Arizona

This is the first in what I hope will be a few posts about my trip to Arizona.  I’m going to provide a rough outline of the trip here and then go more into depth on specific parts later on.

I got into Phoenix at 9-something on Wednesday and my friend Ellen picked me up.  We got lunch and while at her house we learned that the judge had issued a temporary injunction.  She took me to the church soon after that cos I wanted to figure out what was going on and whether this changed what we had planned.

So I showed up at the UU Congregation of Phoenix and was put to work folding info packets.  I LOVE having a kind of mundane task to do with other people because once you get into your groove you can ignore the task and just chat, but you do have that task to fall back on when things lull.  It’s one of my favorite ways to get to know people.

During that time I found out that I did know some people there, and a decent few knew people I knew.  It wasn’t surprising to meet people who knew the community minister at much church, nor our former minister, though lots of people did know them and told me when they saw “Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth, ME” on my name tag.  The more random connections were cooler, though.  One time last winter I went to First Parish Cambridge with a good friend of mine and she was wearing a BAGLY sweatshirt.  After the service a woman came up to us and asked if we were BAGLY youth.  That woman was in Phoenix and she remembered us.  Another person came up to me later on that day and said “What’s your name?” and I said “Andrew” and she said “Where’d you go to school?” and I said “College of the Atlantic” and she goes “I thought so!  You did your internship at BAGLY, didn’t you?” at which point I”m thinking “how on earth did BAGLY lead me to knowing more people at a UU Event in Phoenix, Arizona than being a UU did?”  This girl turned out to be the sister of a guy I graduated with.

We finished up with some smaller tasks, and finally gathered in the sanctuary for worship, welcome, and planning.  I really do think that conferences need more singing in them in general.  Reverend Susan Fredrick-Gray opened in prayer, we sang a couple of songs, and we went into planning.  The afternoon was interspersed with more singing, and then we moved into a  Civil Disobedience training after we ate.

I’ve been through many a civil disobedience training before, and this was a good one, especially considering how many people were there.  Because of my job and my identity I was not willing to get arrested (and I felt like crap for it, thankyouverymuch) so I did the “I’m willing to provide a direct support role” stuff.  We were also told to find a buddy to check in with during Thursday.  My buddy’s name was Dara (hi!).

Then we gathered again, sang again, and somehow it was organized that we’d head back to our homestays.  My home stay was at a house in a gated community where the people weren’t actually home.  So it was a minister named Jake and myself attempting to figure out things like “how to not set off the security alarm”  and (more importantly) “how do you work the air conditioner?” We were marginally successful.  Jake had told me that he wanted to go to the 4:30am vigil and I agreed, so he arranged a cab.  I showered, checked email, and slept.  3:30am came WAY too fast.  Jake made coffee.

I. Love. Jake.

We headed out to the Wells Fargo Building vigil where people were vigiling for the 103rd, and final, day.  From there we eventually started marching to Trinity Cathedral where there was an interfaith worship service.  We sang, and a lot of people talked about Jesus.  There was one UU (Susan), an Imam, a Rabbi, and a. LOT. of. Christians.

I, ah, erm, maybe fell asleep a little.  It was early!  I was pretty thrilled when it was over.  Not that it wasn’t touching and moving and really cool to worship and sing with everything but I needed to be moving.

So we marched.  It was not cohesive at all.  I guess if I could plan it my big wish would have been that the UUs be more cohesive in our plans.  The group Puente had their chants and songs all printed up to hand out.  We just kind of walked together, vaguely chatting, and occasionally we had a half-hearted chant.  I wish we’d all planned “when we are marching tomorrow we are going to sing ___” or “here are 4 chants we plan to use: ___” or something.

We met in Cesar Chavez park and sang, rallied, people talked, and we drank a lot of water.  We were all subscribed to a text blast and one went out that said “People doing CD meet at the statue in the center of the park.”  So we did and that’s really when things started happening.  We participated in a quick briefing, and then the folks planning to get arrested went and took over an intersection holding a big banner.  I passed out water and made sure folks were doing OK.  At some point not long after they had started that I joined the first group to head over to the jail to help with the action going on there.  Reverend Susan Fredrick-Gray, and 4 other organizers, had chained themselves to the bus entrance to the County Jail.

