Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Immigration Reform

Fifth in a series of posts about the January UUA Board meeting

She had graduated from high school at 16, and college, with a degree in biology, at 20. Smart, articulate, funny, she had been told by her parents that she had been born in the United States shortly after they immigrated. The parents became naturalized citizens, but by some series of mistakes, she did not -- which was discovered when she applied for a job and could not prove her citizenship.

Now she is being deported -- to a country and people she knows nothing about.

Maria told her story, along with two other people with similar family-wrenching stories, to the UUA Board at an interfaith meeting in San Antonio. These stories are not that uncommon. According to Nina Perales, head of the Southwest Region of the Mexican-America Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), who met with the UUA Board in San Antonio, nearly 13% of the people in the United States were born outside of it -- 43% of that number are naturalized citizens. Of the remaining, the Department of Homeland Security estimates about 11.6 million undocumented immigrants in 2008, of which about 7 million are from Mexico. Undocumented immigrants typically work in the least desirable jobs, such as meat packing, housekeeping, or poultry processing, and are constantly under the threat of being turned in. They do not qualify for educational aid, food stamps, healthcare, or housing subsidies. Because they cannot get a drivers license, in many cases they are forced to break the law just to be able to get to work.

What does this have to do with us? Every time we buy a cut of meat at the grocery store, eat chicken for dinner, eat in a restaurant off a plate washed by an undocumented immigrant, get a recommendation from a friend for cheap labor to do construction or repairs, sleep in a hotel bed made up by an undocumented person, or have such a person cleaning our house or watching our children, we are perpetuating this system. The 11-12 million people working illegally are "propping up the economy, making possible the American way of life" (Nina Perales, presentation to UUA Board, January 15, 2010). I have a "don't ask/don't tell" policy with Emelia and Miguel, who clean my house, and I am ashamed of my role.

Along with the increased attention on immigration has come increased racial violence directed at people who might -- based on appearance -- be undocumented. Nina read a letter she had recently received: "Go back to defending all these criminals, killing, raping, robbing innocent Americans. Fix your own defunct country, we will take care of ours... for hundreds of years, Mexico did not improve their quality of life for their people. You have natural resources, you have oil, an ocean." She is told, in harsh terms, to go back to Mexico, and gets calls for her citizenship to be investigated.

Nina was born in New York of Puerto Rican heritage, and is a life long UU.

Though we typically think of segregation in terms of Jim Crow laws aimed at African Americans, Mexican Americans were not allowed in many restaurants, pools, and schools throughout the Southwest until well into the 1960s and 70s. Even today, as long as "illegal" prefaces the term "immigrant", there appears to be permission to use racist terms. Polls show that Latinos and African Americans both perceive significant discrimination against Latinos, while Anglos do not. Sound familiar?

Gini Courter recently asked the board "given the lead up to the Selma march in the 60s, what would that Board have wished they had done before it happened?"

What will we as Unitarian Universalists wish we had done in the immigration debate?

Only now there is still time.

Why you should care about Article XV

Fourth in a series of posts about the January UUA Board meeting

Article XV is one of those by-laws sections that is on the surface even more uninteresting than most -- it describes how to amend the by-laws, as well as mandates a periodic review of Article II, our Purpose and Principles.

When our U and U fathers (mothers appeared to be in the background on this) created the merged organization we affectionately call the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, they designated set up a specific process for amending Article II, which makes it somewhat more difficult to change. The procedure to amend the Purpose and Principles includes a) it is a two year process, b) a simple majority the first year will move the suggested changes to the second year, which then c) requires a 2/3 vote. What has given people pause is that d) the proposed changes cannot be amended on the floor of the delegate assembly, even in the first year, but must be accepted or rejected in their entirety.

The 2009 GA delegates rejected the changes, in spite of the fact that there appeared to be energy around some of the suggested changes, just not all of them. What is currently being considered is whether or not to remove the prohibition against amendments from the floor during the first General Assembly consideration.

On the surface this seems reasonable -- a classic "don't through out the baby with the bathwater". What this would do, however, is open up the deliberative and cohesive work of a commission that has ostensibly consulted with hundreds of congregations, to any floor amendment proposed in the heat of the moment. Those of us who have watched this process will want to consider it carefully.

Next post: Immigration

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remember the Alamo

Third is a series of posts about the UUA January Board Meeting

I do remember the Alamo – both the version I was taught in grade school (lost battle, deaths of many American heroes) and the one that came later about the United States seizing Mexican land. But why did the Americans want the land?

