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It’s Hard Right Now, but Keep Moving Forward

Denise Moorehead, UU Class Conversations

I sat in a staff meeting on Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022, listening to my colleagues share their reactions to a gunman’s rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the day before. We are administrators for private schools serving students from 2 to 20 years old. The head of our team said his first response was to scream, “NO MORE.” Another — the most buttoned-down one among us — said she was so #!!*ing tired of the carnage followed by nothing from those at the highest levels elected to make change.

When we talked about the steps we’d taken/needed to take to support our students and parents, the remarks by one school director broke my heart. She said with a deep sigh, “We sent an email to parents last night. We updated a message that was first written to families 10 years ago after the Newtown, Conn., massacre.” She added that she had updated that letter countless times for the many mass shootings since Newtown as well as for state-instituted killings like that of George Floyd.

In the past decade, our schools have made a substantial investment in improving security and in preparing students and staff to react quickly in cases of a dangerous intruder. So, why are we stuck in the same place 10 years after Newtown? As one politically-active colleague said of her own social justice efforts, “Why even bother anymore?”

Why? Because we must. 

But It’s Hard

I have been involved in social justice work since I was a child. My mom took me to community-building activities while I was still in grade school. These are hard times for people who believe in social justice, equity, and addressing classism and racism.

The expected overturning of Roe v. Wade will most severely impact women and families with less class advantage. According to a May 2022 NPR report on the landmark Turnaway Study, women denied an abortion were four times more likely to be living in poverty years later than those who had one. Their children were less likely to attain higher education were more likely to be involved in crime and had lower adult earnings.

According to a recent study by Columbia University researchers, more than 3.7 million children in the U.S. slipped into poverty when conservative members of Congress refused to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit beyond December 2021. States across the nation have outlawed telling the truth about racism and the racial wealth gap, allowing transgender children to become themselves or even providing water to people waiting in line to vote (in under-resourced primarily black and brown areas). The proliferation of new voter suppression laws is meant to keep people of color and those with less class advantage from participating in American democracy. And this is the tip of the iceberg when we look at the backpedaling of policies that have advanced social justice, equity and equality.

The effects of these policy reversals have not and will not directly touch the lives of people in the sphere of our elected officials. Over half of the members of Congress are well-educated millionaires from safe neighborhoods with “good schools.” According to FundHero December 2020 research, even in local elections the average cost for each vote received is $1.00. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $5,000 to be elected to the local Library Board.

It’s no surprise then, that most federal and local policies support those with more class advantage. This is true of gun laws also. According to Mark S. Kaplan, professor of Social Welfare at UCLA, there is a strong relationship between poverty, inequality and firearm violence*.

It’s Up to Us

It is hard to keep up the fight for justice right now, whether it is for social class, race, gender, LQBTQ+, disability rights and/or other forms of equity. But oppression can only fester and grow when people give up hope for a future that holds promise for each person. We can pause for a few moments to feel sad, overwhelmed and discouraged. We are human. But then we have to take a breath, regroup and keep pushing forward.

Here are just some of the lesser-known social justice pioneers I appreciate:

  • Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a member of a U.S. president’s Cabinet and a champion of those with less class advantage.
  • South African students who mobilized and led the 2015-17 #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements that fundamentally changed the landscape of higher education in South Africa.
  • U.S. racial justice heroes like John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, Callie House and Fred Korematsu, Lupe Anguiano and Chrystos (Menominee)
  • Frank Bowe who worked to help people with disabilities
  • Modern-day and historical women’s rights activists like Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Emmeline Pankhurst
  • Environmentalists like Nnimmo Bassey

Who are the modern-day and historical (s)heroes who inspire you to stay the course when you feel like giving up? Share yours in the comments below.

*The gun lobby is bankrolled by people and companies with deep pockets. Some contributors to the still powerful National Rifle Association have been Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA, Springfield Armory, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. as well as accessories vendors MidwayUSA and Brownells (Violence Poverty Center). Individual contributors include more than a dozen wealthy Russians.  The NRA, in turn, lines the campaign coffers of politicians willing to do its bidding.

Stop the Hate Against AAPI Communities

AAPI month graphicSystemic racism and acts of terror towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have dominated media headlines in the past few months. Sadly, while hate incidents against the AAPI community have escalated in the past year, surpassing 6,000 reported incidents between 2020 and 2021, this not a recent occurrence in America.

Anti-Asian sentiments, oppression and violence date back centuries.

The United States imported Chinese workers in the 19th Century to build the railroad system. Once it was built, the workers, who had been cheap sources of labor for employers, were seen as competition by many White working class Americans. The anti-Asian sentiments led to Chinese men and their families being driven from towns, lynched and subjected to newly passed anti-immigration laws.

We have witnessed anti-Asian sentiments becoming increasingly hostile during the pandemic, escalating from verbal to physical attacks to most recently, mass murder.

The belief that Asians carry disease and that they should return to Asia no matter how many generations their family has been in America is often shared on social media. Many Americans also confuse the concepts of country and continent and label Asians as a single demographic, all from the same place. This diminishes the rich and varied cultural beliefs, values, religions and spiritual traditions of the Asian diaspora.

