Organizations that Swish July 16, 2010

Harnessing Love's Power to Stop Oppression

Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression. It is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association and all are welcomed to join.

I was pleased to talk with Adam Gerhardstein, SSL’s campaign manager, about the incredible strength of love and the need for its liberal application in today’s world. 

Standing on the Side of Love Logo

Where and when did the movement originate?

There are two components to the history of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign: the message and the campaign itself.

The message, "standing on the side of love," grew out of marriage equality work. It was a rallying point for people of faith in Massachusetts during that early battle for fully inclusive marriage. The message was also a huge rallying point in California during the battle against Proposition 8.  

On July 27th, 2008, a gunman walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a Sunday morning service and opened fire, killing two people and wounding six. The shooter, Jim David Adkisson, had lost his job and been separated from his family. He blamed many of his problems on liberals, and targeted the Knoxville UUs because they were welcoming to LGBT people and because of their liberal stance on many issues.

The two UU Churches who were worshiping together that day (Tennessee Valley and Westside Unitarian Universalist Churches), received an outpouring of support from their neighbors, from the nation, and across the globe. At the earliest stages of that tragedy, Knoxville UUs were determined to respond with love. They refused to change their welcoming ministry and they refused to lock down the church and take extreme security measures. They went as far as to say that if Adkisson had come through those doors looking for support and love rather than looking to shoot and kill, they would have been there to welcome him and help him find his way.

This response inspired UUs across the nation and deeply inspired the leadership at the UUA. Rev. Bill Sinkford, UUA president, saw that if UUs were known for the love we had to offer, rather than by a description of who we were, we could minister to the world, especially people who are targeted every day because of who they are. Thus began a process of conceptualizing and building a campaign that would live out our first principle in the most radical way - respecting and fighting for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

How many members/chapters does SSL have?

We have over 25,000 people in our network and hundreds of congregations/communities implementing the campaign locally.

What kinds of events does the organization plan to participate in over the next year?

At the end of June we will be at the UUA’s General Assembly in Minneapolis where we will witness for marriage equality. In July we will be in Arizona working with the coalition opposing their new immigration law. In the build-up to the general election in November we will be carrying out a nation-wide campaign to ensure that politicians and their supporters steer clear of the racism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment that is currently playing a large role in the political discourse.

In your opinion, what have been some of the most resonant/memorable demonstrations of love’s power to stop oppression?

Since the campaign launched last June, the campaign played a direct role in Washington, D.C.’s move to fully inclusive marriage. Faith communities in D.C. were extremely organized and strategically used the power of love to stop oppression. When we held a day of action on Valentine’s Day – International Standing on the Side of Love day – faith groups organized a secret conference for LGBT people in Kampala, Uganda to spread a message of love in the face of the kill-the-gays bill being considered there. It was a courageous effort that touched the lives of hundreds of Ugandans.

The commingling of religion and love, or loving and compassionate acts, seems to be something of a “no-brainer.” Are there opportunities within SSL to directly address so-called religious organizations, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, which take an opposite/detrimental stance?

Supporters of SSL have turned out all across the nation when Fred Phelps comes to town.  Just standing there with our signs sends a clear message – not to Phelps – but to the rest of the community that people in that local community are welcoming, inclusive and value all people.

SSL has participated in campaigns to push for federal equality for LGBT citizens and comprehensive immigration reform. What other oppressed groups do you feel need and deserve this organization’s focus?

Our campaign confronts exclusion, oppression, or violence faced by anyone because of their immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other identity that someone deems okay to hate. Because the campaign is implemented locally, communities can stand on the side of love with whoever faces oppression in their community.

Could you share a response from an individual or group that was affected by a SSL campaign, and what it meant to you personally?

I received an email from a supporter who said that each email she gets from me that goes out to our list is a ray of hope in her difficult life. She and her female partner are raising a child in a conservative part of the country and the campaign is a lifeline for them. That is what we strive to be. Every time I send an email or urge our supporters to carry our banner out into the public square, I think of the gay teen who is being bullied in school or the immigrant family that is at risk of being separated. We launched this campaign because we believe that love can save lives and change the world. We see signs of this every day.

What is the best way for people to get involved with SSL?

Visit our website, sign-up for our email list and like us on facebook.

What specific changes would you most like to see take place as a result of SSL’s work?

I’d like to see thousands of communities responding to exclusion, oppression, or violence by stepping out and publicly standing on the side of love. Racism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment aren’t going anywhere soon, but our love can get bigger and bigger. So when fear and hatred bubbles over, our supporters are poised to reach out to those affected, write letters to the editor, organize rallies, or just hang a banner that makes it clear where we stand – on the side of love.