Thursday, August 5, 2010

Phoenix 2010

We are honored to stand on the side of love in Phoenix.
I will concede that it was an unusual way to spend three days of my vacation.  Unusual, but not in the least regrettable.  My husband and I decided to answer the call of my colleague, the Rev. Susan Fredrick-Gray, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, to stand, march, and witness events surrounding the enactment of SB1070.  Over the past several years I have participated in justice work related to marriage equality, the human right to water, and moral budgeting.  I've marched in parades, in protests, have lobbied elected officials, have phone banked, stood in silent witness, chanted while standing on corners of busy intersections, and attended town hall meetings.  All of the causes were important and all of the work changed me in some way.  But nothing compared to my time in Phoenix, now one week ago.

No, I was not arrested.  I was there from Wed. afternoon to early Fri. morning; participating in just a few of the planned activities.  Yes, it was stifling hot and humid, at times uncomfortable, intimidating, and alternately wearying and energizing.  I keep reminding myself that I was there, in the thick of things, for just a matter of hours!  I had a very small taste of what day-to-day living is like for many people in Arizona.  And let's face it, SB1070 is about much more than Arizona.  The people affected by our broken immigration system are all over our country.  They are residents and undocumented; men, women, and children; employers and employees.

The stories being shared by my friends, colleagues, and those whose names I don't know but who stood on the side love last week in Phoenix, are deeply moving.  I encourage you to visit and to get a glimpse.  
Standing with my San Diego colleagues in Phoenix.
This is my experience in a nutshell.  Nearly one hundred of us (clergy and laity) gathered on Wed. afternoon.  It was a gathering of greeting, singing, sharing apprehensions, excitement, and learning how we might be effective over the next couple of days.  The training around civil disobedience was powerful.  I did not realize that entering the United States without having gone through the proper immigration procedures is not a crime. That's right.  It is not a crime punishable by our criminal justice system.  It is a civil offense.  I also had not known that along with SB1070 going into effect on July 29, albeit with some of the most offensive and oppressive pieces removed just a day earlier, some other interesting laws were enacted in Arizona on July 29:  you can now purchase liquor at 6am on Sundays, and there's no need for a permit to carry an unconcealed weapon!  Hm-m-m-m.  It was going to be an interesting couple of days.
Standing near the demonstrators in front of Arpaio's office.
Rev. Peter Morales, Pres. of the UUA stands in front of the county jail shortly before being arrested.
On Thurs. morning we marched alongside hundreds of people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds.  We made our way to the Wells Fargo building where Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office is located.  The first demonstration took place in the street in front of that building and I made my decision not get arrested but to witness and stand in support of those who did, and on behalf of those who are most directly affected by SB1070.  News media from all over the globe seemed to be everywhere I turned.  Police in riot gear started flocking to the scene of the demonstration and that's when I saw my former congregant, Mar Cardenas, arrested.  She wasn't part of the demonstration but had stepped into the street to take a picture.  As Mar is a Latina woman  I found myself greatly fearing for her safety.  My heart was racing.  She was the first of many of my friends and colleagues that would be arrested that day.   There were moments when I was overwhelmed with emotion as I imagined the terror felt by children whose undocumented parents are taken away from them; the law enforcement officials who struggle with the moral issues their job presents on a daily basis; the daunting work that needs to be done to open the hearts and minds of so many around this issue and all issues of social justice.

It was at the 4th Ave. County Jail where we arrived to intoxicating drumbeats and chanting coming from a group of young local protesters, and we witnessed another demonstration.  I saw my colleague, Rev. Susan, and our denominational president, Peter Morales, along with a handful of others, blocking an entrance to the jail.  At one point an Asian woman standing next to me asked if I would be willing to join her standing behind the demonstrators for a little while with our standing on the side of love signs.  I agreed and we did.  As my husband and I left the scene shortly before Susan, Peter, and the others were arrested we headed for our car and were thanked by two passersby on the sidewalk.  Neither of the two said anything other than "thank you:", but they each said it with a level of sincerity that left me with nothing to say.  I simply gave a nod.  I knew from that simple "thank you" that while our time in Phoenix was done our work must continue. 

I kept updated throughout the remainder of the day, and into the next, via Facebook posts.  We left Phoenix early on Fri. morning knowing that some of those we had marched and stood with had been released from jail, and others were still waiting to be arraigned.  My husband and I left Phoenix anxious to be safely back in our home; anxious to hug our teenage son and hold our family tight.  We talked about how blessed we are and how we must not forget that there is much work to be done by Anglo allies like ourselves. 

Some people have said there was victory in Judge Bolton's ruling.  I would say it is a small step in the right direction but to claim victory is to say "it's over".  It is not.  Some, like Sheriff Joe, according to the accounts of some of my colleagues, have said "Why are you here (Phoenix) risking arrest for a bunch of Mexicans?"  I would say those are my sisters and brothers and as a person of faith I am called to stand with and for those who are oppressed, vulnerable, and marginalized.   Some, like a few of my own relatives, have said "Standing on the side of love?  Love of what?  Lawlessness?"  I would say that standing on the side of love is about love for each and every one of us, for we all have inherent worth and dignity. And I would say, yes, the immigration system is in severe disrepair and desperately needs to be reformed.  But without a foundation of compassion and respect from which to work from, we are doomed to become a society of disposable people and hardened hearts. I can't help but wonder sometimes if we aren't already there. 

Because something is "the law" or legal doesn't make it moral. Can you say Jim Crow Laws and slave holding?  How about corporate financing of politicians?  Make no mistake, I do know that there are many sides to the immigration issue and many good people on those sides, but as I continue to choose to stand on the side of love,  I will also choose to show compassion and respect to those who disagree with me.

I was told recently, with regard to my involvement in the events in Phoenix, that "Love is not a solution. It's just an excuse for another agenda".  My response is that love is the only solution.   No excuses.  As a person of faith I am called to stand on the side of love today, tomorrow, and for all of my days.  What about you?  Christians, tell me what would Jesus do? And Buddhists, what would Buddha do? What would Krishna, Gandhi, or Chief Seattle do? 

There is more love, hope, and joy somewhere and I'm gonna keep on til I find it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Rev. Kathleen, for going to Phoenix, and for posting this insightful blog!