By Tracy Watson
Vice President, Board of Trustees
This year’s annual Unitarian Universalist District Assembly was unique. At a time when immigration is front-page news, the assembly’s setting—near the border wall with Mexico, in and around Tucson, Arizona—underscored its special mission. Four congregations joined together to sponsor this district assembly and utilized the latest technology to join different locations together for shared services, business meetings, and votes—a remarkable feat in itself. But what was truly inspirational was the way they organized a variety of informative field trip opportunities for delegates and others.
Representing Emerson along with Reverend Matthew, his wife Anna and daughter River were five additional Emersonians—Leslie Reuter, Phil Davis, Gail Ringer, Marjorie Stark, and Tracy Watson. We each had opportunities to participate in separate trips, immersing us in the realities of the wall and its many negative effects.
Leslie and Phil met with the leader of “People Helping People,” a local nonprofit in Arivaca, AZ, that supports humanitarian aid to help migrants survive. Then, their second trip brought home the importance of this work, as they hiked to several sites, now marked with crosses, where the human remains of migrants had been located. Leslie and Phil even got a small taste of the migrant experience when they were left behind by their group while dealing with a painful cholla cactus encounter, and then lost a water bottle while struggling to find their way back without a guide. Gail and Marjorie met with another local group that provides aid to members of the LGBTQ community seeking political asylum. Tracy took a hike to a private ranch dissected by miles of tall metal posts, so closely spaced that only small animals could cross, barring many endangered and other animals from their traditional migration routes and desperately needed mates. The Sierra Club also presented a lecture on the harm done to the habitat and water by this very expensive and ineffective wall.
The Sunday church service was truly moving. All the separate UU groups were brought together after a long bus ride to the wall at Nogales. There, it brutally divides people, heedless of connections like family ties or bonds of friendship. We sang hymns as we walked along the wall, touching it, looking across it, and bearing witness to the injustice and the pain caused by its existence. Back at the churches hung the banners that Arizona UUs have prepared for each year of the wall, giving a name and a symbol to every migrant who has lost her or his life in attempting the treacherous crossing. The connection made between UUs from Arizona, Nevada, and California with this powerful message was truly memorable.