According to the Sunday sermon by President Peter Morales, the answer provides an interesting link between the two largest “minority” groups in the United States: in the early 1800s, Texas was a great place for growing cotton. Cotton was labor intensive, and the cheapest labor was via slaves. As Americans followed their “manifest destiny” by moving west and into Texas (illegal immigrants into Mexico, as Peter points out), they brought slaves with them. One of the problems, however, is that Mexico prohibited slavery. Though this may or may not have been the only reason for the Mexican-American War, I suspect it was significant, as Americans have always been good at economic self-interest.

Unitarian Universalism has a long history with African Americans, as documented beautifully in the book The Arc of the Universe is Long, one of whose authors is the Rev. Leslie Takahashi-Morris from our Mount Diablo congregation. For that reason I should not have been so surprised that our diversity efforts seemed to be mostly black and white. That is obviously changing, helped by the leadership of our current president.

I would hope this is not viewed as a zero sum game -- does more time on Hispanic culture and issues of undocumented immigrants mean less time for the concerns of African Americans? One of the most powerful concepts I have found is that of white privilege (or straight privilege, or able-bodied privilege, or….) which forces me to look in the mirror, rather than check out the color of the person across from me -- and transcends racial and ethnic boundaries.

Next post: Why you should care about Article XV

Monday, January 18, 2010

Revoking the Fifth Principle

Second in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

At last summer's General Assembly, former UUA Moderator and widely respected Denny Davidoff threatened to introduce a motion to revoke the Fifth Principle if the General Assembly delegates does not pass significant reform of their meeting.


“General assembly” is defined in our by-laws (Article IV, Section C-4) as “[e]ach meeting of the Association for the conduct of business”, which go on to say “General Assemblies shall make overall policy for carrying out the purposes of the Association and shall direct and control its affairs.”

Note that there is nothing here about workshops, exhibits, or meetings of other UU organizations, as these were apparently not envisioned by our Founding UU Fathers. That does not mean these things are not important, or could not meet on any schedule that made sense to the mission of the Association. I have blogged before about my concerns about delegate selection -- since the UUA Board takes direction from the General Assembly, I would like to believe that the majority of delegates there are truly representative of the makeup and views of their congregations. I am even concerned with those congregations with excellent deliberative processes in choosing and informing their delegates, but do not fund the costs of attending. Many issues come to the floor and delegates must often vote their consciences -- if those consciences are mostly white, well-educated, affluent, and over the age of 50, we will perpetuate our own stereotypes.

So what exactly is this Task Force recommending?

True or false? The Fifth Principle Task Force is recommending:

  1. meeting as a national body every other year
  2. reducing from approximately 5000 delegates (of which about 2200 attend) to 2000
  3. subsidizing delegate expense in whole or in part
  4. allowing delegate status for one settled minister per congregation
  5. removing the automatic delegate status from UUA board members

1 and 2 are false. The rest are true.

1 was a trick question. The Fifth Principle Task Force recommends moving General Assembly to every other year, but has no specific recommendations for the other activities normally associated with later-year General Assemblies, other than the potential for a program extension to the General Assembly as an alternative.

And while the 2000 figure shows up in the report, it is clearly meant as an example. I personally think that is still too many delegates, mindful of the comment by Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer, that if the United Church of Christ had the same proportion of delegates to members as what 2000 delegates would be for the UUA, they would have 10,000, rather than their current 925. This issue came up in the context of subsidizing delegate expenses. It is essential to our values that our faith’s delegates are not only those who can afford the time and money to attend. For the record, UCC, the American Episcopalians, American Presbyterians, and Reformed Judaism pay 100% of their delegate costs, but have proportionately and numerically far few delegates.

So here are the actual recommendations:

A. Biennial Delegate Assembly in odd years:

· Content is governance-focused. The Assembly is for delegate teams, UUA Board & Administration.

· 2 ½ days over a weekend in August

· Smaller number of authorized delegates with delegate teams fully or partially subsidized by the UUA

· Settled ministers (one per congregation) part of the delegate teams

· Delegates elected and certified by their congregation or board serve in an accountable relationship with geographically neighboring delegate teams and with UUA trustees

· Some at-large delegates are selected by regions (clusters of districts)

· Teams can include alternate delegates without UUA subsidy

· Non-delegate observers pay a registration fee

· No delegates from associate member organizations or from the UUA Board of Trustees

B. Same as “A” except that the 2 ½ day delegate assembly is immediately preceded or followed by a 2-day program assembly:

· Content of the program assembly similar to current GA programming

· Non-delegate attendees pay registration fee without UUA subsidy

· Delegate’s registration for program assembly is paid by UUA subsidy. Delegate subsidy for room & board covers the delegate assembly only, not the program assembly.

The entire report starts on page 46 of the January Board packet.

