North Carolinians jailed for protesting conservative legislation; Texas UUs detained, deported after visiting factory in Mexico.
On Monday, May 13, six Unitarian Universalists were among 49 arrested while protesting laws that curb access to voting rights, education, health care, and unemployment payments, as well as bills that would expand citizens’ rights to carry concealed weapons in public places.
It was the third week of Moral Monday protests, spearheaded by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. The civil rights group is organizing protests of a legislative agenda of “extremist policies” that it says would disproportionately affect the poor, African Americans, Latinos, women, seniors, and students.
This week, the Rev. John Saxon, lead minister of the UU Fellowship of Raleigh, joined the protest. He was arrested along with the church’s former minister, the Rev. Tom Rhodes, and four laypeople from the Raleigh fellowship and the Community Church of Chapel Hill UU. “Sometimes words aren’t enough,” Saxon said. “Sometimes we have to speak out and stand up simply because it is the right thing to do.”
Saxon sang and prayed with a group marching into the Legislative Building who had agreed to risk arrest, while hundreds of supporters remained across the street from the entrance to the building. The group that entered the Legislative Building did not disperse after police asked them to, and 49 were bound with plastic handcuffs and bused to the Wake County Detention Center. Saxon was charged with failing to disperse and disorderly conduct. After about six hours, he received a July court date and was released. The NAACP has announced that its lawyers will represent all the protesters arrested.
The North Carolina legislature has taken a conservative turn, with a supermajority of conservative Republicans in both houses. “We’ve been speaking out and visiting legislators, pulling together labor and health care advocates going back to last fall,” Saxon said.
Rhodes said he participated because he believes that actions speak louder than words. “When I hear what the North Carolina legislature has been saying about wanting to strengthen our schools, but their actions show that they are denying at-risk children the opportunity to participate in preschool programs and denigrating our teachers and defunding those schools, their actions speak a lot louder than their words. When I hear about them wanting to bring integrity in voting to our state, but they do so by curtailing early voting, I think those actions speak louder than their words. When I hear them talk about their service to the state, but their actions show they are in service to their corporate donors, their actions speak louder than their words. I realize that I can’t talk about their hypocrisy unless I am also willing to take action.”
Rhodes will return next Moral Monday. He won’t risk arrest again, but instead will support those who are arrested next week with rides and food and singing. Like the others arrested, he has been banned from the Legislative Building and the plaza outside, but he will stand with hundreds of others across the street.
Mary Watson Nooe, a 40-year member of the Raleigh congregation who was also arrested, will be there to lend support, too. She said she appreciated looking out the window of the prison bus and seeing supporters singing and cheering.
Nooe said she doesn’t know whether the legislators will take notice of the Moral Monday protests, but she believes the voters will. “The principle of civil disobedience has a role in our governance process,” she said. “It should not be used lightly, but I don’t think this is a light use of it. It has to be effective when you do decide to do it. That’s why we have to keep growing.” She has asked two friends to risk being arrested on the next Moral Monday to build momentum for the protest.
Another action by Unitarian Universalists from Texas turned an educational outing to border factories in Mexico into an act of civil disobedience.
In late April, three Texas UUs were detained and deported from Mexico while meeting with factory workers in Mexican border towns. The trip, led by the Rev. Kate Rohde, interim minister at the Wildflower Church in Austin, Tex., started out as an educational visit to the factories, where workers are paid as little as 50 cents an hour and work 10-hour days. The trip was an extension of the immigration-justice work the congregation has been engaged in.
After talking with factory workers, the eight-person delegation, including three Austin UUs, visited a meeting room that was surrounded by police, who detained the group for eight hours before deporting them to Texas. Rohde said they were never given a credible reason for their deportation but headlines in the Mexican papers suggested they were political organizers.
“It was clear that it was not us, but our hosts, who were the true target of this action,” Rohde wrote on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love blog. “Multinational corporations are crushing independent unions in northern Mexico and this was another attempt to cut them off from friends and to intimidate both workers and allies. Most of us left Mexico truly inspired by the courage and friendship of these Mexican workers, and I hope to return if and when the ban on my return is lifted.”
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Michelle Bates Deakin, a member of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Massachusetts, was a UU World contributing editor from 2006 to 2011 and a UU World senior editor from 2011 to 2014. She is the author of Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who Are Changing the World (Skinner House, 2011) and Gay Marriage, Real Life: 10 Stories of Love and Family (Skinner House, 2006).