Saturday, November 5, 2011

Current and future generations

Seventh in a series of posts about the October UUA board meeting

The Steering Committe of the organization-formerly-known-as-Continental-Unitarian-Universalist-Young-Adult-Network met in Boston at the same time as the board. Several of us joined them at lunch to talk about the future of their organization and the UUA. The timing was interesting -- the board had just had its conversation about the scope of the organization.

I have heard both dismissive and earnest comments about Young Adults whose congregations are the conferences they attend -- dismissive by those who think you have to sign a book and show up religiously on Sundays, earnest by those who think we need a much broader definition of what it means to be in covenant. Not surprising, the Young Adults we met with were in the latter camp, talking eloquently of what it meant in their lives to be Unitarian Universalist. Many of them were also active in their home congregations, but not all. Rather than attempt to convince anyone that Young Adult "cons" did not compete with traditional congregations, this group embraced it, renaming themselves "Conference Attending Young Adult Network" (CAYAN, pronounced like the pepper).

A 1960 Harvard Business Review article by Ted Levitt about organizations defining themselves too narrowly (is our business about railroads or about transportation?) comes to mind when we talk about congregations. I personally do not think one can be a Unitarian Universalist in isolation -- for one thing, it is too easy, especially for someone who may define Unitarian Universalism as believing whatever you want. That said, is the only option signing the book in a congregation, whether bricks and mortar or a sanctioned virtual one like the Church of the Larger Fellowship?

Paraphrasing Ted Levitt, is our mission about congregations, or is it about covenant? I welcome our Youth and Young Adults to help the rest of us figure that out.

Our covenant

Sixth in a series of posts about the October UUA Board meeting

My board orientation in 2007 included getting a copy of the Board covenant in our binder. Somewhat put off by what appeared to be a cavalier attitude toward covenants, we six newly elected trustees complained.

In typical fashion, Moderator Gini Courter gave us the opportunity to readdress the covenant in the next board meeting, which we did. This included a survey that showed differences in how we perceived our adherence to the covenant, depending on whether or not you were a Person of Color, young, or new. Not much has been done by the Board with the covenant since, in spite of adding several new trustees.

Until this board meeting. In addition to creating a covenant, from scratch, we agreed to start each board meeting by reading it together. I am copying it below in its exact form, though we did agree we needed to clarify our intent about the bridges:

We promise to:
....listen deeply, speak boldly and keep an open mind, balancing views of self and others authentically humble, prepared and present and focus on governance as the board's essential role, while taking the long view, and maintaining accountability for anti-racism/anti-oppression/multi-culturalism
....have respect and affection for each other, assuming the best of intentions and honest needs
and building new bridges and bridges that are broken
....remember our sources and whose we are, giving space for faith

....learn and grow, practice self-care, laugh and sing!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Boston

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

Knowing I spent years as a senior corporate executive, a friend asked me last night how I felt about the Occupy movements.

I support them. I may cringe sometimes at what I perceive as naivete - a lot of good things are enabled by corporations' abilities to raise and invest money, leaving me decidedly NOT anti-corporation. But I am anti-what-many-corporation-have-become, where the profit motive has outstripped psychological, ethical, and moral contracts.

So there I was with the rest of the UUA Board, wandering between tents, stages, and humanity at Dewey Square. Some of us (trustees) washed dishes in the mess tent, some of us held signs, and others talked to the people who had been there for several weeks. This includes Andy Coates, one of the UU "protest chaplains" who can't do a lot of blogging without wi-fi right now. Among the crowd I encountered Katherine Allen, the young woman from Minneapolis I sponsored at General Assembly last summer; Lucas Hergert, who serves our Livermore (CA) congregation; and a long time (non UU) friend from Boston.

The mood was festive, peaceful; a drumming circle at one end; Marshall Ganz and Noam Chomsky at the other. Ganz encouraged the crowd not to give in to the calls for organization, clear goals, and clear leaders. He cited the story of David and Goliath: David tried on the armor of a "traditional" warrior, and it didn't fit; he went on to fight (and win) his own way. Food was free, clothes were free.

Otto Scharmer, on the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, likens the current corporate system to a cancer -- it has grown out of control, and its primary goal in life is to feed itself, not caring if it is destroying the system around it. His proposals around Capitalism 3.0 are interesting, as is his work with some of the more enlightened corporate CEOs.

Like Scharmer, I am not quite ready to give up on capitalism. So in my next life I may become a corporate healer. In the meantime, Occupy community members are making some very important points about income disparity an a system stacked against the 99%.

Governance: turnng a corner?

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

I doubt it is any secret that the transition to Policy Governance® has been a somewhat rocky one for the UUA. Part paradigm change, part culture shift, and part stand-in for other issues, the board (including me) and the staff have managed to talk past each other quite successfully.

This meeting was different. According to Carver, monitoring reports are mostly part of a consent agenda – unless there are issues, you really don’t need to talk about them.

This time we didn’t need to talk about them. It was the second year for most of them, the staff used a format that was easy to understand and evaluate, and there really weren’t any issues other than a lower than acceptable number of trustees doing the evaluations. So we addressed the latter in a constructive way that will help us as trustees to be more compliant.

