Harry Potter, You-know-who, and Unitarian Universalists

Here is the story for all ages and the homily I delivered on 29 August 2010 to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL.

“Harry Potter: The Boy That Lived” A story for all ages based on the stories of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling adapted by Rev. Fred L Hammond.  Given to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 29 August 2010

This is the story about Harry Potter’s early years when he was just an infant.  He was born in a time of great political distress.  The source of this distress was a powerful wizard, whose name shall not be mentioned. This wizard used his magic for harm rather than for good.  He was out to destroy all who stood in his way.

Now Harry’s parents were among those who fought against the bad things this wizard was doing. They did everything they could think of to stand up against this wizard.  The wizard had learned a very powerful spell that would kill any who stood in his way.  He killed many, many people.

But the time came when the wizard came to their house to kill Harry’s entire family.  The fierce wizard drew his wand and uttered the curse of death, and Harry’s parents were struck dead.  He did the same against Harry as well, but something happened.  Harry Potter did not die.  In fact, Harry Potter lived.

Harry Potter was taken to live with his relatives where it was thought he would be hidden away and safe from the forces of evil.   And in his absence, the story spread … Harry Potter, the boy that lived.   He unknowingly became famous because no one ever lived after being struck by the death spell. Harry Potter did all the things that young boys do; the only mark that something horrible had happened was a jagged scar on his forehead.

But why did he live?  What was the source of his protection?  No one really knew until many years later.  There is a magic that is greater than evil.  And this magic is available to everyone, even to us Muggles, who are not wise in the ways of magic. Do you know what this magic is?

This magic is said to be the source of all of creation. This magic makes the flowers bloom, the birds to sing, and rainbows to appear in the sky after a rainstorm. This magic enables people to speak up for what is fair and just.  This magic empowers people to express joy when justice is served.  What protected Harry Potter all those years ago from the evil wizard is the magic of love.  His parents loved him very much and so while pain and injustices might happen, the love his parents had for him would prevail.  Love would be the ground on which he would walk.  And that foundation is what kept Harry Potter safe and alive after the evil wizard’s spells.   May we also walk on the ground of love all of our days.

“Harry Potter, You-Know-Who, and Unitarian Universalists”  Homily delivered by Rev. Fred L Hammond 29 August 2010 (c)  Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

At the end of the movie version of The Goblet of Fire, we witness Harry Potter in a battle with You-know-who, the dark lord who is so evil that to even speak his name is feared to bring harm to those present.  In the process of this battle, a classmate, Cedric is killed by You-know-who.

So when we pick up the story in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the ministry of magic has determined that Harry Potter and the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore is lying.  The ministry of magic has used its influence to have the newspaper of the wizards, the Daily Prophet, inflame the public by discrediting Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  The paper also is declaring that all is well and that You-know-who has not returned.  The head of the ministry has come to believe that Dumbledore is stating You-know-who is back in order to take the head magistrate’s job. But as Remus Lupin tells Harry, people become “twisted and warped by fear and that makes people do terrible things.”

Fear is rampant and the ministry of magic has determined that the common enemy is Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  In order to regain control over a presumed renegade school, the ministry of magic places as the professor of the dark arts, a Delores Umbredge.  When she is introduced at the school, she states, “Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged, let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices which ought to be prohibited.”

She then begins to systematically take over the school.  She begins by scrutinizing everyone’s move, punishing Harry Potter for speaking the truth, and announcing that anyone who questions her is therefore suspect of disloyalty. An inquisitor’s team is developed to hunt out those who are disloyal and / or plotting against the ministry of magic.  Teachers are dismissed.  The dark arts become a class on theory and not on practical defense.  She resorts to posting more and more restrictive rules on the school.  She uses fear to maintain order and resorts to torture to keep control.  And the ministry of magic focuses on security as being the number one priority for the wizard nation.

