Whew. Friday morning's plenary schedule included time for a debate and vote on the global warming Statement of Conscience, but we never got to the vote. Instead, faced with some 50 unincorporated amendements from Thursday's miniassembly, a shortage of printed copies of the texts under consideration, and confusion about the process, delegates nevertheless moved the statement forward — sort of. Additional debate and discussion time will be added to one of Saturday's plenary sessions to continue the debate.
Many delegates — working in partnership with the UU Ministry for the Earth, the UU Service Committee, and other environmental and human rights advocacy groups — thought the CSW's draft statement was too timid and did not adequately express the urgency many Unitarian Universalists feel about global climate change. More than 200 delegates attended a lively session to hash out their differences with the CSW on Thursday morning. My colleague Tom Stites attended the three-hour miniassembly and reports that it broke up into seven subgroups to talk through sections of the draft statement and fashion amendments to it. The CSW then met late into the night organizing the 70 or so amendments into a sequence to offer to the full Assembly today. That's how 50 amendments appeared on this morning's schedule, where (in theory) delegates had about an hour to consider them.
The first amendment brought to the floor — Unincorporated Amendment 19 — actually worked its way through the normal process and was approved before procedural confusion set in. (What about Unincorporated Amendments 1 through 18? Why were the amendments that many activists felt were most important so far down the list of amendments when time was so short?) Former moderator Denny Davidoff moved that the Assembly refer the inadequate statement back to the Commission on Social Witness — she said she had never seen a resolution arrive for its final vote with so many unincorporated amendments — but moderator Gini Courter replied that this would mean referring the statement back to the congregations for another year. Davidoff's motion failed.
As the clock kept ticking and activist delegates tried to figure out how to get their amendments through the process, Courter tried a new tack and moved the delegates into a “committee of the whole.” This moved the process out of the constraints of formal motions and votes and into a more informal review of the amendments. In the end, Courter polled delegates about a dozen amendments that advocates seemed especially eager to approve, and an overwhelming majority of delegates concurred.
After the straw poll, other advocates complained that they had been waiting in line to ask for the committee of the whole to consider another half-dozen amendments. By this point the plenary had run over its allotted time. I won't bore you with the details, but it looks like a somewhat similar process will take up those amendments as a group. It is entirely unclear how the amendments referred out of the committee of the whole will be addressed, although it seems that the general view of the delegates is to support a “strong” statement about global warming.
Notably, amendments to the study/action process itself are on Sunday's agenda.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.