The UUCSJ office does not feel like an office. Perhaps it is better described as a plant haven with desks, or a living room/library hybrid. A splotch of green adorns every windowsill and table. Colorful photographs, posters, and cloth hang on the walls. A bilingual bookshelf filled with poetry, biographies, manifestos, meditations, and more sits between two walls of windows. Whenever I look up from my computer, I am greeted by a print of a large sunflower beneath bright green letters spelling out “GROW”. Indeed, the physical space CSJ occupies provides an intentional foundation upon which the organization can truly act out its values. For example, everyone talks through cubicle walls, standing up and walking over to offer feedback, or share toffee. People play informative videos out loud and casually give book recommendations. Meetings are moved around, created, and cancelled depending on the flow of the day. I’m consistently impressed by the flexibility of the organization and its ability to critically look at itself, rethinking goals and processes until they are in line with CSJ’s mission. I had no idea that a room with cubicles could feel so cohesive & cozy.
My favorite days at CSJ were Tuesdays, when we would have a staff meeting. Every staff meeting began with a ‘grounding’—a reading (or a song!) to center everyone. The act of grounding, in my experience, actually extended into the next ritual—a check-in. Each person checks in with the group—not just an update on work projects, but insight into how you are feeling, what big things are happening in your life, what you might need this week, what you are excited about, how it felt to spend a weekend in the woods. And it is not just a simple summary—it is also a critical analysis and emotional interpretation. You can share about big ideas that are floating around, and how they have manifested themselves in your work and your personal life. From my first Tuesday with CSJ, it was clear that the staff functions well as a team because they take the time to listen and understand where everyone is each week. This sense of community was integral to my time with CSJ. Regardless of the work I was doing, I was uplifted and inspired by the people around me.
Though most of my days were spent in the office, I was able to go on a few ‘field trips’ to deepen my understanding of immigration justice, one of CSJ’s big areas of focus. In mid-July, I was invited to attend a rally at the State House to encourage legislators to pass the 4 Key Protections as part of the FY19 budget, thus making Massachusetts into a sanctuary state. As soon as I stepped inside the State House and joined the security line, I could hear singing echoing through the hallways. Upon turning the corner I was surrounded by people of all ages, gathered around the grand staircase, singing: “We shall not be moved / Just like a tree that’s standing by the water side / We shall not be moved”. I was touched by the gentle persistence the song and the power of dozens of voices joining together in harmony. Before we ascended up the staircase, three religious leaders representing different groups joined together and invited everyone into prayer. We held hands, bowed our heads, and let the words of hope and resistance wash over us. The rest of the rally was filled with speeches, chants, and more singing. This was the first time I had experienced a level of spirituality within justice work.
The mission of CSJ is to inspire and sustain faith-based justice work, and true to form, this internship has both inspired and sustained me. Even when I’m spending an entire day researching best practices for social media outreach or combing through spreadsheets or looking for the perfect article to retweet or re-writing a section of the newsletter ten times, I know that the work I am doing is tied to many larger goals. And I know I have a community of people to support me. None of the work we do would appear on a “How To Change The World” brochure, and yet, we are changing the world in our own way by making that brochure in the first place. This summer has shown me a new side of justice work: the not-so-glamorous part. Throughout the past 3 months, I have been reminded of something I heard in high school, when I was on an immersion-learning trip to India with my school: “Invisible service is love made visible.” With every meeting attended and email sent, each person working at CSJ is making love visible. I feel immensely grateful to have seen all the love flowing out of CSJ and into the world this summer.