Any of this sounds vaguely familiar?  We have a lot of things being discussed around our nation.  In Arizona and across the country we have hatred and fear being spewed about immigrants.  In California, hateful lies have been spread about same sex couples causing a law for same sex marriage to be placed on hold.  In New York City, in Murfreesboro, TN and in Gainesville, FL we have angry, hateful lies being spread about American Muslims and their alleged intentions.  In Gainesville, a church plans to burn copies of the Qu’ran on September 11th to send a message to Muslims living in America.  Yesterday, Glenn Beck and his tea party met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to allegedly ‘restore honor’ to the civil rights movement on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

These are all outrageous events happening.  It makes our blood boil.  This isn’t just about the politics of the extreme right versus the politics of the left.  This is about how are we to live as a people in a nation made up of minorities.  And we are all members of a minority group.  Some are minorities by skin color, others are minorities by sexual orientation or gender identification, and others are minorities by ethnicity or by religious or political affiliation, or by class, or even by life experiences.   This nation of minorities is again debating somewhat angrily, and with violence as in Murfreesboro yesterday, who gets to join the coalition of the new majority and the benefits and privileges thereof.  Do gays?  Do immigrants from Mexico?  Do Muslim Americans?  Do African Americans?  Who else should be excluded as other?  Where is the line to be drawn that says these are the real Americans?

In 1947, the US government created a short film called “Don’t be a Sucker” that dissected how a fascist government could come to power here in America. 

The process was to divide people against the other.  Tell the nation that these individual groups are not really Americans.  These others are here to destroy the American Way of life, to take from real Americans what real Americans fought and died for.  Speak of the threat to national security these groups pose. And offer the hope of a better life to the ‘real Americans’, those who have labored long and hard for freedom by passing laws that restrict these other group’s freedom.  Oh, and one more thing, have the news agencies; print, radio, TV, and internet become part of the same conglomeration so only one side of the news could be told, the side that those in power want told.

The narrator in the film stated, “We have no ‘other’ people in America.  We are all American people.”  He instructed us to stand together, to be who we are, say what we think, and “to guard everyone’s liberty or lose our own.”  There is no we and they, there is only us.

The story line in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also about fear of the other. The ministry of magic thought if they could keep You-know-who to remain underground then there would be no cause for alarm.  If hatred is kept out of public sight then all must be right with the world.  But hiding hatred or using politically correct words to mitigate hatred to something sounding less threatening does not get rid of hatred; it only causes hatred to seethe underground and then it erupts violently.

I understand the outrage at demagogue Glenn Beck and Fox News who are skillfully weaving hatred across the nation against other people, against our president, against our government.   But outrage is not going to change the outcome; it will only burn undirected energy into ash.

Just as in the story where Harry Potter and Dumbledore are on the vanguard, we need to be intentional and public with our presence of acceptance of the other. There is a need to be visible in standing on the side of love with those most impacted by the hatred. There is a need to say the word that no one else wants to say, just as Harry Potter states matter of factly Lord Voldemort’s name instead of the hushed You-know-who, we need to say the word racism and bigotry because that is what is at play here.  And there should be no apology for doing so.

Harry Potter’s story also reveals some very creative ways to combat those who manipulate fear to control and intimidate others.   The responses that Harry Potter and his friends make are responses that Unitarian Universalists can also use to address the issues of our day.

The Weasely twins in the story plan a very intricate and wonderful act of civil disobedience in response to the new tyranny that Professor Umbredge has imposed on the school.  With their magic, they disrupt the school’s final examinations with fireworks and breathing dragons made of fire.  In their doing this they show the rest of the school that they are not going to be intimidated by the forces of oppression; that they will continue to live free.  The Unitarian Universalist’s ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ campaign with immigrants, with sexual minorities, and with Muslims is a visible way to show that we are not afraid of the forces of racism and bigotry.  And there are other creative ways to show that what is happening is not acceptable in a country that values liberty and justice for all.

Harry Potter and friends search out the words of prophecy because they believe that therein may indeed be information that might guide them in their actions against the dark lord.   Search out and use the prophetic words of women and men for clues on how we might respond to the concerns of our day.  Make their words known again in editorials, letters to the editors, and paid advertisements letting others know that there are higher ideals that all can be striving towards.

Yesterday friends encouraged friends on facebook to hear the words of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream.” Because within these words lie a dream of hope that all people of America might one day realize the power of the American creed for themselves.  The words of this prophetic leader are just one who speaks through the ages of how to be a nation, judged not by the color of our skin but by our character as a people.

