Iowa City Unitarian congregants celebrate Mother’s Day with bailouts

This week, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City (UUSIC) pledged $5,000 to National Mama’s Bail Out Day, “an initiative that seeks to bail out as many mothers as possible who otherwise would spend Mother’s Day in jail, simply because they cannot afford bail.”

Alison Oliver, congregant and facilitator of UUSIC’s Racial Justice Study/ACTION Circle, said the action followed a May 7 White Supremacy Teach In that was organized nationally by Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU).

“Part of the teach in,” Oliver said, “was that it was to follow up with an action, and BLUU issued a challenge to support this action: bail out mamas for Mother’s Day.”

According to Oliver, a faculty member in the University of Iowa’s School of Social Work, the response from UUSIC was swift: “The call went out on Wednesday afternoon. The board met on Thursday night, and unanimously approved it. It wasn’t on the agenda, the board didn’t know it was coming and they recognized it was unusual to commit $5,000 to an action that hadn’t been discussed, but we made a decision to stand in solidarity with Black Lives of UU, and we did — $5000 in a little more than 24 hours.”

Oliver said the UUSIC’s Racial Justice Study/ACTION Circle aims to raise awareness of systemic issues that disproportionately impact women and men of color, and to organize responses to injustice in solidarity with national and local leadership of color. She said Mama’s Bail Out Day reflects the group’s philosophy of emphasizing actions that can immediately reduce further harm related to unjust systems, while also pursuing long term goals of changing the systems themselves, such as the elimination of “money bail” as part of our criminal justice system.

Similar pools of bail support are being built locally by groups like the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project (launching this week) and The Sankofa Outreach Connection, which started meeting last fall.

Oliver credits leadership of color for pushing the action, noting that the quick turnaround time demanded by the call — $5,000 in time for Mother’s Day — carried an important lesson: it demanded that activists be “more immediately, urgently, responsive, and not spend weeks and months planning and deliberating.”

Actions for justice are always followed by reflection and, often, harsh criticism. Oliver says it is very important for activists to learn from missteps, “but not hesitate from stepping, just because we’re afraid of the misstep.”

“Being accountable for our actions and evaluating and learning from them is a good thing, but when it makes you second guess, ‘should I have even done this in the first place?’ it detracts from the main purpose of the action.”

The quick turnaround of a sizable fundraising goal offered her group many takeaways: “We learned that it’s possible, and that we can trust the leadership of BLUU and other organizations of color. We didn’t have to do a bunch of legwork to investigate which organizations would get the money, or second guess their expertise, even though there is a socialization within predominately white institutions to do so. And we can show up in solidarity when called. The fact that we were able shows that we are learning to work that muscle, which is necessary for all the work that needs to be done.”

A follow-up action for Fathers Day is said to be in the works, but no firm plans could be disclosed at this time.

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