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.

Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Today we remember the leadership of Martin Luther King in his own chapter of the struggle for racial justice. But we’re living through our own chapter of that struggle today, in which the rise of overt white supremacy and the support it receives from the White House shows us just how far we still have to go.

So I want to remember that along with King and so many others, the real hero of that movement is the simple human virtue of perseverance, lodged in the hearts, minds, and souls of thousands of people we’ve never heard of. We think of leaders like Martin Luther King in the context of pivotal moments, like the huge march on Washington in 1963. It’s only much more dimly that we can glimpse the years and years of hard work that lifted them up, the enormous, relentless labor before the little cracks started to show up in the culture and then to widen into clear and powerful lines of change.  Any real change that has ever happened in our world has come because of countless ordinary people who made their choices and took their risks not in a few electric moments but again and again, over the course of years. 

King once said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” This is a call to imagine our justice efforts in a different way. Instead of envisioning a linear path — in which a campaign or protest or movement will lead to a specific outcome on a predictable timeframe — we need to see our effort as part of a web of relationship. It goes on as long as we live, punctuated with high and low points but never truly over. It’s made up of a kind of solidarity that stays open and observant to all the large and small ways we make a difference. And what it asks of us, above all, is perseverance.

~ Kathleen McTigue

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.

How UUCSJ Spent Our Summer Vacation

How UUCSJ Spent Our Summer Vacation

Equipping Youth Leaders to Change the World

Activate Boston Participants with Climate Justice Banner They Made

Activate Boston Participants with Climate Justice Banner They Made

In August, UUCSJ wrapped up a full summer of youth programming with Activate Climate Justice, which brought a passionate group of young climate justice leaders together to Boston. Over the course of the week, the group went on a Toxic Tour to build their awareness of environmental racism and community-led resistance, spent a day on the Boston Harbor Islands learning about the impact of rising seas, advocated for sustainable energy policies at the State House, met with local organizers of powerful grassroots groups, and participated in several hands-on projects, including a river clean-up, helping out at a local urban farm, and serving a locally-sourced meal to hundreds of community members.

As with all of our Activate programs, each day also included opportunities for spiritual centering, group worship and reflection, and community-building, culminating in strong connections between participants and a deeper connection to Unitarian Universalist values and practices. As we hear so often from Activate alums, the relationships built, sense of empowerment developed, and values and practices explored through these transformative experiences are what equips these young leaders to go forth and implement the action plans they made in their final days together, taking their next steps on what we hope will be lifelong journeys in social justice activism.

Activate New Orleans Participants and Community Art

Activate New Orleans Participants and Community Art

Earlier in the summer, our partners at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal hosted Activate New Orleans in July, focused on Racial Justice & the Beloved Community, and BorderLinks hosted two youth justice delegations in Tucson, Arizona in June who explored immigration justice and ways to expand sanctuary and solidarity along the U.S./Mexico border. We also piloted our first youth journey to West Virginia, thanks to our newest community partners at Big Creek People in Action and the Southern Appalachia Labor School, as well as the UU Congregation of Charleston and the New River UU Fellowship. UUCSJ’s youth justice curriculum also reached participants in the Goldmine Leadership School in the UUA’s Pacific Western region through a week of immersive learning in Colorado.

We are so grateful to all of our partners, hosting organizations, program leaders, congregational leaders and youth groups, and youth participants for making these experiences so powerful. We also look forward to connecting with many more youth groups and young leaders as a new school year – and new year of Activate youth justice programs – begins! Learn more about our upcoming offerings in Boston, New Orleans, Tucson, Southwest Florida, West Virginia, and Nicaragua, and stay connected with us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more!


Offering Young Adults First Hand Experience with Grassroots Justice

Since 2012, UUCSJ has offered young adults a first-hand experience of grassroots justice work as summer interns at organizations to help them explore potential career paths while enhancing their own spiritual development. This past summer was our largest intern placement yet; UUCSJ placed 15 college-aged interns in eight nonprofit organizations in the US and UK. Some organizations were long-time partners of UUCSJ: RAICES in San Antonio and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) in New Orleans, and some were first time partners: Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance in Minneapolis, MN, and the Interfaith Center for Social Justice Renewal in New York, NY.

