in this issue. We did a sign on letter on that we delivered to the administration in February, 2011. One of the quotes was, "As leaders of faith communities, we call you to welcome the stranger and treat our neighbors with love and respect, to exercise your executive power to halt all ICE access programs that enlist localities and states in the enforcement of federal immigration law."
Peter Morales was the lead signatory of that letter, and we had really a who's who of many denominations on it. There are some not even listed. But it was the United Church of Christ. The Episcopals signed on. The National Coalition of American Nuns. So we've been really proud that we've been able to be a leader in engaging other faith communities.
And that's the last slide, and I'm going to pass the microphone along. But the one we're most proud of, I think, because when we go back to partnerships, Pablo Alvarado from NDLON said, "After Arizona, for NDLON and our allies, we believe the UUA and NDLON share the same vision. After what we saw in Arizona, we're excited to explore ways to collaborate, not just in Arizona, but in other states where there are SB1070s in place." And that's the sort of partnership that we really care about, which is how can we translate what we learned in Phoenix and Arizona, and move forward in other states, and keep the country on a trajectory that's forward moving and not backwards moving?
KEN BROWN: Thanks, Dan. Dan's right. One of the ways were able to do the organizing was because we're all running around with these little phones, Tweeting and connecting with each other, and calling each other. I was taken aback at one point. I'm a flower child of the '60s and been doing this work for almost 50 years, and somebody said, well, how did you this in the old days, when you didn't have cell phones stuff like that? I had to think for a minute. I'm not sure how we did it, maybe.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: Pay phones.
KEN BROWN: Pay phones is how we did it. We carried dimes and quarters around in our pockets to use pay phones. Yes, Susan, that's how we did it.
But one of the other things, as somebody that's been involved in this work for so long, that really impressed me were the number of Unitarian Universalists who, at least to me, were young that came out. The younger people, and the younger ministers, who came out to be part of this action. It was heartening as someone who, like I said, has been around as long as I have doing this work to see so many of our newer and younger ministers committed to this work. And so we've asked two of them to share their stories about why they came and were part of this. And so I'm going to ask Colin Bossen and Wendy von Sirpolo to flip a coin and decide who is coming first, and come on up.
WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: I was going to say, how about the real young one? [LAUGHTER] You're awfully sweet.
COLIN BOSSEN: OK. Am I here representing the voice of the youth or something? [LAUGHTER] I'm not exactly certain I'm qualified to do that anymore. Actually, I guess I came primarily because of relationships. I think one of the things that's really important to stress in doing this social justice work is the power of relationships to bring people together. And I came because I had a personal relationship with Susan Frederick-Gray, and she asked me to come. Oh, right. I'm sorry. I'm the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, in Ohio. And so Susan asked me to come at GA last year, and I said yes. So I think that when we start to do this work, building upon the relationship we already have is a really great place to just start.
I think that it was important for me to be there, though, not just because my relationship with Susan, but because I had a realization that I've been involved in immigrant rights work for a number of years, and it seemed very clear that if laws like SB1070 were going to get passed in Arizona, they were then going to be promulgated throughout the rest of the country. Which is exactly what we've seen in the last year. And I'm a real strong believer in the first principle of our Unitarian Universalist Association, the inherent worth and dignity of every person. And also in Martin Luther King, Junior's dictum that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And I really didn't want to see laws like SB1070 spread across the country.
And so I felt like as a person of faith, so it was important to go and bear witness and say as a representative of not people in Arizona, but the national faith community, I'm here saying what's going on in Arizona is crazy, and we don't want to see it going throughout the rest of the country. Because I don't want to live in a country that says it's OK engage in racial profiling. It's OK to target immigrant communities. It's OK to treat people differently based upon the color of their skin.
In terms of what I did when I got there—well, what I did to bring it back to Cleveland. In preparing to go there, I put together a press release with some of my staff and my congregation that we then distributed, basically saying, "Local Unitarian Universalist minister going to Arizona to stand in opposition to SB1070." And then a second press release saying, "Minister gets arrested," because I was planning on committing civil disobedience. So they knew that once I got arrested, they were supposed to send out this press release. And it was really great, because I got a lot of interview requests and was in the paper a couple of times. And then there was even an editorial cartoon about me. And I was invited to participate in some teach-ins, and then I was able to really raise a dialogue in the congregation about immigration laws and reform. And then use that to organize letter writing campaigns, where we got—and I've got a pretty small congregation. We've got like about a hundred members, and we were able to get 50 members to write different letters demanding national immigration reform.
