Questions about future General Assemblies

Hubby and I were attending our nephew’s baptism our West, thus my blog silence for most of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly and, in particular, for the debate about the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix. I confess there was no perfect outcome, and I suppose the minimalist “Justice GA” was the best likely outcome. All the same, I’m glad I’m not going. The situation does, however, raise a few questions:

  • What is the purpose of the General Assembly if it can be taken “off mission” like this?
  • What happens if Arizona repeals the law, or if it is stricken down in court before General Assembly 2012, and particularly if after GA 2011?
  • Are the Service of the Living Tradition and the Ware Lecture essential, or something to be removed from the agenda? Likewise, the banner parade, music and other celebratory elements? The exhibit hall? Bookstore?
  • What will fill the soft role of networking, if General Assembly is dominated by an overriding theme, particularly if there’s a higher participant opt-out rate?
  • What happens if a future site state passes such a law? Quite possible as the Arizona law has popular support.
  • What other issues can raise such a response? Who has the authority to initiate this process?
  • Given the conspicuous role of the constellation of race affinity groups in this process, will they have a standing decision making role in the future? Does that square with democratic process? Or will the race affinity groups become answerable to the General Assembly?
  • Why is General Assembly so often held in low-cost cities and in non-union venues — especially hot ones? (One guess . . . .)
  • Will the economic exposure in Phoenix lead to more modest — perhaps smaller — General Assemblies, perhaps returning to college campuses?

Readers, I await your wise thoughts and further questions.

12 Replies to “Questions about future General Assemblies”

  1. I was there, I voted for it, and I have no answer for your second point.

    By the 2011 GA, much is likely to be resolved by events not under our control. If appropriate, action should be taken at that time. Or not. The resolution as written is doesn’t have much flex in it.

    On your third point, discussion during the plenary indicated that “minimum business” had to do with actions taken by the assembly. The Ware Lecture was given from the stage as a specific example of something which could be held as usual. (As usual, in this case, meaning addressing a topic fitting the theme of this GA.) I don’t expect an exhibit hall, but I do expect some ancillary activities.

    This GA’s actions may have changed future GAs.

  2. I almost went up for a point of inquiry about your second question – what happens if this law is repealed.

    Something of note worth to keep in mind…this is technically nonbinding I believe. The Board of Trustees still has the ultimate authority in deciding on the General Assembly Agenda (and that was confirmed in a prior vote changing the setting of the agenda away from the GA planning committee.) The resolution itself asks the Board to do this…but they don’t have to. The final “whereas” makes this point too.

    If the situation in Phoenix were to radically change, the Board could decide to have a normal GA.

  3. As I sat in plenary thinking about what it would be like to travel from Alaska to Arizona in June, I had an idea. What if GA happened every 18 months, and for winter GA’s we went south, and for summer GA’s we went north?

  4. I don’t think it was clear to a lot of the delegates that the business agenda for GA only refers to what happens during plenary sessions. This was alluded to by moderator Gini Courter, in a different context, when she said that business of GA was that which was included in the Agenda booklet with the black-and-white cover. This means things like the Banner Parade, recognizing Breakthrough Congregations and reports from the Beacon Press and others would be omitted unless specifically required by the bylaws.

    However all of the programming included in the Program booklet – the workshops and the evening events such as the Service of the Living Tradition and the Ware Lecture – are not part of the business of GA and would not be directly impacted by the resolution. I would expect that some of the programming would be retained but would have a justice theme for 2012.

    This distinction between business and program is important because the Fifth Principle Task Force report ( recommends that GA be reduced to a 2.5 day biennial delegate assembly that is essentially just the business portion of GA. The report suggests that a 2 day program assembly could be held before or after the delegate assembly, but it makes that optional.

  5. I wasn’t at GA either, but here’s how I’d answer some of these questions.

    “What is the purpose of the General Assembly if it can be taken “off mission” like this?”

    The purpose of the General Assembly is to do the business of the UUA that cannot be carried out by the Board or staff. Can you elaborate on how the plans for 2012 are “off mission”?

    “What happens if Arizona repeals the law, or if it is stricken down in court before General Assembly 2012, and particularly if after GA 2011?”

    Both are highly doubtful, but we go do immigration reform work anyway. If comprehensive, positive immigration reform happens before 2012, even more doubtful, we’ll have one hell of a party.

    “What other issues can raise such a response?”

    Any that we decide merit it, but IMO the bar will be higher in the future since we will be reluctant to give up too many of our full-scale networking / celebration / education / shopping at the exhibit hall GAs. Or else we’ll finally uncouple the business meeting from all that jazz as part of an attempt to make our voting democratic rather than plutocratic.

    In short, I think it is alarmist to assume that what we have done once, we will wish to do often. That is not how human beings work, in my experience.

    “Who has the authority to initiate this process?”

    Anyone who can get the attention of the delegates. So, in practice, probably only the BoT, the President, the Moderator, or a very large group of UUs.

    “Given the conspicuous role of the constellation of race affinity groups in this process, will they have a standing decision making role in the future?”

    Why would they? They made an impact this time by acting through our current process: they made a proposal, hashed it out in mini-assembly, and got it approved by an overwhelming percentage of delegates. All without “a standing decision making role.”

    “Will the race affinity groups become answerable to the General Assembly?”

    They already are. Their proposals, like anyone else’s, have to be voted up or down by the delegates.

    If I were to rephrase these last questions as a statement, I would come up with something like “I think race affinity groups are granted unwarranted power in our association, without being accountable to the General Assembly.” Do I have that right?

  6. Seems to me the second-to-last question is actually two questions–low-cost cities & non-union venues.

    I understand why non-union venues would be an issue, but what’s wrong with a low-cost city? I was plenty busy at GA, and we could have been in Reykjavik for all I cared or noticed. (Though temperatures in Reykjavik would have been more to this Alaskan’s liking.)

  7. As any shopper at a high-end boutique can attest, high cost doesn’t correlate with union labor, sadly . . . I think we avoid putting GA in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, and New York because they are wildly expensive even in cases where the workers aren’t even getting a decent wage.

    The GA site selection criteria do include a preference for union/fair-wage locations, though they don’t commit to only going to union hotels/convention centers:

    Some years ago, when a friend’s professional organization (the American Anthropological Association) was thrown into a tangle such as we had this year by the strike against a hotel in their convention city (SF), I wrote to the GA Planning Committee urging them to build in an escape clause that let us out of our contract in the event of a labor dispute that wasn’t being handled to our satisfaction. They wrote back saying they would take labor issues into account as they chose sites. That wasn’t my point, and as far as I know, if next year’s site locked out its workers on May 1 we’d be held to our contract anyway (and I for one won’t cross a picket line to stay at a hotel). Given the pathetic state of unionization, I don’t know if any convention center would agree to an escape clause, but I’d like to know we’re trying.

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