Por La Vida: UUCSJ Delegation Public Statement In Solidarity with the People of Guapinól

Delegation members - Por La Vida 2018

Delegation members – Por La Vida 2018

As a human rights delegation to Honduras from November 29 to December 6, 2018 that visited the community of Guapinól in the municipality of Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, we are deeply concerned about the recent police and military occupation occuring there. We have received news as well as photo evidence that police vehicles have blocked the entrance and exit to the community in order to monitor all passage, with participation from the Ministerio Publico. Members of the community are afraid of being unlawfully detained, intimidated, and threatened. The community of Guapinól is defending their water supply from the destruction caused by the nearby mining project of Inversiones Los Pinares, which would destroy their only source of drinkable water.

This occupation comes shortly following the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonilla in the nearby community of Ceibita, where community resistance to a mine by the same company, Inversiones Los Pinares, has faced violent repression. There is a documented history of violent acts by state and private business actors against human and land rights defenders in the region of Bajo Aguán.

Our delegation is comprised of clergy members, human rights professionals, educators, and organizers, with the institutional support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-EL Salvador, and Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

During our delegation we witnessed clear and convincing evidence that there are political prisoners in Honduras, that there is rampant impunity for femicide and the murder of human rights defenders, and that migration and the recent exodus are rooted in systemic violence and loss of livelihoods. The human rights conditions of Honduras do not merit U.S. State Department accreditation, which is currently upheld, a prerequisite for military assistance.

The systemic attack on human rights defenders includes false criminal charges, which we witnessed first-hand at the hearing for Jeremías Martínez, one of at least 18 Guapinól community leaders facing outstanding warrants for their activism.

As people of faith and conscience, we call for:

  • An end to police and military occupation of communities in the Bajo Aguán, including Guipinól;
  • An immediate investigation into the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonillo;
  • An end to U.S.military aid and arms sales to Honduras, which have regularly been used by the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez against the country’s own people;
  • And the re-introduction and passage of the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the U.S. Congress.

We continue to follow these cases closely and are in regular communication with leaders from Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, and Radio Progreso, ready to respond to new rights violations and conduct ongoing visits. As we continue to support those migrating, we equally support the social movements working to improve conditions that allow for a dignified life and justice for the people of Honduras. We invite all allies to follow the above organizations on social media to increase visibility and support.


Como delegación de derechos humanos que viajó a Honduras entre 29 de Noviembre a 6 de Diciembre 2018, que visitó a la comunidad de Guapinól en la Municipio de Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, estamos profundamente preocupados por la ocupación policial y militar que está pasando allí.  

Delegation members around a mandala

Delegation members around a mandala

Hemos recibido noticias y fotos de patrullas bloqueando la entrada y salida de la comunidad para monitorear todos que vienen y van, con participación del Ministerio Publico. Miembros de la comunidad tienen miedo de ser capturados, intimidados, y amenazados. La comunidad de Guapinól está defendiendo el río de Guapinól de la destrucción que genera la empresa minera operada por Inversiones Los Pinares, la cual destruiría su único acceso al agua potable.

La ocupación sigue el asesinato de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonilla en la comunidad de Ceibita, donde han visto represión violento en contra de la resistencia comunitaria a la minería, lo cual pertenece a la misma empresa Inversiones Los Pinares. Hay bastante documentación de los actos violentos por el estado y negocios privados colaborando en contra de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y la tierra en la región de Bajo Aguán.

Nuestra delegación está formado por profesionales religiosos (pastores y una hermana), trabajadores de derechos humanos, educadores, y activistas, con el apoyo institucional de UUSC, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-El Salvador, y Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Durante la delegación nosotros fuimos testigos de evidencia clara y persuasivo que hay presos políticos en Honduras, que hay impunidad frecuente por el feminicidio y el asesinato de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, y que la migración y el éxodo tienen raíces en violencia sistémica y la pérdida de oportunidades económicas. Los condiciones de los derechos humanos en Honduras no merecen la acreditación del Departamento del Estado de los Estados Unidos, un requisito para ayuda militar.

El ataque sistemática en contra de las defensoras de derechos humanos incluye cargos criminales falsos, lo cual fuimos testigos directamente al corte de Jeremías Martínez, uno de 18 líderes en Guapinól enfrentando órdenes de captura por su activismo.