So my being there was able to galvanize about half the congregation to participate in that. So I think that that sort of connection of here's why I'm going, here's some stuff to set up, and then the publicity really helped the congregation feel like it was an issue that was important. So that's what I've got to say.
WENDY VON ZIRPOLO: I'm Reverend Wendy von Zirpolo. I'm privileged to serve our congregation in Marblehead, Massachusetts. And I'm 54, so if that qualifies for young, woo hoo! It's all relative.
And much of what Colin just said just rings true for me as well. Publicity was an enormous piece. I want to point out one difference in a relationships that I think that's useful to hold up, and then also two additional ways that I've used it to connect my congregation with this effort.
And the first is that I didn't know Susan Frederick-Gray. And I'm pleased and thrilled to be in relationship with her now, and a special relationship with her now, having spent time in jail. But what drew me to Arizona was, first, I was then serving as the president of Allies for Racial Equity, also known as ARE. And we were involved, and because of our accountable relationship to DRUUMM, or Organized Community of Color here in Unitarian Universalism, we were involved in the boycott conversation. That got my head engaged in what was going on in Arizona. And what this legislation was about. How evil—I will use that word—it was. How much money was riding on the retention and deportation of immigrants, and in many cases, citizens.
So it was my head that got me there in May, and that's when my heart started learning, as I marched with so many others. And we were marching alongside families, and children, and babies, and strollers being pushed by grandmothers who are reaching for water bottles and snacks. And it was that relationship that grabbed my heart, took what was in my head, and tied it to my faith in a way that it was unconscionable to think about not being involved in Arizona, and everywhere else the sort of oppression was happening.
My faith then called me to do two things. To come back in July, and I was part of the arrest at the jail. And I need not say anything more that has been said here. Except I will say that when I went back, my trial was a little bit different. I didn't have a trial. I pled, and one of the things that I did, much like Colin, was prepared a statement that I could then take back. And this is the piece about connecting it back to the community. I found it really effective to be able to go back and put this in the context of a national issue, a national agenda about human rights and oppression, and tie it to our UU history of civil disobedience and also of justice work. Tie it to our work around the civil rights movement. Tie to our work around Vietnam. Tie to women's rights issues. All of that. And that was a very easy way for my congregation to become part of it, not just by hearing or taking my story, but by stepping up and telling me their own. And that was a humbling experience for me, to hear how deeply rooted they already were in what was going on in Arizona.
And I should say, the interfaith community, too. When I read a statement to the judge in Arizona, when I went to plead guilty, that entire statement which talked about responding to a higher law was then embraced by the entire interfaith community of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and they all signed a letter affirming it that then went in the paper. So taking this story of how this national agenda—this worldwide agenda about hate and about othering—taking this story from what's going on in Arizona, and Susan's good works, and Sal's good works, and bringing it home to any of our communities. It's just waiting for us to do that, and our faith calls us to do so.
The second thing I'll just mention very briefly, because we have other speakers, is that the issue of Secure Communities. I think Dan mentioned it. This is a national program of ICE that aims to require all people arrested for anything to have their fingerprints run through the system. And over 54% of the people that are deported through this program have no criminal record at all. It's a program that criminalizes entire communities, breaks up families, and puts people including children and babies in harm's way. It should be called Insecure Communities. So in Massachusetts, the yellow shirts and the big signs that say "love" have been showing up at every single meeting the governor held to hear input on this program, alongside busloads of people from the Tea Party who had different messages and different reactions to those signs of love. And it has not been pretty or easy, much like all of the efforts here in Arizona, but the governor said no.
The Secure Communities program and putting this in the narrative of human rights in our nation are both bridges just waiting for us to connect this. So please go to the GA 2012.
