UUSJ Newsletter - Spring 2015
Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice
An affiliate of the Chicago Area Unitarian Universalist Council
Andrew T. Fisher, Editor & Communications Director
1448 East 52nd Street, PM Box 144
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone: 773-595-4921 / E-mail: uusj@sbcglobal.net
Web site: http://uusforsocialjustice.org/

Chair’s Corner:
All around us, we are seeing people being attacked by conservatives. Whether it is in Indiana's Gov. Pence discriminating against the LGBT community, Wisconsin's Gov. Walker along with Missouri state legislators attacking the working class, or Kansas's Gov. Brownback telling women how to decide their choices. It feels that when we are successful in some parts, there are still more problems that keep coming up. So the question begs, how do we as agents of change keep up the good fight?

Fighting in the name of justice is not an easy one. What I have learned in the 16 years of my activism career is maintaining the following:

  1. Keep educating people, and ourselves, on the issues
  2. Learn new tactics in community organizing
  3. Go beyond your comfort zone when learning about issues
  4. Train a new generation of social change agents
  5. Know thy enemy

These are the things we have do when fighting for justice. We know it is not easy. All of us know the road ahead of us is long and tiresome.       And there are times we want to take short cuts, so we can move on to something else. It was once said “We must strive to be good ancestors.” For us to be good ancestors, we not only need to show people that we are in this for the long haul.  In order to do that we have to keep fighting, and do the above mentioned.

As we are planting seeds for our future, we have to make the necessary steps today, for a bountiful harvest tomorrow. 

A.J. Segneri – email at: aj.segneri@gmail.com


UUSJ Economic Justice and Homelessness Task Force Report

The majority of the members of this task force attended the UUs for a Just Economic Community national conference on Growing Inequality, hosted by the Unitarian Church of Evanston on February 20-22.  Task force members Jane Bannor and Karla Chew helped with planning workshops and Jane played a big role in the conferences logistics.  The conference helped prepare attendees to be leaders for economic justice activism in their home congregations and the broader society.

This task force has had one Action Alert thus far in 2015, to our representatives in Congress, in support proposals in the President’s budget that address the growing economic inequality our country has been experiences for the last 35 years.  The task force is currently considering a second Action Alert, to our members in the Illinois General Assembly, to urge a fair FY 2016 budget, rather than the unfair one the Governor has proposed.

At its meeting on February 7 the Task Force on Economic Justice and Homelessness approved a Home and Hope Booster grant nomination submitted by the Coordinator of the UbuntU Immigration Project at Countryside Church, U.U. in Palatine.  The nomination was in support of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI), which now has two Chicago area hospitality houses, which provide housing and community to people released from detention who are waiting for their asylum case to heard in immigration court, and who otherwise would be without housing during that period.  Each hospitality house is currently providing housing to 17 to 18 adults. 

Countryside Church UU has raised around $6,500 for the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants in each of the last two calendar years.  These funds came from over 150 members and friends of the congregation who attended a fundraising auction.  As far as volunteer support, four church members have been trained and have been providing unaccompanied immigrant minors with pastoral care, another member serves on the board of ICDI, another member provides pastoral care at the McHenry County Immigrant Detention Center, a couple have made presentations in the community about the organization, and two adults and twenty RE youth collected items for and then packed 80 ‘post-detention’ backpacks for ICDI.  Altogether, this amounted to over 200 hours of volunteer in the past year.  Our call to Home and Hope Booster grant pledgers raised $330 for the current Home and Hope Booster grant, being sent to the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, for their hospitality housing costs, during this month of April.

This task force is in charge of the program for the next UUSJ quarterly meeting, which will take place on Saturday, June 6, between at 2 and 5 p.m.  The location will be the UU Community Church in Park Forest.  The program will feature a panel that will address “Illinois’ Shredding Social Safety Net and How Faith Communities and Others can Respond, Within and Outside the Political Arena.”  A flyer will be distributed once all the panelists are lined up.

The next meeting of this task force will take place on Saturday, May 9, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., at Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield, Chicago.  New members and individuals wanting to sit in on a task force meeting to see if it is something that would be interested in are always welcome.

