Thursday, July 4, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 5 - SATURDAY/SUNDAY (Days 4 & 5: Conversations, ByLaws, Jim Crow, and Astonishment)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

SATURDAY started off inauspiciously with me (and not Jeremy) being woken up several times in the 6:00 am hour by Jeremy's cell phone alarm.  I tried putting the damn thing next to his head and he still wouldn't wake up.  Eventually I decided since I was up anyway, I'd go to Morning Worship.  It was alright, the content was interesting but overall I found it to be pretty uninspired.  The best part was making quiet conversation with Greg and becoming Twitter buddies.

After worship was Plenary, which included selection of potential Actions of Immediate Witness by voting to put 3 of the 6 proposed AIWs on the agenda, the Board of Trustees report and statements from the candidates for the Board, and debate and vote on bylaws amendments enabling regions.

After Plenary, Jeremy, Raziq, Sarah, Erik, Lincoln, and I went to lunch at Smash Burger and ended up having the most fascinating conversation that started out being about whether or not the Seven Principles constitute a "creed" or "doctrine" and whether or not it's a positive thing if they do and whether or not the Seven Principles are necessary for all Unitarian Universalists.  It ended up being about roughly a million other things but more importantly it ended up being about two amazing new friends and three deepened relationships.

After lunch, Raziq, Jeremy, Erik, and I hung out in the Exhibit Hall and talked some more with Connie, who is a UUA Congregational Life Consultant, which was quite interesting.  We also took a few minutes to vote in the elections while we were there.  Sadly, our candidate of choice for UUA moderator fell 40 votes short but Jim Key is a great guy so I'm not too concerned.

Later, I attended the workshop "Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow" which actually lived up to its name more than I expected.  There was a particularly good presentation from one UU minister who was leading efforts in his congregation to partner with grade schools in at-risk communities to keep the kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline that seems to be growing every day.  Another initiative I really want to look into is the "Ban the Box" movement to get companies to stop forcing applicants to disclose that they're a former felon on their job application.

For dinner Saturday night, Jennifer Toth got a bunch of congregational leaders from Florida together at a fine restaurant called the Milkwood to network and exchange ideas and information on immigration issues and what folks are doing.  I got a lot of interest from folks regarding CIVIC and the visitation program our congregation is setting up and Jeremy also brought up the issue of human trafficking and how it relates to immigration issues.  We also discussed strategies for pressuring our respective representatives in the House to pass immigration reform.  Very awesome dinner with some delicious food and amazing service to boot.

After dinner, I went to check out the Service of the Living Tradition for a few minutes but what I was there for wasn't really doing it for me so I decided to join a whole bunch of young adults at a table at BBC for more awesome conversation.  After a few hours, I started getting sleepy so I wandered back to the hotel and basically passed out talking Israel/Palestine with Erik.

SUNDAY finally rolled around and it was time for the highly anticipated Sunday Morning Worship featuring a sermon from Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  The service was phenomenal, as expected, and Rev. Schulz made a rousing call to consider the vastness of the universe and the utter insignificance and incredible significance of our place in it.

A going away present from the Youth to Gini Courter: "We (HEART) Gini. Thank You.
After that, most of the rest of the day was spent with Jeremy, Lincoln, Erik, and I discussing the virtues of revolution v. reform for hours.  After that, we all slipped in for the end of the final Plenary so I could say my heartfelt and bittersweet goodbyes to everyone I could get my arms around and just like that, I was in a cab and off to Miami via Charlotte.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with my home city but when I fly into Miami at night, it's hard to remember why I hate it--although stepping off the plane into 120% humidity usually does the trick.  In the spirit of this temporary revelatory love of my city, I thought, since I've been sharing my stories of Heat Finals games, might as well close out the way I closed out my week...


Chris "Birdman" Anderson

Dwyane Wade

LeBron James

Monday, July 1, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 4 - FRIDAY (Day 3: Statement of Conscience, 5th Principle, Eboo Patel, and SYNERGY!)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Friday started with a very important Plenary session.  After a litany of reports from various committees and commissions and statements from (mostly unopposed) candidates for office, the Assembly finally got down to the business of passing a landmark Statement of Conscience: "Immigration as a Moral Issue."  The vote was quite swift, especially for something of this magnitude, and after incorporating a few small amendments, the 52nd General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations UNANIMOUSLY passed "Immigration as a Moral Issue."