KEN BROWN: Before I introduce our next speaker, I want a few people out here to stand, because I see we have several of the people that were also arrested with these folks here with us. So could you just stand up, those of you that are here that were also arrested on that day? Thank you all. [APPLAUSE]
Probably the best known local person in Phoenix who's not a Unitarian Universalist, known to Unitarian Universalists, is Sal Reza. He's become that over the last year, since appearing here at General Assembly last year, and the work that we've been doing with him around May 29th and July 29th as well. And so I want to ask Sal to come up and share with you some of what has been important for him as a local organizer for Puente, with having Unitarian Universalists there in Phoenix.
SAL REZA: Thank you. Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me here again. Like you said, I'm not a Unitarian Universalist, but I do follow the indigenous teachings. And Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota elder, once said that the first relation is a relation within yourself and Wonka Tonka, the Great Creator. And unless that relationship is not there, then you cannot relate to another human being. And then once two human beings can relate to each other, then you can relate among nations, Or among clans, or among peoples. So in fact, I do feel very close to the Unitarian Universalists, in thought and in actions.
They asked me to talk about how you guys coming down and helping us out affected us. First of all, let me tell you that Tonatierra is the organization that I belong to. And Tonatierra is based on indigenous principles, and everything we do is around families. And to us, you are family. And families help each other out. And when you guys came down, it was like family members coming to help us in a time of crisis and a time of trouble. In a time of a hardship, too.
I think when I realized that I had seen—many of you come down on the 29th of May, when we mobilized over a hundred thousand people, and I had had relationships with George Pauk and his wife for a long time, because they were always there helping us out we're fighting Sheriff Joe at the furniture store at Pruett's. They were there going to our meetings. They were there all the time. And from there, I started to be getting to know the UUs a little bit better. But when so many of you came down and helped us out, not only with good words, not only with money, not only with this, but you actually put your bodies on the line. You actually lost your liberty for a belief. Not only for a belief, for other human beings. And when a human being can actually put themselves on the line for another human being, then there's still hope. There's still love.
There's a Mexican author. His name is Jose Revueltas. He writes about the Mexican Revolution, different things. And he talks about this professor that actually gave his life, because he gave water to the federales when he was a Christero. In other words, a Christero was the Christians that were fighting the federal troops. And he gave them water. Most people do not understand that, but that's the highest act of love you can do. Give your life for another human being. And when I saw so many of you guys come down, and when we were incarcerated, there was no UUs. There was no Puente. It was just human beings protecting other human beings.
And I'm telling you, the children from the [? comadres, ?] the children from the Comite de Defensa Del Barrio, the elders, the parents, everybody, they remember you. They remember you because you went and stood up for them. It's not just the act itself. It's still going on. On the 29th of July, it's going to be one year, and we plan on having actions that day in commemoration. We're not planning any arrests so far. [LAUGHTER} Not unless somebody has told me differently. But we want to commemorate that day. We want to have a mini-concert, local groups, no big deal. But we want people to come together and remember that day, because that's the day of resistance. That's the day of resistance that has to commemorated, and I think, you know, you're invited to come if you have the time. It's not going to be, like I say, arrests. But it's also the day that I'm going to be on trial, just like Susan was.
But the main thing is I don't know how to thank you. I really don't. Because to me, that's what it is. It's that connection that Wallace Black Elk was talking about. Where there's a relationship between not only two human beings, but between peoples that are connected to the creator. Are connected to a higher force. Some people can call it universe. Some people can call it God. Some people can call it Wonka Tonka. It has many names, but it is that power. And you guys are connected to that power. Thank you very much.
KEN BROWN: Our last speakers are people that are going to now share with you a little bit more about taking this home, because this workshop really was billed not really as much as about what happened last July, as much as a reflection on that as a way of sharing with you how to take this work home. How to bring it home to wherever you happen to live. Because this is not just about Arizona. This is about our whole nation. It's about turning around and recapturing, regaining control of a nation that has gone wild across the continent and not just in Arizona.
Susan Leslie has been on the UUA staff for 18 years. And she has filled a number of roles. I've worked with her probably over all those 18 years in number of different roles in that time. And a lot of what she does is focused on helping you all connect around these issues and others. Our other speaker here in this the session is B. Loewe who is national organizer for the National Day Laborer's Organization based out of Chicago. Actually, Susan connected me with B. over the internet back—I don't know when it was. Last year some time. And he and I, we kept trying to go to this cafe to have a meeting and it never was open. I don't know what happened. So we ended up sitting in the street somewhere in a car, and sort of plotting some of things together of what was going to happen on July 29th. But again, he's someone who has been working with NDLON nationally, and has a broader perspective of what is happening across the continent right now.