Rich Culture(s)

There are many ethnic identities, cultures and languages within this diverse group of people. In the United States alone, this racial category, according to the Census, refers to more than 40 different ethnic groups. Moreover, in the past 40 years, there has been a widening of income inequality among Asian populations, which has led to social and economic consequences for some. Education and income levels vary widely among Asians. Although they rank as the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the United States, the wide and rapid economic divide belies the growing class differences within this group.*

One lingering remnant from the immigration laws restricting Asian migration within the United states is that a large percentage of Asians and Asian Americans still live in states where there were major points of entry for earlier Asian immigrants, such as New York, California and Hawaii.

While Asian migration throughout the United States has been more prevalent since the mid-1960s, when these laws were overturned, there are still places in the United States where Asians are viewed as exotic and foreign, and not “real” Americans. It is not incidental that people of Japanese descent in America, not German, were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II.

Next Steps for UUs?

What does this mean for us as UUs? We at UU Class Conversations believe that remaining true to our Principles will help break down divisions along class and racial lines. Creating an inclusive community for all racial and ethnic groups begins with meaningful and productive dialogue aimed at combatting racial and class injustice.

What do you see then as next steps for this work?

* Pew Research Center, July 12, 2018, “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians.”

Say Yes to Resistance

Demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside Trump Tower in New York on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, to protest against President-elect Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)by Betsy Leondar-Wright

The election outcome was a shock – but wasn’t something new. Throughout U.S. history we’ve had waves of right-wing populism, when people bought into explanations of their economic hardships that scapegoat other marginalized groups and reject traditional elites. This election was a right-wing populist upsurge that few of us saw coming. We underestimated the number of voters willing to accept racism, sexism, Islamophobia and immigrant-bashing in a candidate.

But we also saw a surge of progressive populism – the kind that criticizes economic systems and the rich – in the strong showing for Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the popularity of Senator Elizabeth Warren. And that can be our source of hope now, that the progressive populists could organize social movements and take over the Democratic Party.

Progressive Populism

The mainstream Democratic Party used to have more progressive populism in its platform, its rhetoric and its political actions, from the 1930s through the ‘70s. But I’m one of many leftists who started criticizing the party in the ‘90s for its turn to the right, for ignoring working class and poor people harmed by de-industrialization and making trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. In particular, the national Democrats ignored white working class men, the only race/class/gender cluster who actually has lower income today than their fathers and grandfathers.

Democratic leaders didn’t treat falling wages and unemployment as true crises. After the crash they accepted the bailout of “too big to fail” banks and they didn’t push enough for a bailout for foreclosed homeowners. Gradually over the last 30 years the Democratic Party began to get more of its campaign funding from Wall Street, big corporations and wealthy individuals, and began to operate under the delusion that a coalition of well-off coastal liberals and urban people of color could swing national elections – which clearly isn’t always true. They took union support for granted, not realizing that the rank-and-file don’t necessarily vote with the leaders.

“We need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with.″

Many Democratic leaders also fell into the cultural classism that some of us coastal liberals fall into, of regarding the Midwest as a flyover zone full of gun owners or Christian fundamentalists who are too stupid to have a reasoned political conversation with. It’s important to remember that Donald Trump won the majority of votes from college-educated and high-income whites as well, so we need to be on the alert for classist demonizing of white working class people. This is a white right-wing populist uprising that cuts across classes.

Those of us who didn’t see this coming need to ask ourselves whose voices we hear on a regular basis, why more of the voices of the disaffected rural and Rust Belt white people weren’t on our radio programs, in our newspapers, on our Facebook feeds – and in our personal circles. We didn’t hear them.

We need to stop huddling in our liberal echo chamber talking about how “they” got it wrong and we are right about everything.

Reach Out, Build Ties of Solidarity

“It will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction.”

Instead we need to reach out and build ties of solidarity, both personally and politically: ties with people already being targeted by street harassment from emboldened bullies who are spray-painting racist slurs and yanking off head scarves; ties with those likely to be politically targeted for deportation and stripped of union rights, health coverage, abortion rights, religious freedom and affirmative action.

But we also need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with. We may need to put aside disagreements over gun ownership and find common ground in preventing Wall Street and multinational corporations from taking over our democracy and our economy.

huge crowd rallying for progressive U.S. policyIt will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction. Only a multiracial and cross-class mass movement can limit how much damage the Republican Senate, House and President can do in these coming years. A mass movement could light a fire under the Democratic Party to nominate progressive populists like Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

We need a responsive party that is loudly pro-labor, that pushes for full employment policy, that will be firmly anti-sexist and anti-racist, that will tell the truth about how crucial immigrants are to economic growth, and that will treat income inequality as a national crisis. The movement and the party I’m imagining would put forward a progressive populist message that will make sense to economically struggling people of all races and regions.

It’s too early know what effective resistance will be organized to stop the rightward lurch of our country, but when it happens, when you get invitations to join organizations, to boycott, to go to protests and to speak up, please say yes. All of us will need to say yes, say yes, and say yes again.


Betsy Leondar-Wright spoke these words on a panel about race, class and gender in the presidential election, at First Parish UU Church of Arlington, MA on November 13. She is on the board of Class Action (www.classism.org) and on the steering committee of UU Class Conversations (www.uuclassconversations.org ).

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