At UU Miami, we're already beginning to take action on the statement by partnering with community members to begin an immigration detention center visitation program at the nearby Krome Processing Center.  "Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees" came out of a conference the UU Florida Southeast Cluster of congregations held on "Immigration and Mass Incarceration."  We featured prominent South Florida speakers such as Executive Director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Jeannette Smith, and President of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade.  We also had Christina Fialho, co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), who not only came all the way from California to speak to us but actually came down the day before the conference and set up a tour of the Krome Processing Center to use as a sort of jumping off point for the visitation program.  Since then she has been working with us and others in the community on starting "Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees" and the progress we've been making has been very promising (including the possibility of the opportunity to make a presentation for Rep. Joe Garcia at his office and hopefully get a letter of endorsement from his office!).

(left to right) Jeanette Smith (SWIWJ), Christina Fialho (CIVIC)

After Plenary, had a little lunch and then it was time for "The Fifth Principle Task Force: It's Time!"  It was tough to skip out on several really cool-sounding workshops that were going on at the same time, but I knew how important this was.  The Fifth Principle Task Force was convened in 2006 to examine General Assembly and how it measured up in terms of living our Fifth Principle by affirming and promoting the democratic process.  As it turns out, General Assembly is not very democratic and not very representative either.

The task force produced a 13 page report which it presented to the 2009 General Assembly.  That report can be found HERE but the basic gist of it is that due to economic accessibility issues, less than 60% of UUA member congregations have been represented at GA in recent years and since 2001, the average delegate body of roughly 2,200 is less than 45% of all eligible delegates.  There is also substantial evidence that many delegates "participate in GA business with little or no guidance from or sense of accountability to their home congregation."

The workshop itself discussed several ideas and questions--such as the pros and cons of separating the "gathering" aspect of GA from the "governance" aspect, the pros and cons of moving more of our association's governance into cyberspace, and the idea of moving to some form of biennial assembly.

The next thing on the agenda was a Plenary in which the delegates split up into smaller groups in separate rooms and used Twitter to help re-imagine GA and help the Fifth Principle Task Force collect ideas on how to improve it.  Delegates were asked to answer the following three questions:

1. If you could not attend General Assembly, describe the person from your congregation who ought to attend. Why?
2. What do you love best about General Assembly?
3. For the future of our faith, what is one thing General Assembly should stop doing?

The tweets from these sessions can be found by searching Twitter for #newuuga.  Or you can just CLICK HERE.

I, however, had to skip out on this session--but don't worry, I had a very good reason. I was invited to a reception in UUA President Rev. Peter Morales's suite at the Marriott to take part in a conversation with Eboo Patel among Campus Ministry leaders within our faith. What an incredibly humbling and inspiring thing to be part of! Eboo Patel is an extraordinary young man with an incredible passion for hearing and telling stories and for finding our sacred common ground through interfaith work.

After our conversation with Eboo, it was time for his Ware Lecture.  For those who did not see it, it was really something, and I HIGHLY recommend going back and watching it on the UUA website.  The video can be found HERE.  One of the highlights (which we also discussed in our conversation beforehand) was when he said to us that we UUs do two things in terms of educating our youth on interfaith work--one of them we do very well and the other, not so much.  We're very, very good at educating our young people about other religious and cultural traditions and fostering cultural competencies in them.  However, we're really bad at teaching them how to connect those traditions back to their own faith tradition and how to articulate their own faith and their own culture to others.  It is truly not to be missed.

Sadly, an unfortunate incident followed the Ware Lecture.  Immediately after Eboo Patel had finished his lecture, over 700 of the 2000 people in the Plenary Hall formed a huge line to get out the door right as the Synergy Bridging Worship was beginning.  Many folks took to Twitter to either voice their frustration about this mass migration or to defend themselves for leaving early, leading to a lot of tension and hurt feelings and many a report to the GA Right Relationship Team.  Many issues led to this problem: a scheduling faux pas, seemingly designed to keep people from leaving before Synergy, lack of childcare options later in the day, many folks complained of being too tired to stay up past 8:30pm, and the list goes on.  At the end of the day, though, the Youth had an absolute blast, more people showed up for Synergy than usually do (over 1200), and the service was beautiful and inspiring.  We're all so proud of all our amazing youth and we really must take every opportunity we possibly can to lift up the amazing things they do and are.  All things considered, a beautiful end to a beautiful Friday...

Bridging Youth line up!  Ready to come of age!
Part 5