And we just chanted and sang and offered water and words of encouragement until they were arrested.  I just have to say right here that Susan amazed me during this.  She was totally calm (at least externally), she was together, she was giving interviews and was well-spoken.  After the arrests people headed back to the church to debrief, but we mostly ended up napping.  A vigil of solidarity was planned, and most folks decided that they had no interest in participating in “Jailhouse Rock” which was some dance party thing that was going on.  It sounded miserable.

So we headed to the vigil around 8pm which turned out to be my favorite part of the whole Arizona experience.  Singing and praying with people from around the country.  There was no chanting, no screaming.  It was nice after the chaos of the day.  we were given a briefing by a member of our legal team and told that the people who had been blocking the jail would be mostly arraigned and released that night.  The local Fox affiliate filmed us to start off their 10pm news hour, and then most folks headed home.

I chose to stay and wait for the arraignments and releases.  The three YA folks cleaned up the street from bottles and trash, and then we all met up in the “court viewing room.”  It’s a bleak room where you can pay bonds, and watch arraignments on a closed circuit TV.  Nothing much was happening for the first hour or so, so I got to talking with seemingly the other other non-seminarians under the age of 30 that had come to this.  Eventually the people came in to be arraigned and we saw them on TV.  I am fairly certain that the people who worked there didn’t often have people cheering in the waiting room, but every time one of the protesters went up we cheered.  It was such a weird, surreal experience.  Of all of our people (protesters) arraigned that night, only 3 were given bond.  The rest were released on their own recognizance.

We then went around the corner of the building to wait for their release.  We had been told between 2 and 5 hours, and thankfully it was closer to the side of 2.  As people started trickling out we cheered for them, gave them food and water, and they started sharing stories.  Around 3am a big group was released that included most of everyone else and after a few minutes of excitement, a lot of hugs, and some well wishes, we started to head home.  I returned to my homestay around 4am.  Friday we were supposed to be at the church by 10:30 but I apparently didn’t make it on the shuttle list to the church, and eventually somebody came to get me around 11am.  We got to the church and everyone was already heading out.  I hopped in somebody’s car and we headed back to the jail and waited for people to be released again.  We did the same thing as the night before – water, food, do you need to call somebody?, do you want to go somewhere to sleep?.  It was hot, very disorganized, and since I had missed the morning briefing I had no idea what was going on with the rest of the day.

I ended up hanging out with a person who had been doing some CopWatch stuff and was a member of a different, local UU congregation (Valley UU).  I stuck with her and we ended up heading to Valley for the Taize service together.  I so don’t remember much about that aside from that the person sort of leading it, the music director, drove me mad with all these little hand signs she was doing for the songs that had some vague approximation to ASL, but not really.  They just irked me.  I refused to copy them like most of the congregation seemed to be doing.

And then?  Then they opened the microphone.  And it was basically UUs trying to out-profound each other with short stories of the last couple days.  finally Gini Courter stepped to the mic, said, “I’m holding this for someone.” and then Susan came to the mic and told us that Salvador Reza, the leader of Puente, had been arrested again.  A vigil was being organized for that night.  We finished up the service, organized to head out, and then stood around and waited.  I was trying to make sure that I would have a ride to the airport from the vigil.  And then I just kind of broke down crying with the stress and confusion and exhaustion of the past few days.  I ended up texting with a friend who I knew would say nice and helpful and sympathetic things to me.  Eventually we got in cars and vans and headed out.

At the vigil there was more shouting and screaming and chanting, but I joined a group in the middle, sitting on the curb, and meditating or singing.  And at around 9pm a woman from the local congregation drove two of us to the airport.  and thus commenced 15 hours of travel for me.

I don’t even remember Saturday.  I’m sure it happened.  But I don’t remember it.

So there’s a not so brief overview of Arizona.  As things come to me I will post more in depth things on smaller aspects of what happened and more reflections and analyze more.

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