The Black Lives Matter Committee at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee which I chair, manged to have a successful event on Nov. 18th. We had a screening of The Blood is at the Doorstep which tells the story of the killing of Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. The Black community arose in protest and people from across Milwaukee including the Unitarian Universalists joined in solidarity. This movement achieved many positive results including the firing of Officer Manney, a commitment by Mayor Tom Barrett that police would undergo 40 hours of training to help them better understand how to deal with persons who were living with a mental illness. In addition the City of Milwaukee made a $2.3 million settlement with the Hamilton family after they filed a lawsuit. However, neither the District Attorney John Chisholm nor US Department of Justice filed charges in the case against Manney and he was later awarded disability based upon the stress that the shooting had caused him.
The story was well known throughout the community and the movie has been shown several times since its premier at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2017. However, there is still interest in learning more about what people could do to assist the Mothers United For Justice, an organization which Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, founded. News of the event took place through word of and Facebook. Black Lives Matter successfully recruited three co-sponsors: Mothers Against Gun Violence, Mothers For Gun Sense and Progressive Mothers of Wisconsin.
I chaired the event and helped recruit the sponsors. Maria Hamilton was the featured speaker and spoke about her goal of being able to mentor parents like herself who lost loved ones to police violence. Mary Devitt, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, spoke of her commitment to finding justice for the Hamiltons. Khary Penebaker of Mothers For Gun Sense spoke at the event. He detailed his experience as the son of a mother who had committed suicide with a gun. People from the co-sponsoring groups contributed a lot to the success while coping with illnesses and injuries. Like the song said, I get by with a little help from my friends.
It was hard to believe. I had seen so many predictions of the demise of the democratic party by the right and the so-called Berniecrats followers of Bernie Sanders. I came home after work and turned on the computer last night to pay close attention to the midterm elections. I had tried in vain arguing with people about the Donna Brazile book. These people were convinced that the book told them the primary election was fixed by Clinton supporters. Even when well meaning people on facebook posted stories about how the facts clearly pointed to Clinton winning more votes than Sanders they were determined to chew on that bone until there was not a single shred of meat.
At the same time the midterm elections were approaching. There was New Jersey were the hateful bully Chris Christie was term limited out of office. His Lieutenant Governor was running to replace the most disliked governor in the state’s history. But the big enchilada was in Virginia which has been electing democratic governors and residential candidates. I don’t know a lot about Virginia but I had heard about the democratic governors including Douglas Wilder and the outgoing Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is a tough talking SOB who will not put up with any bullshit from republicans. Faced with a hostile legislature gerrymandered into safe republican seats, he voted more bills than they could pass. And he did one very good thing for democracy. He restored voting rights for more than 100,000 people who had been convicted of felonies. Many states throughout the south automatically take away voting for life which falls most heavily on African-Americans. On Tuesday the twitter was filled with stories of people who were voting for the first time thanks to him. It was a wonderful night from start to finish learning about the new people who were swept into office in a big blue wave. Transgendered people, black men and women, and a Sikh politician were part of the diverse group who were elected.
It was the beginning of the comeback. If democratic voters want it to be. We can take this as a sign of better days ahead and become even more motivated. The republican legislatures and governors have signed into law evil legislation aimed at curbing our voting rights, restricting our reproductive freedom, putting their hateful religion into our lives and much more. It is time to resist. It is time to begin driving #45 and his evil profiteers from office. It is time for fair legislative districts, it is time for more people to regain their voting rights. It is time to end the rhetoric of defeatism. There were 8 years we were in power and we can regain power if we work together.
I have been reflecting this weekend on some things that have bothered me about the stories I recalled from childhood that my family and I used to tell about people who we suspected were gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. We had no understanding of what we were talking about but it seemed there were more of these people. My sister said they were “funny.” We would look at certain entertainers, like the Hines brothers and she would remark that one of them was almost certainly one of them. I don’t know whether we ever discussed James Baldwin in the same way. It was not that we hated these people, we simply did not understand them.
Our mother was very uncomfortable discussing sex and sexuality. It was clear in school that my classmates knew a lot more than I did and they said things I did not understand. Where I learned about sexuality was through politics. There was a group called the Mattechine Society that had a radio broadcast and gays and lesbians. And when I became part of the antiwar movement there were people talking about the need to fight all kinds of oppression. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where Workers World Party was formed. One of the leaders was Leslie Feinberg who was the first trans person I had ever met.
I opened my eyes to the reality that there were more identities than I knew when I first became an adult. I grew up in the era of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York. One of my cousins was the first gay person in my family. As I looked around I discovered I had more gay and lesbian friends, including a woman who was part of the poetry group I belonged to. My best friend in my 20s was a bi-sexual woman who helped me struggle through underemployment.
