Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Cents on the Justice GA

For the record, I'm not really opinionated about what is being called the "hot mess" -- the resignation of two members of the GA Planning Committee. I don't know enough about the internal politics of the GAPC or the UUA Board to really weigh in on the issue.  Kim Hampton's post about the roll of worship and the SLT in the Justice GA is informed and informative.  And I think Tom Schade is right on point to say, "It's always useful to remember that the future hasn't happened yet."

I am opinionated about the "Justice GA," on the other hand.  And I know for every person who was sitting in the Plenary Hall when we voted for a "Justice GA" there was a separate opinion, and not all of our expectations can be met.  Half of us probably think that there should be a Service of the Living Tradition, and half of us don't.  Half of us think there should be an exhibit hall, and half of us don't.  And the half that do and the half that don't for each item are a mix of those interested in the idea of the Justice GA and those that aren't. But I know this: there are a lot of people who've never gone to at GA before who are considering going to this one, because they understand that this year our denomination is doing something important and meaningful and different.  There are people who can only go a GA once in a while who are making a special point to be at this one.  The energy and excitement about the possibilities are high.

What we voted on was, to my mind, instead of doing business and usual and in lieu of cancelling or moving the 2012 General Assembly, to have a Justice GA where business as usual was minimized.  My fear is that "business as usual" will be taken to mean only the actual business of the General Assembly -- the business resolutions, Actions of Immediate Witness, and other such business of the plenary. 

On the other hand, I am also concerned that for people with mobility issues there will be nothing that they can attend if more and more is focused on off-site justice work.  I'm personally dedicating myself to starting to learn Spanish this year in preparation for the Justice GA, as suggested to us in one of this year's Responsive Resolution--this represents a real investment of both time and money, neither of which I have a lot to spare. 

And at the same time, I'm worried that I won't be able to even attend GA because I don't handle a lot of heat well, nor a lot of walking and standing, and if everything involves a combination of the two, it will be extremely difficult for me.  This year and past years have been a "hot mess" for me when it comes to how we handle accessibility.  During one GA (Ft. Worth), I very badly sprained my ankle -- it dislocated and then popped back into place in the process.  I needed help with mobility.  The planning for GA didn't include extra scooters; I was very lucky that one person who had ordered one had never shown up.  This year, when our Standing on the Side of Love rally was a bit of a hike in the hot weather, I heard the announcement that if we needed to take a cab, we could get reimbursed later (already not the best system), and that cabs would be waiting outside the conference center.  I didn't hear that it was at a different door, so I followed the crowd out the side door -- no cabs.  I went back in and found out where I was supposed to go, and went out -- no cabs were waiting.  This was not a particularly well-orchestrated initiative, from my point of view.  It's very important for the Justice GA to remember that what is a "short walk" for one person in a huge obstacle for another, particularly in heat that many are not used to dealing with.

So, with all that said, here's what I, personally, would love to see:
  • No exhibit hall.  It's become more and more pointless anyway.  All of these agencies can be found online.  We can shop online, and we can see their justice issues online.  Instead, create a virtual exhibit hall that people can visit from anywhere.
  • A Justice Hall instead.  If people need downtime and a place to wander or socialize, give them small tasks to do, like letters to write to elected officials. 
  • One or two workshop slots only.  There may be some workshops that are essential to hold, or exiting lecturers that we really want to feature, and there can be a some large justice-oriented workshops on how to build a movement, how to do social justice, how to engage cooperatively with other organizations, ARAOM work, etc.  
  • Instead of workshop slots, we have justice slots.  As for the all-justice slots, I would like to see not just large social justice rallies in these spots, but places where small groups go off into different parts of the area to work with local organizations on different projects.  There needs to be great variety.  And this probably means a sort of schedule where we commit to what we're doing in advance.  And it means buses. 
  • I would like to see the following cornerstone elements of GA: the Ware Lecture, the Service of the Living Tradition, and the Sunday morning worship service (which I would love to be the SLT again, but that's a whole other argument).  I think all can be themed around this justice work, and all are important to what makes up a General Assembly.  For the newcomers to GA, they would give the important taste of what GA is usually about.
  • All Reports -- all reports -- given in written and video ahead of time and no reports -- no reports -- presented verbally during plenaries.  We can do our homework ahead of time.  
  • A single plenary session to deal with all remaining business that we haven't been able to put off or voted this year to do next year.
  • Yes, more worship.  When we can't be doing justice work, we should be praying, singing, and celebrating.
  • I would like to see Ministry Days themed around the Justice GA in the following ways: a Berry Street Address that's on theme; minimal business; a group action project; drop the "collegial conversations" element in favor of group social action; drop the usual conversation with the UUA President in favor of having him lead us in justice work as well.
Most of all, I want this experience to be meaningful and transformative for me and for our movement.

Obviously I'm not going to get all my wishes.  Nor is anybody else.  Meanwhile, let's have patience and understanding with the Board and Planning Committee as they do the hard work of creating a GA experience unlike any other.

5 comments:

Alice Diebel said...

Right on Cindy! I hope you share your thoughts with the board!
Alice

Kenneth said...

I can think of all sorts of workshops (real workshops, not the one hour *things* that GA usually has) that are consonant with a Justice GA and would give a meaningful and useful experience to people who can't be out hiking around doing voter registration or getting arrested (or whatever).

I think these workshops would be 2 or 3 days long:
Alternatives to Violence Program training
AR/AO training
Community organizing training

Shorter workshops (but probably still half a day or more):
How to lobby your local and national officials
How to organize a voter registration drive
How to do publicity for your social justice event
How to write a press release
How to take effective photographs for use by news media or social media

Heck, even a workshop on how to speak effectively about your faith and how it informs your justice actions. (Bear in mind, when I say workshop, I mean *work*. A leader. Limited enrollment. Preparing, rehearsing, and role-playing the interactions.)

Nana said...

Good thinking, Cindy. I have been thinking I would need to skip this Very Important G.A. I can't afford it when my expenses are not reimbursed. And I can't walk very far, nor stand very long. AND it does seem like a great thing to do, a watershed moment, etc.
Nana'

Cynthia Landrum said...

No disagreement there, Kenneth. I'll take that as a friendly amendment.

Nana', I hope they will make it such that you do feel like if you can afford to go that there's enough that's accessible to participate in. And, at the same time, I hope that they make much more of it available to remote viewing and participating. I've just about given up hope that they will make it affordable. :(

Thanks, Alice! I hadn't planned to forward to the board. But I'll think about it.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Cut & pasted most of this into the UUA's survey on Justice GA.