Let’s Get Ready: Resources for Finding Our Way Forward

by Chris Casuccio and Angela Kelly

We’re a month in and a month out.

Golden Woods

It’s been a little over a month since the election, and we have a little more than a month to go before the inauguration. As we attempt to find our bearings and head towards the first 100 days of the new Administration and all the threats to social justice that confront us, we recognize how much we need each other right now. With that in mind, this blog post, and the ones that will follow in the coming weeks, are intended to help us get ready: grounded in our analysis, nurtured in our spirits, and prepared to step into action.

This week, members of the UUCSJ community, including staff and Program Leaders, gathered on a video call to discuss how and what we have been doing since the election. It became clear that we, like many people across the country and world, are experiencing a wide range of reactions and feelings, and are finding solace and power in a variety of practices, actions, and communities.

In the face of the daunting tasks ahead of us, and the weight of this historical moment, many of us are struggling to balance the accompanying despair and fear with the need for hope and determination. While many of us are united in our distress about what will happen in the months to come, we also recognize that the specific ways in which we are likely to be directly impacted by the incoming Administration are largely influenced by our identities, our backgrounds, and our relationships to privilege and power. While some of us will face very direct threats to our safety, and to the safety of those we love, others of us will be called in new ways to consider how we can deepen and sustain concrete practices of solidarity.

Regardless of who we are, and how we are feeling in this moment, there is a growing consensus that these times demand something new of us all, and that we need to continue turning to one another for wisdom, guidance, and collective strength. In that spirit, we want to lift up a collection of articles and resources we’ve been compiling since the election, as well as offer a framework for checking in with how and what we are doing, on multiple levels: the head, the heart, and the hands.

 

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Questions: What are we thinking about and how do we go about analyzing and understanding the current moment? How does intellectual analysis orient us during a moment like this which can provoke confusion and disorientation?

Resources: There has been an explosion of critical thought and debate in the past month, ranging from historical and structural analyses of our current moment to suggested frameworks and strategies for how we forge our way ahead as a movement. As we have sifted through the post-election analyses, we are reminded that it is always powerful to hear what these public intellectuals have to say: Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison and Noam Chomsky. There is no shortage of excellent analysis by other public figures, such as these recent articles by Charles Eisenstein, Robin DG Kelley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Christian Parenti, Pankaj Mishra, Van Jones and Immanuel Wallerstein.

If you’re wanting to dive even deeper, there have been a handful of reading lists compiled for understanding the election results (another here), preparing to stop Trump, navigating the times ahead, understanding neoliberalism, and some general post-election theological readings for religious progressives. Don’t forget that some of the most relevant analysis and deepest understanding is achieved offline: by delving into long discussions with trusted friends and family, asking people we don’t ordinarily interact with what they think about the times we are entering, attending forums, classes, and teach-ins, and going for long walks to process one’s thoughts!

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Questions: What are we feeling, and how are we attending to our emotional and spiritual lives in these challenging times? Where are we finding sustenance and how are we cultivating communities that foster collective care and connect us to practices that restore and energize us to do what must be done?

Resources: Our friends and colleagues across the UUA have compiled a number of helpful salves for our hearts and spirits. You may find solace and spiritual grounding in these worship resources, a webinar on managing post-election stress response, another on resistance and resilience, or in this collection of practical suggestions for attending to the range of emotional reactions you and those around you may be experiencing. Weekly Braver Wiser offerings help us find courage and compassion and Standing on the Side of Love’s podcasts offer spiritual fortification for our organizing.

For insights into grappling with heightened fear and despair, recent pieces by Alice Walker, Parker Palmer, and adrienne maree brown may offer comfort. Rabbi Michael Adam Latz shares lessons in spiritual resistance for the times we face, Courtney Martin reflects on where to turn to be comforted and challenged, and Sandra Kim offers 20+ resources to help you process post-election. Edgar Rivera Colon reminds us that this is a time to slow down and discern, while several women of color answered Collier Myerson’s call to share self-care strategies for the times ahead.

Of course, many of the most powerful tools for our spiritual and emotional sustenance are also found offline: in the rhythm of our breath, in quiet moments of prayer, in stretching, moving, and nourishing our bodies, in joining others in worship, in making art, music, or good food, and in spending time in nature, in community, in the presence of beauty, the sacred, and with those we love.