I know that I have spoken much lately about what is happening in this country from a variety of angles.  As a people of faith who historically heard the call for justice in the civil rights movement, the call is being sent out to stand on the side of love once again.  The cry for justice is not just in Arizona, or in New York City, or even in Murfreesboro, TN. Yes, their cries are being heard from afar.  But the cry for justice is coming here in Alabama as well.  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon the cry for justice will be sounded here as well.   Will we be among those who respond?  Will we be prepared like Dumbledore’s Army skilled according to our unique abilities the ways for justice?

In the words of Martin Luther King, “I refuse to accept the view that [hu]mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” May it be so.

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Pet Peeve: The claim Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever

I have a pet peeve. As a Unitarian Universalist minister  I get annoyed when Unitarian Universalists spread false messages about our faith.  A  false message that I hear often and from seasoned Unitarian Universalists is that we can believe whatever we want.   This simply is not true.  I want to ban this false statement from our message for ever. It does not serve us well.

I understand that when we state we have a creedless faith and when we do not have a statement of belief that people must agree to in order to be Unitarian Universalists that this is a difficult concept.  But just because we do not require people to give assent to a specific doctrine or belief does not mean the inverse is true that we can believe anything we want. This is false.

We have very specific beliefs. These beliefs are as foundational to who we are as any other faith.  Our beliefs come in the form of values found in liberal religious thought.  We have as our values the five smooth stones of liberal religion that were defined for us by James Luther Adams.  These five stones have been given five names:  Possibilities, Love, Courage, Responsibility, and Joy. We are aware that new possibilities are ever before us and so we declare that revelation is open and continuous.  We value the power of love and therefore declare that relationships are to be consensual and never coerced. We value courage and recognize that it is our responsibility to build the just and loving community even in the face of dangerous events.  We value responsibility and deny the immaculate conception of virtue.   Goodness is only brought about by actions that people  create and pursue.   We value Joy because we know that resources are always available, both human and divine, to bring about the changes we seek to make.  These resources are a cause for ultimate optimism.

These values of a free religious faith cancel out some beliefs as not helpful to us as Unitarian Universalists. We would not be able to be Unitarian Universalists if we believe that the whole of revelation was found in one set of scriptures because we believe that revelation is not sealed but ongoing. Therefore we look to the wisdom of all of the world’s religions and the words and deeds of prophetic women and men to discover what revelations they may reveal.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that all people must make a choice for Jesus as Lord and Savior or be damned for all eternity because we believe that relationships are to be consensual and not coerced.  Such a belief lends itself  to coercion.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that the just and loving community is only in the hereafter in some form of heaven because such a belief would remove our responsibility  towards creating a just and loving community in the here and now.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we believe that people are born good or bad.  This removes the responsibility that people have to choose to do good things. People may come from families that have historically chosen to do good things for their community, but it does not mean that a person born to this family is automatically good.  That person born to the family that has historically done good things must take the responsibility to also choose to do good things. They cannot be declared  good simply by virtue of birth.

We would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist if we had an attitude of despair over the state of affairs of the world.  “Ours is no caravan of despair. ” We value joy and rejoice over the resources that are available to us to create the just and loving community.  We affirm that the arc of history is bent towards justice.

Unitarian Universalists have a set of principles and living sources in which we are asked to measure our beliefs against.    We choose to covenant together to uphold these principles as currently stated as we journey through this life.

Our principles are:  The inherent worth and dignity of every person;  Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;  The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As we search to find out which beliefs we hold are true, we measure them against these principles.  We ask ourselves questions about our beliefs.  Does our belief honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person?  Does our belief foster justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?  Does our belief promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations?  Does our belief lend itself to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning?

These principles become a standard in which we can investigate and delve into universal truths.  And while individually we might come to believe different things, we have come to see that different beliefs might lead us towards the same destination. Therefore we do not require a test of right belief in order for a person to join the Unitarian Universalist faith. So while we may have variance in the beliefs held by Unitarian Universalists, we do not believe that all beliefs  lead us the city on the hill.

A person who believes in White Supremacy would not be able to be a Unitarian Universalist because their belief does not measure up to the principles we have covenanted to uphold.  White Supremacy does not honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  White Supremacy does not foster justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.  White Supremacy does not promote acceptance of  one another.

So let us put aside this myth that Unitarian Universalists can believe whatever they wish.  It simply is not true.  We have strong beliefs in values that lead us to seek to create a better world, a world filled with justice for all.

