Team trains to facilitate witness events
About 100 General Assembly participants gathered Wednesday afternoon for a three-hour public witness training session at the Phoenix Convention Center. The group included a diverse mix from across the country, including youth, young adults from the SALT (Spiritual Activist Leadership Training) group, and the District Presidents Association.
Wednesday’s session was designed to train the group to act as a support team for the week’s various public witness events. Participants learned how to model de-escalation behavior, assist with emergency and accessibility issues, help UUs and partner groups get acquainted, distribute water, give directions, clean up, and generally work to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved.
During public witness events the group will wear matching dark purple T-shirts with a large white chalice and “Witness Team” printed on them. Anyone with questions or concerns during a witness event should speak to a member of the Witness Team.
Typically there is only one large witness event at GA, but the 2012 GA’s emphasis on justice led to an increased focus on public witness, with three events planned for this week:
- Arizona Immigration Ministry Witness: Wednesday, June 20 at 9:30. The first public witness event is tonight, directly following the opening celebration and first plenary. GA attendees will process from the plenary hall to Heritage Square, where they will hear UUA President the Rev. Pete Morales and speakers from partner groups the UU Arizona Immigration Ministry, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Los Comites de Defensa del Barrio, and the Somos America coalition.
- Community Celebration with Partners: Friday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. Located about five blocks from the Convention Center at Civic Park, which is on the light rail, Friday’s celebration is an opportunity to socialize with our partner groups. It will include testimony, short plays in Spanish and English by New Carpa Theatre, and music by emma’s revolution.
- Candlelight Vigil at Tent City Jail: Saturday, June 23 at 7:45 p.m. The biggest of the week’s public witness events, and the one requiring the most planning, is a protest at Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City Jail, which houses inmates in tents without air conditioning or heating. Following a short worship service, participants will travel via buses and accessible vans to and from the Tent City Jail site.
The Candlelight Vigil was the primary focus of Wednesday’s training session. Sandra Castro, of Puente Arizona, explained that Sheriff Arpaio has made his supporters aware of Saturday’s event, so it is important to have an organized, trained witness team that can help maintain a peaceful, organized atmosphere.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix and leader of the Arizona Immigration Ministry, said the police liaison has confirmed that there is a planned counter-protest for Saturday, but she emphasized that the City of Phoenix Police Department will be at the event, is familiar with our group and the yellow Standing on the Side of Love shirts, and wants to work with us to keep things peaceful.
“In a way this brings more attention to our event,” she said, “which is important for having an impact.”
Castro said that they expect a mix of UUs and supportive locals to attend all of the witness events, which have been advertised on Facebook and in the media.
The Witness Team ended their training session by role-playing how to properly engage people, de-escalate volatile situations, and send a peaceful message to the public and the media.
Frederick-Gray assured the group that “we are not planning any civil disobedience.”