'Justice' General Assembly to be held in Phoenix
Days and nights of work result in a plan most can endorse
The issue of whether to boycott Phoenix as the site of the 2012 GA had been hotly contested among UUs after the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which empowers local police to check the immigration status of those otherwise detained. Shortly after the bill’s passage at the end of April, the UUA board released a business resolution advocating that the UUA boycott Phoenix as the site of the 2012 GA.
The board is empowered to determine both the time and place of General Assembly. They put the issue on the GA agenda to include delegates in the decision-making process.
In early June, UUA President Peter Morales issued a letter asking UUs not to boycott Phoenix and to create a General Assembly that would be focused on witnessing for immigrant justice. His letter included invitations from two immigrant advocacy groups, Puente and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, asking UUs to hold their General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012.
Initially groups representing Latina/o/Hispanic UUs and UUs of color and their allies, including LUUNA (Latina/o Unitarian Universalist Networking Association), DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries), and ARE (Allies for Racial Equity) all endorsed a boycott. One of their main concerns was for the safety of Latina/o/Hispanic UUs and UUs of color attending the 2012 GA. After Morales’s letter, DRUUMM modified its position, advocating careful discussion of the issue at GA. LUUNA and ARE still supported a boycott, but like DRUUMM, supported additional dialogue at GA.
The board’s business resolution advocating the boycott was put on the GA agenda for a vote at Saturday afternoon’s plenary. According to the UUA bylaws, business resolutions cannot be amended on the plenary floor, but they can be amended at miniassemblies held before the plenary session. At the Thursday miniassembly on this issue, groups presented two substantive amendments of the board’s resolution. Both advocated holding a UU “convergence” dedicated to witnessing for immigrant justice in Phoenix in 2012. The two resolutions differed in one respect: One resolution said that it wanted this convergence to be the General Assembly and the other said that it wanted the UUA board “to consider whether it is appropriate or safe to hold GA 2012 concurrently with this convergence.”
This difference about whether the gathering in Phoenix should be an official General Assembly or a separate meeting dedicated to witnessing for immigrant justice generated much debate.
Lynne Anderson, a member of the UU Congregation of Atlanta, spoke against the idea of having GA in Phoenix. “There are those who just would not feel safe,” she said. “I have relatives who would feel uncomfortable.” She did advocate a separate large-scale public witness event in Phoenix. “Let’s go to Arizona as a body,” she said. “Our focus should be nothing else but immigration reform.”
Jim Graham, a member of the Valley UU Church in Chandler, Ariz., urged that the meeting in Phoenix be the 2012 General Assembly. “In principle these two amendments are essentially the same,” he said. “But, we’re concerned that decoupling GA from a values-based meeting dilutes the impact. Our values are our business. If we can’t live our values then we have a bigger problem than going to Arizona in 2012.”
Another difference in the two amendments was that one advocated that the meeting be “as free as possible from business and activities unrelated to the work of justice.” Discussion ensued about whether a Phoenix General Assembly should include the same kind of agenda as a “regular” General Assembly, or whether it should be reduced to a minimum.
The Rev. Mitra Rahnema, minister of the UU Church in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and a spokesperson for DRUUMM, said that you could not ask Latina/o/Hispanic UUs or UUs of color to compromise their safety to attend a “regular” GA. “You don’t ask people to cross a picket line for ‘business as usual,’” she said.
Some people at the Thursday miniassembly favored a boycott.
Charles Burkhalter, a member of the UU Congregation of Green Valley, Ariz., was one of the few people speaking on behalf of a boycott. “It’s a human rights issue that has been politicized,” he said. “In politics, money is power and power is what moves politics. We have to close our wallets and purses to Arizona. Public witness is not going to make anyone think about repealing this law.”
At the end of Thursday’s miniassembly the gathered delegates voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the two amendments advocating for GA—or some other kind of social justice meeting—in Phoenix. They agreed to continue the discussion at a miniassembly on Friday dedicated to discussing another business resolution that was not expected to generate much debate.
After the Thursday miniassembly, representatives from DRUUMM, LUUNA, ARE, and ministers from Arizona who favored having GA in Phoenix began meeting.
