Thinking about the Phoenix General Assembly

I’m not done cleaning up from the 2011 Charlotte General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association and I’m planning for the one in . . . Louisville, Kentucky. In 2013.

Let me be plain: I was never going to go to the General Assembly in 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. So no protests from me about being scarred, or abused, or manipulated or whatever. I hadn’t been in eight years as it is. Fort Worth is bad enough, but Phoenix in summer is hotter than two hells (and you can only do so much inside for five days.) I’d have to pay my own way, and it’s much farther away than either of two which follow it. I’m not going to be there because I wasn’t going anyway.

And I get the bind the UUA Board found itself in. Just cancelling G.A. isn’t a internally legal option. (Even in the middle of World War II, under severe civilian travel pressure, the AUA had a minimal General Assembly to conduct business. I forget which year.) Moving it, while probably the best principled decision, would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the UUA doesn’t have, and so would probably result in something very unfortunate, like staff cuts. The “Justice G.A.” approach attempts to redeem a bad situation, and because it was born out of compromise, I’m willing to be a bit flexible about how it’s managed. But then I can be: I wasn’t going to go, and it won’t really affect me.

But there are a lot of open questions.

The “all justice, all the time” format seems heavy-handed. Half of the attendees this last G.A. were not delegates, myself included. That’s because its power is shared with it being a training vehicle, a “big church experience” and a personal and professional reunion. I suspect some who go will quietly opt out of the official program and find a nice air-conditioned venue to self-organize meetings for their own needs. (I’m thinking about doing a video training or online meetup at that time.) And an unknown number will regret or resent the lack of practical programming, which, if anecdotal evidence is correct, is of very uneven quality in the districts. (I’ll leave for the moment if there’s an unstated and un-voted-upon endorsement of open immigration.)

And what’s the character of the program that does continue? One quotation (and another following) from the UUWorld blog suggests an option:

Margy Engle, also of Phoenix, was arrested last summer in immigration protests. She appreciated concerns of people worried about the Arizona heat in July. And she reassured them that most of the immigration work she does is indoors in air conditioning. She focuses on registering people to vote and helping with citizenship paperwork. “There’s plenty of work to do inside,” she said. “I never envisioned this as a GA where everyone was going to be arrested.”

That — and common sense — suggests a mass public-facing event from within the Convention Center, or perhaps busloads of participants to area service centers, say, for voter registration. Now combine that with a strong stated value (how commonly heartfelt it is I will leave for you to decide) for visible, unified public action, like Phoenix arrests or yet another retelling of James Reeb’s murder — events not intended to occur. And subtract the absence of “fall in line” culture among UUs.

I predict attendees will remember a big, interesting (for extroverts) rally, long stretches of boredom and how unavoidably hot the whole thing was. And how their fair compensation (or what have you) questions had to wait.

I’ll see you in Louisville.

3 Replies to “Thinking about the Phoenix General Assembly”

  1. I’m not planning on going to the Arizona GA either. GA has to be a sort of “work vacation,” and the idea of spending lots of money I could use elsewhere seems much more practical than paying to be an activist. I have worked for immigration reform right here in my home state — a couple demonstrations/rallys. I’m not paying over two tenths or more of my annual income to register people to vote — I can do that in my home state.

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