June, 2012, General Assembly, Phoenix, Arizona
WHAT A TIME!!! Despite daytime temperatures outside hovering in the low 100 degrees, from beginning to end attendees, almost 3,800 of us including between 75 and 80 Florida District UUs, experienced excellent worship, witnessed for human rights, learned so much that will be brought back to our congregations…and we worked together. I left GA further grounded in my UU faith and energized for the work all of us must do. From GA my husband and I journeyed an additional week to the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Santa Fe. Thus this report may be less than timely. Although there are many events and activities on which I could report, my themes for reporting this year will include UUA Board of Trustee meeting information, highlights of certain Plenary sessions, witnessing at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tent city, and Reflections Groups. Please spend as much time as possible checking out GA 2012 on-line, especially the Candidates Forum; we will be electing a new Moderator in 2013. I will be endorsing one of the candidates soon through a Trustee Tidbits column (but not yet). And listen to the Ware Lecture (always a highlight of GA) on the UUA web site, this year an excellent message from Maria Hinojosa, Managing Editor of National Public Radio’s Latino USA.
UUA BOARD OF TRUSTEES INFORMATION
The BOT met the afternoon of Tuesday, June 19th, until mid afternoon Wednesday, June 20th, and the morning of June 24th. One of our major topics was the Annual Program Fund (APF). Executive vice-President Kay Montgomery had been asked earlier in the year to convene a group about UUA funding, with the broad charge of determining the “relationship” topic. This is an adaptive issue, not a matter of “repackaging” the same Congregational perception of fair share funding as “boring”, a “tax” that must be paid, and an obligation. The group realized that a different mindset is needed, and when APF generosity works well there is a strong relationship between our UUA and the individual congregation. There is a need to start treating congregations as “donors”; contacting congregations to thank them for whatever their donation, rather than the phone call that asks why a congregation was not able to be fair share. Themes emerged: Conversations about UUA funding need to be open, transparent, and joyful: maintaining a relationship with congregations is the primary way to move forward; the relationship needs to be covenantal with emphasis on UU identity; and there must be mutual accountability. The question addressed: How can the BOT be responsible for future funding of our Association? Or how does the BOT understand our UUA covenant as a relationship to generosity? The BOT realizes covenant is not possible without BOT engagement and the relationship between BOT linkage to sources is UU identity building and generosity.
The final two appointments to the BOT created Appointments Committee (AP) were made. This Committee will do the work of the BOT Committee on Committees. All appointment recommendations put forth by the AP will still need the affirmative vote of the BOT.
Even though the Youth Caucus World Café(s), held on Saturday and Sunday, did not occur during the official BOT meetings these events were important to the BOT. The purpose of the World Café is to help form relationships with, and better understand the values of, Youth Caucus members by: participating in meaningful conversation with them and conversation, and answering their questions. The BOT served as facilitators and asked the participants to answer three questions: 1) What is your experience with social justice in your congregation? 2) What’s happening here for you? What difference will it make? And 3) How can we as the UUA Board, stay in conversation with our Youth to best accomplish and understand the deeper purpose of this GA?
There were five Plenary sessions and for business wonks like me these are interesting and productive times. Because of the 2010 Business Resolution Regarding 2012 GA there was minimal business conducted. At the Opening Ceremony President Morales along with the Director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) welcomed and spoke on the work of UUs and partner organizations opposing SB 1070 by letting the attendees know our Association has set an example for the whole country of what solidarity is. Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape), Cofounder and Director of the Indigenous Law Institute introduced the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, the premise of which is European Christian explorers claimed authority to take-over lands and subdue/enslave the indigenous people. Delegates were asked in Sunday’s plenary to approve the responsive resolution put forth by the BOT, repudiating this Doctrine. They did. Much has been written and publicized about the Doctrine and subsequent Resolution, calling upon the U.S. to fully implement the standards of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in U.S. law and policy without qualifications, including two Trustee Tidbits columns late last year. The Opening ceremony ended with an outdoor rally in Heritage Square. Members of Somos America, a coalition of organizations advocating for migrant rights extended a warm welcome and thanks for being in Phoenix. Attendees were urged to fight to protect three Rs: respect, rights, and responsibilities.