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Questions: How are we taking action? What are we doing that is tangible and concrete to resist and transform the current injustices facing our communities and the worsening crises to come?

Resources: A recent piece in Mother Jones reminds us that, with all hands on deck, it’s Time to Fight Like Hell. Our friends and colleagues in the UU world offer many helpful places to start. Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President, provides pastoral guidance for the work ahead, outlining an emerging campaign to provide sanctuary and resistance, in which UUCSJ is committed to actively collaborating and welcomes your involvement as it develops. Caitlin Breedlove, Director of Standing on the Side of Love, calls upon white progressives to do more than form opinions, and instead become transformers. The UUA’s Show Love Resource page offers a number of ways that your congregation can take action, lifting up powerful examples from across the country.

While there is no clear roadmap for confronting the multiple, interconnected, escalating, and yet-to-be-determined injustices facing us, several longtime organizers and movement analysts offer us pathways to consider, such as: On Pivoting: Ideas on Organizing During a Trump Administration, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Era, Building Coalitions that Can Win, and America Needs a Network of Rebel Cities to Stand Up to Trump. Opal Tometi, a leader of the Movement for Black Lives shares this video about 5 Things We Can Do in the Wake of Trump’s Victory, while WhiteAccomplices.org offers a new toolkit on moving from Actor to Ally to Accomplice. Weekly Actions to Resist Trump is a new website that invites us to take a timely and concrete action each week and the new Safety Pin Box subscription program, co-created by Black Lives of UU lead organizer Leslie Mac, provides an opportunity for white allies to get a monthly “box” full of ways to take accountable action while helping invest in organizing for liberation led by Black women.

There is also a lot we can do at the interpersonal level, starting with talking with our families, as well as equipping ourselves to offer immediate support to those who may be facing harassment and to de-escalate incidences of injustice we witness and confront. And when we feel too daunted or overwhelmed by the work to be done, we can begin by considering our own spheres of influence and beginning there, resolving to remain engaged and undaunted.

These are some starting points for work that is unfinished, still emerging, and will be ongoing.

Our hope is that these articles and resources can encourage and nurture us on all three of these levels — the head, the heart, and the hands — so that we can continue to support and protect one another, resist the threats of increased oppression, and move forward in fulfilling our commitments to transforming ourselves and our society, with clarity, spirit, love, and community.

We welcome your stories, action ideas, and guiding wisdom, as well, and look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks ahead, as we continue to get ready to find our ways forward together. Please send us your thoughts!

Justice in the Food Chain

Justice in the Food Chain

This post was written by Hannah Hafter, Senior Associate for Service-Learning Programs at the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ).

12088271_955669564500154_6296603414359253890_nDid you know that over 30 million people in the U.S. alone are employed in the food chain, making it one of the largest sectors for employment in the country? Yet food chain workers are among the lowest paid and most highly exploited groups—from farm workers who are excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act to servers at restaurants who legally earn a minimum wage of only $2.13 an hour plus tips. We are all participants in this food chain as consumers, whether we eat out or at home, and as consumers, we have power to stand with those exploited in the workplace.

For these reasons, the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) collaborated with the Food Chain Workers Alliance in September to host the first Justice in the Food Chain training. This Chicago event brought together members of three mid-west Workers Centers (working in agriculture, slaughterhouses, and warehouses), Unitarian Universalists, and other faith-based allies to learn about the root causes of problems in the food chain and to collaborate on campaigns to improve them.

Together, food chain workers and faith-based allies shared stories, built community, and learned concrete organizing skills for analyzing power and running effective campaigns. The training’s goal was to empower participants to work towards “Good Food Purchasing Policies” (GFPP) in their cities, school systems, and other institutions. Good Food Purchasing Policies like the one already implemented in Los Angeles create standards for millions of dollars of food purchases addressing the four areas of: Heath; Environment; Access; and Labor (HEAL). Good Food Purchasing Policy campaigns also create collaborations across sectors, bringing together groups working on making healthy food more accessible with people working to improve labor standards in the food chain.

Our 25 participants went home with plans for how to build campaigns in their mid-west communities. Keep an eye out for future Justice in the Food Chain trainings taking place locally in your region. To learn more about Worker Justice Centers and find out what is happening where you live, go to this list of Food Chain Workers Alliance Member Organizations.