Every other week, interns were invited to share reflections on their experiences with various justice issues in a private Facebook group, so they could share ideas and learn from one another. One intern describes their internship compared to past work experiences:

My internship with MUUSJA has been a very different from my other work experiences I’ve had in that I’m learning to take a back seat to the leadership of others, especially people of color… I’m learning that, especially as a person of privilege, some of the best things I can do for social justice movements are seemingly small things. That’s something that takes a lot of humility to accept, that isn’t always met with agreement among the people I’m surrounded by, and that might take getting used to. But I think it’s something that’s important to internalize as I plan for potential career options for the years ahead. – MUUSJA intern

Many of their experiences had a profound impact on their career development:

2017 RAICES Interns with Staff

2017 RAICES Interns with Staff

I am so grateful to be where I am at right now… It’s has been a profoundly empowering experience. I will leave this internship feeling more confident about following my passion for immigration justice work… As grim as work can be these people have helped to keep me from feeling too grim or weighed down by it. – RAICES intern

Having the opportunity to experience the important and intentional work that RMM is doing throughout New York has been inspiring. It’s exciting to know that I can finally put down more roots in a place and know that, I won’t be leaving, and instead I’ll be growing and contributing alongside others who are committed to making NY a more equitable and just place for all. – RMM Intern

 

 

But Have You Cried Together?

But Have You Cried Together?

Mara Iverson is a young adult from the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, VT who recently participated in UUCSJ and the UUA’s GROW Racial Justice 2017 in New Orleans. Mara is a member of Central Vermont SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) and is the co-chair of the diversity and inclusion working group on the university campus where she works.


“Yeah, but have you cried together? Because we have,” a Thrive participant stressed.

I, a Shift participant, responded, “Well, we teared up at one point. So, I guess we white-people-cried.”

I have spent the weeks since our time in New Orleans this June thinking hard about the importance of the question “but have you cried together.”

For context, Grow Racial Justice is a program intended to “equip UU young adults of color (Thrive) and white UU young adults (Shift) with the skills, spiritual grounding, and community to engage in racial justice work within and beyond our Unitarian Universalist faith.” In the Shift cohort we dove into understanding the culture of white supremacy that is part of us and that we contribute to.

We started by writing a covenant that was meant to guide us and also acknowledge that we would break our promises. And it was intended to give us the means to come back together in love when that happens. The covenant helped us as we considered hard realities about white supremacy culture. We recognized how we strive for perfection and fear mistakes. We thought about how white supremacy culture lets us make excuses.

I want to draw your attention to words I used: considered, recognized, thought. We spent most of our time together thinking. We dwelled in our heads trying to memorize and practice. That, friends, is so white. It is so white to try to memorize our way to perfect understanding. Sure, we have to have information, but injustice is not just about facts and figures. It is about deep feelings

During an activity from the Beloved Conversations curriculum we explored the values that drive us toward our justice-seeking goals and the values that stop us from reaching those goals. We ended up wading into what secretly terrifies and freezes us. Suddenly we realized our racism is bound up in our own weakest places. From that time on we were differently bonded and open. But we had still only scratched the surface.

There was a painful moment just before the program ended when we had to face that even with our best intentions we sometimes still do harm. So we started again. We read our covenant again and recommitted to it. We shared feelings. Some of us cried. Some of us held hands or leaned against each other. Then with hearts laid open we brought our broken voices together to sing Spirit of Life.

I cannot do the work of racial justice with my mind alone. I cannot just watch documentaries or even just call legislators. I have to grieve that I contain and must unlearn white supremacy. I have to show up with vulnerability. I have to let love crack me open so that when I cry it will not be to weaponize my guilt. It will be to create bonds that hold me accountable to people of color and other allies as I teach my spirit to shift.

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.