Members of the Starr King community “Stand on the Side of Love” in Arizona to support immigration justice, July, 2010. (l-r) Dara Kaufman-LeDonne, Suzi Spangenberg, Betty-Jeanne Rueters Ward, and Rev. Kurt Kuhwald.
When she heard about the protest planned for Arizona, Dara Kaufman-LeDonne knew she had to be there. And even while roasting in 100-degree heat a few weeks later – watching fellow protesters hauled away by Phoenix police – the 2010 Starr King grad never regretted her decision. “All human liberations are bound together,” she says. “Where one human being’s dignity is threatened, we are all degraded.”
Kaufmann-LeDonne was referring to Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, also known as SB1070. She and 150 other UUs – including numerous Starr King students, grads and faculty – journeyed to Phoenix in July to join the outcry against the law that they believe encourages racial profiling.
During the protest, 29 UUs, including UUA President Peter Morales (SKSM alumnus, 1999), were arrested for civil disobedience.
Kaufmann-LeDonne, who lives in San Rafael, Calif., stayed out of jail, but found that protesting with others was “powerful and transforming.” She says she’ll never forget the words of a Latino man who addressed the protesters. “He teared up with emotion as he said: ‘I want to say thank you, white people, for coming here and showing up, for putting your lives on the line. You are taking the chance of getting arrested, which many of us without papers cannot do.'”
Rev. Mitra Rahnema, a 2007 Starr King alum, traveled from the Unitarian church she now serves in Grosse Pointe, Michigan to join the protest. “I know what it is like to live with fear,” she says. “I know the feeling of those looks that instantly make me an ‘other.'” She added that the Arizona law “encourages a culture of fear that devastates the spirit of our country.”
Rahnema says that her years at Starr King helped her understand prejudice. As a student, she studied the roots and history of oppression, and even traveled to Arizona to protest the “minutemen,” a group of U.S. citizens who armed themselves and patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Starr King helps students develop an anti-oppression analysis,” Rahnema says. “It is with this analysis that we can attempt to answer the question who is a citizen of our country, of humanity, of the universe, of heaven.”
Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, a core faculty member at Starr King, said he was proud to be a part of the protest, and to see so many attendees with connections to the school. “That’s the intention of ECO” – the Education to Counter Oppression curriculum at Starr King, he said. “Students are encouraged and empowered to live their values in the world.”
Kuhwald said the protest was “a real wake-up call” for the UUs who attended, including how the police handled the arrests. “We saw the disparity in treatment (by the police),” he said. “Most UUs were treated quite well, but other prisoners were treated roughly, even brutally.”
Those interested in learning more about the Arizona protest movement can visit the website for Standing on the Side of Love, the UU public advocacy campaign, at www.standingonthesideoflove.org. Among other material on the site, you’ll find videos shot by Suzi Spangenberg, a first-year student at Starr King who served as principal videographer for the actions in Arizona. Plus, Betty-Jeanne Rueters Ward (SKSM grad, 2008) shares her Arizona reflections in a blog post “The Spirit of Partnership“.