Tips for Vigils
Our faith calls us to witness and take action in the face of injustice. Across the country, UUs are organizing for justice in the face of police brutality. We are committed to supporting UUs to take just and accountable action, in solidarity and with the leadership of communities most impacted by violence. See these brief tips on organizing a vigil inspired by organizing experiences of members of Eliot Chapel in Kirkwood, MO in Fall 2014. If you have suggestions or tips, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The vigils seek to provide a reflection and connection space for people calling for racial justice, solidarity with the impacted community and an end to police brutality. Connect with local partner organizations who may already be convening a vigil and collaborate with them directly. If no activities are taking place in your city or town, we suggest you choose a form of ‘public square’ in your community such as a city or town hall, busy transit area or intersection or a shopping plaza. As you plan, be aware that there may be ambiguity between public and private property and knowing where your group can be located is a safety precaution.
For more information, or to share a tip that has helped you and your congregation, please feel free to email email@example.com.
1) Keep your vigil simple, short, consistent and sustainable. Eliot Chapel committed to one hour a week, from 6-7 pm on Tuesdays through the grand jury process and possibly beyond.
2) Be mindful of the ways participants have been impacted by violence. Review resources about providing support and working in solidarity with people who have lived through trauma here.
3) Use Standing on the Side of Love banner and t-shirts to be visible as appropriate. Depending on your role in the event, organizers may ask for a unified message or welcome a diversity of signage. Have extras for people to borrow, and ask for a volunteer to launder them.
4) Invite the wider community to join you, like other churches, UU or not. Invite community partners. They should be welcome to identify as a group with their own t-shirts, if they wish.
5) Be clear on church policies and by-laws, as well as the goals and mission that your community has articulated. How does a vigil comply with the policies and promises you have in common? How does it fulfill your shared dreams?
6) Use pre-made signs saying things like “Black Lives Matter”, “We Stand with Ferguson” or “Peace and Justice”. It’s important to know what your message is and to be consistent. If someone shows up with their own sign, it should be consistent with your message criteria.
7) Inform the police department of your action as you see fit. Work with them whenever possible. Maintaining relationships with police can at times help you in your own justice work. We recognize that our own UU community has had diverse experiences with police forces and depending on tactic and relationship, this communication may not be of assistance. Alerting the police of your presence can be helpful in the case that someone does decide to challenge the group.
8) Stay in one spot. (We stand on church property, which doesn’t require a permit, and helps identify our group. If other churches want to join in, we will consider moving to a more neutral location. Moving as a group makes a traffic hazard. We saw how a simple march around the block required an escort.)
9) Praying, singing, quiet conversation or silence helps remind us that this is holy work. We have a binder with readings that people take turns reading from to inspire the group.
10) If people engage us in a negative fashion, we don’t engage them. *WE* are responsible for maintaining a civil tone.
11) Have a few people who understand the basic premise of the vigil and can review the guidelines each time. It helps people who have never participated in a vigil before know what to do. Have at least three people agree to participate on specific dates.
12) Publicize before, during and after! Announce it on your weekly email. Send out press releases and get on community calendars. Have people post, tweet and text during. It’s especially important to share pictures on your social media, as well as the SSL pages. Put up pictures on your bulletin board or have a coffee hour display. Help people who couldn’t be there to feel a part of it. You have no idea how much you will inspire others. Check out these suggestions from the UUA to help guide how you frame and talk about your work.
13) Allow room for dissent. Eliot Chapel has already instituted both on line and coffee hour feedback desk for all church matters. You don’t have to shut down your vigil until everyone agrees to it (because when does that happen?) but it’s important to find ways to make people feel heard.