Ohio Justice Assembly ’15 focused on race, environment, organizing

Four Hopedale members – Libby Earle, Russ Vie Brooks, Ann Fuehrer and Judi Hetrick – traveled to Columbus on November 14 to attend the Unitarian Universalist Justice Assembly. Here are the reports of workshops we attended.

Ann reports:
I attended two workshops. In the morning, I went to the Racial Justice workshop. Its focus was on planning significant actions in Ohio that will support the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for reform of the criminal justice system. The session began with a call for action, including a statewide network of congregations—I signed up to be a reporter for Hopedale. Then we learned some some background on the killing of young Black men by police in Ohio, about Black Lives Matter and how UUA is supporting BLM. We heard a comparison of the Campaign Zero to the Governor Kasich’s Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations Final Report and Attorney General DeWine’s Advisory Group on Law Enforcement Training April 2015 Report. Police oversight commissions seem to be right on target as interventions. Actions can include public witnessing, collaborating with local BLM and NAACP, meeting with legislators to talk about police training.

In the afternoon, I went to the Reproductive Justice workshop. A state official of NARAL talked about existing laws relevant to abortion, and proposed legislation that erodes the undue burden standard, and works to defund Planned Parenthood. These are the biggest current threats to reproductive justice. Statements of public witness can work to de-stigmatize health care. I have a copy of the UUA statement of conscience on Reproductive Justice. We need to promote that women are making the best decisions for themselves. Specific actions include voting, signing up for NARAL action alerts, visiting their blog or following NARAL on Facebook or Twitter, and writing letters to editors and contact local representatives.

Libby reports:
Environmental issues in Ohio, ways to engage in environmental justice and resources were presented. The material was excellent, but all sessions needed more time. This session was structured and more effective than the loose discussions later on in other sessions.

The following are issues in Ohio:

  1. Clean Energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy and fossil fuels
  • Ohio had been developing standards; however action in the U.S. Senate limiting the EPA’s right to regulate caused Ohio to put everything on hold. The Sierra Club is actively involved.
  • Look for resistance from energy companies to energy efficiency and clean energy that may affect their profits. First Energy is trying to get a bailout for its ancient coal and nuclear plants. Some states are charging homeowners with solar to put their solar generated energy back onto the grid.
  1. Clean water
  • Two big problems: algae blooms mainly from unregulated farm runoff, and fracking wastewater. Southeastern Ohio is being used as a dumping ground for out-of-state fracking waste.
  1. Air and climate
    • Lack of Ohio Senate support for transportation
    • Global warming: urgency for real action at Paris Climate talks; Climate change will drive a lot of the other social justice issues as will income inequality.
  2. Natural resources
  • Hocking Hills is threatened by lumbering.
  • Permits are being sought for gas drilling in Wayne National Forest.
  1. Food and farms
    • Increasing access to food
    • CAFO farming (Concentrate Animal Feeding Operations)—it is inhumane and contributes to algae bloom. These farms operate just under the number of animals considered to be “factory”; therefore they are unregulated.
  2. Environmental health—lead still an issue

The presenters identified five ways to approach change: service (Meal Center), education (Hopedale does good in-house education, but still needs to engage the community), organizing (developing collective power), advocacy (speaking out e.g. letters, meeting elected officials), and witness (public events to increase awareness).

The resource list will be added to our Social Justice web page. Resources mentioned: Ohio Interfaith Power and Light; Northwest Earth Institute, UU web link to “Mapping our place in the Web of Life” to assess our community, and a workshop by Barbara Ford “Active Hope”. I will be investigating these.

Judi reports:
Russ and I attended an Organizing workshop presented by Carol Temerson of the Akron church. She outlined their congregation’s reorganization that helped them win a UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action  (See the details of their work at http://www.uua.org/action/awards/bennett/2014)

Before their change, they saw these problems with their efforts:

  • One committee and a top-down effort
  • Too many initiatives
  • Lack of focus; no sustained focus
  • Too few people involved
  • Efforts “a mile wide and an inch deep”

But effective social justice work needs:

  • Service: helping real people
  • Education for the congregation
  • Witness in relationship with the people helped
  • Advocacy to change the system

How did they change? The minister asked congregational members “what are you passionate about?” to find three issues already on people’s agendas and three leaders for three new social action teams – working on hunger, LGBT concerns, and immigration. The result was that social justice became the work of the whole congregation, it was truly multigenerational, and it appealed to those who were already activists and also to others.

Each action area had many activities that fit many different congregant personalities, skills and desires. These included service, education, witness, advocacy, and research.

All teams sought partnerships with other groups that already had the trust of the community. Carol reported that when one community organization leader was asked, “What can we do for you?” the person replied: “Lots of groups come here and want to help. You are the first person who ever asked ‘what can we do for you?’ “ Respect for all partners is vital.

The keys to the transition were listening to congregational passions, having consensus for the new approach, and leadership.

The second workshop I attended was on Corporate Personhood, with Michael Greenman, moderator of Move to Amend’s Interfaith Caucus. He traced the history of corporations’ rise to power as “persons,” which most of us trace to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Since the Revolutionary War, Americans have fought to rule themselves through democracy exercised by individual humans. He likened our current state, where corporate money has undue influence on public life, and re-colonization. Move to Amend is working for a constitutional amendment that says, “money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”


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