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.


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!

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.

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!

Call to Standing Rock: Dec. 4th Interfaith Day of Prayer

Call to Standing Rock: Dec. 4th Interfaith Day of Prayer


As the courageous Water Protectors at Standing Rock face escalated acts of violent repression, we at UUCSJ continue to be deeply moved by the power of the #NoDAPL movement. We are especially grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Karen Van Fossan of the UU Fellowship of Bismarck-Mandan and other UU leaders who have been deeply engaged in on-the-ground solidarity with Native coordinators of the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Karen offers the following invitation to the UU community and to all people of faith and conviction to answer Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s Call to Standing Rock for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on Sunday, December 4th. Please read and circulate widely to amplify this timely opportunity for solidarity.

This week, in below-freezing temperatures, unarmed water protectors just north of Standing Rock survived shocking assaults from water cannons. Many were traumatized, and some needed emergency room care. In the aftermath of these attacks, and in the months prior, my congregation has received countless messages from people around the country – and world – asking, “What can we do?”

Meanwhile, we have received one of the most important invitations we are ever likely to receive, as people of faith and conviction. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, has called upon each of us to join him at Standing Rock on Sunday, December 4th, for an Interfaith Day of Prayer. In solidarity with indigenous people and mutual love for the water, it is my hope that you and your communities of faith will participate in this history-making day.

As those who have visited know, the nonviolent water protector movement at Standing Rock is deeply rooted in prayer. Each day I spend at Oceti Sakowin camp, I feel myself challenged and inspired to live a more prayerful and faithful life. We awake with prayers, dine with prayers, go to rest with prayers, and pray continuously throughout each day.

The camps at Standing Rock are based on the conviction that prayer, especially collective prayers, can protect our living water. Your prayers – and your presence – mean the world. I would be honored to see you here.

For more information and to register to participate, please visit:https://tinyurl.com/standingrockdayofprayer

To learn more about the Dec. 4th Interfaith Day of Prayer and other opportunities for solidarity, please join me in a conference call discussion on Wednesday, November 30th at 6:30pm CST. This call will be facilitated by Unitarian Universalists who have been working directly with Native coordinators at Oceti Sakowin Camp. People of any and all traditions are welcome to join this conversation. Please register here.

Please share this call to prayer and solidarity widely. Thank you.

If you aren’t able to be here in body on December 4th, please join us in spirit by praying for the water and the water protectors in the morning, before meals, before bed, and whenever you are able. Please invite others to join their prayers with yours – with all of ours.

In peace and faith,

Karen Van Fossan, M.Div.,
Minister, Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Standing in Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux – What We Can Do

Standing in Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux – What We Can Do

defend-the-sacredOver the last few months, many of us have been moved by following the powerful movement of indigenous leaders defending sacred land, and the earth and water we all share, from the threat of the dangerous Dakota Access Pipeline. In recent days, we have also watched with horror as our computer screens have increasingly filled with images of brutal aggression against and mass arrests of the courageous Water Protectors leading the #NoDAPL encampments in Standing Rock, ND. We have also been heartened by the reports of Rev. Karen Van Fossan, Minister at the UU Fellowship & Church of Bismarck-Mandan, who has been on the ground offering solidarity to indigenous leaders and amplifying their call for people of faith to mobilize public support for this struggle.

In a statement from Karen, issued via with our friends at Standing on the Side of Love yesterday, she writes: “We need you and we need you now. People of faith and conscience are being called to take immediate action and come to Standing Rock in solidarity. Unarmed water protectors have been met with militarized responses at every step. There is an opportunity for us to show up and affirm this prayerful movement. A movement calling for direct action to center Indigenous communities’ autonomy, history and spirituality. A movement working to ensure our collective future.”

There is also a specific call for clergy to join a faith-filled action in Standing Rock next Thursday, November 3rd, described in more detail here.

In response to these calls to action, UUCSJ has collaborated with a variety of partners to compile this list of links and resources to support UU involvement in this movement.

Whether you are in a position to travel to Standing Rock, to put pressure on decision-makers, or to donate to meet direct needs on the ground, we hope you will find a way to take action, and to ground your efforts in learning about and reflection upon the history of colonialism and systemic oppression of First Nations that we see continuing today.