Como personas de fé y consciencia, demandamos:

  • La parada de ocupación policial y militar en las comunidades de Bajo Aguán, incluso Guapinól;
  • Una investigación inmediata de los asesinatos de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonillo;
  • La parada de ayuda militar y venta de armas de los Estados Unidos a Honduras, que estan usados en contra de la gente por el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernandez;
  • Y el pasaje de la Acta Berta Cacares para Derechos Humanos en Honduras en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos.

Seguimos vigilando lo que está pasando en Guapinól y en estos casos. Estamos en comunicación con las líderes de Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, y Radio Progreso, y estamos pendientes para condemnar nuevos violaciones. Como seguimos solidarizandonos con los migrantes, igual nos solidarizamos con los movimientos sociales de Honduras que están luchando para mejorar los condiciones para una vida digna y justicia en Honduras. Invitamos a todos aliados que siguen las páginas de facebook y los redes sociales de estas organizaciones para seguir aumentando su visibilidad.

On June 1st, hurricane season starts again

On June 1st, hurricane season starts again

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

She repeated it. We were a tired, overwhelmed group of CSJ participants on a toxic tour run by t.e.j.a.s. (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services). Our group of ten college students and four adult leaders had spent the last week volunteering with Rebuilding Together Houston with their Harvey relief efforts. For four days, our dedicated group worked under the watchful, kind eyes of the Rebuilding crew leaders. We painted, de-molded, deconstructed, constructed and aided in the recovery of homes impacted by Hurricane Harvey. With all of our collective effort of the week, we helped with three houses. On our last day, we left early to join this toxic tour.

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

Connecticut College Group Rebuilding Together HoustonIt was difficult to imagine hurricane force winds with the mild sun and chilly breezes we had been enjoying. On this day, the skies were clouded over and our guide directed our eyes to the gas flames being emitted above the petrochemical companies. We were standing in a children’s playground as we watched the gas burn. We were surrounded by houses. At a local mural, our guide pointed out the references to the petrochemical companies local children had drawn as a part of their community. This was their normal. These were all communities of color.

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

As we drove through seemingly endless miles of petrochemical infrastructure, we started to understand scale. As we peered over the edge of what had once been a popular lodge and heard about polluted flood waters and the damage they did to both buildings and human bodies, we started to understand impact. As our guide spoke about history and laws, we thought about historical patterns of abuse. And as we visited communities and heard about local resistance, we began to think about justice.

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

One of the most difficult parts of the toxic tour happened for me once it was over. Our rental van was running on empty. I plugged directions into my GPS and gratefully pulled into a gas station. Once there, I raised my eyes to see the name of the same petrochemical company that we had heard about during our tour—Valero. I put gas in the car and I cringed. How  to confront the enormity of this? How to understand not only our society’s dependence on fossil fuels, but also the effects that this has on the environment? How to understand that Hurricane Harvey was the third “500 year flood” (1/500 chance in happening per year) in five years? How to understand that connection of environmental justice with our country’s ongoing legacy of white supremacy?

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

I don’t know. But after that tour where we used our vehicle’s gas to drive from petrochemical plant to petrochemical plant, where we looked out our windows at the passing miles of petrochemical infrastructure as if we were on some sort of convoluted Texas safari, I was left mainly with a sense of scale. It’s a big problem. It’s gonna take a big solution. The beauty of both the toxic tour and our time with Rebuilding Houston was that we learned not only about the effects of the hurricane and environmental pollution, but also the power of communities coming together. People in strong networks create a web of support that might be the only thing that can keep us all floating with the rising tides. We will need those life rafts in the days to come. As we were reminded over and over,

“On June 1st, hurricane season starts again.”

Saving Seed

Saving Seed

Rebecca Hennessy lives in Portsmouth, NH and traveled to Nicaragua as a member of South Church in cooperation with the UUCSJ. She is a mother and a garlic farmer. She owns a small value-added food business, Backyard Garlic, coaches ultimate frisbee and likes exploring new places.


Memories of Nicaragua continue to organize in my mind and body.  Reflections on being a part of a delegation as well as an individual have increasingly become a part of my daily life. For me, this is a sure sign of a good trip. One experience in particular, I hold carefully, as though it were alive in the palm of my hand.

