Courter: ‘The work is just beginning’
UUA Moderator Gini Courter, in her annual report Sunday evening, reflected on how what could have been a painful debate on boycotting Arizona turned into a commitment that almost everyone can enthusiastically support. Proudly sporting a Standing on the Side of Love T-shirt, Courter started her report by reading an excerpt from the book The Arc of the Universe Is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary by Leslie Takahashi Morris, James Roush, and Leon Spencer. The passage described the Association’s historical race relations, starting with the murder of Unitarian minister the Rev. James Reeb in Selma, Ala., and ending with the Black Empowerment Controversy.
Courter explained that her decision to begin today’s report with the reading was because she’d heard from some people that they wished they’d had more time for debate during Saturday’s plenary and less time for conversation before the debate. Saturday’s plenary session, which included debate and a vote on the proposed Arizona GA boycott, also included a lot of talk and worship elements about immigration issues before the debate and vote started.
“I chose today’s reading with great care,” Courter said, “because last time this Assembly faced an issue this powerful about race we ended with an impasse that even today haunts our work together. … And so yes, some of us leaders who were well aware of our history, well aware of our legacy, we worked hard to make sure that there was a compromise achieved rather than have a positional fight to the death in this hall.”
The moderator’s report also had its share of light-hearted moments. Before her opening reading, a photo of Courter riding on the back of a motorcycle during Saturday’s public witness event was displayed on the two large plenary hall screens. Wild applause broke out after Courter referred to herself as a rock star at GA. And the room erupted in laughter after she said was going to auction a name tag worn by Sen. Al Franken (who dropped by earlier in the plenary) on eBay “…for our faith, of course.”
Later in her report, Courter talked about the power of marching in witness in Arizona to the sounds of people chanting “Si, se puede”—Spanish for “Yes, we can!” She acknowledged the concerns people have about the decision to go to Arizona for GA in 2012, including: fears of people in our communities of color who, given our history, may worry whether we will stick by the commitment we’ve made to them; concerns that people will be scared off by the changes and commitment of the witness-heavy event; and fears that people had voted for a GA they aren’t willing to attend. She acknowledged that “this may not be a GA of great creature comfort” and that it will be hard for some people to come and work outside. But Courter also urged people to bring their own enthusiasm back to their congregations and encourage the people in them to come to GA in 2012.
“How many will help us make General Assembly 2012 one of the biggest General Assemblies in our history?” she asked the audience.
Raised hands and loud chants of “Si, se puede!” filled the hall in response.
“We are the best hope for democracy and inclusion in this country,” Courter said. “I would say not just that we can; I would say, my friends, that we must.”
Near the end of her report, Courter also dealt with another of this week’s sensitive issues. During Wednesday’s opening celebration, in a ceremony that many found moving but which inadvertently offended some attendees, people of a variety of ages, but all apparently white, able-bodied, and either male or female, introduced themselves and said “I am the UUA.” Near the end of her report, Courter called up a diverse group of people who were “sad and hurt” at not feeling included in the ceremony, to give them a chance to feel represented. These people introduced themselves and declared, “I am a Unitarian Universalist!”
Concluding her report, Courter said, “Friends, the work is just beginning on our part. It’s just beginning. Please, you must take home a sense of urgency to your own congregation; you have to take the spirit that we have here there and help work on how we will stand together on the side of love in opposition to systemic racism and oppression.”