As our friends at MUUSJA have reminded us through their #NoDAPL solidarity work:

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Our Unitarian Universalist faith teaches us that we are all inextricably and radically interdependent; that we are part of an interconnected web of existence that encompasses all creatures and the earth. Following those deeply held theological values, in 2012, the UUA General Assembly passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, calling UUs to work in solidarity with native communities and to make reparations for the impacts of colonization, genocide, land theft, and continuing harms perpetrated against indigenous peoples. If we are to follow through with our pledge, we must acknowledge that we are called to show up in solidarity with our indigenous kin to protect the earth that gives us life, and to resist the legacy of colonization and genocide of the native peoples on whose land we all live.

The time is now. Please join us in taking action today.

The Earth is Alive

The Earth is Alive

Barbara Walden, a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland Oregon, was part of the College of Social Justice’s April Solidarity with Original Nations and Peoples delegation to the Lummi Nation in Bellingham Washington.

“It seems to me that anyone who cares to really think about the planet today has to hold both of these things in mind, to remember to see the beauty, and to still take joy in that beauty but not shy away from the hard and often ugly reality…”

 ~David Gessner, All the Wild that Remains

When I saw the announcement of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice’s forthcoming program in my church newsletter, something spoke to me.  Do you know that feeling?  Something just pokes you and says, you need to do this. The program was a journey to the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, Washington to meet the Lummi people and learn from them; the program was called “Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and Nations.” Part of the program was to learn the best way to be allies in solidarity with indigenous peoples as we face the coming of climate change. I had heard of the Lummi in connection with the controversy surrounding the proposed location of the Cherry Point Coal Terminal at the site of the Lummi sacred fishing grounds—just another chapter in the long sorry story of the degradation and theft of the lands and waters of the indigenous people of the United States. I knew that they were a small tribe, around 5,000 people living on the reservation, and I wondered if it would be possible for them to combat this threat even in alliance with others.

Earlier the Lummi reached out in a way that I had not encountered before. They made a totem pole and took it across the country to the source of the coal, to the indigenous people living in the Powder River country of Wyoming. All along the way they stopped at churches and asked all people to come forward and give their blessing to the totem pole. It was a sacred journey. I went to the St. Philip Neri Catholic Church with many others from around Portland, and we laid our hands on the pole to bless its journey and the hope and solidarity it represented. There we heard the pole’s carvers, who were leaders and elders of the Lummi Nation, as they spoke eloquently from heart and mind about their land and nation, and the interdependence of us all upon our living Earth. It made a deep impression on me.

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Often when we are confronted with deep truth, it is hard to know what to do next. Sometimes you just need to wait for the next moment to arrive. I think that is why the brief announcement of the UUCSJ program struck me so hard. The deadline for applications was quite near, and by the time I did all the necessary figuring-out of things and crafting of my application it was the absolute last minute. I sent my application in and hoped for the best. I was so disappointed to receive a phone call saying  that the program was overfilled, and I was so far down the waiting list that it was unlikely that I could go. So be it. I put it out of my mind. Then just a few days before the trip I received another phone call. A space had opened up and I could go. I madly read the book that was required reading for us:  An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Wow. Already my mind was opened and I hadn’t yet left home.

I did not know it yet, but the next steps in the journey would open my heart as well as my mind. The  Lummi people we met honored us with the heartfelt speaking and sharing that are at the root of their way of life. They taught me a lesson in the interrelationship of politics, diplomacy, treaty rights and traditional spiritual values as they stood proudly for their rights as a sovereign nation living as a government alongside international, federal, state, county and local governments. They showed me how they were working to lift up their youth, honoring and caring for their elders, providing for the economic development and social needs of a population with a 40% poverty rate and an ongoing burden of historical trauma, while at the same time preserving and passing on traditional spiritual culture, language, and way of life. It is an extraordinary task, and they work tremendously hard at it and do it admirably.

I quickly saw why the Lummi do not need our “help.” On the contrary, we have much to learn from them. The bonding of traditional spiritual and familial values rooted in the earth and waters with everything in life, and the strength and grounding this brings to their activities touched me profoundly. Many Lummi are able to live in two worlds. The carver of the totem poles is deeply versed in the law and speaks more knowledgeably than anyone to the intricacies of treaties, taxes, and other issues, as well as providing leadership as the Lummi play a role in national and international issues surrounding climate change. The tribe’s hereditary chief is not a political leader, but rather the carrier and teacher of the traditional language and culture in this holistic society. Well-educated tribal council members negotiate fearlessly and knowledgeably with international corporations to preserve their lands and waters. Lummi youth and elders traveled to the Paris Climate Summit to speak the truth of the peoples of the Salish Sea.