On day 5 of our 8-day trip we travelled to Las Diosas farm to spend the afternoon. We shared a meal with the women working there and learned more about what happens from day to day. FEM and Las Diosas’ mission of rebellious attention to reproductive processes and resources were apparent everywhere we looked – through building local, to international markets, expertise in alternative farming techniques, and visionary business practices. The farm has a plant nursery, experimental garden, testing and processing facilities for hibiscus, coffee, and honey, and infrastructure to support continued growth of women owned and operated cooperatives. Also on the farm is the ongoing study and practice of saving seed.Handful of Seeds - Nicaragua

I felt joy on this farm. In simply being there and in what I learned. And it was the practice of saving seed that is most present to me now. A seed can be deceptively simple. Profundity is a trait of simplicity, after all.  And much can be said of the word  – saving. Seed is potential, diversity. Seed is survival. And when a seed is understood for the qualities it brings to the plant, it begins to reveal the history of the soil from which it grew.  From which, and in which, it can be saved.

In this way, seed is memory and soil is history. Both record human activity – present and past. Saving seed is an act of deep affection. It is an act of profound attention to what has gone before.

Knowing how to save seed is not unlike knowing how to raise a hand in protest.  March 8 is International Women’s Day.  And March 24 is March for Our Lives. For both, I will remember what I learned from the women of FEM and on the Las Diosas farm. I will care for the seed in my hand, how it roots me, saves me, in what I believe. I will work to have a deeper understanding of the history I inherited and the history in the making – it is the soil in which I grow. Saving is conserving as well as setting free.

We often heard the word ‘organized’ on our journey. For me the word organized came to mean – knowing who you are and what you bring to the work. It meant planting your words and actions with a rebellious attention, selective care and abundant joy.

Carlos and the Guardians

Carlos and the Guardians

Rev. Paul Langston-Daley is the Senior Program Leader for Justice Building at UUSC. In November 2016, he travelled to Nicaragua on UUCSJ’s Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians journey specifically for religious professionals (ministers, seminarians and religious educators).


It had already been a difficult year, and then November came and with it, the election of Donald Trump. I was feeling pretty, cynical about the future. The trip to Nicaragua was scheduled for the end of the month and I was trying, like most people to see some kind of silver lining in what was about to unfold. I was particularly looking forward to being there with colleagues, as we shared this experience together.

I didn’t know much about Nicaragua – I knew some about the Sandinistas and about American interference and involvement in the civil war, but not much else. The study materials provided by the College of Social Justice were outstanding, providing a backdrop to frame the experience, but not requiring more than was manageable in an average schedule. It was engaging, and familiarity with the history, and with the current political climate, provided depth to the trip.

Though there were many highlights – the women of Matagalpa, the lush green mountains of the countryside, the many wonderful speakers who shared their lives with us, worship that helped to ground us each day – the real center of the trip was our visit with Carlos and the Guardians of the River. The Guardians are a grassroots community resisting a gold mine that would destroy their sacred river the Yaoska. I was unprepared for how deeply this meeting would impact me. The sharing of gifts, when we all brought a symbol of something that connects us to mother earth, brought an unanticipated level of vulnerability and caring. My fellow religious leaders brought an incredible depth of sharing as they made offerings to those gathered. Colored leaves, special stones, gifts of nuts, cranberries and honey, all were shared with reverence to nature, the beauty of this place, and at our being together in solidarity. Hearing the Guardians sing, the joy they shared at being in this place, the passion they held for life, the depth of their love for the planet, all of it was palpable. Gratitude was present in a form that was undeniable and we were embraced in that gratitude.

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Participants with Guardians of the River making an altar of their gifts

Reverence for all life is not just a quaint sentiment for these Guardians of the River.  For them, this beautiful, Eden like place is worthy of their protection. The songs they sang brought laughter and tears. We swam in the river, admired the mountains, marveled at the power and wonder of this pristine garden. I was deeply grateful to these Guardians, who know a deeper certainty, who claim a nobler truth, the people who stopped the gold mine. Because they understand that the land and its people are far more precious than gold. Everywhere we went, reverence for and connection to the land was present. The fruit trees, the chickens, the coffee, paradise is here. A deep religious connection to the earth, to all life, abides.

I learned more than I could have imagined, not just about Nicaragua, its people, and their struggles, but about a shared commitment to the earth that knows no borders or boundaries. I learned about the power of a people capable of stopping a multi-national corporation. I began to understand what it might take to return to my own country to face a new administration. I returned to the United States with a sense of hope and spirit.