Blessings,

But It’s a Dry Hate

“But it’s a Dry Hate” presented to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on August 15, 2010 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

A few months ago, I am sitting in the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association.  On the dais were two people not to debate the question of our denomination holding General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012 but to simply state their positions, pro and con.  Rev. Susan Frederick –Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix gave an emotional appeal for us to not only host a Phoenix based General Assembly in 2012 but to come to Arizona on July 29th to  prevent one more child, one more mother, one more father from being ripped away from their families.  I listened to her call and I felt my heart affirming yes, I will go to Phoenix.

The call as I heard it was not simply to protest an unjust law because the law only codified what was already happening in Maricopa County and elsewhere in Arizona.  A population of indigenous and immigrant people were being systematically targeted as no longer welcome in a region that for thousands of years was their homeland.  The call was to return to our core values of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

On the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix is a sculpture by John Henry Waddell entitled “That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963.” It is a reflection on what might have been offered to society, to the world at large had four young girls not died in a racist motivated firebombing of a church in Birmingham, AL in 1963.

That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963 by John Henry Waddell

The gifts of these potential women are depicted in this sculpture, each facing outward to the four corners of the world.  The ‘what if’s’ surrounding these four young girls of what could have been is powerfully emoted.

Coming to Arizona from Alabama and being greeted by this image, this connection to another time and place when America was gripped in fear of a different other is a stark reminder that these two moments in our history, the civil rights movement and the immigration rights movement are linked together in profound ways.  As I pondered on this statue and its now ironic juxtaposition with the beginning of ethnic cleansing of Arizona, I wondered what the ‘what if’s’ might have been if SB 1070 and the other laws were not passed.  What would the lives of the families torn apart have been like had their mother or father not been deported? What gifts these families would have presented Arizona and the United States in the years that followed had a different scenario filled with love and welcome been played out?

What was hailed as a post-racist America when the first African American President was elected has certainly in the recent past months proved to be instead a new incarnation of racism in America.  And just as Arizonans like to exclaim to their out of state friends, “But it’s a dry heat,” this new incarnation of racism in America is a dry hate. There are no Jim Crow laws banning Latinos and Hispanics from white only drinking fountains or sitting at white only lunch counters.  There are no laws segregating schools into white and brown.  But as my friends on Facebook reminded me when I asked if there would be a marked difference between Alabama’s 104 temps with humidity vs Arizona’s 104 temps without humidity, hot is still hot.   And so it is with hate.

And while Arizona is insisting that racial profiling is not to be tolerated in the enforcement of this new law, it is evident in the actions of the Maricopa County sheriff who treats rescued abused dogs better than he treats Latinos, Hispanics, and indigenous people in his county.  It is evident in the actions of State Senator Pearce and Governor Brewer who have declared all undocumented persons from south of the border as criminals and parasites on the state.  Such dehumanizing behavior is racist and is a necessary component to begin ethnic cleansing or as Arizona prefers to call it, “enforcement through attrition.”  It is indeed a dry hate that is drying out the very heart of America as its fear spreads across the country into other states.

To begin to understand where this hatred originates, a history lesson is needed that is no longer allowed to be legally taught in Arizona because it places whites in a different social location, that of oppressor.  My colleague Rev. Jose Ballester of the Bell Street Chapel in Providence RI, informed me of this history, he writes “In a letter dated June 30, 1828 General Manuel Mier Y Teran warns Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria that the growing numbers of immigrants from the United States of America would soon disrupt the territory of Tejas (Texas), ‘It would cause you the same chagrin that it has caused me to see the opinion that is held of our nation by these foreign colonists, since, with the exception of some few who have journeyed to our capital, they know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants here. . . Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered.  Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures.’ Of particular concern was the immigrant’s ignoring the Mexican law prohibiting slavery.”[1] Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, parts of Nevada and Utah were ceded to the United States as a result of a war guised as defending the white American immigrants of Texas but intending to have the result of additional territory for this country.  When I was in Arizona, I saw many signs that declared, “I did not cross the border; the border crossed me.”

The United States has a long history of coercion and aggression to obtain territorial control.  When Spain ceded the Louisiana territory to France it contained the caveat that it not sell or surrender the land to the United States.  Florida became a territory after the invasion of the Spanish colony of La Florida by General Andrew Jackson.   What does this repeated action of conquest do the heart of a people?