So I'm going to ask Susan and B to come up and share some of what they know that's happening. How you can be involved in your locales about stopping the spread of the xenophobic laws that are seemingly growing as we stand here.
SUSAN LESLIE: Hey, everybody. How you all doing? Good. I know it's been a long day.
I'm going to bring B up here in a minute. Just a couple of things I wanted to say was we learned so much from Puente, and from NDLON, being out on the streets in Phoenix. I mean, these folks know how to take care of each other. Hold vigil when anyone's arrested. There was dancing outside the jail. There was water for everybody. And we got influenced by that. Because truthfully, when we first got there, we're still kind of more individualistic culture. People are running around here and there. But by the end, we really got it. For me, that's part of what was so transforming about Phoenix. People put aside complaints and just did what needed to be done for each other.
I want to say that NDLON, they're just really brilliant organizers. And one of the things they said before July 29th was if your president was willing to come here and get arrested, that would be major. And I want to make sure we get that in the room, because Peter Morales decided to do that. And NDLON wanted more. They said if you could get other major faith leaders to come and get arrested, that would be even better. Well, we didn't succeed at that, but after July 29th, NDLON said there's still so much more you can do.
And you know, that's their job, because their community is under attack. And I have to say, just telling on myself, I've been involved in immigrant rights and there was a huge raid in new Bedford, Massachusetts. So when I'm in Phoenix and the local folks are holding a press conference, and I'd just heard there was a raid that morning and they're not saying anything about it as we prepare for July 29, I was astounded. And I said to one of the leaders afterwards, why didn't you mention the raid? And he said, Susan, there's four a day at least. And that was just a real wake up call for me, of getting where I was. Really understanding what's going on. You know, I didn't know it until I was there.
So anyway, NDLON said, well look, we need to get President Obama to issue an executive order to get rid of these programs. And it would be really great if the UUA would initiate that and get other faith communities to sign on to that. And it took a while. I mean, we started it in the summer right after the actions. And we had to organize it. We had to figure out, well, the Quakers will sign on first. And if we get the Quakers, then maybe we'll be able to get the Reformed Jews. And then they'll unlock perhaps the Methodists. And sadly, it was really once the Dream Act failed that everybody came on.
But NDLON is so smart about so how do you build power? Obviously just going to President Obama and saying, will you stop this, is not going to work. We've got to build some power. And so we have been working closely in various states that they've identified, and then we look at where do we have congregations? Who could we get them in partnership with? And so when Wendy said the governor said no, that was a victory. In Massachusetts, the governor said we're not signing on to Secure Communities! You're not coming in here and not doing this to our communities. And it's happened in New York, and it's happened in Illinois, and there's many more. OK, we're not using the word "fight." OK? There's many more places where we need to spread the love and stop them from breaking apart our communities, and B. Loewe is here to tell you about that.
B. LOEWE: What an introduction. We love UUs. I mean for real. There's lots of people who we try to work with on a local level. There's lots of people who we try to work with on a national level. And we love the UUs.
And I think that energy is a reason for it. I think the example that you heard set is a reason for it. And I think we were asked to share some of the lessons coming out of Arizona last year that we take into the work that we continue in our own communities. And I think really the lesson of solidarity is one that standing on the side of love models on a daily basis. And so what I want to share is not so much what our opinion is, but more of what we've been able to observe in the UU's work and how you all have engaged in this movement. To reflect that back is something that we can all share.
Because what we know is that we didn't stop it in Arizona completely. There's still a steady march forward toward hate. And it has been spreading, right? And so really, on a national level, what the lack of a pathway to legalization has done has created a dilemma for all of us where we have to choose whether or not we comply with these laws, or whether we refuse to comply and stand on the side of love, stand on the side of human rights, right?
And it's easy to look at Arizona and say that this is a bad apple state. It's a rogue state. It's on its own, right? There's people who say, you know, let Arizona secede. The rest of us are all right. But really, Arizona was created by the federal government. It was actually created by two things. 1070 comes out of a federal commitment to criminalization that's decided that undocumented folk are better treated as criminals than human beings, right? It also comes out the conditions for 1070 were created by our own commitment within the migrant rights movement exclusively to a DC strategy, where we thought that if all we have to do is convince Congress to give us legalization, then we'll be OK.
