by Sara LaWall, NUUC Director of Religious Education
GA is our annual assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. This year, for the first time, it was focused entirely on issues of Justice with special attention to immigration and supporting community partners and organizations in Arizona and across the country working to for immigrant rights.
It was a week of extraordinary workshops, worship and witness focused entirely on justice issues and especially those involving immigrant rights. I watched our 14 youth immerse themselves in the entire process from morning until night, going to plenary sessions, workshops on modern slavery and meditation and rousing worship services alongside thousands of other UU’s. GA offers the unique opportunity to experience Unitarian Universalism beyond our church walls and to get a real sense of connection to our wider faith and our national Association. When I heard comments from our youth like, “I felt so connected to Unitarian Universalism. That was the most amazing 5 days of my life,” and one who confided that Ministry might be a personal calling, I felt so proud that we were able to give them this experience—an experience that will likely bond them to our faith for life and nurture the seeds of justice work which I know they will continue in their own lives. This GA was about transformation and I know our youth have been transformed.
The business of GA, at which delegates representing churches across the country come together to vote on Congregational Study Action Issues, is like a microcosm of democracy. The youth actually caucus together to decide how they will vote on particular issues. Their voices are respected and their presence is praised by all involved. This year’s GA reported nearly 300 youth caucus participants, almost double than in years past. Several of our youth were Neighborhood Church delegates and represented our church so powerfully. Our youth would wake-up early to attend 7:45am plenary sessions and I heard more than one remark, “I like voting!” Junior Anna Hall spoke on behalf of the youth caucus’s support of Congregational Study Action Issue #5: Ending Slavery. She spoke passionately with grace and maturity and we commend her for taking such a leadership role at her very first GA! You can watch her two minute speech here (fast forward to time stamp 1:37:00):
The most powerful event of the week was our National Day of Service and Witness. During the day hundreds of trained volunteers were bussed off-site to help people complete applications and paperwork for legal citizenship. Then, we ended the day with a public witness rally at the Maricopa County’s “tent city” jail. This detention facility houses a large number of immigrants who are awaiting deportation proceedings and is one of the most egregious offenders of human rights abuses documented in the 2012 report, A Culture of Cruelty, by the Tucson organization No More Deaths.
Thousands of us boarded buses and were driven out to tent city where we lit candles, sang songs and heard stories from representatives of local partner organizations like the National Day Laborer Association and Puente Arizona who regularly work for immigrant rights. At one point I looked over at our youth who were chanting “Shut it down, “and “Somos con ustedes-we are with you!” after hearing one of the speakers say, “They can hear you in tent city,” it occurred to me that this experience was probably a first for many of our youth—rallying with 2000 other people to take a stand in support of human dignity. How cool is that! Remember your first protest rally? Remember how amazing it felt to be with all those people who believed in the same things you did? Remember how it made you feel like change was really possible? Our youth have had a taste of that now and there is no going back.
Thanks to the UUA campaign, Standing on the Side of Love, the message of love permeated the speeches, songs and the crowd. Our presence wasn’t just about standing in opposition to Sherriff Joe Arpaio and the SB1070 and cruel immigration practices; it was about love—the love of our fellow human beings and the dignity they deserve regardless of status or any other societal label.
Our voices were heard that evening by more than just the inmates in the jail. Public witness on a massive scale also serves as a motivator, an energizer, a reminder that our work must continue and that we must make our voices heard. Making such a loud and prominent public statement of our faith and our values gives me hope that our few but committed voices can make a difference in this world.
The testament to our work was hearing from Carlos Garcia, a young representative of the National Day Laborers Association, during our Sunday morning worship. Nearly in tears with his voice cracking, he thanked us for our presence at the rally. He told us how it was overwhelming to watch the buses arrive, “You just kept coming!” he said. Well Carlos, we will continue to arrive, to speak out, to work for justice because you also reminded us, “Love always overcomes hate. Our numbers are on our side. The truth is on our side. With or without those in power, history is on our side. We just have to put our shoulders to the gears of history and push.”