The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister of the UU Church of Marblehead, Mass., and ARE president, presented a new amendment at the Friday miniassembly, incorporating elements of both the earlier amendments. “The proposed amendment represents many hours of deep listening, tears, and prayer following the mini-assembly yesterday,” she said. “Members of DRUUMM, LUUNA, ARE, and the Arizona ministers met late into the night. Some met this afternoon. We’ve made a commitment to continued conversation and collaboration that will extend beyond the vote on Saturday.”
The amendment called upon the UUA board to hold a justice-oriented General Assembly in Phoenix. It also asked the UUA administration to work with leaders in Arizona UU congregations to establish an Arizona immigration ministry; asked the board to work in accountable relationships with DRUUMM, LUUNA, ARE, Equual Access (a group promoting equality and access for UUs with disabilities), Transgender Religious Unitarian Universalists Together (TRUUST), and other stakeholders to maximize the safety of historically marginalized groups going to Phoenix; called on the UUA board to minimize financial contributions to the Arizona economy; and called on the board to provide resources to build the capacity of UUs to stand in opposition to systemic racism.
After hearing the amended version, Robert Smith, a member of Valley UU Church in Chandler, Ariz., who supported keeping GA in Phoenix, said in a choked voice, “I came here deep in my own conviction but not knowing if I could trust my fellow UUs and the process to set aside our differences and work together. As someone attending my first GA, I’m so impressed with you all, so impressed with the process, and with the partnerships and the allies we have formed.”
Then the work of amending the amendment began.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Ariz., stood up to voice her support for the amendment. She also said that she would like to see language from one of the original two amendments, stating that the 2012 GA be dedicated to justice work and that GA business be reduced to a minimum, reinserted.
David Anderson, a member of University Unitarian Church in Seattle, argued against this, saying that he wanted the board to use its discretion to focus on immigrant justice, but that it should also have the opportunity to add other things to the agenda.
UUA Moderator Gini Courter responded, saying that she liked the specificity of this amendment. “It’s never hurtful for the General Assembly to be clear with the board about what it expects,” she said. ”I appreciate the clarity of the delegates in not leaving everything up to the board. I appreciate this degree of direction.”
A vote was called, and the first section was amended, calling for a “Justice General Assembly in which business is limited to the minimum required by our bylaws.”
People also raised concerns about section four of the revised document, which called on the board “to explore options within the Phoenix area that would minimize our financial contribution to the Arizona business economy.”
Frederick-Gray suggested that GA meetings and activities be held in the community, since the Phoenix Convention Center has not yet been booked. “We should look for ways that would help us honor the important work of a boycott,” she said.
Kim Chapman, a member of Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minn., argued against this, saying that he feared that some of the passion for an economic boycott came from anger. “There are a lot of business people in Phoenix who feel like we do,” he said. “Will an economic boycott directly punish these people for what we think they’ve done? Do we want to be responsible for unintended consequences as well as offending potential allies in the business community?”
Mary Francis, a member of the Norman UU Fellowship and the UU Community Church of Norman, Okla., said, “I still have a problem buying grapes after the grape boycott in the 1960s. My suggestion is that the UUA work with the people in Phoenix and create lists of [business] people friendly to our position so I can spend my money and make it go to principles we believe in.”
The amendment was approved, and that section was changed, asking “the UUA board to direct the economic impact of our presence in Phoenix towards partners and allies as much as is feasible.”
The final version of the amendment called upon the UUA board to hold a justice-oriented General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012 with a business agenda limited to the minimum allowed by the bylaws. It also asked the UUA administration to work with leaders in Arizona UU congregations to establish an Arizona immigration ministry; asked the board to work in accountable relationships with DRUUMM, LUUNA, ARE, Equual Access, TRUUST, and other stakeholders to maximize the safety of historically marginalized groups going to Phoenix; called on the UUA board to direct economic transactions during the 2012 General Assembly towards partners and allies; and called on the board to provide resources to build the capacity of UUs to stand in opposition to systemic racism.
The final amended resolution was presented to the General Assembly at the Saturday afternoon plenary session. One section of the resolution, about limiting GA business to the minimum required by the bylaws, was left as an unincorporated amendment, subject to debate and a vote. An attempt to remove that section failed. The resolution to hold General Assembly in Phoenix 2012 passed with an overwhelming majority.
Please see links in sidebar to previous coverage and related resources.