2012 ‘Justice General Assembly’ begins to take shape
What will the 2012 Justice General Assembly look like?
That’s the question more than 100 people came together to ask and to begin to answer in a Thursday afternoon workshop called “Looking Ahead to General Assembly 2012.”
Planners have delivered a clear message that the 2012 GA will not be business as usual. At last year’s Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Minneapolis, delegates overwhelming passed a business resolution to dedicate the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix to “witnessing on immigration, racial, and economic justice.” The business resolution was passed in response to Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070, which had inspired calls for the UUA to boycott the state. The resolution states also that the 2012 GA will include a minimum of official business.
The session was led by Lynda Shannon Bluestein, chair of the GA Planning Committee, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Ariz., and Carolyn Saunders, a member of the UU Church of Tucson, Ariz.
They begin by inviting people to ask what they needed to know about the Justice GA. For the next 20 minutes, attendees posed a wide range of questions, including:
- What will the role of youth be?
- How will the planning committee balance witness, civil disobedience, and service activites?
- What provisions are being made for the extreme heat in Arizona in June?
- How will they avoid cultural appropriation?
- How will the large numbers of youth and young adults afford to go?
- How will they select which organizations to partner with?
One man asked: “What can an old, fat white person with a bad back do in the Arizona desert?”
The presenters were unruffled by the flurry of questions. They responded with a steady stream of answers. And where they didn’t have answers yet, they provided assurance and promises to provide information over the coming months.
Bluestein said that many people are at work planning the Justice GA. Members of the GA Planning Committee are joined by UUA staff, the 2012 GA Accountability Group, and staff of the Pacific Southwest District. She said that parts of GA will be held in the Phoenix convention center, including worship services and an exhibit hall, which may include local partner organizations.
“We envision a slower pace, in recognition of the climate and in recognition of the need to process what we do,” Bluestein said. She said she also imagines that many justice activities will take place early and later in the day, and the hot, middle part of days will be reserved for trainings and discussions. “She also said that there will be “plenty to do in the convention center in support of activities of people who are doing social witness or protests.”
“We also envision this as a more multigenerational GA than we’ve ever seen before,” said Bluestein. It will include “justice day camp” for children and a nursery for very young children.
In July, Frederick-Gray will take the lead of the newly created Arizona Immigration Ministry. She said that she has four goals in that position. She will create a statewide coalition of UU congregations in Arizona to build capacity to do immigrant rights and human rights work. She will nurture partnerships with activists she is currently working with, including two organizers at the meeting: Sal Reza of Puente and B. Loewe with the National Day Labor Organizing Network.
She said she is being a “container” for Justice GA, working with both the Planning Committee and the Accountability Group to create tracks, which could include topics such as civil disobedience, voter registration, and citizenship drives. And her fourth goal is to help spread the work that Arizona congregations are doing on immigration work to congregations across the country.
Frederick-Gray says that what GA 2012 will look like exactly is a process, and that they are taking a “faithful step.” “It’s a spiritual exercise going into something that is not completely known,” she said.
“It is going to be grounded more than previous GAs in our religious faith,” Frederick-Gray said. “There will be lots of worship and singing and spirituality. Only through grounding ourselves that way will we be able to have the courage and strength needed to put ourselves on the line and be willing to be changed by what we see.” The crowd responded to those comments with applause.
Several districts have already begun preparing congregations to go to the Justice GA, including the Pacific Southwest District. The Rev. Ken Brown, district executive, said his district has made a commitment to prepare multicultural, multi-generational resources to help prepare congregants to go to Arizona. His district is also helping with fundraising to make it possible for more youth and young adults to attend.
Bluestein invited people to watch the GA 2012 website, where details will be posted as they unfold.
Reza thanked UUs for their past service in Arizona and for the service they will do at GA next year. “SB 1070 is not on hold. It’s in full blast in Arizona, and it’s happening in Georgia and Alabama. The bottom line is if we don’t ‘stop it in Arizona , pretty soon the whole United States is going to be an apartheid type of country. Please come,” he said. “Muchas gracias.“