Next post: Remember the Alamo

Bienvenidos a San Antonio

First in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

It’s the first time in recent memory that the UUA Board has ventured outside of Boston for its meetings, other than June’s General Assemblies. San Antonio, 9th largest city in the United States, with 61% Latino/Latina or Hispanic inhabitants, was a conscious choice. At 15% of the US population, Hispanics are now the largest ethnic "minority" in the United States. About a day and a half of the 4 day meeting was devoted to a deeper dive into Hispanic and San Antonio culture, and the complex issues of undocumented immigrants. We spent most of Friday with Julio and Elsa Noboa, faculty members from the University of Texas – El Paso, and Nina Perales, head of the Southwest Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) (all Unitarian Universalists). Saturday included a meeting with two San Antonio interfaith organizations who were working on comprehensive immigration reform – and the heartbreaking stories of three people impacted by its lack. I will be blogging on these experiences – plus the report of the Fifth Principle Task Force, election proceedings, Excellence in Ministry, monitoring reports, Youth Leadership, Section XV of our by-laws, and the continued reshaping of the governance of our Association – over the next few weeks.

Next post: Revoking the Fifth Principle

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Agenda: January 2010

Second in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

The January Board Packet, which can be found here, is smaller this time -- and the meeting is shorter. Rather than face to face Finance and Working Group meetings, that normally take an extra day, many of us have been participating in multiple conference calls, that have been effective. The Finance calls have used Persony, a combination desktop display and conference call, that insure we are all looking at the same number(s).

Hot topics for January include our conversations with the DPA and how our two groups might partner, what to do with Article II (Purpose and Principles that were voted down at GA, but there are some that want a resurrection of at least part of it), Youth leadership development at the national level, monitoring reports on Policies 2.6 (benefits for related organizations) and 2.10 (asset protection), and the recommendation from the Fifth Principle Task Force. The last item concerns what General Assemblies might look like if they were focused on governance (per our by-laws), rather than the current "workshop and tradeshow" production that accompanies (and for many people supplants) the plenary sessions, which are ostensibly the purpose of General Assemblies. I am not opposed to workshops and tradeshows -- I understand the power this has for many GA attendees, but as expressed before, have major concerns about the lax nature of how congregations choose their delegates and hold them accountable.

Friday, still in formation, will be a multi-cultural experience. We are also spending most of Saturday with a number of congregations in the San Antonio area, a combination of "linking" (dialogue between boards and their "sources", what Carver calls "moral owners"), social action, and a fiesta.

Una reunión de la Tabla de Fideicomisarios en San Antonio

First in a series about the January 2010 Board of Trustees meeting in San Antonio

Hmm -- I didn't even know I was a "fideicomisario", which sounds like a "commissioner of fidelity", which is not a bad description. Breaking tradition, the UUA Board of Trustees will be meeting outside of 25 Beacon in other than General Assembly.

Why San Antonio? My "guest columnist" for the explanation is Will Saunders, Trustee for the Northern New England District:

There are at least three reasons for this decision. First, as the Trustee from the Southwestern Conference has written, this “is a purposeful move by the Board to visit a city that is on the forefront of demographic trends impacting the whole country…/and/ with a distinctly multi-cultural flavor.” As President Morales has observed, it is critical that the UUA engage directly and respond robustly with these changes if we are to remain relevant in the coming decades. This meeting will include opportunities for the Board to explore multicultural issues in new ways. We are taking our lead from President Morales, once a resident of San Antonio and Donna Harrison, current resident of that city.

A second reason is to challenge widespread notions that the UUA is wedded to Boston. We take seriously the admonition that the past should have a vote, not a veto. We recognize that there is a widespread belief among Unitarian Universalists that all things Boston have too much sway, consciously or sub-consciously, on the life and work of the Association. We are determined to address these issues so that our movement may truly be national in both intent and design. The neighborhood of Boston, once an amusing third party in the Unitarian Universalist trinity, is no longer merely amusing. It is a subtlety which must be addressed. We meet in San Antonio to begin removing the shroud of all things Boston from our deliberations and our work.

A third reason is that, as the Board lives into Policy Governance, we must be intentional about linkage with our congregations. This has proved to be challenging; our initial efforts at linkage have been mixed. We are very much in a learning mode on how to link effectively. Our meeting in San Antonio is part of this effort and we look forward to spending time with leaders of UU congregations in the area. We approach this opportunity for linkage with learners’ mind, with hope and with a desire to be servants of our congregations.

I would like to add one more thought to Will's: one of the reasons for remaining in Boston was the easy access to staff. As the board shifts more towards doing their own (board ) work, and less time reviewing staff reports, it becomes more feasible to have a board meeting with fewer staff present. It doesn't mean we don't appreciate or need their work, but Policy Governance is giving both of us more freedom without losing accountability.

Next post: the agenda