Thank you to the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Labor Notes, the Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, the Rural Community Workers Alliance, and the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center for collaborating with us! And thank you to all of our participants, and particularly to the Unitarian Church of Evanston which had the largest contingent.

Working in the Food Industry

Working in the Food Industry

This post was written by Renee Bryant, a participant in the Global Justice Summer Internships.

Working with Jose Oliva this summer at the Food Chain Worker’s Alliance (FCWA) allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my previous experience as a black woman in the food industry and study more about food justice overall. Jose is a Latino male and has worked in the food industry in the past. His experience is what drives him and gives him a passion to highlight the injustice, specifically in the form of pay that workers in the food industry receive. Women and racial minorities are consistently at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to food industry justice because they are often in positions where they can be taken advantage of due to the hierarchies and systems our society sustains to keep those groups at the bottom. From working with Jose, I learned that these people often cannot afford an education and are stuck working dead-end food jobs where they get paid little and work long hours. Over time it becomes a cycle and these people get stuck in sometimes multiple food jobs struggling to make ends meet while the companies they work for make billions.

I could identify with the little pay and exhausting work due to my experience working at McDonald’s one summer. The summer after my freshman year of college I had not gotten any internship offers so I took a job at my local McDonald’s as an overnight crew-member. I do not come from a privileged background and I needed money for books and other expenses since Vassar is not exactly a cheap school. I worked four or five nights a week and made $7.25 an hour. My duties included cleaning the restaurant, taking orders, cashier, and stock for the next day. By the time 6 a.m. rolled around my feet would be sore, I was annoyed from being sexually harassed by customers and coworkers all night, and sad I was missing the summer fun all my friends were having. When I would turn in my drawer, I would notice how much money the restaurant was making and compared that to how little I was receiving in my paycheck.

Fortunately for me, the job was only temporary and I was able to return to school and move on. Some of my coworkers did not have the privilege of a short experience and for them McDonald’s was their sole income. I could not imagine trying to raise a family or live on my own on the wages a McDonald’s salary provides because the money I made during the summer barely covered the cost for my books and incidentals for the first semester. In some ways feel like there is some disconnect from me and the other employees despite the fact that I am a woman of color and a lot of my coworkers fit into that demographic. I at least had the luxury of moving on to work on my education while others could not even afford community college. Pairing my experience at McDonald’s and my experience at FCWA has shown me that everyone deserves to get paid a fare wage whether they are only a college kid making summer money or a single mom with a teenage son. The lesson I learned this summer at FCWA was that every job and every worker is worth more than companies are willing to admit.

Labor Rights on Labor Day

Labor Rights on Labor Day

The following post was written by Evan Seitz, Senior Associate for Service-Learning Programs at the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ). 

How did you honor workers this Labor Day? For seven UUs, the answer was to attend a rally with labor leaders at the historic Pullman Factory in Pullman, Illinois. That’s not all the group did. They visited the site of the Hay Market Affair, which inspired May Day celebrations worldwide; met with labor organizers working in the restaurant industry and warehouse industry; and strategized on ways the UU community could more effectively ally with the labor movement. The activities were part of the inaugural “Food for Thought Program,” an economic justice training program offered by the UU College of Social Justice and UU Service Committee partner the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC).

The training offered a chance to really listen to the people working to change entire industries. We heard from Felipe Tendick-Matezans, an organizer for ROC-Chicago who for many years worked in the restaurant industry. According to Felipe, it isn’t unusual for a worker to toil for years in the same position, with no opportunities to advance. ROC has changed that by offering certificate programs in bartending and other skills. The real work of ROC though is in organizing workers to participate in campaigns. Wage theft, paid sick days, better working conditions – all of these are tackled by ROC, which is structured as a series of local city chapters known as affiliates or smaller “ROC-Star” groups.

ROC and UUSC have collaborated on the Choose Compassionate Consumption campaign, which seeks to mobilize UUs as consumers to advocate for workers’ rights. As part of the training, our group dined at “High Road” restaurants – restaurants whose owners have pledged to pay their workers a fair wage and work to improve benefit packages and opportunities for advancement. Not only did we thank the staff for their service, we thanked the management and let them know we were eating there because of their fair labor policies.

