Board seeks input on 2012 Justice GA

The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees held a workshop Friday afternoon inviting people to share their concerns and ideas for the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Ariz.

About 80 people gathered at the “UUA Board Conversation Space: Planning for Phoenix 2012” session. A steady stream of people stood at the microphone to offer words of caution, inspiration, and hope.

“As we begin into our second year of visioning and action, what does the board need to know with respect to accessibility, safety, and accountability at GA 2012?” asked Nick Allen, youth trustee-at-large.

The board members did not offer answers to the many questions that were posed. However, they assured people that they were listening carefully. The Rev. Jake Morrill, trustee from the Southeast District, said the board would “digest and consider” all the information and would engage in dialogue and broadcast answers.

Many delegates from Arizona congregations attended the session and offered their experience and advice. Some emphasized the tremendous enthusiasm among the Arizona congregations’ youth to do justice work with their peers from around the country. Other shared their experiences during civil disobedience actions staged to draw attention to Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation.

Ryan Connelly, from Valley UU in Phoenix, has attended demonstrations and witnessed the large number of people supporting those who have been arrested. “We’re all there to support each other,” he said.

Margy Engle, also of Phoenix, was arrested last summer in immigration protests. She appreciated concerns of people worried about the Arizona heat in July. And she reassured them that most of the immigration work she does is indoors in air conditioning. She focuses on registering people to vote and helping with citizenship paperwork. “There’s plenty of work to do inside,” she said. “I never envisioned this as a GA where everyone was going to be arrested.”

Another member of Valley UU said that she is also hearing that many people think that the Phoenix GA is about being arrested. “It would be really great if the board or General Assembly Planning Committee were more public that this isn’t a civil disobedience event,” she said, also stressing the people need to prepare for justice work before they arrive.

Several people raised concerns about accessibility issues. Linda Wright, who serves on the GA 2012 Accountability Group, said that she wanted to stress that that group is discussing issues “beyond accessibility.” “It’s about inclusion,” she said. “We want to see the event fully include people, not turn some of our own into second-class citizens.” Wright said that she did not want anyone to assume that because they have a disability that they are disempowered to do social justice work. “I’ve had a disability in my life for 62 years, and I’ve done a lot of social justice work,” she said. “It’s not dependent on being out in the sun or on standing or walking.”

Suzanne Fast, of the UU Church of Ft. Myers, Fla., implored that the GA in Phoenix not make the “same mistakes around inclusion over and over.” She raised concerned that the Standing on the Side of Love rally planned for Friday afternoon in Charlotte was not accessible to people in wheelchairs and scooters. And she did not want to see people of limited mobility or elderly people left out.

“Where I live, I hear an enormous amount of enthusiasm for GA 2012, and they are senior citizens who find what we do here usually bores them to tears,” said Fast. “But what we are talking about doing next year has them very excited.”

Several people were worried that people would arrive in Phoenix unprepared for justice work. Elizabeth Mount, a young adult from the UU Church of Asheville, N.C., asked about how translators would be provided and whether bilingual volunteers would be given preference and possibly given housing in exchange for their service. She wondered if more Right Relations people would be trained and added to deal with the oppressions people might experience. And she asked how people would be trained in advance to go out in the streets and be the public face of Unitarian Universalism. “I’m really scared for this GA, and I want to hear that you are being very aware of these things,” she said.

Victoria Mitchell and Laura Gilmore, co-moderators of Young Adult Caucus, reported that the youth are very excited. “We have so many leaders with antiracism and anti-oppression training who do this work professionally and want to bring all their friends,” they said. The Youth Caucus was planning a Saturday night meeting to further discuss hopes and plans for Phoenix. Allen invited them to share the results of that meeting with the board.

Beverly McCormick, also of Valley UU, shared that as she listened to the session, someone asked her, “What would Martin Luther King Jr. have said to get people to go to Phoenix?”

She answered into the microphone: “What would it take for us to stop talking about our principles and start acting on our principles?” She told the board that she joined her Phoenix congregation because it felt like a safe place for her as a black person in this country. “I know what the immigrants are experiencing now with the business of being moved out of their homes for no other reason than that they don’t have a green card on them. It’s time for the board to rephrase how they’re talking about the convention,” she said.

Sal Reza, of Puente, a migrant justice and human rights group in Arizona, concluded the session. “You are welcome in Phoenix, and we want you to be there,” he said. He picked up McCormick’s thread about what MLK would say. “He had a vision, a dream to go to the mountaintop,” Reza said. “And on the other side he envisioned people of all colors working together and not concentrating on whether you are white or brown. But you become a human being—a person willing to go and put your hand out for another human being that is in trouble.”

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