A pebble cast into water sends out ripples, the Lummi say. The pollution that has harmed the upstream waters of the river that flows through their land and closed their shellfish area affects other areas all around. The industrial overfishing of the shared waters diminishes not only the Lummi’s traditional catch but that of non-indigenous fishers as well. A coal terminal or other development at Cherry Point would endanger the whole Salish Sea which we call Puget Sound. I saw with my own eyes that at  Cherry Point there is just a narrow passage between this land and the beautiful San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island. The loss of our animals and clean waters and the degradation of these places weighs on our spirits, too, and diminishes our lives. Their Earth is our Earth. It is not meant for our endless extraction, but for our care. We are one with the Earth. We need to stand together as we do our best to meet the changes our troubled Earth will bring us.

~Barbara Walden, First Unitarian Church, Portland, Oregon


Earth Day Renews Momentum in the Movement for Climate Justice – Learn More at Activate Boston this Summer!

Earth Day Renews Momentum in the Movement for Climate Justice – Learn More at Activate Boston this Summer!

Last month, hundreds of UU activists from across Massachusetts commemorated Earth Day by opening a new season of resistance to the Boston-area West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, part of a sustained and growing climate justice campaign to disrupt the dangerouspectra-uu.jpgs expansion of the fracked gas infrastructure and fossil fuel economy that threatens us all. Over the last year and a half, members of UU congregations and communities across the state have organized creatively as committed people of faith building collective power to halt Spectra’s pipeline construction, succeeding on several occasions in shutting down the work site, with sustained vigils, rallies, and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.


The campaign was renewed this spring with a vibrant action on April 23rd, which turned out more than 300 protestors on a rainy Saturday morning, just days after the good news that another controversial pipeline project had been canceled, with Kinder Morgan calling of further development of the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline. The crowd included high school and college students, ministers, community leaders, elected officials and residents of the neighborhood in which the pipeline would be based, posing a significant threat to community health and safety. It was followed by an act of civil disobedience, in which three activists were arrested at the construction site on April 29th, and a Celebration & Lobby Day at the Massachusetts State House on May 3rd to recognize the strides made and keep up the pressure.

These developments build upon months of organizing and training based at several UU congregations across the state, a Call to Action signed by twenty-seven UU ministers earlier this winter, as well as ongoing leadership by UU Mass Action’s Climate Justice Organizer, Evan Seitz, a friend and former staff member of the UU College of Social Justice. The “UU Rising” movement has effectively highlighted that this struggle against the Spectra pipeline is also interconnected with many other efforts for climate justice, as this pipeline is just one more outpost of destruction in a system that harms our planet and all its inhabitants, compelling our moral resistance as people of faith and conscience.

spectra-mr.jpgOur upcoming Activate Boston: Climate Justice training will give high school aged youth a timely and immersive opportunity to learn more about this campaign, and others like it, this summer. If you know a young person concerned about climate change and eager to take action for social justice, please encourage them to apply today, with the deadline quickly approaching and generous financial aid available to young people in need who’d like to attend.

Whiteness and Apocalypse

This post was written by Amelia Diehl and originally posted on Blue Boat.

I am so grateful to have been able to attend the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice‘s Grounded and Resilient Organizer’s Workshop Climate Justice Training in Chicago, IL and feel connected again to a community and to a movement. I think I might have learned more about myself and climate change in that weekend at the GROW training than my few years or so of calling myself an environmentalist, and in ways I could never have predicted. The space created for group reflection allowed me to learn a lot about what it means for me to be involved in the movement, and also to forget about myself at times.

Earlier this summer, I interviewed a local climate activist who told me that according to one study, by 2030 we would know if we hit the two degree celsius temperature change, a crucial tipping point. That in fifteen years we would pretty much know how much we were screwed. While these types of doomsday scientific reports circulate regularly and the exact numbers are debatable, somehow hearing it in the context of his personal investment hit me deeper than before. Since that conversation, I’ve felt desperate, frantic and apocalyptic – but also revolutionary, that something big would have to change. I felt a renewed purpose and urgency in my climate work, which until then had felt distanced; I paid attention to news, read Naomi Klein and went to major protests, but didn’t really feel like I could commit as much to the movement as I’d wanted.