If you have questions contact Allan Lindrup, task force Chair, uusj@sbcglobal.net or 773-595-4921

UUSJ Environmental Task Force Report

Congregational Reports:
First Unitarian Church of Chicago Collected $808 for the Rain Forest Trust, Wild Heart of the Amazon project.  The church is planning an Earth Day program and has an environmental group which meets as needed and interacts by voice and email;
(2) Second Unitarian Church of Chicago  The Green Sanctuary program is on hold.  Members are reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and plan to read other environmental books;
(3) Beverly  had a very successful farmers market.  The church works with a Hegwich neighborhood group for some of its periodic collection of household hazardous waste and electronics for recycling; and
(4) Evanston is planning an Earth Day program with a luncheon and workshops.  They have garden beautification and composting.  Other plans include: (a) a “Divy” bike stand, (b) use of environmentally safe materials, and (c) installation of solar panels on the roof.

Since the Winter UUSJ Newsletter, the Environmental task force has issued one action alert:
(1) In early March, 2015 – a letter to Illinois Senators and Representatives urging them to support more clean energy in Illinois with at least 35% of energy consumed in Illinois to come from renewable sources by 2030.

Educational inserts: Since the last UUSJ newsletter, we finalized “Auto Power Alternatives: Electric, Hybrid and Solar: -- Part 2: Today’s Electrics and Hybrids” by Kerry Nelson.  We are planning two more: “Take the No/Low Impact Challenge”, and eventually one about pollution from processing bamboo.

Next meeting: will be on Sunday, May 24th at the Beverly Unitarian Church, 10244 S. Longwood Dr., Chicago, from 3 to 5 PM.

With any questions, contact:
Andrew T. Fisher – Chair
847-492-1832 or fishorgn1580@gmail.com

UUSJ Peace Task Force Report

The UUSJ Peace Task Force held their last meeting on February 7 at People’s Church in Chicago.  At their meeting the task force decided to issue an Action Alert urging diplomacy and not military action to end nuclear proliferation in Iran.  Since the meeting, the Action Alert was issued and sent to members of Congress.

The February meeting marks the last Peace Task force meeting chaired by long-time convener Gene Horcher.  The task force heartily thanks Gene for his many years of service to the UUSJ and to the cause of international peace.  Gene has been a caring and consensus-building chairperson for the Peace Task force, almost since its inception.  As of March 1, Jane Bannor assumes leadership of the group.

Spring plans for the task force include a Tax Day protest on April 15 at Federal Plaza to pass out AFSC flyers condemning the huge proportion of our taxes which go to pay for armaments and military supplies.  The group urges citizens to reflect on how their tax money is used as they pay their taxes.

The Peace Task force will hold its next meeting at 2 pm on Saturday, May 9 at Third Unitarian Church in Chicago.  At the September quarterly meeting of UUSJ the Peace Task force will present the programming; the group has yet to determine the topic.

For the past several meetings the Peace Task force has been soliciting new members.  All UU activists are invited to join us as we work to increase world peace and to live out our Sixth Principle of “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all”

Contact Jane Bannor for details, phone 773-274-5387 or e-mail jbannor@sbcglobal.net.

UUSJ Prisons and Restorative Justice Task Force Report

How Can We Create a Chicago Area Prison Ministry Initiative?

Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson was in Chicago recently, speaking to packed auditoriums about his work challenging the criminal justice system’s bias against the poor and people of color. If you’ve never had the thrill of hearing about his wildly inspiring spiritual journey working with prisoners on death row, check out his TED Talk here (or Google it). Stevenson insists that we have to change the conversation about race, we must shed light on the continuing legacy of slavery and racial injustice, and he describes the stunning bias that continues to plague our courts. Two points in particular have been echoing in my brain since hearing him. First, he underlines the crucial importance of proximity in our work to change the world. He shares amazing stories and reminds us that you have to be there in order to have the kinds of experiences that have rewarded him with the clarity, passion, and determination to continue his difficult work. Second, despite the extremely grim conditions and punitive culture of prison, he insists that we must always protect our hope. He tells of a particularly racist, abusive correctional officer, from whom Stevenson tolerated humiliating mistreatment in order to be able to see his client in prison. The officer escorted the client to court, and heard Stevenson describe his client’s horrific upbringing in a string of abusive foster homes. The officer made a dramatic turnaround, and began to treat Stevenson with respect and cooperation; he even bent the rules to buy a milkshake for the client, an unheard-of and meaningful gesture under the circumstances. When Stevenson expressed confusion, the officer said “You keep fighting for him. You keep doing the work you’re doing,” and explained that he himself had been raised in foster care. And this affirms one more crucial insight:  Hurt people hurt people.

