The past two weeks have been packed with preparations for our launch of the Unitarian Universalist Abolitionists at General Assembly (GA). The Abolition Team is proposing “Ending Slavery” as the next Congregational Study/Action Issue, and for that we need five speakers at tomorrow’s plenary, before the vote. We left one open speaker’s slot in case we met someone during GA who was so enthusiastic that they should be the fifth; I prepared a piece as a backup. Everyone was very happy with what I wrote, but I will not be reading it tomorrow morning, for the best reason: the Youth Caucus has chosen to support our CSAI, and so they are getting that spot. They make their decision by consensus, so it is momentous.
Here, then, is the piece I wrote. I called it “Bury Us Not in a Land of Slaves,” after the Frances Ellen Watkins poem whose close I find so moving. Harper was a Unitarian poet, abolitionist, and survivor of slavery.
There is a child in a cotton field. He is just a little older than my daughter. They could be schoolmates, or playmates. But he doesn’t play much; he doesn’t go to school. He works, without choice, without pay, far from his family. He is a slave.
He might have picked the cotton of the t-shirt I bought my daughter last month. She looks really cute in that shirt. He would, too, this child who could be her friend, this little boy in Uzbekistan or Texas. But he doesn’t have a new shirt, just as millions of other children harvest cocoa beans, but don’t eat the chocolate; or make bricks, but live in shanties made of tin and cardboard. I don’t want to raise my daughter to believe these children are any less deserving than she is. Yet I am trapped, she is trapped, all of us are trapped, in an economic system where slaves make many of the goods we use.
We know how to spring the trap. It’s called the abolition of modern slavery, and it is overdue. So is our involvement.
I hope with our vote today we will follow in the footsteps of the Unitarian and Universalist abolitionists of an earlier day. I hope no one will ever say of us what was said in 1851 when the other churches in a Massachusetts town rang their bells for freedom: “The bells of the Unitarian church, being clogged with cotton, would not sound.” We know that our true self-interest is served by freedom and justice for all. Let us act so that the generations to come will look back on this GA as the moment when the UUs claimed their better heritage and joined the 21st century abolition movement—or, better, helped to lead it—and made freedom ring out throughout this country and the world.
Whether or not the CSAI passes (we’re waiting for the result), we have done a lot at this GA to build a UU abolition movement, and we’ll go forward from here. If you want to know more, please:
write to info AT uuabolitionists DOT org, or
visit the UU Abolitionists website (now due for a post-GA update), or
“like” our Facebook page,
Or sign up for our Twitter feed, @uuabolition.