In the third Plenary there was a presentation and vote on the proposed Congregational Study Action Issues (CSAI). A run-off was necessary which was taken in the Saturday Plenary. Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling passed as our 2012—2016 study action issue. There are many topics, possible congregational/district actions, and resources found on our UUA web site, along with related previous social witness statements.
In a departure from our usual UUA tradition the, extraordinary Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley was awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Award to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, at Plenary IV. This award is the highest honor bestowed by our Association. Rev. Bill Sinkford, past President of our UUA offered the citation. Her work while she was alive and an active UU and minister was impressive, and although she died in 2006 many of us still feel her presence among us. She was the settled minister at UU Tampa for several years.
Also at Plenary IV, we heard testimonies from two persons, the first a young woman who had been detained while pregnant at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s detention center. She was released one month before the birth of her child, thanks to the Comites de Defensa del Barrio. The second testimony came from a young woman whose mother was taken from their home by I.C.E. agents without warning in the fall of 2009. Since that time the family welcomed the first grandchild, who has yet to meet her “re-located” grandmother. The family has been working for her return to the U.S., but from what I heard it does not look hopeful.
CANDLELIGHT VIGIL AT TENT CITY JAIL
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s facility is representative of an extreme culture of cruelty carried on in the name of our U.S. government. Over 2,000 people are currently held at the infamous Tent City. Many, many more “inmates” have been processed through Tent City, where people are crowded together in broiling summer heat and freezing cold in the winter. On Saturday night from approximately 7:30 to 11:00 p.m. several thousand of us rode buses to witness by LED candlelight at this horrendous facility. Many of the BOT served as chaplains and facilitators on the buses that took us the 6+ miles to Tent City. Once we arrived, most of us in our yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirts, there were some counter protesters but nothing to match our strong, strong UU presence. Despite the oppressive heat and being packed together we chanted in Spanish, singing in English and Spanish, cheering our Arizona partners who had clearly been working and have spoken at many other rallies. From my vantage point I could only see a sea of candles but the energy was palpable as we listened to the words of Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Geoffrey Black, head of the United Church of Christ (from a stage I could not see). The residents of Tent City could not see us, but they could hear us. The crowd shouted the words, “Estamos aqui” and “Libertad!”…Shut it down! Shut it down! Chairs were available for those who chose to sit, and plenty of water was continuously distributed among the crowd. As we unloaded from the buses at the Convention Center many UUs and supporters greeted us with cheers and “high-fives”. The evening was among the most inspiring and meaningful times spent at GA.
The BOT and GA Planning Committee scheduled two times in which delegates/GA attendees could discuss the hoped-for success of GA 2012. I attended one session at which six questions were asked. If you would like a copy of the questions please contact me. The attendees indicated that GA had been, in one person’s word, “spectacular”, important issues were tackled and the reflection groups a “brilliant” idea. There were some comments about how we could have lessened the “poor me” theme and more “what we are going to do with our partners, going forward”. Some felt that even though they did not know how they would move forward at this time there was much needed networking. In conclusion when asked the areas of strength/weakness in the work of the BOT, in response to the 2010 Justice GA directive we were told we “answered the call, cannot do it all, the BOT did what it had the capacity to do. Even if all the goals of GA were not reached the BOT assiduously worked at the intention”. There was concern about accessibility at some of the events, and criticism concerning the lack of information regarding restaurants/businesses to avoid.
Last words: Your Florida District Trustee thought the music was the best ever, all sorts of inspiring/lively/original offerings, in Spanish and English. The various choirs sang beautifully and it’s always good when Rev. Amy Carol Webb and Emma’s Revolution, to name two, perform for us.
Also I enjoyed brief words with many Florida District attendees as we passed in hallways or sat together at a particular venue. Thanks for being there. Hopefully you will share with your congregation and learn together how you can move forward in the important justice work we face in our communities and wider world of our state and nation.