Month-long campaign spreads justice and love

Month-long campaign spreads justice and love

From MLK Day to Valentine’s Day, Standing on the Side of Love inspires thousands to engage in social action.
Donald E. Skinner


During the past two years, when the Standing on the Side of Love campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association invited congregations and individuals to turn Valentine’s Day into a day for social action, they didn’t hesitate. They staged scores of events across the country in both years around same-sex marriage, immigration, and other issues.

So it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine that if you gave those same people more time—say a whole month—they’d do a lot more with a message of love. This year, Standing on the Side of Love invited UUs to participate in “Thirty Days of Love: Story of Us, Story of Now,” extending from Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 16 to Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

Dan Furmansky, Standing on the Side of Love campaign manager, said that 1,300 people signed up on the Thirty Days email list and many others participated through Facebook and in their own congregations. “The response this year was fantastic,” Furmansky said. “If you consider those people who attended rallies and worship services about marriage and immigration, the campaign this year touched thousands of people.”

The 30 days had many highlights. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day more than 75 congregations signed up to participate in MLK events, from marching in parades to attending worship services. Nearly 1,000 people signed a Standing on the Side of Love petition opposing an Islamophobic/anti-LGBT speaker at a mayor’s prayer breakfast in Ocean City, Md. The Rev. Margaret Allen, consulting minister of the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook, in E. Setauket, N.Y., got married to her partner, the Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, during the morning worship on Feb. 12. New York approved same-sex marriage last year. The service was centered on the congregation’s work on that issue.

When congregations in North Carolina asked Thirty Days participants for help in opposing an anti-marriage equality amendment proposed for the state constitution, around 50 people signed up to do the hard work of cold calling North Carolinians. “That reminded us that we here in North Carolina are not alone in our struggle to defeat this anti-family measure,” said the Rev. Robin Tanner of the Piedmont UU Church in Charlotte, N.C., and a coordinator of opposition to the amendment. “Thirty Days of Love gave us something that perhaps only UUs across the country could—hope.”

Around 90 friends and members of the Emerson UU Congregation in Marietta, Ga., held their fourth annual Heart in the Park on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day. Carrying a rainbow flag, and led by the Emerson choir, they marched around a local park singing and carrying signs promoting marriage equality. “How much longer must I wait, in my home state of Georgia, before gay marriage is legal?” asked the Rev. Jeff Jones, Emerson’s senior minister, as the crowd formed a giant heart.

Youth at the UU Congregation of Columbia, Md., were inspired by Thirty Days of Love to launch a yearlong study of homelessness. They also wrote and shared stories at a worship service Feb. 12 about why they engaged in social action. Said youth member Elliot Hazzard, "Social action is about affirming the worth and dignity of every person. It amplifies the basic choice between demeaning those less fortunate or promoting equality and respect for all people."

In Boston, members of First Parish Cambridge UU gathered in front of city hall to protest that city’s participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure Communities program, which requires local police to send fingerprints of people arrested in any criminal matter to federal immigration officials. First Parish UUs gathered with members of Centro Presente, Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Arlington Street Church of Boston, and the UU Mass Action Network.

The Rev. Fred Small, senior minister of First Parish Cambridge, led the crowd in song and prayer. Speaking alternately in Spanish and English, Small said, “We are here to declare that the only secure community is the beloved community. La única comunidad segura es la comunidad bienamada.”

Around two hundred people signed up through Thirty Days of Love for a Feb. 2 webinar, sponsored by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and other groups, on how to push back against Secure Communities.

While the past two Valentine’s Day campaigns were mostly about social justice actions, this year’s longer initiative added an introspective element—a “collective visioning process”—allowing people to engage in exercises that let them reflect on how they approach social justice and what they feel called to do. A large part of Thirty Days was about giving people the tools for personal reflection. On Jan. 21, for example, people were invited to think about “the last time you spoke unlovingly to someone.” The next day the question “What keeps you awake at night?” elicited more than 30 heartfelt responses. Another day the topic was “inspiring others through our own stories.” People shared about coming out, and about addictions, abortions, and molestation.

Furmansky wrote on Jan. 21, “This campaign is . . . about more than just our public witness and the way we show up. I believe this campaign affects us individually. It has the power to change us. And I know this, because this campaign has changed me. Over the past 20 months, as my professional activism has moved through—and continues to move through—a new prism, a prism of love, I have developed a new mindfulness that what I say, how I feel, and what I do affects everything.”

On Valentine’s Day, two members of the UU Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF), located in Oakton, Va., the Rev. Kären Rasmussen and Barb Brehm, both retired Navy veterans and domestic partners for 26 years, requested a marriage license at the local county courthouse. According to law, they were denied.