On my first night in Arizona, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix showed the film, 9500 Liberty documenting the effects of a similar law passed in Prince William County, VA in 2007.  Producers, Eric Byler and Anabel Park were present to comment on the film and to answer questions. The film revealed the destruction of the economic base of the county and in increase of taxes by 25% as a result of the resolution targeting Hispanic citizens. But more poignantly the film chronicled the devolution of a community’s soul from harmony and tolerance to suspicion and fear of the other.

The following day, we gathered to begin our preparations for civil disobedience and how we would support those risking arrests. At this point in time, I am sure that I will participate in the acts of civil disobedience.  We knew that we would be involved in two actions; one will be the blocking of the intersection at the Wells Fargo Building where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has his offices.

On Wednesday night, the other action is still a question mark and therefore is not being discussed except among the leaders of Puente and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  Puente is the human rights organization that we, the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Phoenix and the UUA, have aligned ourselves with in this process.

On Thursday morning at 4:30 AM some Unitarian Universalists gather at the federal court to join those who have been in vigil for the past 104 days since the law passed.  This was their last vigil as many were undocumented.  Being dependent on coordinated transportation I joined the vigilers at a 6:30AM Interfaith service at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  As we approach the cathedral there is an early morning rainbow against the pink sky that seems to arc from the cathedral’s steeple to the Maricopa County Jail. My companions in the car wonder if it is a sign of good omen.

It is standing room only in the sanctuary, I am aware that because I am wearing a clerical collar I am ushered to one of the few remaining seats instead of being sent to the overflow rooms.  This was indeed an interfaith service with rabbis, imams, bishops from the Roman, Anglican, and Methodist traditions, pentecostal and protestant ministers participating, and Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray offering one of the three homilies.  The vigilers are also introduced and speak.  Their stories are poignant and personal.  The energy and spirit in the room is electric.

We walk from the cathedral to the Wells Fargo building, we are singing songs.  We are a sea of “Standing on the Side of Love” yellow shirts as far as one’s eyes can fathom.  I am greeted several times by locals, Latinos and whites alike, with “Thank you for coming.”

It is time to make our final preparations for one of the two actions we agreed to be involved in that day.  We are going to block the intersection.  Our organizer is giving excellent details as to what is going to happen.  Then she announces there are people wearing florescent green hats who can connect us with lawyers if there are questions about after the arrest.   I paused.

In my work with Soulforce many years ago, I knew that this journey I was embarking on was a spiritual journey and not simply a political one.  The way of justice is always aligned with the spirit.  Where was my spirit in this work?  Was I truly prepared to what might occur at the hands of what I have come to believe to be a sadistic sheriff?

In speaking with the lawyers I was told that because I was from out of state, because I chose not to have any verifying documentation on my person that would identify me as a citizen, that I might be required to post bond in order to be released.   One of my last conversations with our board president was that my benefit compensation package did not include bond money.  I laughed then, but the question of who would post bond for me was now no laughing matter.  I knew I did not have enough money in my account for such a bond.  And I suddenly realized that I did not know if I could trust the process to move forward with civil action.  I did not know who had my back should I be arrested.  And because I could not answer this question with any full assurance, I stepped away from the civil action and assumed a supportive role.

I now know where my personal work lies in order for me to continue to stand on the side of love.  This week has been truly a gift to me if only because of this one realization.  But I ask you, where does your inner soul work lie enabling you to continue to stand on the side of love?   Because as this work continues, it will grow harder for some of us and it will demand a strong spiritual commitment to this work.

There are many stories of grace being witnessed as the protests continue.  One of my colleagues overheard an African American child ask her mother what they were doing.  Her response, “Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Martin Luther King, that is what they are doing.”[2] I see our people in yellow shirts, go up to police who are standing on the frying hot pavement and offer them water, which is gratefully received.

Mar Cardenas from First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego is the first to be arrested. In the county jail, Sheriff Arpaio, wants to see just who these yellow shirts are that disrupted his plans for his biggest raid to date.  She sees him and makes the sign of a heart with her hands and says, “I love you Sheriff Joe.”  He looks at her and says who me?  “Yes, you.” she replies.  He shakes his head in bafflement at her gesture. Mar Cardenas later states that she recognizes that Sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his cruel and sometimes sadistic actions against the Hispanic community, he still has dignity and worth as a human being.  It is simply a matter of reaching that core of him that still recognizes others as human.

