Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Hot Mess

I think Scott Wells named it first:  2012 Justice GA in Phoenix was going to be a Hot Mess.  Hot because it is Arizona and a Mess because it is where UU earnestness, idealism, entitlement and impracticality will meet in a glorious disorganized failure under the unforgiving sun.  Instead of Selma with Sand, it will be Altamont.

It's always useful to remember that the future hasn't happened yet.

Rev. Nate Walker of Philadelphia said in a sermon that one of the roles of the church, including the liberal church was "to set the moral agenda."  He said this in a sermon about vegetarianism that I found, ummm, challenging, but his point applies.

By going to Phoenix, we are trying to rewrite the nation's moral agenda.

Immigration has been viewed by most as a labor policy issue, or a budgetary issue, or national integrity issue.   Do immigrants, documented or undocumented, distort the labor market in the US, "take our jobs"?  Are immigrants attracted by more generous social services and stress our state budgets?  Can a great nation survive if it cannot control its own border?

None of these concerns are not real.

UU's are trying to rewrite the nation's moral agenda to say that the border and immigration belong on it.    It is a moral problem that our economy depends on and uses a class of workers who are set apart, have fewer rights, and fewer opportunities, many of whom are classified as "illegal" people.  It is a moral outrage that most Americans accept this as a matter of course, just the way it is.  Just as it was a matter of course that the cotton we used everyday was grown by impoverished sharecroppers who worked under a legal system that was stacked against them.  

UU's are trying to write onto the nation's moral agenda that racism is at work here.  Not just prejudice against Latino-a's, but an economic system that assumes that the Anglo immigrants will be dominant and the Latino-a-and indigenous peoples will be subordinate to them.  

The fact that these assumptions are based on race is demonstrated whenever we have to be reminded that some Hispanic people have deeper roots in Arizona than the recent migrants from Michigan.  We assume a color-coding of legal and economic status.

UU's come to these issues from an anti-racist perspective.  It is not labor solidarity that takes us to Arizona.  Nor is it ethnic solidarity.  We are mostly white and not often permanently in the low-skill, low-wage labor pool.  But as a religious movement, UU's have been learning about racism, and are beginning to see it at work.  And there are millions of people just like us around the country, and for the most part, they do not see the issues of immigration and the border as important moral issues.  They are opposed to racism in general, but do not see the racism at the heart of these issues.  That's our struggle too; we are teaching and learning among ourselves.  But many of those millions look to UU's for a signal about what is morally significant and what is not.  It matters that we say that this should be on our society's moral agenda.

Now whether we can pull this off, through our board/staff/GA/GAPC structure is another story. It could turn out to be a "hot mess", but usually most things turn out to be less awful and less wonderful as one fears and hopes.  But my argument is that it is very much worth trying.

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