On banks of Ohio River, UUs rally for clean energy

Watch Unitarian Universalists rally for clean energy by UU World on Vimeo.

Two thousand Unitarian Universalists went down to the river to pray Thursday night, gathering on a plaza above the Ohio River to rally for clean power and against the environmental injustices caused by coal mining, fracking, and mountaintop removal.

UUs marched from the Louisville Convention Center to the Belvedere, a promenade overlooking the Ohio River, where musicians, activists, and ministers led them in song and prayer. “We can choose another way,” UUA President Peter Morales said. “We need not live in a way that degrades the planet.” He urged UUs to work for environmental justice together and with their faith partners “for all of humanity and all of the earth.”

Joining the UUs were people from many faith communities, including representatives from Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Native Americans, Presbyterians, Hindus, and members of the United Church of Christ. Many environmental groups were represented as well, including Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, 350 Louisville, and the Sierra Club.

The Rev. Dawn Cooley, minister of First UU in Louisville, and the Rev. Mel Hoover, co-minister of the UU Congregation of Charleston, W.Va., led the rally. “We are one,” they urged. “We are all connected.”

Speakers from around the Appalachian states provided personal testimony about the grave effects of pollution from natural gas extraction, coal mining, and mountaintop removal has had on their health and their land. “We can’t pit workers against residents,” said Eboni Cochran, who lives near Louisville’s polluted Rubbertown area, which is riddled with Dioxin. “We can’t pit environmentalists against environmental justice folks.” People concerned with a clean earth need to make a commitment to “connect the dots and work together for what is right,” she said.

After each speaker, the musical duo kRi and Hettie led the crowd in singing, “We are building a new way.”

Wendell Berry. © 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA

Wendell Berry. © 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA

Kentucky poet and farmer Wendell Berry read his poem “Questionnaire.” The poem asked five questions, starting with:

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

And building to:

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

The evening ended with a “reverse water communion” and a call to action. Volunteers passed around sealed vials of water from the Ohio River for people to take home with them. (Members of the UU Congregation of Owensboro, Ky., had purified and bottled the water in biodegradable vials.) Cooley urged people to take not just the water, but also the stories they heard, home with them.

Volunteers also distributed action cards, asking people to contact the Environmental Protection Agency about environmental justice issues in their own cities and towns. It also challenged people to find out where their energy comes from and to join partner groups, such as Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, that fight for clean energy.

Hoover prayed over the water, asking that people honor the interdependent web of existence and cease polluting water through harmful extraction practices.

Before the crowd dispersed, activist Tim deChristopher led the benediction. Earlier this year, deChristopher was released from federal prison in California, after being convicted of disrupting a federal oil and gas auction. He has earned the status of a folk hero among some environmentalists, and he plans to study for the UU ministry. He said the rally “did not end here today on this plaza. We need to make our voices heard louder than the fossil fuel industry’s.”

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