I hear about the arrest of Unitarian Universalist Audrey Williams who is in physical pain and suffering from heat exhaustion.  She is asked by the police if she still wants to be arrested after they have escorted her out of the hot sun and into the shade. The police tell her once she is in the county jail, her experience will not be easy.  She sees the Latinos in the crowd and lifts her fist and says to the Latinos, “I love each of you.”  The police then arrest her.   Because of her medical condition she is placed into an icy cold isolation cell with no blanket and no communication with the others.

Meanwhile, our organizers discover that the Maricopa County Jail has no police officers outside the building.  So the second action is given the go ahead.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray and members of Puente create a barricade in front of the receiving door.  They have linked their arms inside of pvc pipes, with metal bars where jellybean clips to hold their wrists in place.  The pipes are wrapped in paper with “no 1070” and “no 287(g)” written on them. This human chain is then chained to the poles on either side of the entrance.  A banner proclaiming “Not one more” in English and in Spanish is hoisted above them.   The Maricopa County Police are taken by surprise.  They have never seen anything like this before in Phoenix.  And Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls back his police from the raids he planned to figure out how to deal with this action.  The demonstrators from the Wells Fargo intersection are held in the vans because they cannot be received at the county jail.

I am asked to go to the county jail to support this action.  I walk over with Salvador Reza and I have a moment to get to know this man who has inspired and led his people to resist the heat wave of hate that has moved across Arizona.  When I arrive there is only a handful of supporters there within the hour, our numbers grow into the hundreds.  Rev. Peter Morales, president of our association and Salvador Reza join the human chain by standing behind them.  Another group of clergy link arms in front of the chain.  We are chanting, we are singing.  And we wait for Arpaio to make his move.  At one point police officers come out in regular uniforms and assess the situation up close.  Then they go back inside.

We wait.  We know that something will happen. The doors behind the human chain open, Rev. Peter Morales and Salvador Reza are arrested first.   Then police in full riot gear and weapons come out, cut the chain links on either side and dragged the human chain inside.  The clergy who are sitting in front of them are also picked up and dragged inside.  A legal observer and a reporter are swept up in the arrests; they tried to get out of the way and had no place to go.  A barricade of officers with riot gear and clear plastic shields march out and push the crowds away from the entrance.  They stand there for what seemed like 15 minutes or so and then back up and enter the jail, closing the doors.  In total 83 people were arrested, 29 of them were Unitarian Universalists.

Later that night, I join in a vigil outside of the county jail. We are singing songs in English and in Spanish and banging drums.  We hope our friends in the jail can hear that there are people outside in support.  I later hear that some of them were able to hear us and spread the word that we were there.

The following day, after all of our people are released, we gather at Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chandler, AZ.  We are participating in a Taize service and a ritual of gratefulness is in progress.  UUA Moderator, Gini Coulter comes up to the microphone and stands in silence.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray comes up and announces that Salvador Reza, the leader of the Puente organization has been arrested again for the second time.  This time falsely.  He was observing an action taking place outside of Tent City; Arpaio’s make shift jail.  We are asked to join them in vigil at Tent City until his release.

Salvador Reza was placed in a van for two hours with the outside temperatures of over 105 degrees.  The van was not running.  This amounts to torture.

We gather at Tent City to sing, to pray, to stand.  One of the songs Unitarian Universalists are singing is “Siyahamba, We are Marching.”  We are singing the English words –We are marching in the light of God–and next to me is a Latino family with a young boy.  He is looking puzzled.  We then sing the Spanish, “Caminando en la luz de Dios” and his eyes light up.  He begins singing along jumping up and down.  He continues singing after the rest of us have finished.

Some of the Puente women have brought bean burritos and carnitas sandwiches and we are all grateful for the meal.  The thankfulness that is expressed in our joining them in this struggle is huge.  There are many words thanking us for our presence.

Tupac Enrique speaks to us about Salvador’s arrest and offers a history of the oppression that has been occurring in the Southwest for centuries.  He states the borders were determined between two governments that did not consider the rights of the native nation that was there first. Because of this he declares SB 1070 an illegal law created by a government that has broken every treaty ever made with the indigenous nations.

