Justice on Earth: Chapter 9

The 2018-19 UUA Common Read is:

This week, I’m looking at Chapter 9:
Kathleen McTigue, “Learning to Change: Immersion Learning and Climate Justice.”

McTigue spent 6 months in the 1980s in Nicaragua as a volunteer host for visiting US citizens encountering the realities of Contra violence. For many, the experience “completely changed their understanding, perspective, and actions – and in some cases, their lives” (97).

Experiential journeys aren’t always done well, but when they are, participants “see more vividly the ways our political and economic systems leave entire populations in the margins, both within our nation and around the world, and we begin to learn what it can mean to become effective allies to their struggles” (98).

Approaching climate change with a “justice lens” means learning about and accepting the leadership of the “voices, choices, and needs of these frontline communities most affected.” McTigue offers four guidelines:

1. Always work with a partner organization made up of the people who are directly affected. “They are in a position to tell us what they actually need from us, and though that sometimes feels incongruent with our expectations, we are far more likely to be of genuine use” (100).

2. Focus on justice rather than service. Service “helps people with an immediate and chronic need,” while justice involves seeking “to challenge and change the systems that give rise to that need in the first place.” Both are important, but the needs of justice are likely to be less tangible and satisfying than service labor. The people need us to hear their stories, “bear witness to their struggles and victories,” “honor the solutions they choose for themselves,” “look unflinchingly at the historic, systemic injustices that may continue to benefit us today,” and “go home prepared to roll up our sleeves and tackle those systems” (102).

3. Use a study framework before, during, and after the program. Before you leave, study up about the community you’ll be visiting and the background of your partner organization. During the encounter experience, study yourself – observe with curiosity the reactions you’re having. Continued study after you get home helps integrate your experience.

4. Ground the program and participants in reflection and spiritual practices. Group reflection helps collective wisdom emerge. Prayer or meditation quiets our inner noise and helps us be less reactive, more open – and able to set aside the urge to “fix it.” “We come up with a great idea that will surely make things better, like a scholarship program or a solar lamp project. As well-meaning as these ideas may be, if they spring from our own need to be of use and are not rooted in the wisdom of the host community, they are likely to have unintended negative results” (105).

1. Would you be interested in taking an immersion justice learning trip? (The UU College of Social Justice has a number of options: see uucsj.org)
2. What “immersion” experience with a frontline community might be available to you right here in Westchester?

For my reflection/summary on previous chapters, click the title:
  1. Jennifer Nordstrom, "Intersectionality, Faith, and Environmental Justice"
  2. Paula Cole Jones, "The Formation of the Environmental Justice Movement"
  3. Sheri Prud'homme, "Ecotheology"
  4. Sofia Betancourt, "Ethical Implications of Environmental Justice"
  5. Adam Robersmith, "Cherishing Our World: Avoiding Despair in Environmental Justice Work"
  6. Peggy Clarke, Matthew McHale, "Becoming Resilient: Community Life for a New Age
  7. Kathleen McTigue, "Drawing on the Deep Waters: Contemplative Practice in Justice-Making
  8. Pamela Sparr, "Transforming Unitarian Universalist Culture: Stepping Out of Our Silos and Selves

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