It has been a little more than a year since my trip, and on the days when I feel things are impossible; when I don’t think I can bear one more tweet, or policy move, or ridiculous statement from the White House, I recall the voice of Maria, a young Guardian of the River.  I remember their struggle, the challenges they faced, the stories of those who resisted, and my spirit is renewed. I am reminded that with love, nothing is impossible.

To learn about future journeys specifically for religious professionals, visit uucsj.org/journeys/religious-leaders/ 

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

In early December, our Director, Kathleen McTigue, and UUSC consultant, Syma Mirza  met with four grassroots groups in Houston, Texas: the Fe y Justicia Worker Justice Center, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), and the Living Hope Wheelchair Association, as well as the local Houston organizer for RAICES. Kathleen also met with members of four area UU congregations.


Chemical plant from TEJAS Toxic TourVisiting Houston earlier this month was an eye-opening experience for me. Traveling with UUSC consultant Syma Mirza, I met some of the UUSC partner groups in Houston to learn about their post-Harvey work. One of them, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Network (TEJAS), took us on their “toxic tour” so we could see for ourselves how vast and poisonous the industrial complexes on the Gulf really are. These immense industrial campuses that produce (and often release) toxic chemicals are located right next to homes, schools, and playgrounds. Even with the car windows rolled up, the air smells of chemicals. The populations closest to the toxins are, predictably, lower income and often communities of color, including those who are undocumented and live doubly in the shadows.

We also gained insight into a particularly vicious dimension of intersectional oppression. As in so many other cities, Houston’s construction industry relies heavily on undocumented workers, especially in the more dangerous jobs. These workers are routinely subject to wage theft and workplace harassment, and post-Harvey are often sent into clean-up and demolition jobs without the proper protective equipment. When they become ill or are injured, they do not have recourse to the support and protections that most of us assume are available by law. And if they are disabled due to workplace injury, none of the standard support – from counseling to the proper kind of wheelchairs – are within their reach.

The Living Hope Wheelchair Association is a scrappy, grassroots organization working for the rights and dignity of people with spinal cord injuries, especially those who are undocumented.

Long before Harvey struck, Living Hope was providing life-saving services and equipment to its members, and building grassroots power to advocate for housing, employment, and transportation. But in the wake of Harvey’s destruction, and with their constituents profoundly vulnerable to the flood waters, the Association gained sudden new visibility.

We sat in their small office and listened to Board members tell their stories; all of them are living in wheelchairs, all are undocumented, and all devote countless volunteer hours to Living Hope. As I listened, one question kept arising for me: doesn’t their new visibility bring with it a new level of personal danger for these leaders, for arrest and deportation? One Board member responded, “Visibility brings more fear, but it won’t hold us back. To be honest, with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General we know they’ll come for whoever they want. We can’t control that, but we can control our commitment, our solidarity. That’s ours.”

We are proud to support the work of Living Hope through the UUSC disaster relief grants. As we enter the new year, UUCSJ will continue our conversations with these and other UUSC partners to discern when and how volunteers from outside the region might usefully support their work.


Sign up to join the volunteer list if you’re available to travel to Texas or Florida to support relief efforts and would like to hear more detailed information as it becomes available.

UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).

 

 

UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!

 

During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).

 

Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.

 

We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.

 

We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.

 

Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!

 

Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.

 

Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.

UUCSJ COVID-19 Update

As news of the  COVID-19 virus unfolds, we at the College of Social Justice are assessing next steps. While we are all in a state of uncertainty, we are acting with caution for the well-being of our participants, partners, staff, and most vulnerable community members.

With the guidance of the UUA, UUSC, and recommendations from the CDC, and in communication with our friends and partners, we have decided to postpone all CSJ in person programing (youth visits, journeys, etc) through May 2020. Those participants have been notified and we are grateful for the understanding, love, and support we have received in response.

These are the only programs that have been postponed for now, but things may change as we receive more information. We are also thinking of creative ways to bring more of our programming online and would love to hear ideas from you!

 We are all in community together and we are grateful for the ways in which you choose to show up, bear witness, and take action for the communities and partners we serve. Please be safe and if there is anything that we can do to be supportive of you, don’t hesitate to reach out.