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Fossil fuel divestment on GA agenda

Divestment resolution, Congregational Study/Action Issues on General Assembly business agenda.
By Donald E. Skinner
5.26.14

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When the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly convenes June 25 in Providence, R.I., there will be twelve and a half hours of business sessions. Last year there were more than 20 hours of sessions focused on UUA business and governance.

“That means we can accommodate 65 workshops that we couldn’t last year,” said UUA Moderator Jim Key. “That’s what people want.” In an interview with UU World, Key, who was elected last year and will be presiding over his first GA as moderator, talked about the business issues that will confront delegates this year. He said the major issue is whether the UUA should divest itself of investments in fossil fuel companies.

Delegate preparation

This year an effort will be made before GA to educate delegates on the business items they will be confronted with at Providence. The Board of Trustees is holding two online webinars June 4 and 5 to go over the issues with delegates and to describe the GA process. The first webinar quickly attracted 200 registrants and was closed. Key said if the second one also fills up a third one may be held. Information on the webinars is here.

After the initial webinar is held it will be posted for anyone to view.

Participating in the webinar will be Key and board members Donna Harrison, the Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, and Julian Sharp. They will talk with delegates about what to expect at GA, including the business items.

Ritchie will also provide a brief explanation of all the purposes General Assembly has served over the years. “We think this conversation will be quite interesting,” said Key. “We’ve not had a clear, consistent understanding over the years of what we want GA to be.”

He said the hoped-for outcome of all the education this year around GA issues is that delegates will have a deeper understanding of GA and their own roles. “We’re asking a body that hasn’t been all that democratic—that has been largely self-selecting—how it can be more democratic. At the end of the day our hope is that our delegates, at a minimum, are chosen and charged by our congregations and boards and that they will have a sense they are there to do a serious piece of work for their congregation. The end result is we want more delegates to come to GA better prepared than some of us were when we first attended.”

The future of General Assembly

Harrison will lead a discussion during the webinar on “re-imagining General Assembly.” Key said, “We don’t have any specific proposal. We see this as teeing up a more serious discussion at GA in 2015.” There have been suggestions that GA be held every other year. Key said he’s heard from many people who oppose that. “We’ve heard from people that GA is more to them than a business meeting. Multiple things happen there, including caucus group meetings and networking. People have told us that the gathering part was important.”

There will also be three “GA Talks” at GA to foster further discussion around the purpose and future of GA and to talk about various ministries taking place within Unitarian Universalism. On Thursday at 12:30 p.m. is “GA Talks: Looking Inward.” Friday at 10:15 a.m. is “GA Talks: Looking Outward,” and Saturday at 12:30 p.m. is “GA Talks: Looking Forward.”

“These are an effort to raise awareness, to call up some elephants in the room,” said Key. “We want to get people talking.”

Fossil fuel divestment

A divestment resolution to be considered at GA, brought by the group Unitarian Universalists for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Sustainable Reinvestment, calls on the UUA to divest itself of investments in major producers and processors of fossil fuels and to pursue investment in clean energy technologies. It does allow the UUA to retain investments in fossil fuel companies with which it is engaged in shareholder actions seeking environmental justice.

The UU Ministry for Earth, Young Adults for Climate Justice, and members of more than 100 congregations have signed on as supporters of the resolution. The UUA Board of Trustees has also endorsed the resolution.

Key said the resolution was “a good compromise” between those who support divestment and those who support shareholder actions. “It allows us to divest where there doesn’t seem to be much chance of influencing change and it allows us to retain shares of fossil fuel companies where we may have a chance of influencing things. I feel pretty good about it.”

Congregational Study/Action Issue

Other business at GA this year includes the selection of a Congregational Study/Action Issue. Five are proposed: “Empowerment: Age and Ability Reconsidered,” “Ending the War on Terror,” “Escalating Inequality,” “Gun Violence: A Public Health Issue,” and “Renewing and Securing Our American Democracy.”

There will be a mini-assembly at GA to choose one and then there will be debate on it by the entire delegate body. Delegates will also choose and debate up to three Actions of Immediate Witness, which are more immediate social justice issues that delegates want to take stands on.

Bylaw amendments

Two UUA bylaw amendments first approved last year require a second vote this year. The first adds the term “region” to UUA bylaws. It was made necessary by the decision of the UUA’s Prairie Star, Heartland, and Central Midwest Districts to consolidate last year into the MidAmerica Region.

The second bylaw changes Section C-2.3 of Article II, the Principles and Purposes. Delegates voted overwhelmingly last year to replace the paragraph titled “Non-discrimination” with a paragraph titled “Inclusion.”


Photograph (above): Delegates discuss the UUA’s 2012–2016 Congregational Study/Action Issue, “Reproductive Justice,” in a session at the 2013 General Assembly; the 2014 GA will select another CSAI (© Nancy Pierce/UUA). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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