I came away from the Food for Thought training having a much better understanding of how I could support this movement for fair wages and working conditions in the industry. If you care about the workers who prepare your food and want to gain the skills and knowledge to be a leader on this issue, consider coming to our next training on April 29 – May 3 in Chicago.

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

The following post was written by Ariel Jacobson, senior associate for UUSC’s Economic Justice Program and program leader for the upcoming UUCSJ Justice in the Food Chain program.

Some say Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle changed the world. Sinclair’s depiction of Chicago in 1906 was of a city teeming with exploitation of low-wage, primarily immigrant workers barely eking out a living. These workers — the backbone of the meatpacking industry and the engine of Chicago’s industrial growth — faced dirty, unsafe working conditions, poor housing, and no recourse for their grievances.

Sinclair describes the struggling workers:

They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside. It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because that it had to do with wages and grocery bills and rents. They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all gone — it would never be! They had played the game and they had lost.

But history ended up telling a different story — ultimately, the workers didn’t lose. The groups that had been calling for just working conditions since before Chicago’s Haymarket massacre in 1886 continued to organize to amplify their collective voice. As a result of their efforts, and spurred into action by the first woman U.S. cabinet member Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. It was a landmark piece of legislation that established the federal minimum wage, created the 40-hour work week, and put an end to child labor. Over the course of the 20th century, workers’ rights made significant advances and a middle class was created, in large part because of the industrial labor union movement and wage-growth policies like increases to the minimum wage. Chicago was always at the center of these struggles.

However, when Sinclair’s book was published the immediate public reaction took a slightly different turn. Consumers responded more to the revelations about food safety, rather than to the moral implications of a hardworking underclass of immigrant workers whose dreams would never be realized. While food safety in mass processing plants undoubtedly had to be fixed, the rights of the workers were never fully addressed. It took many years to improve standards for migrant and farm workers, an ongoing struggle that continues today, and many restaurant workers have earned a disgracefully low $2.13 per hour since 1991.

Although labor organizing improved through, many of the underlying patterns exposed by The Jungle have persisted as industrial unionism has been severely eroded. Wealth and income inequality are now off the charts, and we face a food system that is unsustainable due to corporatization and industrialization. Thus, the food-justice movement has sought to challenge the safety of pesticides and genetically modified produce; reduce the environmental damage from food production; ensure access to local, fresh food for low-income communities; and promote animal rights through veganism or more humane treatment of livestock. And workers, employers, and consumers are now seeking to advance the human rights of all the people who harvest, process, pack, sell, and serve our food.

While we have not yet built a fully mobilized consumer movement dedicated to demanding labor rights for all the immigrant workers who are the backbone of today’s U.S. food system, UUSC’s Choose Compassionate Consumption initiative seeks to do just that. In partnership with groups like the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, UUSC is making progress on changing the conversation about food justice to include the deplorable conditions faced by food workers.

This is where you come in! UUCSJ and I believe that we can catalyze increased activism on food-worker rights through transformational service-learning experiences. During Justice in the Food Chain: An Exploration of Eating and Worker Organizing, you will learn about the historical struggles of immigrant workers in Chicago, new challenges to worker organizing, and ways that workers are meeting those challenges through organizations like the Restaurant Opportunities Center Chicago, the Center for New Community, and Warehouse Worker Justice. You will be invited into face-to-face conversation with workers in restaurants, warehouses, and meatpacking, and learn tools to engage as a faith-based consumer in the new food-justice movement. And since eating is a deeply human endeavor, it will be not only a historical and sociopolitical exploration, but also a personal and spiritual one.

In a 1906 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Upton Sinclair was quoted as lamenting, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” We hope that the time you spend in Chicago for the Justice in the Food Chain program will touch your mind, your heart, your stomach — whatever it takes to join together to improve wages and working conditions for the 20 million workers in the U.S. food system.

Heather Vickery is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with UU congregations, State Action Networks, past UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) program participants, and regional staff in order to expand engagement in UUSC and UUCSJ’s work. As the Coordinator for Congregational Activism, she manages the workshop offerings and group visits to the UUSC/UUCSJ office and assists with communications for the Activism and Justice Education Team. Heather is an active member of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network and a dedicated dog-mom to her rescue puppy Nova.

Heather may be contacted at hvickery@uucsj.org and 617-301-4303