The church blogger: Making Room for the OOPS: What I Learned from STUN

Published by Colleen Appel on

Several of the behavioral covenants currently in use at First UU ask us to “Share the ouch, and make room for the oops.” Most frequently it’s used regarding pronouns. “Ouch” when we hear someone utter pronouns other than those preferred, and “oops” when we recognize and acknowledge our own misuse of pronouns.

However, recently I had a realization that prompted me to extend my use of “Oops” to some beliefs I have long held as a woman of privilege. I’m embarrassed by what I’m about to share, but I also recognize that in order for my eyes to be opened, I had to enter new spaces, meet new people, and entertain new ideas. This opinion piece is an invitation for you to enter those spaces, too.

I’ve known about the organization Springfield Tenants Unite (STUN) for some time now. First UU member Vee Sanchez created the group when she lost her job due to the pandemic. She worried about her own tenuous housing situation and of all the other renters in the same circumstances. The Social Action Circle (SAC) invited her to speak to our group. SAC publicized their events. First UU hosted some STUN meetings. I supported Vee’s request for a podium when STUN stood on the steps of City Hall.

But I didn’t join her on the steps or attend any of their meetings until First UU hosted a meeting on Saturday, February 11. It was a listening session regarding safe, affordable housing in our community. I went with the notion that I would come away with a story for this space. What I left with was a deep respect for the work STUN is doing.

A photograph of people walking in a protest march. They are a multiracial, intergenerational group, and are carrying a yellow banner that reads, "A Tenant Bill of Rights for Springfield Tenants Now! Springfield Tenants Unite."

STUN holds listening sessions monthly. They are well-organized meetings. They’ve drawn up an impressive handout with strong community agreements, their theory of change, and descriptions of their three on-the-ground teams working locally to turn off the eviction spigot. Their very capable leaders are those marginalized by the lack of safe, affordable housing, including one woman who calls Safe to Sleep her home for twelve hours a day and the streets for the other twelve hours.

Yes, my privilege is showing, is in fact screaming, in the above paragraph. How is it that I held the belief that grassroots organizations are not legitimate organizations? How is it that I have long accepted that organizations should be well-funded, led by a CEO and Board of Directors (mostly white people), be supported by grants, have friends in high places, and follow acceptable rules of political organizing, again most likely determined by white people?

The answer most certainly is that is how I grew up. I participated in some resistance movements in the 70’s, but I gradually retreated to activism within my comfort range and within a narrow definition of legitimacy.

Now, after attending a STUN meeting, I have a greater understanding of what it means to put marginalized people at the center. Vee and her team have done an astonishing amount of research and established a plan of action which I think surpasses the work of the city council (which is spending $300,000 to conduct a survey.)

I plan to attend their next meeting on March 11 at St. Joseph’s. Tom M. will be teaching attendees how to feed good food to large groups of unsheltered people. Some other spaces and activities that have expanded my thinking are NAACP membership, contact with the guests at the crisis cold weather shelter, and work at Crosslines.

This Sunday, February 26, the Donate the Plate offering will go to STUN. The group relies entirely on donations. Donations will be used for printing voters’ guides, publicizing events, supporting people caught in the eviction cycle, etc.

And the donations just might be used for t-shirts. I’m quite accustomed to buying an interesting shirt as a reminder of a happy event, but Vee took a teary-eyed pause before she could tell the Social Action Circle she regretted that their group didn’t have the money to order shirts for team leaders. Let’s send a sea of yellow shirts to City Hall and see what happens next.