I am reminded of the indigenous lacrosse players who were denied use of their native nation’s passports[3] to travel to England earlier this year. Lacrosse a game created by the indigenous people of this country and yet not allowed to play their game in a world competition.

Tupac offers a prayer in his people’s language.  It is a soulful emotional prayer.  I begin to understand in a deeper heartfelt manner that this struggle is not just about immigration rights but rather living and breathing the inherent worth and dignity of every people.

We receive word that Salvador has been transferred to the County Jail and we move our vigil there.  It is clear that this arrest is pure harassment and intimidation.  At the County Jail, we decide to dance in the streets to loud Mexican music to let Sheriff Arpaio know that we will not be intimidated. Even the rain that begins to fall after 1 AM does not deter us from dancing.  There is a picture of me with other Unitarian Universalists dancing a conga line. The police are watching us from the rooftops but no action is taken against us.  At his second arraignment, the judge dismisses the case because there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Prior to going to Arizona, some of my conservative friends on this issue told me that the law could only be enforced for reasonable suspicion that arose in the line of investigating another situation.  I was told that with the judge staying so many parts of the law the reason for my being in Arizona was no longer valid because everything was changed.

Talking with the people in Arizona this is not the case at all.  Employers cannot pick up day laborers along side the road. This reduces the ability for day laborers to get jobs that would enable them to have food on the table or a roof over their family’s head.   Churches could have their vans impounded and drivers arrested for human trafficking should they pick up a parishioner who is undocumented—regardless if the driver was aware of the status or not.  Police can still be sued for being perceived as not enforcing the law.  These components of the law are still in effect. The harassment of people is still occurring.

People are being stopped for minor infractions like a broken taillight and that becomes the reasonable suspicion to detain them for immigration authorities.  Even traffic court cases that were settled become the reason for detaining them.  These examples are pre-passage of SB 1070.  The harassment was going on before this law was enacted.  Once a person is handed over to immigration there is no due process.

One of the leaders of Puente was released from the jail and witnesses saw him get into a waiting van.  The police immediately surrounded the van.  The police were going to arrest him again for violating the conditions of his release because of a meter running out.   This is the sort of thing that is happening in Arizona.  And I was told by several local people that this happens daily just as this sort of thing happened in Alabama in 1963.

It is time for our nation to return to its core values of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  It is time for America to return again to being a nation worthy of its creed of all people being created equal with unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is time for America to “return again, return again, return to the home of your soul.[4]


[1] From an email written by Jose Ballester dated Saturday, August 7, 2010.  Used by permission.

[2] http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=426638593187

[3] http://www.manataka.org/page2244.html

[4] “Return Again” words and music by Shlomo Carlebach

SB 1070: What’s all the Fuss About?

A friend of mine asked what the fuss was all about because the judge stayed several of the controversial pieces in SB 1070 so why were people still protesting in Phoenix, AZ?  The simple answer is a partial victory is not a victory.

There were still portions of the law that placed Latinos and other Arizona citizens at risk. One aspect of the law that was upheld was the ability to charge a driver of vehicle for human trafficking and to impound the vehicle.  This would include churches that go into neighborhoods to pick people up for church activities, should any of the individuals attending church through church provided transportation be undocumented then the driver is charged with human trafficking and the church van is impounded.

No Clergy Special!

In the foyer of the Maricopa Jail there was a sign that listed “No visits, No Money, Legal Visits Only” and then in pen was scrawled “No Clergy Special!” The church does not have any privilege here.  My point is that if you were thinking Sheriff Joe Arpaio would not go after the congregations transporting undocumented people  to attend church, think again.

Another aspect upheld prohibited the picking up of day laborers at day labor sites.  Thereby effectively limiting a source of possible income for unemployed people, regardless of status.  If the laborers could not get transportation to the labor sites then they cannot work.  In this economy, day labor can be the difference between having food and shelter and being homeless.

But the larger answer is that racial profiling was happening even when it wasn’t codified into the law.  I know, I know, the law specifically states racial profiling is not allowed in order to enforce this law, but the words are meaningless when contrasted with the actions performed.

