Monday, January 2, 2017

Effective Relationships with Elected Representatives

This from a post back in November that was shared to my Facebook Timeline by a friend and colleague...overlooked until today...

Attn: How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You

Great Minds or Just Serendipitous Coincidence?

I sent a Happy & Brave New Year message to my church e-mail list based on my experiences over the past year, but spurned to action by a post from Standing on the Side of Love titled, Building Our Spiritual Muscles for the Work Ahead

After that message was sent, I came upon a Facebook post titled The New Year and the Bend of the Arc .

Both pieces are excellent and go to the heart of what I am trying to build in my congregation.

 My Happy and Brave New Year Message:

Good Morning! I wanted to wish you all a Happy and Brave New Year. While I certainly wish all some measure of personal and familial prosperity - the Happy part of HNY; I also wish and hope that all will experience and exercise the Brave aspect of HNY. 

As UU's, we have a long, proud history of Bravery. 2017 and beyond will be a challenge to that quality. Individual Bravery is a worthy goal, but it must be stated directly: finding it within, much less acting on it in the variety of public arenas we inhabit, is just plain HARD! For example, it's quite easy to wear a Solidarity Safety Pin, quite another to act on behalf of the marginalized where you live and work. On the other hand, HARD! is not an unknown attribute to our faith tradition. We can draw from numerous examples of individual and institutional Bravery, not only from the Way Back Times, but from our current experience. 

I just completed the annual report for the Fight for Justice, Project Refugee, and Emerson Justice Advocates arm of the Coordinating Council for Social Action. It is 2.5 pages of activity, some of it impressive, some mediocre, but ALL of it devoted to 2 goals: Elevate Emerson's standing in the community as a church that DOES and Provide opportunities for Emersonians to Engage and ACT! 

Over the past year, I have traveled a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. Seeking validation for my efforts in the uncertain and oftentimes miserable levels of participation from my target audience, I have encountered doubt, desperation, and depression. This is no way to live and certainly not the proper path to live out UU values. I am getting off this participation driven roller coaster. 

I'm not throwing in the towel on my 2 goals by any means. In fact, I will embark on a ramped-up and intensification of those efforts. My signature contains the statement, "Complacency is not option". In fact, it IS an option. One that many are quite adept and will continue to choose. Many look to the effort of others and choose to sit back, insular, and safe - offering a wide variety of back-pats and atta' boys. I include myself in this group and I am not alone. No More!

The situation has changed. This year we must turn the corner on our level of engagement and embrace HARD! We must begin to exercise our Bravery! muscles. We must ACT! We cannot hold back and hope that others will get the job done for us. We must ACT! We must Engage!

There is strength in tradition. There is strength in numbers. Stepping out on your own is not only HARD!, it is esteem defeating and soul destroying. Join in with others!

I came across this post, Building our Spiritual Muscles for the Work Ahead from Standing on the Side of Love. I hope you will read it. I did want to share a part of it in the event you don't:

 This time is not just about organizers or 'social justice leaders'--this is about all of us. 

We will lead our work in a way that understands that we need more of us on our side, and we will need to have much more courage in finding those who are looking for us. We will partner in ways that show targeted communities that we will not abandon them on the ground because we are afraid. We will develop new leaders like our very lives depend on it--reaching across class, race, age, and sexuality to nurture (and challenge) new leaders to come forth. We will work with people locally in their communities: practicing what we preach, showing that the courage to fight can be as close as next door or down the street if we are willing to do the face-to-face work. We will lead in a way that seeks to collaborate and longs to see other aligned organizations and leaders succeed. And finally, we will be unceasing in keeping our word: that our organizing will be relentless because love is not a feeling but an action, and love will propel us towards organizing when we deeply wish to quit. 

Immediate Steps for ACTion!:

1. Attend the January 10th Service of Public Witness and Prayer Meetup - Tuesday, 1/10, 7:00 pm at Emerson, See details in this week's E-Blast.
2. Get on the Bus to Austin, Wednesday, 2/15
3. Join Emerson Justice Advocates Leadership Team 

Have a Happy and Brave New Year!

Emerson Justice Advocates: What’s in a Name?

by Kenny Jones

A Bit of History

When the Social Action Council was revised to become the Coordinating Council for Social Action, it was an attempt to group the various activities and initiatives into more a cohesive arrangement. The groups were Care for the Earth, Helping People, and Fight for Justice. Ministry for Earth and various activities related to the environment and climate change formed the first grouping, which actually retained their original name. Activities related to direct service to others, Re-Build Houston, Sandwiches for SEARCH, the ESL Program, etc. were grouped under the Helping People category.

Fight for Justice was designed to include advocacy initiatives and programs like UUSC, Texas UU Justice Ministry, and the UU Voice for Justice. Other issue based justice campaigns such as racial, gender, and economic equality and the treatment of immigrants and refugees were brought under this categorical “umbrella”. The key aspect for the divisions between Helping People and Fight for Justice was a distinction between those initiatives that are service oriented and those that are advocacy based. One is helping the victims of oppression and another is attempting to influence and change the systems that are the cause of the oppression or those in a position to make positive changes.

