This year’s General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona, has been designated a “Justice GA.” The special circumstances surrounding holding GA in the capital of the state that has become synonymous with human rights abuses against Latino migrants makes it appropriate that this GA focus on justice even more than we normally do. As someone who grew up in San Antonio as the grandson of Mexican and Spanish immigrants, I feel this issue keenly. The fact that we will be meeting shortly after the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 makes it more timely.
And what a GA it promises to be! Our Arizona Immigration Ministry team, led by the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of Phoenix, has been working closely with local partners to provide meaningful experiences and deeper understanding of the issues. We will have the opportunity to engage in public witness that will draw wide attention in the media. Maria Hinojosa, a widely respected television journalist on Latino issues, will present the Ware Lecture. Many opportunities to worship together and wonderful workshops are scheduled. Take a look at the GA schedule on the UUA website (UUA.org/ga/programming).
However, I must confess one lingering worry about this GA. My concern is that our focus may be perceived as too narrow and too concentrated on the present moment. For more than a year I have been repeating that immigration is not about immigration and that Arizona is not about Arizona. What I mean is that Justice GA is about justice in a broader sense than immigration. I also mean that it would be too easy to think the horrible mistreatment of migrants is confined to Arizona. It isn’t.
There is a real temptation for us to turn GA in Arizona into an event that is about “those terrible people down there.” Part of that temptation is that we come, bear witness, and then self-righteously congratulate ourselves. That would be tragic.
I have been asked several times how I would evaluate whether this Justice GA is successful. My response is that there is no way to evaluate this GA in the weeks and months following. I actually don’t believe that it is possible to evaluate the success of this GA a year from now.
The true test of this GA, the true test of what we learn, is what our congregations in Vermont, Idaho, Oregon, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia, and all other states do five years from now. The programming at GA is aimed at raising the capacity of your congregation to engage in local justice issues.
This GA is ultimately about learning to do our work for justice in partnership and collaboration with marginalized people in our communities. The great challenge is to increase our capacity to work not just on behalf of oppressed people, but to work in partnership with them. That means letting others take the lead sometimes. This is never easy for UUs. And yet our ability to be good partners is the key to our effectiveness.
I hope you will join me at GA. Take a look at the videos by me and others inviting you to come (UUA.org/ga/2012/invites).
If you cannot come, tune in on the Internet for live-streamed events. Most importantly, bring GA home to your congregation. Reach out. Form partnerships.
See you in Phoenix!