Members of the church attended a conference in Washington, DC April 3-5 titled “Healthcare as a UU Value”. At the conference they heard from Sister Simone Campbell, one of the “nuns on the bus,” about the importance of telling our stories and from author and activist Chuck Collins, who’s just written a book titled ‘Born on Third Base’.
The conference was co-sponsored by UUs for a Just Economic Community (UUJEC) and the DC chapter of UUs for Social Justice (UUSJ). It included speakers who highlighted the importance of bringing our spiritual values to our activism work and experts from Americans from Tax Fairness and Nurses United who presented details on the current health care plan. On the final day of the conference, attendees met with 22 US Senators and their staff to lobby for the rights of every American to affordable and effective health care.
When the delegation from Illinois met with Sen Durbin and Sen Duckworth’s staff, they presented numerous letters from Illinois churches, including ours, stressing that health care is a human right and that care for needs to be strengthened and not eliminated for those least able to pay.
According to Amirah Sequeira of National Nurses United, even with the Affordable Care Act 28 million Americans still have no health insurance. She told the group that Sen John Conyers has introduced HR676 the “Medicare for All” bill; it now has over 80 co-sponsors.
The group also met with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from the 7th District in Washington state, the only UU currently serving in the US Congress. She criticized Trump’s proposed health care bill as a “huge transfer of wealth”; it would have eliminated the higher tax rates for the wealthy and for large corporations put in place to help pay for the subsidies of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Rep Jayapal was especially concerned that Republicans might turn to state courts to try and cut-back the Medicaid subsidies now in place in many states.
As follow-up to the conference the UUJEC is planning to create a multi-session curriculum on improving healthcare in the US and how it relates to the growing problem of income inequality. The group also is considering holding regional conferences on the health care to continue efforts to mobilize congregations around this issue.
Progress and preparation for change with CRS, UU Prison Ministry, and UUANI:
CRS (Community Renewal Society) greatly influenced the Chicago police accountability changes passed by the Chicago City Council recently. While it was not everything CRS wanted, it was far better than what the mayor proposed to start, with guaranteed funding for the oversight office and an increased community role in police oversight.
Join Community Renewal Society for our Annual Membership Assembly on Saturday November 12th! Hundreds of people of faith from the member congregations of CRS will gather at St Agatha Catholic Church (3151 W Douglas Blvd) from 8:30am-12:00pm to celebrate our recent victories, learn about the results of our Organizational Listening & Visioning Process, and prepare for our coming year of action! We will celebrate the passage of four pieces of legislation to reduce barriers to employment for people with criminal records in addition to the other victories we accomplished together. Contact Dale Griffin for more information or to RSVP today!
The UU Prison Ministry of Illinois held a workshop on radical hospitality on October 1 at Countryside Church UU in Palatine, which Dave Conrad, Brian Meister and Michael Skilton attended. This is step toward making our congregations more welcoming and helpful to people returning from prison.
UUANI (UU Advocacy Network of Illinois) is our shared plate recipient this month and is conducting a statewide fundraising campaign to support the work of our half time minister, Rev. Scott Aaseng.
For more information on any of these please contact Dale Griffin or other participants. [email protected]
After both services, as we celebrate Selma Sunday this week, Peace and Justice Committee members will be at a table in the back of the sanctuary with “Black Lives Matter” yard signs. You may wonder why the signs affirm that Black Lives Matter, why they don’t read “All Lives Matter,” or how this issue affects our church members. Don’t worry — you’re not alone! Most UCE members have not found ourselves in the center of the Black Lives Matter movement. We may not be close to anyone who risks violence simply because of the color of their skin. We sincerely may not understand why youth continue public protests as the cold Chicago weather goes on, or why it matters to Unitarian Universalists.
A national group of UUs addressing racial justice, Are UU Awake, asked churches nationwide to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement by displaying banners and signs. It means a great deal to them that UU churches show our neighbors, and especially the African American community, that we care about what’s happening.
Of course all lives matter, but Black youth are losing their lives to police and vigilante violence at a stunning rate. The Department of Justice report this week sheds light on the racial disparities of Ferguson’s court system, and the blatant racism in local law enforcement emails. The deaths of Black youth and the systemic lack of accountability for these killings will not change unless people who are not directly affected care, and speak out for change.
Our UCE mission, “Nurturing the Human Spirit for a World Made Whole”, and our UU principles, call us to care about the lives of people whose circumstances are vastly different from our own. Check out the UU World March 2015 for a great article by Kenny Wiley on efforts to raise awareness in Denver. Read UU Minister Daniel Schatz’s response to a community member’s demand that he change his church banner to say “All Lives Matter.” Take a moment to consider this New York Times Op-Ed, What’s Wrong with Black Lives Matter? Ultimately the conversation, as difficult as it is, helps us move closer to a world of less hatred and mistrust, greater solidarity and justice.