A lot of has changed in these many years. On a Facebook post this morning I talked about the Supreme Court ruling that took us from an era of passing laws and constitutional amendments to discriminate to recognizing that all citizens were entitled to equal protection under the laws. When I attended the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this summer I was asked what pronouns I used and I was stunned. I almost went back to the old All in the Family theme song talking about “when girls were girls, and men were men.” Fortunately those days only exist on television reruns. Another new thing that I did not understand or accept was the use of the term cisgender for men like me.
Yet in spite of the changes that have taken place there are still people clinging to their old prejudices. I saw something on Facebook about the so-called “gay agenda” which was a term invented by right wing bigots years ago as part of their campaign to deny equal rights. It is time to speak truth to ignorance. So, yes, my pronouns are the ones listed as the title for this blog entry. You can say of me that he said we need to accept and recognize our brothers and sisters.
I look forward to each issue of Freethought Today, published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I can be assured that the newspaper will include stories of how FFRF was able to intervene on behalf of people who found religion being shoved down the throats of taxpayers by public officials. Schools, police, city council members and beyond often abuse their authority by bringing their religious views into the workplace. They allow other zealots to make presentations at public schools or hand out bibles, conduct programs intended for a secular purpose such as birth control using religious propaganda or post things such as the ten commandments on public property. Using complaints from taxpayers lawyers from the FFRF are able to intervene and force these individuals to cease and desist. Of course, this is an uphill battle. I am certain that as I write, some politician filled will campaign cash will be spreading some bullshit about America being a christian country. We can stand up for our rights otherwise the real defenders of the US constitution will be trampled.
UBLAC (Uplifting Black Liberation and Community) is an organization based in Sherman Park, almost a year old, led by black women. They are drawing many coalition partners together for racial justice work and are an accountability partner for SURJ. Standing Up For Racial Justice Milwaukee is a part of the national SURJ network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. They align with the mission, vision and shared values of groups such as UBLAC. Members of the First Unitarian Society Black Lives Matter Group participate in UBLAC and SURJ events. Thus it seemed reasonable as the new chair to suggest that UBLAC ask us to host their upcoming potluck. This week we exchanged emails about the idea for August 6th. Unfortunately before we were able to act, the group was able to book another location. When I got home this afternoon I asked whether w might be able to host the next event which will be November 19th. I am optimistic. I hope to attend next moth o become familiar with UBLAC. We are developing our fall agenda for the Black Lives Matter First Unitarian Society.
On July 18, 2017, I had a proud moment when I walked into a public meeting and introduced myself as the chair of black lives matter at the First Unitarian Society. Years of preparation had led me to that moment at the meeting to close the Milwaukee secure detention facility. Since I took over as chair almost 3 months ago I have been quietly, in consultation with the the black lives matter cabal, been searching for an issue where we could help to fill in the gaps and have a meaningful impact.
At the meeting of our black lives matter collaborative in June I had recommended that we join and announce our support for the coalition. But that was different from standing before this room of family members and ex prisoners and saying that I was with them. I had decided that this was the cause. We had listened to a heart felt presentation this spring about the lives of thousands of people locked away for crimeless revocations and I was moved to action.
This was a start for me and I felt welcome pronouncing my name and finding, to my surprise, some of the people in the meeting were also with our black lives matter collaborative. I am always say that you can start anywhere so we did. I am hoping that the people in the room will begin to recognize as we begin to make changes together. We have a role we can play in ending mass incarceration. I need your support.
I am part of a group that has been attempting to launch a chapter of black non believers in Milwaukee. We had a couple of lunches last year at a coffee shop but mostly we exist on Facebook. Facebook is helpful because we are able to exchange ideas. The group has grown and we are up to 38 members. Some of us have posted about trying to organize a meeting for this month. Meanwhile we are able to post ideas and share information. Recently someone posted an article about 10 fierce atheists that was published on Huffington Post. I checked out one woman,Deanna Adams, who publishes a blog Musings on a limb about being a black mother, a professional and an atheist in Houston. She was an active member of the Houston Black Nonbelievers and is now a board member of the Houston Humanists.
Her blog is worth reading as I did tonight. I plan to check out some of the other people mentioned in the article. Most of my inspiration about secularism comes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation which has a wonderful essay contest for students of color. I posted a few articles from Freethought Today on our Black Nonbelievers page. My energy comes and goes so that is why I fall silent. I am very active on twitter which is where a lot of people read my thoughts.
One very interesting thing I checked out was regarding black lives matter. There was an article about the fact two of he founders of the movement are lesbians who intentionally include their vision and that was offensive to on man who became involved in promoting black straight pride. To me our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters have always been there. We haven’t always acknowledged their presence. Straight black people are not under threat. People don’t conduct referendums on whether straight blacks have the right to marry and their presence in movements is not considered controversial. It is time to make the equal protection clause of our constitution a reality. No more sitting in the back of the bus.