The world is really looking like a mess right now, so you’re motivated to do social justice work. It doesn’t matter which issue motivates you. When you find your passion, go for it. But if you’re not passionate, stop right here. This work takes deep passion and long-term commitment. Tearing down systemic racism, reversing climate change, equal pay for women, and so on are all going to take years! This is why I feel that social justice work belongs in religious congregations. Unitarian Universalist clergy, values, and our loving community will sustain us on these long journeys. Every journey starts with the first step, so where do you start?
At UUCNH we differentiate between charity work, done by the Compassionate Care Team, and Systemic Change. The Systemic Change Team is trying to right the wrongs that create the need for charity. There is some middle ground, in that the two can complement each other in building relationships with communities with which we want to be responsive and accountable. Steve Fuegi recently volunteered to deliver water to people affected by the crisis in the East End of Pittsburgh. This was organized spontaneously by a group of black activists, essentially the same group who organized the Intersectionality March on January 21st. By participating in compassionate service activities organized by the community being served (rather than the usual charity activities organized by outsiders) we support the autonomy of these communities and build relationships that can also support our Systemic Change work.
Read, listen, research. Stay informed on a few topics. No one can know everything. Don’t be embarrassed in a conversation to say, “I haven’t been following that issue.” Pick one or two that you are passionate about and educate yourself!
Register to vote and vote regularly. This is your most fundamental right as an American. Pennsylvania is infamous for gerrymandering. If this issue concerns you please go to Fair Districts PA on Facebook or introduce yourself to Suzanne Broughton who’s our UUCNH leader in this movement.
Find out who your Federal and State legislators are here. Put their phone numbers in your contact list, or even on speed dial. Call them regularly. If you have never done this before take a look at the Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives or use 5 Calls. 5 Calls provides the phone numbers and scripts on a variety of issues. I try to call daily, usually late afternoon. The staff is generally keeping tallies of how many calls come in on which issues, and also how many for and against. You don’t need to have a long speech or loads of details. Simple and to the point is best!
Are you a listener? We need people to go to meetings or sit on phone calls or online meetings and take good notes. We build power by working in coalitions. That means there will be meetings. We have regular monthly meetings for PIIN (Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network) and UUPLAN (Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network). The PIIN meetings are local and generally face-to-face. UUPLAN meetings are statewide and are done by phone and/or zoom internet. There are eight justice teams; Anti-Mass Incarceration, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Violence Prevention, Immigration Justice, LGBTQ Justice, and Reproductive Justice. We really need eight congregants who can each take one call, take notes, and send the notes to the Systemic Change Team. The calls are generally one hour long and you don’t need to drive anywhere!
Are you a writer? We need you for social justice work, too! We need people to research and write position papers and talking points. Material needs to be posted on social media. Letters and petitions need to be written. Letters to the Editor and Forum pieces are needed as well. If you know how to get information on social media, then we really need your skills!
Show-up for social justice! Go to city, township or borough meetings. Go to legislator’s town hall meetings. Visit your legislator and their staff in their local office. Show up for the PIIN annual meeting and the annual banquet. Come to the UUPLAN annual meeting. Attend UUPittsburgh events so you can network with fellow Unitarian Universalists. It’s so uplifting to be with others who share your values.
March if you are willing and able. Marches demonstrate the power of the coalition and get media attention. It also builds relationships within the coalition. Marches are fun too –but dress for the weather!
Practice civil disobedience. This is not an easy decision. I’ll allow Tassi Bisers to describe her experience:
“On a beautiful July day in 2013 a diverse, well-trained group of 30 of us sat down in the middle of Grant Street during Rush Hour. Our target? Regional giant UPMC, whose poverty wages for service workers and union-busting tactics set the standard for every other local employer. Amid blaring horns and the singing of “We Shall Not Be Moved” by 500 of our closest friends, we were respectfully escorted to the Hill District police station and released, with orders to appear in court at a much later date. What did we accomplish besides inconveniencing a city? Our piece of a much larger sustained effort led to 5000 more Pittsburghers gaining a seat at the table at work. And an entire region has now put UPMC on notice. When we, all of us, fight, we win.”
Please join the work, at whatever level you are comfortable with the issue you are passionate about. If you have questions please see any of the Systemic Change Team members: Carol Ballance, Tassi Bisers, Steve Fuegi, Suzanne Broughton, Susie Wood, Ron Smart, or Scott Rudolph.