Members of four area churches have formed a planning committee, and in March we submitted a proposal for a small planning grant from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program. The Chicago Area Prison Ministry Initiative hopes to build a UU presence inside correctional centers and to establish welcoming congregations for people returning from incarceration. Finally, we will engage participants -- both in our congregations and those returning from prison -- in advocacy to reduce incarceration.

As organizer and former prisoner Colette Payne wrote, “For prisoners who are gay or lesbian, or women who do not agree with more traditional religions about women’s role in the world, this could provide true spiritual growth and comfort in the face of the daily oppression they survive in prison. . . . [I]t is common for women and men returning home from prison to be rejected by churches in their communities. The plan of making Unitarian churches more welcoming would be extremely helpful to them.” 

As we UUs live out our First Principle, what is our capacity to launch this initiative? Do we have the energy, the dedication, the vision? Our planning committee members are not deluding ourselves that we are taking on an easy, feel-good, cakewalk of a project. But there are all kinds of ways to support this work, ranging from a one-time simple task to extremely challenging long-term work. Would you consider your church a welcoming congregation for people returning from prison? What would it take to turn it into one? Are there members of your congregation who may want to support incarcerated community members on their return to the community in some small or large way? Has your congregation read The New Jim Crow and considered what next steps you might take to build a movement for greater justice? Would you be willing to host a workshop or panel discussion at your church? Do you have a couple of sturdy souls in your church who may actually want to go into a prison on a regular basis? Would you be willing to help raise funds from members of your congregation to support the salary of a part-time minister to go into prisons? Would you be willing to call a legislator, write a letter or email, file an online witness slip, or help educate your congregation about policy change to reduce incarceration or challenge barriers to successful reentry? A big part of the initiative involves raising awareness among Chicago area congregations, and building support for improved policy.

If you or someone you know in your church would like to help in some small or large way, please email Gail Smith at gailtsmith@gmail.com.


Unitarian Universalist Multiracial Unity Action Caucus (UUMUAC) Report

By Finley C. Campbell, Co-chair.

Because of many other outstanding duties being carried out by members of our Executive Committee, UUMUAC has not been as active as heretofore. Nevertheless, we have carried out some minor educational activities. We distributed several of our brochures at the recent UUJEC conference on inequality held in February at UC Evanston.  And, we have maintained contact with the Afghan Women's Fund through their director Sister Fahima Vorgetts.  We received a communication from her recently thanking us for our help in raising over $4000 for this project, along with the help of the Racial Justice Task Force of the Social Justice Council of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.   And I also recently participated as a member of UUMUAC with the committee being organized by Sister Gail Smith and others to submit a proposal to a UU grants panel about the feasibility of setting up a prison ministry for the State of Illinois.  I put forward the idea that we must ensure that we have a multiracial approach to such a ministry and that we not neglect the fifth victim of the New Jim Crow: our white brothers and sisters.  

Right now we are looking for an opportunity to have an executive committee meeting which can fit into our busy schedules in order to make plans for the coming months and year.  I plan to present three key proposals at that meeting:

1. Creating a multi-racial unity presence at the upcoming Mid-America Regional Meeting in Naperville;
2. Developing a plan to have a major presence at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Portland Oregon, by seeking to have a way to share a table with either the UU Humanist Group or with the UU Christian Fellowship, both of whom are sympathetic to our mission.      
3. Lastly we will be discussing a proposal from our international sub-committee about the possibility of inviting a member of a Pakistani multi- racial, multi-religious group to make a presentation at a special forum in August.  It is hoped that Brother Taye Woldesmiate will be able to give leadership to a fund-raising effort for such an activity, if the proposal is approved.

And so despite the fact that we have not yet met, I think these proposals will move us toward more actions around the question of multiracial unity, international solidarity, and multicultural synergy.  This is especially important at a time when a new form of anti-black racism has emerged as a result of the killings of over 2000 black and non-black folks by the police since 2000.  This form, ironically, is the concept of that white supremacy is the cause of these crimes rather than a neo-racist, classist power structure, interested in maintaining systemic inequality by any means necessary.

Stay tuned for a future report on whether or not we make progress on these ideas.

If you wish to become involved in helping us carry out these concepts, please contact me at fcamp10501@aol.com.