PHOENIX, ARIZONA, June 23 — About 2,000 people attending the Unitarian convention boarded buses this evening for the 7-mile trip from the Phoenix Convention Center to “Tent City.” That’s the jail where fascist Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio houses people awaiting trial, including those he hands over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation.
The prisoners, swept up by the sheriff’s department that practices racial profiling, are tortured by brutal guards, exposed to extreme heat, insufficient and rotten food, and lack access to sinks, toilets and medical care. Women who go into labor are handcuffed.
The demonstrators, who came to Phoenix from 530 Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations in 50 U.S. states, were among the 3,700 participants in the 2012 UU General Assembly (GA). They stood in 100 °F (38 °C) heat for over two hours to show solidarity with the prisoners.
A 17-year-old member of the youth caucus said that, from her vantage point, she could see 20 or 30 hands reaching out from a narrow window in one of the jail tents. They waved constantly, she said, and we waved back. We could tell they heard us, because when we got louder, they waved faster.
The loudest chant of the evening was “Tear It Down,” in response to a speech by Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. At the jail and during a workshop at the GA, Alvarado called for UUs to fight against “the Arpaios in your communities.”
In particular, he urged UUs to organize their congregations (and ally with other churches and organizations) to oppose “immigration holds.” These are 48-hour periods during which local police keep people in custody who would otherwise be released, because they suspect them of being undocumented. During the hold, an ICE agent shows up to interview the prisoner. As of now, Homeland Security requests that police agencies do these holds, but they are not required to do so, nor do the feds pick up the tab.
Communists are participating in and helping lead these struggles, while we point out that ending racist attacks on immigrants requires a revolution to smash capitalism and the national borders its profit system requires. PLP members and friends, who are active in a number of UU congregations, distributed 940 copies of CHALLENGE at the GA. After receiving a copy of the paper, one delegate to the GA came back and took 20 additional copies to distribute at a workshop.
This “Justice GA” was held in Phoenix to protest Arizona’s racist, anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. The Unitarian church, self-described as “progressive” and “liberal,” has a long history of participating in movements against war and racism and for civil rights. Like unions, community organizations, and other religious denominations, its leadership is anti-communist, tied to the capitalist system by a thousand political, economic, and ideological threads.
For several decades the UU leadership has been pushing the idea that white people (most UUs are white) are responsible for racism (even though history shows that racism was created by capitalism.) Therefore, they say, in order to unite with blacks and Latinos against racism, white people must undergo training to understand and reject their “white skin privilege.”
Furthermore, they say, whites must accept a subservient role in the anti-racist struggle, basically doing what they are told to do by black and Latino leaders. (Of course, if the black and Latino leaders are communists or otherwise don’t agree with reformism and non-violence, the UU leaders says whites must NOT follow them.)
At this General Assembly, the UU leadership hired an organization called the Catalyst Project to conduct this training, in workshops “geared toward white people.” The workshop leaders deflected calls for multiracial unity against racism, and talked about “dismantling racism,” as if that could be accomplished without smashing capitalism with communist revolution. Communists and others, including a group called the Unitarian Universalist Multiracial Unity Action Caucus, pointed out that segregation is segregation; no matter how “progressive” it is made to look.
Most UUs at the GA support — at least for the moment — the “white skin privilege” theory. But, at the congregational level, when it comes to actually fighting against particular aspects of racism, most see that unity is the only way to go. Our job as communists is to involve more people in class struggle and help win them to multiracial unity against capitalism. We will fight alongside our fellow UUs, learning from them, teaching them, and winning them to join the fight for communism.
Papal Bull on Slavery
A new wrinkle introduced by the leadership at this Unitarian General Assembly was a resolution to reject the “Doctrine of Discovery (DOD},” at the request of unspecified “partner organizations.” The DOD, also known as the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” was first promulgated by the Catholic Church via a Papal Bull in 1452. The DOD said that when Christian explorers “discovered” lands occupied by non-Christians, they could claim them for their countries, enslave the non-Christians, and seize their property. In 1823 the U.S. Supreme Court cited the DOD in support of seizing lands from Native Americans. Since then, U.S. court decisions have built upon that case.
The DOD is obviously a piece of racist crap, and the delegates voted overwhelmingly to support the resolution, although most had never heard of it prior to coming to the GA. That’s unusual in UU circles — more typically, things are studied for a year or more before being accepted or rejected.
The leadership clearly orchestrated things to get this resolution passed right away, for reasons yet to become evident. The resolution certainly came accompanied by language blaming ordinary white Christians for the actions of popes and capitalists, and it diverted people from what was supposed to be the main goal of the Justice GA — to engage more UUs in the struggle to oppose racist attacks on immigrants.