And what that did was neglect the field. What that did was neglect our own communities. And what that did was take away the voice and the power of directly affected folks and try to put it in appealing to the hands of politicians. And so when a law like 1070 gets passed, instead of having spent years of building a base and spending years of building strong community infrastructure and institutions, we spent years pleading and lobbying, and we're in a position of strength to be able to bat it down right away.
And so the conditions from 1070 are ones that we now face, where the idea of exchanging enforcement for legalization has now left us with nothing but enforcement, right? And what we see in Arizona is really two visions of the country. One of them is Jan Brewer's and Russell Pearce's and Sheriff Arpaio's. A vision of hate and attrition. And another vision is the one that we've been building together and we see blossoming in the body of defence committees on a daily basis. Of inclusion. Of love. Of self empowerment and self determination. And really in times of economic crisis, all of us are presented with that question of how do we wish to be together as a people? And one way that our states are deciding to go down is the path of Sheriff Arpaio. Another way that all of us have the responsibility of making it is the path that you all have heard today, that Puente, NDLON, and the UUs are walking together, right?
And so how do we engage in that in each and every one of us? Because it's a question of what is my part? And I think especially as a racial justice and economic justice movement, for people who come from a place of privilege, for people who may come from racial or economic privilege, there's often a tendency of coming into a community to adopt its culture, right? Like Chuck D., you'll see my age. I'll represent the actual young people on the panel. [LAUGHTER]
Chuck D. is a MC. He led the rap group Public Enemy. And he said that white people often use communities of color to be the spice in their otherwise bland existence, right?
And so firstly, what we need to know as we do cultural exchange is what we each bring to this, yeah? And what the UUs do, what we see you all doing on a daily basis is you come with your own sense of value. You come with your own sense of identity. You come with their own sense of spirituality and grounding and core. And you bring that to the exchange. So it's not a relationship of me coming and taking from your culture. It's us coming together and sharing our cultures. And when you know why you're in the room, you know where you're going and you can't be swayed along the way, which is a difference.
I think along those lines, when we were talking about 2012 earlier, people said, well, we're not ready for a justice GA. That's a lot of responsibility, right? And I think as we get involved in anti-racist work, as we get involved in the work of justice, a lot of it is often how do we do this right? How do we do this perfectly, right? And I don't think any of us are asking for perfection. What we're asking for is partnership. And knowing that there may not be a right way to act, but these times are calling us to act, and so how do we do that together?
And so I think for those of us who often were told that our voices are powerful, who see ourselves reflected in the leadership of the country, a lot of it when it comes time to do social justice work is how do we lead by following? How do we find the community, be in support of it, and come with all of our brilliance, all of our skills, and all of our ideas, but do that in service of the people affected. How do we lead by following? And who's leadership do we choose to follow? As you'll see, as you probably know, the migrant rights movement—most movements—are multi-faceted, have a lot of personalities, a lot of different decisions and opinions of which way to go, where, and how.
And so it's important to me, I think, to put out, and reflected in your all's practice, again, you follow the directly affected people. Those who are most affected by the issue are those who need to be lifted up into leadership to decide how that issue is resolved, and those of us looking for solidarity need to be in solidarity with those communities themselves. Not their spokespeople. Not their advocates. But the community, the barrio defense committees themselves.
And we need to do it in a way that alleviates suffering. Our folks are suffering hard. In Arizona, what we talk about, one of the reasons why we've invited you next year is because there's a world of disbelief. That if we said that there's a tent city where a jailer keeps hundreds of people on plywood beds—and it snowed in Phoenix this year—and it's 110 degrees in the summer, and that's happening here in the United States today. There's a world of disbelief where our filters don't allow us to believe that. If I told you that when Sal Reza checks his phone, one in five phone messages on a good day is a death threat, and two in five or three in five is more likely, that's hard for us to believe. When we say that the day labor center, humble people who have crossed continents to be able to provide for their families have to cross through lines of armed minutemen just to be able to look for a job where they may not be paid at the end of the day, that's hard for us to believe.
