Analysis of Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multiculturalism by bloved

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               Reflection on Anti-Oppression
            By Rev. Ann Schranz, Interim Minister
   Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Santa Cruz County
                       August 13, 2006

[Note for context: Sister Pearl Ceasar of COPA, Communities
Organized for Relational Power in Action, delivered the first part of the
sermon. This is the second part.]


About six weeks ago, I was in St. Louis, serving as your delegate to the
Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly. General
Assembly is wonderful, intense, tiring, troubling, and ultimately
satisfying. General Assembly is pep rally, circus, crash course, reunion,
endurance test, and session at the spiritual gym. I hope you will attend
General Assembly next year in Portland, Oregon. One item stands out
among all the things I might share about this year’s General Assembly.
It is this unusual resolution, passed near the end of the Assembly:
"Resolved, that the Delegates to General Assembly are charged to work
with their congregations to hold at least one program over the next year
to address racism or classism, and to report on that program at next
year's General Assembly."


This resolution was not on the General Assembly agenda. It was written
by a GA congregational delegate, offered as a so-called “responsive
resolution” – a particular kind of resolution permitted according to the
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UUA’s bylaws but not used very often. This resolution was
overwhelmingly supported by the delegates from over 600 UU
congregations. The resolution was moved and passed in response to
several reports concerning events at more than one General Assembly
affecting Unitarian Universalist communities of color, especially youth
of color.1


The resolution contains a great opportunity wrapped in dry language. It
is an opportunity for this congregation to be held accountable to its
aspirations, and it is an opportunity for this congregation to hold other
congregations accountable. Accountable for what? Accountable for
taking the next step in social change and personal development, the next
step in expressing anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-oppressive values in ever
more skillful ways. Individual and institutional racism and classism are
real and related. In the world, in the country, and in the Unitarian
Universalist movement, mere conversations about race and class are
often painful and polarized. The realities of racism and classism are
even more painful and polarizing.


The greatest danger is the temptation to walk away. More important
than having any particular anti-racist perspective or doing any particular

1
 See the report of the Special Review Commission appointed by the UUA President and Moderator:
http://www.uua.org/TRUS/apr06/D2a-src.pdf. This is one of the reports which prompted the resolution.
Resources and suggestions for anti-racism programs provided by the UUA can be found at
http://www.uua.org/actions/responsive/06racism/.
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anti-classist work in any particular anti-oppressive way is having the
staying power to remain engaged in this work over a lifetime.
Psychology and culture “conspire” to drain our staying power. It is
easier and more rewarding in the short term to “get ahead” personally
and to help our families “get ahead.” Where does staying power to do
anti-oppression work come from? Where is the spring of water that
refreshes? “User-friendly” opportunities for social change and personal
development are the fresh water. These are opportunities for
companionship, reflection, accountability, and organizing around
common interests. These opportunities and more are available through
COPA, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action. In a
moment, I will talk more about COPA, but first, a few words about the
temptation to walk way.


Fifteen years ago, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, also known as the Rodney
King uprising or the Rodney King riots, were sparked on April 29, 1992
when a mostly white jury acquitted four police officers accused in the
videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King, after he fled from
police. Thousands of people in Los Angeles, mainly young black and
Latino males, joined in what has often been characterized as a race riot,
involving mass law-breaking, including looting, arson and murder. In all
50 to 60 people were killed during the riots.2

2
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Los_Angeles_riots
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I lived in Los Angeles then. Within a year, I left. I had lived in southern
California for 13 years. There were several reasons for the move, most
importantly, a relationship that pulled me away. In addition, long
commutes in gridlocked traffic and my skittishness about earthquakes
pushed me away. One evening in the spring of 1992, as I washed up in
my apartment, I glanced at my face in the bathroom mirror. Uh oh.
Was something wrong with me? Some new disease? What were those
black specks in my nostrils? Nothing but soot, soot from the fires -- soot
blown into the apartment through the window screen. Los Angeles was
burning.


It is time to acknowledge this other piece – my choice to leave a racially
charged environment where I had occasional worries about my physical
safety and more frequent worries about my emotional authenticity and
intellectual integrity to engage with issues of race and class. Could I
wonder, discuss, experiment, doubt, try, fail more often than succeeding,
could I live in such a polarized social environment? Where were the
spaces where it was OK to honestly share feelings and perspectives
about race and class? I felt squeezed, panicky, as I imagine I would feel
while spelunking. Spelunking means exploring caves, wriggling
through narrow, rocky places underground where there is often little
head room, little shoulder room, little room to maneuver. Since I can get
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claustrophobic in a packed elevator; spelunking is not for me. Neither,
at that time, was living in that incendiary environment.


In our geographic movements, as in our emotional and intellectual
movements, we are pulled, and we are pushed. Our perceptions are the
magnet, and our perceptions are the kick in the pants. That is exactly
why we need one or more communities of mutual accountability for
relying solely upon our perceptions as magnet or as kick in the pants
means relying upon a very thin reed. We can too easily flip this way or
flop that way. Over time, I “owned” the privilege of my movement
away from Los Angeles. I could choose to leave a racially charged
environment, unlike others who could not leave and who might not have
left even if given the chance.


Social change and personal development are not unlike spelunking.
Initially, we find ourselves in confined spaces. Initially, there is not
enough wiggle room, not enough head room, not enough shoulder room.
We need to work together to carve out those spaces where we can all
breath deeply, speak freely, and listen with an open heart. Together we
create room to breath, room to reflect. This fall, we will begin a
monthly discussion series based on Howard Zinn’s book People’s
History of the United States: 1492 to Present. This will be one
opportunity to engage racism, classism, theology, and philosophy in a
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setting where there is room to breath, room to act, room to reflect.
Please let me know if you would like to participate.


I conclude this morning with my perspective on the relationship between
COPA and anti-oppression work. From where I stand, COPA is about
leadership development in the service of social change, using the
techniques of organizing to leverage the power of those who do not start
with much power. In contrast to some other approaches to anti-
oppression work, COPA and other congregation-based community
organizations do not tell people what to do or how to do it. COPA
encourages us to listen to each other’s storries and to tell our own
stories. Storytelling is not an end in itself. Storytelling is a way to
reflect, to process emotions and thoughts. The late Saul Alinsky, whose
philosophy guides organizations such as COPA, once said, “Humans are
usually walking bags of undigested experiences.”


Congregation-based community organizations such as COPA help us
transform our undigested experiences into staying power. The secret to
cultivating staying power is to find amiable companions. Not “anything
goes” companions, but amiable companions -- companions who care,
who are curious, who come from various religious traditions, who come
from various racial and ethnic groups, who come from various economic
or class backgrounds. Building relationships with these amiable
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companions makes it easier to go to meetings, makes it more fun to learn
and to teach, makes it more fun to raise consciousness. May we learn
and grow together. May we work together and play together to carve
out space for everyone to breath deeply, speak freely, listen with an open
heart, and act justly. May it be so.

								
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