I listened to the first hand stories of the people who have been harassed daily by police for the the minutest infraction, infractions that white people are rarely called into account.  A tail light was cracked. Driving 57 in a 55 mile zone.  The trailer hitch obscured a letter/ number of the car tag.  The car tag was crooked.  Being stopped once in a great while is one thing but when it becomes a daily or weekly occurrence, it is profiling.  These are the infractions that the people were concerned would become the “reasonable suspicion” for being asked to show their papers of citizenship.

We who are white would think being stopped by the police would be for something a bit more tangible, like driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone or driving under the influence, things that posed a safety risk to self and others.   So we (whites)  have a hard time understanding differentiating between a routine stop and what Latinos are experiencing.

Our Whiteness gives us privilege for minor infractions to be ignored or if we are stopped for these minor infractions we are given a warning, sometimes written/ sometimes verbal.  These folks are not given a written warning they are arrested and the stayed portions of SB 1070 means the questions of documentation can only be asked after the person is arrested on a charge.

This division became all the more evident when I heard the stories of those arrested in the actions on July 29th.   My Anglo colleagues were not once asked their country of origin.  My Latino colleagues were. One of my colleagues refused to answer the country of origin question and was then subjected to five separate interviews with ICE agents. She simply was not white enough to assume American status.  My Anglo colleagues when given a “psyche” evaluation were handed the questionnaire with all of the no answers circled as one big circle and asked if this was correct,”if so we are done here.”  My Latino and African American colleagues were asked each question individually, one question asked was “Do you ever wake up feeling despondent or depressed?”  In Arizona where you feel your ethnic community is being targeted, what is the correct response to this question?  White privilege was in full force operation.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a rare visit to see those arrested on July 29th.  He looked at the clergy arrested and went up to one of my colleagues who is fair skin with light ginger hair and asked, “And why are you here?”  The implication being he did not belong with these Latinos.  The sheriff made threatening gestures towards some of the local clergy arrested letting them know they will now be watched and possibly harassed by the county police. The fuss is that this man is a racist with an agenda to purify Arizona.

One of the Puente leaders arrested was arraigned in the wee hours but held for another four to five hours after arraigned for release, came out of the jail and then he and  his party waiting for him went to their cars which happened to now be parked at an expired meter.  Upon their entering the vehicle to leave, police cars surrounded the vehicle and were going to arrest him again for violating the conditions of his release by having a car parked at an expired meter. This is the sort of harassment that happens on a daily basis.

The message is clear, the county police are going to intimidate the Latino population and hopefully make it so hostile that they will indeed through “enforcement by attrition” reduce the  Latino and Native American population in the state.  I mention Native Americans because Native Americans are Mexicans, their heritage has been native to this part of the country for thousands of years.  Many are tri-lingual, speaking their native tongue, Spanish,  and English.

The fuss is that the State Legislature and Governors office (not the citizens of Arizona) have declared that it is a criminal offense to be in this country without papers.  The truth is being in this country without documentation is a federal civil violation and not a crime. The fuss is that the 14th amendment of the US Constitution states that only the Federal government can create immigration laws.  The fuss is that the Sheriff Joe Arpaio sees immigrants as less than human and treats them less than dogs.  When Sheriff Arpaio abducted Salvador Reza for no probable cause, he was held in a van for two hours with no air conditioning.  Arizona in July is already one of the hottest places in the country, being locked in a van for two hours in that kind of heat, knowing that heat inside cars can climb very fast to a killing heat is a form of torture. Senor Reza at that moment became a political prisoner.  The fuss is that this law only codifies the racist actions that Sheriff Joe Arpaio wants to hostilely inflict on the Latino and Native American communities.  The fuss is that the State Legislature and the Governor’s office wants to redefine the American Dream/American Values as only being for white America.

This is not what America is about.  We declared that all people are created equal with unalienable rights… we declared that we are a nation with justice and liberty for all.  We declared that this was a land of opportunity for all people…

The fuss is that one of the core values of the iconic republican,  President Reagan’s farewell address is being ignored:  “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still”

These are the American Values this country was founded on; equality for all people, justice for all people, liberty for all people.  There are no skin color tests, no brown paper bag tests that determine whether a person qualifies to live with these values.   These values are for all our people.

I join with my Colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is proclaiming “not one more person, not one more family torn apart.” Not in Arizona, Not in Mississippi, Not in Alabama.  Not in any town or state in this country where we proclaim as sacred the right to equality, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Blessings,