Mini-assembly proposes going to Ariz. in 2012

There was surprising consensus at Thursday afternoon’s crowded mini-assembly about whether to boycott Phoenix as the site of the 2012 General Assembly: The vast majority of speakers favored going to Phoenix, but the mini-assembly was divided about whether to conduct General Assembly business while there.

Mini-assembly to debate Arizona boycott

The group voted to work on two amendments that would essentially replace the Board of Trustees’s business resolution calling for a boycott. One “urges the UUA Board to consider whether it is appropriate or safe to hold GA 2012 concurrently” with a public witness event focused on immigration, racial, and economic justice issues in Phoenix in 2012. The second amendment advocates holding General Assembly in Phoenix and turning it into “an interfaith convergence in service to the movement for human and civil rights and dedicated to justice for immigrants.” Debate on the two amendments will be held at a mini-assembly, today, Friday, at 4:30 p.m. in room M100CD.

At issue is Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which would increase the authority of local police to investigate the immigration status of people otherwise detained. It could also prosecute individuals knowingly transporting, hiring, or “harboring” illegal immigrants. Many fear that it will lead to increased racial profiling and deportations.

If the UUA should decide to boycott Phoenix, it could lose $615,000 in hotel cancellation fees.

According to the UUA bylaws, General Assembly must be held once a year.

Mini-assembly to debate Arizona boycott

The debate, which was moderated by Jim Key, president of the Thomas Jefferson District, was emotional at times, yet respectful.

Donnis Deever, a member of the West Valley UU Church in Glendale, Ariz., is one of those opposing a boycott. “We definitely want the UUA to come to Arizona,” she said. “So far, the list of groups boycotting Arizona has taken up only one column in one article in the Arizona Republic. I’d like you to think about the fact that the people hurt the most by a boycott are the very people we’re saying we’re most concerned about. . . . We mistake the idea of a boycott as the only way to express opposition in our state. It’s more important to find ways to vote out the parties that passed this law.”

The Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull, minister of First Parish in Cohasset, Mass., said that she originally favored a boycott. She then reconsidered seeing a UU presence in Phoenix as part of a larger UU dedication to immigrant justice. “We should plan to be in Phoenix and not let this be a hit and run public witness event,” she said. “I think we should vote for the Congregational Study Action Issue ‘Immigration as a Moral Issue.’ It’s all of a piece: We study, we learn, we act. Phoenix is one point in a larger comprehensive movement toward immigration reform.”

Charles Burkhalter, a member of the UU Congregation of Green Valley, Ariz., was one of the few people speaking on behalf of a boycott. “It’s a human rights issue that has been politicized,” he said. “In politics, money is power. We have to close our wallets and purses to Arizona. Public witness is not going to make anyone think about repealing this law.”

The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister of the UU Church of Marblehead, Mass., and chair of Allies for Racial Equity, a UU antiracism organization, presented one of the two amendments that will be further discussed on Friday. According to her amendment, UUs should come to Phoenix and work with Puente and the National Organization of Day Laborers, two immigrant advocacy groups that have urged UUs to hold their General Assembly in Phoenix, to create an event dedicated to immigration, racial, and economic justice. Whether General Assembly would be held concurrently with this event would be a decision left to the Board of Trustees. If General Assembly were held, the amendment directs the organizers “to create a GA in which all Unitarian Universalists can safely attend and participate, noting our special responsibility to those with historically marginalized identities.”

Jim Graham, a member of the Valley UU Church in Chandler, Ariz., presented the other amendment, requesting that General Assembly be held in Phoenix as scheduled. The amendment “calls on the UUA to transform GA into an interfaith convergence in service to the movement for human and civil rights and dedicated to justice for immigrants.” Like the first amendment, this amendment affirms the concerns raised by Latina/o/Hispanic UUs and UU people of color about their safety. The amendment charges “the GA Planning Committee to be exceedingly mindful of these concerns, and to explore all possible opportunities to ensure the ability of all UUs to participate.”

Several speakers spoke against the idea of having a public witness event in Phoenix and a separate General Assembly held elsewhere.

Graham said, “In principle these two amendments are essentially the same. But, we’re concerned that decoupling GA from a values-based meeting dilutes the impact. Our values are our business. If we can’t live our values then we have a bigger problem than going to Arizona in 2012.”

Lynne Anderson, a member of the UU Congregation of Atlanta, spoke against the idea of having GA in Phoenix. “There are those who just would not feel safe. I have relatives who would feel uncomfortable.” She did advocate a separate large-scale public witness event in Phoenix. “Let’s go to Arizona as a body,” she said. “Our focus should be nothing else but immigration reform.”

Jimmy Leung, a member of the UU Congregation of Phoenix advocated that the GA and the public witness event be combined. “I’m speaking in favor of this amendment because it adds intention,” he said. “How many people would go to GA in Phoenix vs. a social witness event in Phoenix. To have it be GA has more power, more intention, and more force behind it.”

The Rev. James Hobart, minister emeritus of First Unitarian Church of Denver, Colo., said, “On the ethical issue, there’s not a person in this room that supports this law. Our unity is our opposition to this law. What I see us struggling with is finding strategies to oppose this law.”

He drew a laugh when he said, “I’m as white a senior citizen as you’ll ever find. I have no question about whether I can come to Arizona and not have to worry. But I have a grandson who’s Mexican American and I’d like to bring him to Arizona, too.”

For background on the debate, see UU World‘s news coverage from earlier this year: “Board calls for General Assembly boycott of Arizona” (5.10.10); “Unitarian Universalists debate boycotting General Assembly” (6.7.10); “UUA president urges UUs not to boycott Phoenix GA” (6.14.10); “Antiracism groups raise concerns about Arizona GA” (6.18.10).

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