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Steve Clagett gives a summary PNC-UCC justice ministries

As chair of the PNC Justice Witness Ministries (JWM) Committee for five years, Steve Clagett has helped connect and coordinate people and congregations to act through ministry networks so the PNC becomes “an inclusive, repairing conference.”

Steve Clagett has chaired Justice Witness Ministries five years

Steve has completed six years on the committee.

During his leadership and out of the 2019 PNC fall meeting, several justice issue and action teams formed to do justice work. Those teams are for dismantling racism, reparations advocacy, environmental justice, economic justice, welcoming immigrants team and police use of force.

Those teams, some more organized than others, have more than doubled participation in social justice issues and action, Steve said.

“Those are ways people not on the JWM committee can expand the conference’s justice work,” he said, noting he plans to continue on the Economic Justice Team.

Steve, a member of All Pilgrims Christian Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle, said he has stayed in the United Church of Christ all of his life because of its commitment to justice. Growing up in Battle Creek, Mich., he attended First Congregational Church.

Police officer had tape over badge numbers during sweep of homeless camp, top.  On the right: 21 PNC churches displayed “Love Your (Muslim) Neighbor as Yourself” banners. Rep. John Lewis was a model for justice seekers to “get in good trouble.”
Photos courtesy of Steve Clagett

After graduating from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in economics and urban studies in 1969, he spent two years in Venezuela in the Peace Corps as an urban planning officer, followed by working three years with the Michigan Housing Development Authority for three years, and attending law school at Wayne State University.  After graduating in 1975, he was regional planner two years at Martha’s Vineyard.

In 1977, he came to Seattle as King County housing planner for two years before helping found Common Ground, a nonprofit to help nonprofits and faith organizations set up low-income housing. 

From 1993 to 2004, he did urban development with Snohomish County Economic Development, writing a chapter on how to develop an urban center, and then serving as executive director of 1,000 Friends of Washington, an advocacy group implementing growth management.

From 2004 to 2014, he worked with the King County Housing Authority to tear down older low-income housing and replace it with mixed-income, mixed use housing in White Center, Wash., south of Seattle.

As he retired in 2014, he had been “bitten by the need for economic justice reform” as presented by Robert Reich’s 2013 document, “Inequality for All.”

Steve became involved with the UCC resolution for a $15 minimum wage, working with Don Bell and Jenn Hagedorn, then a justice leadership program intern, at Plymouth UCC. The conference passed the resolution.  He came on the JWM Committee in 2015

After becoming chair in 2016, he first held meetings in his home with Eastern Washington members on the phone.  Realizing that was not allowing equitable participation, he began holding meetings on Zoom, which “erased the Cascades East-West divide.”

In 2016, JWM began having issue teams on justice issues: environmental justice, dismantling racism, the Poor People’s Campaign, economic justice and welcoming immigrants.

• The 18-member Dismantling Racism Team began with building trust and understanding among members with a goal of undoing institutional racism.  That led to an opportunity at Annual Meeting 2019 for hearing what black pastors face in dominant-culture UCC congregations, including one barred from worshipping at the church hosting the meeting.  It led to further conversations.

JWM and Dismantling Racism member Bianca Davis-Lovelace, a UCC pastor who is director of the Renton Ecumenical Ministry, co-chairs Washington’s Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign drew members of UCC and other churches on six Fridays to Olympia to call for ending poverty and racism.

Another JWM and Dismantling Racism member, Leslie Cushman, worked to pass Initiative 940 De-Escalate Washington to limit police use of deadly force. She is now organizing black families to advocate funding and implementing I-940.

Dismantling Racism also urged release of prisoners at high risk of COVID and supported the right of Yakima-area agricultural workers to stay off their jobs until COVID protections were in place.

At the 2019 Fall PNC Gathering, the six action teams set up included one on reparations, Steve said. Working with Dismantling Racism, the Reparations Action Team is meeting with committees and the board to determine appropriate reparations actions.

Dismantling Racism has also made recommendations to the PNC Board for bylaws changes, which will add a confession that the PNC has practiced institutional racism and is committed to inclusivity and dismantling racism, and will provide for better participation of people of color on PNC boards and committees.

• The now 20-member Environmental Justice Action Team has had leadership from former national UCC environmental justice minister Meighan Pritchard, previously on JWM.

“The team advocated for the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill in 2020 to combat farming and forestry practices that affect climate change,” Steve said.

Fifteen members of a that team, led by Roberta Rominger, pastor of Mercer Island, worked with the Environmental Voter Program in Boston to make 200,000 phone calls and texts to people who were identified as interested in environmental issues but not regular voters to urge them to vote in 2020.

“While I usually am adverse to such calls, I felt it was effective in activating some voters,” Steve said.  “We had response from 10 percent wanting information on where to register and seeking more information.”

The Environmental Justice Team was also behind advocacy for a carbon fee bill in the legislature this session.

• Another team formed out of the PNC 2017 resolution on welcoming immigrants, with work coordinated by JWM member Paul Ashby, pastor at Richmond Beach UCC and Briana Brannon, a former participant in the Justice Leadership Program (JLP).

Steve said when the former President banned Muslim immigrants, Plymouth’s graphic artist designed a banner, “Love Your Muslim Neighbor.” 

Steve gained permission to use the design and offered it on the PNC listserv. 

After 21 PNC-UCC churches responded, he arranged with a Muslim-owned print shop to print the banners that were then put up outside the churches and carried in protests.

Another result of the 2017 resolution was that Mickey Beary, a JWM member from Shalom UCC in Richland, asked his church board to sponsor undocumented families in the Tri Cities.

“That’s how connecting and coordinating people works,” Steve said of the ripple effects through individuals, JWM, action teams and PNC Board/Annual Meeting actions.

Then he went on to the next example.

Plymouth UCC pastor and JWM member Kelle Brown called him at 8:30 a.m. one morning to say Seattle police were in the International District where a homeless camp was set up.  Police, masked because of COVID, had put black tape over the numbers on their badges.

Steve went there and took pictures of the officers, showing the tape over their numbers.  “How can you do this?” he asked hoping to appeal to their decency. Having little response, he sent the photos to the Seattle Mayor and City Council, which then banned police from covering the numbers on their badges.

Then Steve expressed gratitude for the Ministry Resources Committee recruiting “incredible justice advocates” to serve on JWM.

“I won’t stop working for justice when I leave the JWM Committee as my term ends,” he said.  I’ll continue to work on and build up the Economic Justice Team,” said Steve, who is co-leader of the Faith Action Network (FAN) Economic Justice Working Group.

When Steve joined JWM, the Justice Leadership Program was functioning under the former JWM chair, Rich Gamble, pastor at Keystone UCC in Seattle  As resources to keep it going waned, the Jubilee Justice program with older people emerged.

“Impact of the JLP continues in current leadership of “graduates” like Hillary Coleman, who is PNC moderator; Jenn Hagedorn, now pastor at Spirit of Peace in Issaquah; Amber Dickinson, who is on the staff of FAN, and Briana.

“There is no more important work than education on institutional racism, starting with ourselves, so we can move to enact change,” Steve said.  “To help dismantle racism, we bought 150 copies of White Fragility for PNC members to study.  Along with study, we need to build relationships and walk with people who are different.

“When we are fully inclusive of all people, so much more justice will fall naturally into place,” he said.

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Pacific NW Conference United Church of Christ News © April-May 2021


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