UU antioppression campaign gains visibility, supporters.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign (SSL) is celebrating its first anniversary. Launched in June 2009 at General Assembly in Salt Lake City, the campaign's mission is to harness the power of love to stop oppression, exclusion, and violence based on people's identity. Organizers have created banners, signs, and other resources that allow congregations to use the SSL message to address issues in their own communities.
“It’s been a huge success,” said Adam Gerhardstein, SSL campaign manager until this past June when Dan Furmansky, the former director of Equality Maryland, became manager. Gerhardstein noted that SSL has been part of more than 200 events across the country organized on behalf of marriage equality, GLBT rights, and immigrant justice. The campaign has generated more than 130 news stories, has 26,000 people on its email list, and 17,000 followers on Facebook.
“People write to us telling how they’ve used SSL in their communities,” said Gerhardstein. “In Ogden, Utah, our congregation used it to rally the entire community to protect GLBT people in the workplace by supporting an antidiscrimination measure. In Maine it was used to promote marriage equality, and it was used in Washington State to support domestic partnerships.”
“On Valentine’s Day more than 150 congregations used SSL materials to take action on things that were important in their local communities,” he noted. He said the campaign has been so successful because, “It resonates with why people go to church, with what the core of our faith is.” It helps, he added, that the bright yellow and black banners and signs are visually striking. “They’re very identifiable, the type of thing that people want to hang in front of their church.”
When hundreds of UUs went to Arizona at the end of May to stand against anti-immigrant measure SB 1070, they became known as “the love people,” he said, because they could be easily seen in their bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts.
The campaign also provides multiple ways for congregations to engage with it, Gerhardstein said. “Whether they want to sign petitions, invite the city council to a forum, or just hold a committee meeting, we have the resources to make each of those things happen.”
The Rev. Theresa Novak, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, said the campaign has been helpful in her congregation’s ongoing effort to pass an antidiscrimination measure. “The SSL slogan, the buttons, the signs, have all really helped energize the church and communicate our values to the wider community,” she said. “SSL is one of the best things the UUA has done in recent years.”
The Rev. Meg Riley, who is director of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness office until August 16, when she becomes senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, was instrumental in SSL’s formation.
Knoxville was one of the inspirations for SSL she said. Two years ago a gunman walked into the sanctuary of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a Sunday morning service put on by children from that congregation and Westside Unitarian Universalist Church, and opened fire, killing two people and injuring six. He did it, according to a letter found in his car, because of a hatred of liberal values. After the tragedy, both congregations insisted on staying open and welcoming. When UUA President William G. Sinkford went to Knoxville to minister to the two congregations, he came home wanting the UUA to take up the spirit of the witness that he saw in the people in Knoxville. “The UUA already had a marketing campaign going,” said Riley, “but we decided that a public advocacy campaign based on the spirit of Knoxville would better represent the good news that we had to share with the world. It was to be a campaign about our values, not about Unitarian Universalism itself.”
The message “Standing on the Side of Love” first emerged as a rallying point for people of faith in Massachusetts during their efforts to promote marriage equality around 2004. It was used again in 2008 during the fight against California’s Proposition 8, a law revoking marriage equality in California.
After Knoxville, media consultant Helio Fred Garcia was commissioned to write a concept paper for the campaign. The movement already had an anthem. The Rev. Jason Shelton, minister of music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, had written “Standing on the Side of Love” in 2004 for the successful marriage campaign in Massachusetts.
Several moments stand out for Riley from this past year. “In Texas a congregation took banners to a high school in response to a bullying incident. Another group took a banner and stood outside a detention center near Boston after an immigration raid. We learned later that the people inside cried when they saw the word ‘Love.’”
Furmansky, SSL’s new director, believes the future of the campaign could include more interfaith work. “I think this is a special moment in time where the campaign can branch into serving as an umbrella for the interfaith community to come together,” he said. “The heart of the campaign will always be the UU community, but there is shared language that could bring a bigger community of people together.”
He said the campaign is now at the point where participants are learning from each other. “There’s a huge online community for emails, Twitter, and Facebook,” he said. “As people post photos and share stories and blog posts it will inspire and motivate the rest of us. It’s also a place to toss around ideas.”
He added, “Now in its second year, the campaign is moving from infancy to toddlerhood. It’s full of energy and very much feeling its way in the world.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.