They were accompanied by many members of their congregation plus the Rev. Peter Morales, UUA president, and many area ministers and UUs. At a rally of marriage equality supporters outside the courthouse, the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, UUCF minister, said that despite the license refusal, “It is my great hope that we are moving toward a kinder and more just society in which all citizens enjoy equality under the law. As a spiritual leader, I am especially concerned about protecting and supporting all those who seek to create loving families—the foundation of our great country.”

Morales reminded those present that support for marriage equality is a UU core religious value. “We believe our laws should treat all people equally and with compassion.”

As part of the Thirty Days, congregations were invited to present “Courageous Love Awards” to people in their communities. The Mission Peak UU Congregation in Fremont, Calif., honored the late Fremont mayor Bob Wasserman as a “Love Hero” for appointing people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to city boards. First Parish UU, in Cambridge, Mass., presented its award to Nancy Nangeroni, a longtime activist on transgender issues.

The UU Church of the South Hills, in Pittsburgh, Pa., gave its award to the Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister who was disciplined by her denomination for presiding at the wedding of two women in 2005. Four other Courageous Love Awards were reported to the campaign.

In Columbus, Ohio, about 300 people gathered on Valentine’s Day for an “Interfaith Rededication and Solidarity Celebration” at the First UU Church of Columbus. The event was sponsored by the congregation’s Gay Straight Alliance and Justice Action Ministry. Coordinator Steve Palm-Houser said several dozen couples took part in a recommitment ceremony. One of those who spoke was the Rev. Susan Ritchie, minister at the North UU Congregation in Lewis Center, Ohio, and a member of the UUA Board of Trustees.

She noted that she and her partner have been married “under the eyes of all that is holy for 20 years now . . . What kind of wacky and wild thing would we do if our marriage were suddenly recognized in Ohio? Here is our insane plan. We would continue to provide for our in-laws. We would continue to support sick family members and friends. We would continue to help those financially insecure among us. We would continue to support our schools, our community, and our church. This is our wacky gay agenda.”

In Salt Lake City, Utah, 9-year-old Abigail Hasting-Tharp made a 20-by-24-inch valentine “to the state of Utah” and presented it to a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune the day before Valentine’s Day. The valentine, expressing Abigail’s hope that her two mothers—Michelle Hasting and Jamila Tharp—can someday be married in Utah, was signed by dozens of Abigail’s classmates at school and at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. Tharp is intern minister at First Unitarian. “Why don’t people get this?” Abigail told the columnist. “My moms are just the same as anyone else. Love is love.”

In Montgomery, Ala., UUs were among several hundred people who gathered at the statehouse for a rally and lobby day on Valentine’s Day to repeal the anti-immigrant measure HB56. The Rev. Fred Hammond, acting program consultant for the UUA’s Mid-South District, said, “There were powerful stories shared by high school students fearful of losing lifelong friends, a woman who is the spouse of an undocumented citizen, fearful of having the family torn apart, and a business owner describing the loss of skilled workers to his business. People were feeling the pain of these individuals.” He added that on the same day Mississippi legislators introduced its own anti-immigrant bill, nearly identical to Alabama’s.

At the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., youth led children of the congregation in a lesson on Feb. 12 about love, marriage equality, and justice, and then they all created valentines, which they sent to the New York state legislators who had supported same-sex marriage in New York’s successful vote on that issue last year. “Our kids are too young to vote, but they can show our elected representatives that they care about these issues,” said June Wohlhorn, a religious educator. Added youth Alison Derevensky, “We’re making it simple so they can understand the power of love and what we’re trying to do—overcome homophobia.”

Furmansky said the Thirty Days campaign garnered substantial publicity this year for congregations. “We focused on creating resources and putting them out into the world for local congregations to use, rather than trying to generate publicity for the campaign itself. Most of the articles and other media we’ve seen have come out of local communities and most of that has been around the public witness events that congregations organized.” He said the campaign this year included at least three non-UU congregations.

One day of the campaign was focused on soliciting suggestions about the future of Standing on the Side of Love. “Several people suggested that SSL might have a role in helping make anti-oppression resources available to smaller congregations,” said Furmansky. “And we’ve been hearing from college students about bringing SSL to campuses. So we’ll be looking at that.”

Furmansky said he is gratified that Thirty Days of Love worked so well. “It really seemed to resonate with communities and individuals in different ways. I was heartened by the way people really did open up about what motivates them and that they were willing to engage with the campaign.”

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