Showing Up with Our Voices and Our Values
“Our voice, our values, our ability to show up, these matter right now.”
- Susan Frederick-Gray in her President’s Report to the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Spokane, Washington on June 21, 2019.
The Spokane General Assembly marks the sixth GA that I’ve been lucky enough to attend. Every time I’ve come home filled with energy, ideas and feelings of love and gratitude for my UU faith. This time I’ve come home from Spokane with Susan Frederick-Gray’s charge on my mind.
“We are just 16 months out from perhaps the most critical election in our life times. One that will have real and immediate consequences for democracy, climate justice, for the lives of people of color and refugees, for women’s autonomy and freedom.”
During this GA, we had the opportunity to participate in 3 hours of “role-based track programming” – sessions on topics ranging from stewardship, to membership, to combating white supremacy culture, each designed to put us in touch with UUs from across the country with similar interests. I attended the sessions offered by Side with Love, the UUA’s interfaith public advocacy campaign promoting respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Experienced community organizers talked about how to analyze, plan and organize. They counseled us to pay attention to spiritual practice, such as opening every gathering with a song. They talked about “moving at the speed of trust,” building community, and being in relationship… “living into the revolutionary notion of love.”
We put this advice into action on Thursday afternoon, when hundreds of UUs joined with local organizations to rally against expanding the Spokane jail. Local advocates and people of color led our march and described the history of racial disparities in criminal justice in Spokane. To ensure that no one was left behind, people with mobility issues were placed at the head of the march. We held signs and chanted: “Services Not Sentences” and “Schools Not Cells!”
After our demonstration against the jail, the Spokane City Commissioners stated publicly that they are not committed to building a new jail and that they will bring in the Vera Institute to assist them in exploring alternatives. Our Side with Love organizer said, “That’s a win!”
“In these difficult and dangerous times, we see people doubling down on a deadly status quo rather than choosing to be bold, cooperative and innovative to meet the challenges before us. And this is heartbreaking—because it is exactly in times like these when we need audacious leaders and communities that are willing to take risks, to show a new way forward—one that is life-giving, life affirming, and justice centered.
To do this, we need each other, and we need to invest more fully and generously in the power and impact of our congregations and our larger Association. A future of increasingly isolated congregations just will not cut it. We need one another to be the religion and the people we are called to be in this time—a multiracial, multicultural, multigender, multigenerational future of Unitarian Universalism. We can’t turn back now.”
Our Albany UU congregation can take advantage of a multitude of UU organizations and resources as we live our mission and “pursue justice through inspired action” – and perhaps step up to our UUA President’s charge. At this GA, we approved a Statement of Conscience, Our Democracy Uncorrupted, that describes our democracy must be strengthened (the approved amended version will be posted shortly on UUA.org). Thanks to Robb Smith, executive director of Interfaith Impact of NYS, I had the chance to learn how UU congregations join together in 21 other states to advocate in the state capitol. I heard about Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, an organization founded by Washington-area congregations to bring UU values and voices to Congress. I learned that the UUA now has an Organizing Strategy Team to mobilize around four key intersectional priorities: combating criminalization (such as immigration and mass incarceration); climate justice; LGBTQ and gender justice; and electoral organizing. And there are more ways that UUs are working across congregations and regions to make a difference.
“And so—I want to take these themes of action, risk, courage, and mission and propose to you that we UU The Vote!
Let us make our congregations into voter protection, voter registration, civic engagement, and mobilization centers. Let us show the difference the power of Unitarian Universalism can make. We already have a reputation as the people who show up—let’s build the reputation that we are a people that show up AND get others to show up.
We have a choice about who will be. Will we choose doubt, fear and moderation—or will we choose mission, courage, generosity and boldness? I know what I will choose!”
Susan Frederick-Gray’s call to action rings loud and clear. We can amplify our Albany UU efforts by working with Unitarian Universalists across our state, our region and the country. Together we can side with love!