And so what we've done in inviting you to Arizona is trying to shrink that world of disbelief so that we can pop that bubble and not allow it to exist anymore, and that immediate suffering can't be used as a talking point for somebody else's long term or legislative game. That as we're doing these partnerships, we have to find ways to alleviate that suffering immediately. Whether that's stopping a raid. Whether that's getting someone out of prison. Or whether that's changing conditions so that somebody gets paid at the end of the day.
And I think as this has spread to Georgia, to Alabama, to Indiana, we saw it get defeated in Florida and other states, but we know that this has been a test around all along. We have to commit to each other to continue to be shocked. Last year in Arizona, the world was watching. We talked about how we were on the front page in Japan. This year in Georgia, it's not the same situation because we have language for it. We've seen it before, and when it's the second time around, somebody's sophomore appearance, the sequel to the movie, it's never as powerful as the first, right? But we have to continue to be shocked, and we have to refuse to get used to hatred. We have to refuse to accept the hatred that we've seen spread throughout this country as normal.
And we have to do it in a way where we're weaving together sacred reciprocity. What you all talked about as coming in individualistically and seeing how we take care of each other, that's how we roll. And that's what we have to do on a local level as a community, on a state level, and on a national level as a movement. Knowing that your struggle is my struggle. And when there is a flashpoint where I'm calling for help, I need you there. And when there's a flashpoint where you're calling for help, you better believe I'll be there with you. And so that's, I think, the partnership that we've created and that we're happy to walk together with. [APPLAUSE]
KEN BROWN: OK. I lied. We don't really have any time left for questions. About 30 seconds.
There's another group of people here I just want to recognize as we're talking about what happened in July, and those are the members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Phoenix and the Valley UU congregation in Chandler, who were the people who were doing the on the ground organizing and coordinating of our logistics for us in July. So why don't you guys stand up here. [APPLAUSE]
I don't know what's next on the schedule. There's another workshop coming in here or whether people can linger and talk one on one.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: There's not another workshop. Nothing until Service of the Living Tradition.
KEN BROWN: OK. Well, we'll take a few questions, then. We'll go over the time slot if people don't mind hanging. If people do have any questions, then? Nobody is rushing to do questions, OK.
SPEAKER 1: This microphone works, right over here.
KEN BROWN: All right. I guess we will see you.
SPEAKER 1: Do you want to announce the—
KEN BROWN: Oh yeah. There's a film on Saturday night that's not on the agenda, right?
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: It is on the agenda tomorrow night. No, Saturday night. What time? 9 o'clock.
SPEAKER 1: 9:30, next door.
SUSAN FREDERICK-GRAY: So it's a documentary called 56 Hours in Phoenix, which is a film documentary of the events and the actions, and it'll be showing next door at 9 o'clock on Saturday night.
KEN BROWN: And Susan Leslie also asked me to remind you that NDLON is National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and that's a network across the continent with local groups in many states. So if you want to get connected in your state, see Susan. Thank you all for coming and staying, and sharing with us what happened.
July 29: Standing on the Side of Love in Phoenix is General Assembly 2011 event number 2079.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Tuesday, October 11, 2011.
- Faithful Witness and Action
- Theological Reflection
- Religious Education
- Immigration as a Moral Issue
- GA Presentations
- 1070 Copycats, Barrio Defense
- Confronting Arizonification
- Rev. Joffrey Black at Tent City Jail
- Arizona Immigration Ministry Witness
- Candlelight Vigil at Tent City Jail
- Ware Lecture by Maria Hinojosa
- Political Crossfires (1)
- Regional Take Home Gatherings
- Migrant & Human Rights Strategies: Effective Advocacy
- Resources for All Ages
- Doctrine of Discovery
- A View from the Border
- Postville Raid
- For-Profit Incarceration
- Common Read, Reflection, Action
- Community Celebration
- Congregational Ministries
- Standing on the Side of Love in Phoenix
- Love Has No Borders
- Welcoming Our Neighbors
- Standing on the Side of Love with Immigrant Families
- Theology of Immigration
- Welcoming the Stranger
- Welcoming the Stranger: A Just Immigration Policy
- Public Witness: Immigration Rights
- Multigenerational Resources
- Immigration Policy
- Congregational Stories