About a month later, one of my friends, a woman of color, said she didn’t like the environmental movement. When I asked why, she laughed and said because it’s so white. I agreed, but was frustrated, because even though I was white, I resented the reputation of whiteness in a movement that I know to be more intersectional and that I want to be more explicitly intersectional because it needs to be. I tried to argue that it’s more than protecting trees and water, and that climate change affects us all.

For now, it seems likphoto1[5]e my front-line is my campus. The brand of environmentalism at our campus – a small liberal arts college in the mid-west – is as white as a blizzard. Our environmental club, though popular, mainly goes on week-long backpacking trips during semester breaks, and lacks a divestment movement. The administration touts sustainability efforts just like the next college, but there is an overall lack of discourse around climate change, and especially around justice. People care about it, sure, but most people get too overwhelmed and feel like we couldn’t do anything about it, or that it isn’t relevant, and often get stuck in “save the Earth” thinking.

Looking back at when I started to care about environmentalism and climate change about ten years ago, I recognize that my early investment lacked a critical analysis of power systems. Like many Unitarian Universalists in climate work, I resonate deeply with the seventh principle, the interconnectedness of all things. I often envision our planet in space, and think about all of us sharing this home. In a social justice context, this also means that my liberation is tied up into yours. But I don’t think we – as a movement – are there yet, as someone at the training expressed.

One example, among many: a reasonable critique of vegans and vegetarians, many of whom are white (including me), is that they seem to care more about the health and safety of animals than for other people. Changing consumer choices in the context of capitalism is relatively easy compared to critically looking at how I am implicated in a white supremacist (capitalist, patriarchal) society.

I realized that my values of caring about climate change led me to critically look at systems of power and societal inequalities. In other words, I admit that while I cared about social justice in a very white middle class liberal way, it was climate change that got me to understand the complexity and depth of power systems, and my own privilege. To care about climate justice is to care about anti-racism, feminism, anti-capitalism, anti-injustice and anti-oppression, and to fight for liberation. Climate change is only the latest symptom of these oppressive systems. Of course, it is still a choice to engage in anti-oppressive work, and not all climate work means climate justice, and climate justice does not mean simply adding “justice” to the end of it.

It is important to remember and understand each of these anti-oppression movements have different histories and are not the same. Anti-racist work cannot always be lumped with climate justice work. Yet it is crucial to make the connections between the movements.

One of the most impactful parts of the training came after looking at different definitions of climate justice, and one of our facilitators asked us to reflect on how, or if, our goals dismantle the master’s house, and how, or if, our tactics are accountable to the environmental justice principles. I know that this question needs to be considered continuously throughout any work, and I know that the work being done on my campus is not there yet. After the GROW training, I understand more than ever the urgency to challenge this white, privileged environmentalism and bring in a climate justice framework, and, importantly, I feel more prepared to do so.

I am determined to bring this awareness and analysis back to my campus. We’ll still go backpacking, and I will make sure we talk about the master’s house in the context of climate justice principles. I suspect many a college campus are stuck in white environmentalism, though many have been struggling for divestment from fossil fuels. I also want to start a divestment campaign, though this feels like a lofty goal at this point for where my campus’s values lie.

I know that this awareness is not enough, that there must be action. Yet it is a concrete step forward, and I know I will keep learning. As a participant said, we are responsible for collective learning.

Along with organizing skills, the GROW training gave me a space to truly examine and express my despair over climate change, the deep kind I felt at the beginning of the summer. It is easy to become fixated on the dystopian projections of extinction – of other species and possibly our own – destruction, and loss of the life we are used to, and to focus on climate change as an urgent crisis. Yet the problem with this is that this apocalypse has been real and remains urgent for so many for centuries. It is not about oppression olympics, or a hierarchy of despair, but it is about urgency.

The face of the climate movement may still be very white. Yet the crucial part is making sure front-line communities take the lead, and that those with privilege take the time to critically examine their positionality, and remain accountable to climate justice principles. As a facilitator said, we need to struggle together and resist collapses, and it’s up to us if there’s to be justice on the other side.

Amelia studies Environmental Communication and Arts at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Originally Quaker, she joined her local UU congregation in high school. She’s interested in how art is used in social movements, and in particular writing and photography. In addition to her environmental activism, she leads an interfaith student group organized for incarceration justice.