We have sold 44 yard signs so far. If you would like to purchase one for $5 for your yard or your window, we welcome you to check with us at the back of the sanctuary after either service on March 8. We expect to take some criticism from neighbors, family, and friends. These conversations are well worth having, and richly reward us in building understanding, compassion, and justice in our community.
In January 2016, a petition was initiated at UCE to express support for Rep. John Conyers’ House Bill HR 40. This bill will conduct a study of proposals for reparations to the descendants of slaves in America, and it includes studying the effects of slavery and its later manifestations in our society today. A key purpose of HR40 and of making reparations to the African American community is reconciliation – to help make one
America from this divided nation.
Among other areas of inquiry, HR 40 would:
• study the economic deprivation and physical and emotional suffering of the descendants of slaves, including deprivation that occurred because of U.S. Government policies
• seek to expand educational efforts to help Americans move toward a “common memory,” and thus a greater sense of true community in our nation.
If reparations are enacted, the form they could take has yet to be defined, but an example could be public works that include racial justice in their mission.
Our proposal and its rationale was described in an article in the Jan 8, 2016 UCE newsletter and was discussed at a Crackerbarrel session on January 24. On Feb 17 we presented 77 signatures to the Board of Trustees, well in excess of the number needed to bring the proposal to the congregation. A discussion is scheduled for the May 1 Town Hall Meeting, and the proposal is on the agenda for the May 15 congregational meeting.
If it is approved, we will inform elected representatives and others at a later date of its approval and submit a Proposed Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) to the UUA prior to its next deadline of October 1, 2016, for consideration and eventual adoption as a Statement of Conscience by the UUA, or for incorporation into the existing CSAI in progress on “Escalating Inequality.”
We at UCE are beginning a new endeavor that typifies the amazing things that can happen when a community of people follow their instincts and discover new purpose and skills. Just like making stone soup!
An eye-opening beginning came when UCE chose Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow as a non-fiction book group selection. What a revelation it was to see that mass incarceration was happening in our country more than in any other, and that its roots were in racial bias. What a call to action it was, because it requires a movement to change it.
The New Jim Crow motivated more Community Renewal Society (CRS) training and involvement. CRS gave us the opportunity to have one of its organizers, Marlon Chamberlain, recently released after drug sentencing changes, be part of our discussion of the book. Another CRS member, from Second Unitarian, Megan Selby, agreed to do a workshop with us on the Prison Industrial Complex and what to do about it.
The stone soup was beginning to bubble. The workshop led to the Prisons and Restorative Justice group that led seminars and volunteerism. Jackie Seaman and Jeanne Kerl got involved with Chicago Books for Women in Prison, and brought many of us along. Some started driving families to youth detention centers to visit their young family members. We started getting trained in, and working for, Restorative Justice.
Then Megan Selby approached us with the idea of a UU Prison Ministry. The stone soup miracles continued, with Gail Smith lending her deep experience with the issues. We were joined by others at UCE, 2nd Unitarian, and Beverly Unitarian Church, and received a planning grant from the UUA to develop a UU prison ministry. From that came fundraising training, fundraising that you supported, and progress toward our goal of hiring a quarter time minister to lead the prison aspects of the ministry.
Now we have many UU churches involved, and are developing plans for welcoming congregations for returning citizens, advocacy for restorative alternatives to incarceration, worship services and small group ministry in two Illinois prisons. We will continue the stone soup efforts by asking for your involvement in all aspects of the UU Prison Ministry of Illinois.
All this has happened because of a thriving community of caring people trying to make the world whole. We celebrate this, and praise it, and want it to stay “open for good.”
Reaction to the conference on Income Inequality, held at the church February 20-22, was very positive. Some 139 UU activists, from 34 different congregations and 14 states, attended 37 workshops and talks to learn more about the 2014 UUA Congregational Study Action Item (CSAI) on Escalating Inequality. In a satisfaction survey of attendees, scores ranged 4.5 – 4.8 on a 5-point scale.
Speakers at the conference included Chuck Collins, author of the book ’99 to 1’, Bill Ayers of the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, and Rev. David Breeden of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. Those at conference shared ideas on how to lobby their state legislatures and how to support workers facing wage theft. They also discussed the possibility of opening a UU credit union and the importance of shopping at worker and retail co-ops.
The conference was timed to provide folks at the conference with information they could use to respond to the congregational poll on the Inequality issue, due to be submitted to the UUA by March 1.
In their response to the poll, members of the UCE Inequality task force said: “We are a justice-minded people. We must work to make society more just and equitable.” We indicated in the survey that members of our Peace & Justice committee are currently working to expand civil protections for former prisoners and to change state tax and wage laws that favor the wealthy.
In the future, the task force said, we plan to continue these activities and to strengthen our ties with the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago interfaith lobbying organization that works on these issues. The task force met recently and started planning activities in these areas. Another planning meeting is scheduled at the church Wednesday, March 25 at 2pm. All are welcome.