Shaping History or Crushed by History......
Twice, Unitarian Universalism made a significant intervention in national affairs. We had an immediate effect. And now, as history moves on, the effects of our most significant interventions are being washed away by history, with hardly a note of recognition from us that it is happening.
In 1971, the UUA's Beacon Press published the Pentagon Papers, providing the public with first easily accessible complete version of what had been only published before in newspapers. We did not bow to the demands of government censors. Beacon Press rejected the claim that the government could hide its internal thinking from the public by stamping it TOP SECRET. The publication of the Pentagon Papers made the prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg that much more difficult.
And now, Bradley Manning is held for months in solitary confinement because he, like Daniel Ellsberg, released TOP SECRET information about the diplomacy of the United States government around the world.
The First Intervention
|Rep. John Lewis|
In 1965, the UUA Board of Trustees cancelled its meeting and called up on our ministers and laypeople to go to Selma to support a campaign for Voting Rights for African Americans. Our ministers went by the hundreds; the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were killed. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was proposed and enacted. When you consider the number of people jailed, beaten, and lynched to get the right to vote in the old Confederacy, the deaths of two UU's are not statistically significant. But we had a role.
|Justice Antonin Scalia|
And now, the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act is under the very skeptical review of a very conservative Supreme Court. Justice Scalia dismisses it as a 'racial entitlement' and offers the novel constitutional theory that the Supreme Court should strike down laws that it does not like if they have too much political support to be repealed. And the review of the VRA65 comes amidst ongoing efforts at voting suppression.
The Second Intervention
In 1965 and 1971, Unitarian Universalism saw itself as part of a powerful liberalism, ascendent in 1965 and defiant against a rising conservatism in 1971. Now, after 40 years in the wilderness of being the most liberal denomination in an aggressively conservative culture, we accept a more limited view of our power and influence. Would we be accused of partisanship if we were as forthright now about expanding the electorate as we were in 1965? Are we more cautious of defying the national security state now?
In these two cases, we have gone from "shaping history" to "being crushed by history."