The Bridge Metaphor

The bridge metaphor is helpful here. The river represents the human By-Way or Life-Way. The banks of the river represent human interaction with the Life-Way. A bridge spans the river as human activity goes about its affairs in and on both sides of the river. There exists various spots of disrepair or holes in the bridge. Some of them caused intentionally, others by mere neglect, still others caused by unforeseen accident.  As the bridge is used, humans fall through the holes into the river below. Some make it out intact, others struggle, and still others founder and drown. Caring for their fellows, humans on both banks move into rescue mode, pulling to safety those that are struggling. While on the bank, still others nourish and nurture those rescued. Others work to get the rescued back on their feet and back into their former selves.  These types of efforts we refer to as service. They are the bandages that assist the healing of wounds. Bandages are important and their application constitutes doing justice. However, this application does not address the cause of it all – the state of disrepair of the bridge.
Other humans see that if the bridge disrepair is not addressed, the numbers of those requiring rescue will only continue to grow. These humans turn their energy and efforts to bridge repair. In this work, interaction and confrontation with the cause of unforeseen accident, neglect, and intentional action is necessary. Interaction and confrontation with root causes of injustice require different tools and skill sets than does the application of bandages. These efforts we refer to as advocacy. There are many layers of advocacy requiring a range of roles, skills, tactics, and strategies.                                                                

Advocacy vs. Service?

It is not that advocacy is more important than service or vice versa. Both are necessary! Advocacy without service seems aloof and uncaring: “We don’t care about the victims already in the water or who have just emerged, we only care about preventing others from falling through the holes”. Service without advocacy seems unproductive and uncaring: “We only care about helping the victims of the holes. The fact that the holes exist and that we know there will be a steady, even increasing stream of victims doesn’t concern us.”

Obviously, both of these positions are ridiculous not only in their eventual outcomes, but also that no one involved in justice work – service or advocacy - sees it as an all or nothing choice. The reality is that an individual or group, a congregation, for example, that desires to “do” justice, must be involved with both!

Emerson is primarily and historically a service oriented congregation. We do fine work in a number of areas. It is valuable justice work. Over the years, we have begun the process of moving towards a greater advocacy stance. However, our faith tradition, our values, and particularly the paradigm with which we now find ourselves demand that we build on our advocacy mission.

Justice Building Innovator

I am part of a UUSC initiative called Justice Building Innovators. My project goal is fairly straightforward:

Transform our congregation's social justice ministry by expanding our capacity for on-going advocacy in support of the congregation's social justice priorities.

The name “Fight for Justice” for an advocacy group might connote physical confrontation and to some, a leaning toward or at least suggest the feeling that violence is necessary, perhaps even desirable as in the statement “The ends justify the means”. If this or a related negative connotation from the name resonated to even a few, this is unacceptable and would likely prove off-putting and ineffective. The purpose of the group is to provide meaningful, relational, spirit fulfilling, and most importantly, effective justice advocacy on issues the congregation deem priorities. In order to highlight the focus of this group, justice advocacy, the name “Emerson Justice Advocates” was selected.

Emerson Justice Advocates

Vision Statement: Emerson Justice Advocates will work to elevate our congregation as one actively working in our community to ensure that freedom, justice, equity, and compassion become realities for all.

Mission Statement: Emerson Justice Advocates will work to achieve justice for all through legislative and regulatory advocacy and direct action at the local, state, and national levels in support of our UU faith and values. We will work with our established allies, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry, and the Unitarian Universalist Voice for Justice of Greater Houston (UUV4J). In addition, we will work with our established congregational allies, the UUNO ESL program, Rebuild Houston, Sandwiches for SEARCH, and Ministry for Earth.

Further, we will reach out to activist/advocacy organizations in the community to build alliances for mutual support and assistance. Such organizations include Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Health Care for All Texans (HCFAT), Planned Parenthood, National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League (NARAL), Texas Impact, Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston – Refugee Services,, Every Town for Gun Sense and Moms Demand Action, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Emerson Justice Advocates Strategies and Tactics

Education Advocacy: Provide book studies, films, speakers, and discussion opportunities to delve into issues for greater understanding. Included in this area is advocacy training from professional lobbyists to maximize our effectiveness in advocacy efforts with elected representatives and regulatory agencies and in direct action. Your Presence and Input Matters!

Legislative & Regulatory Advocacy: Provide an organizational structure to build relationships with our elected representatives and their staffs. This will include a creation of representational map to facilitate the building of constituent cohorts for our members. We will provide a system to inform our congregants of specific pieces of legislation and hearings on regulations that impact our UU values. The strategies that will be primarily used with representative entities are telephone calls, letters, electronic communication, social media, and office visits. There’s a place for ALL! Your Presence and Input Matters!

Direct Action Advocacy: This strategy will be developed to complement and support our other advocacy efforts. Direct Action is a strategy that is routinely used in all campaigns for justice. These efforts not only raise public awareness on issues or specific pieces of legislation, but they demonstrate to policy makers that there is a likelihood of electoral pushback and consequence based on the decisions made. It is a vital piece of justice advocacy. This may involve being present at rallies, demonstrations, vigils, and marches organized by our various allies or wholly organized by our congregation. Your Presence and Input Matters!

Leadership - Circle, Task Force, Team, ANYthing but Committee!

I want to make Emerson Justice Advocates a reality. I want to see a time when it is widely understood and appreciated that service, while rooted in doing justice, is different from advocacy.  I want to see a time where advocacy is a seamless part of “what we do” at Emerson. A time when visitors ask about social justice advocacy there will be no need to find Kenny Jones. Understanding of Emerson’s advocacy efforts will be widespread and there will be many “go to” members to offer specifics. I hope to see a time when an objective visitor to Emerson can easily discern a distinct advocacy component of Emerson’s social justice ministry that may be of extension of or related to, but exists separate and apart from the many service aspects of that ministry.

In order to make any of this a reality that I know that I cannot do it alone. Even if I could, it wouldn’t be right or appropriate and especially not UU. I need to create a work group, task force, leadership team, committee, or some other named structure. That structure will guide and determine what the Emerson Justice Advocates do, how it operates, and carries its mission forward well into the future.

Thursday, December 29, 2016