I went from the UUA Board to one the following week I just joined that is not under Policy Governance. It is a well run, sophisticated organization with a member database to die for. We (happily) met for two days from 8 to 5, which tells you it is a very different board from the UUA Board.

What really stood out for me in terms of this board’s financial reporting were the very detailed reports on investments and audit statements that had the familiar glazed look from most of the board members – these are smart people with strong backgrounds, including finance and business, but it struck me that what we really wanted to know about our new investment manager did not require a long presentation. Few of us have the experience to judge the wisdom of post initial hedge fund tenders, the 20 year median OAS, or the OECD CLI. We didn’t even get the headline “Twisting in the Wind” joke referencing the Fed’s Operation Twist (I wonder if they were taking bets on that?) What we really wanted to know was who are these people and how do we know we can trust them with our money?

That is at the heart of Carver’s philosophy – non-profit boards are typically not financial wizards and shouldn’t have to be, fiduciary responsibility not withstanding. So how does management know their records and decisions are sound? What proof do they have of that? This is a very different approach from showing board members all the data and expecting them to figure it out.

A big thanks to the UUA staff for answering the right questions.

Next post: UUA Board at Occupy Boston

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who are we? Part II: the Association

Third in a series of posts from the October UUA Board meeting

As discussed in earlier posts, the Board and UUA President are sponsoring Gathered Here, an Association-wide inquiry into what connects us to our faith, and what differences we want to make in the world. This is in partnership with a growing list of UU organizations. There are two simultaneous paths for the inquiry – one for congregations that helps them identify their own goals and outcomes, and one that builds up to districts and an Association-wide shared vision roughly a year from now.

An interesting thing happened in the very first planning team meeting for Gathered Here last February.

Gathered Here is a combination of congregational and community events and one on one Appreciative Inquiry interviews. One of the commitments from the UUA Board is that these interviews would include more than those “typically at the table” but also the “historically marginalized”. This led to a conversation about Young Adults, mostly raised UU, who still identify as Unitarian Universalists but do not belong to a congregation. Would we include them?

The answer was yes. To some degree this flies in the face of the UUA Board’s strong position that we are an “Association of Congregations” (italics mine), though the by-laws proposal from the board last summer opens the potential for congregations to be other than bricks and mortar “fellowship” and “churches”. When we look forward to what Unitarian Universalism is/shall be for our children’s children, is that enough? Is an “association of congregations” more than the sum of its parts? Are we a “movement”? Are there institutions other than our congregations that are or should be in mutual accountability within that “movement”?

There questions form the basis of a year long conversation with our congregations and other key stakeholders about who we are, starting with the District Presidents Association on November 4. What comes out of these conversations will impact how we define Unitarian Universalism.

Next post: Governance: turning a corner?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who are we? Part I: the Board

Second in a series of posts about the October UUA Board meeting

A turnover of 41%* would be considered substantial in any organization. Yet through a combination of term limits, in-term resignations, and trustees deciding not to run again, that is the change in the UUA Board. In my opinion, this is for the better, not because any of the trustees who left were bad trustees and were not loved dearly by those of us left, but because this is a more diverse board.

Four trustees (plus the Youth Observer, who sits at the board table) identify as Youth or Young Adult – the highest number since I joined this board in 2007. Five identify as Latino/People of Color, and 10 are ministers. Slightly over half (52%) are men, and at least four identify as BGLTQ. This is the last board that will be elected geographically, and it should be noted that because most of our congregations and members are located east of the Mississippi, so are our trustees (12 of 19 districts are primarily east of the Mississppi).

We bring varied backgrounds: IT (information technology), corporate America, small business, the law, teaching, the military, long time UU ministers, and a former nun, to name a few. This typically means an initial struggle, as we learn to understand and accommodate each other’s values and working styles. Our new trustees have already learned that the pace of the board meetings is brutal – a New York Times article about “decision fatigue” was making the rounds during the meetings, and we all identified with it. Yet we are all culpable, asking the moderator to add “one more thing” to the agenda, and have fairly diverse opinions about what agenda items are most valuable. I am more hopeful this time that we will change it.

It’s all good.

*I have included everyone who is elected and normally "sits at the table" and participates in the discussions: this includes 23 trustees, the Youth Observer, the Moderator, the Financial Advisor, and the President.

Next post: Who are we? Part II: the Association

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A new beginning

First in a series of posts about the October 2011 UUA Board meeting

It felt different from the beginning. Ten new board members, a change in tenor from many of us returning. I was very conscious coming to this meeting that I have "only" 20 months left as a UUA trustee. I am not the only one who has a sense of urgency around leaving a board structure that has the support and clarity it needs to function -- knowing full well that each new board that comes after us has to do some of its own definition.

My positive feelings about the ten new board members have only strengthened -- it feels like the learning curve has already been shortened for them, and we are discussing real issues with a deeper level of understanding that I would have expected at this time.

This year's every-other-year retreat was led by the Rev. Margaret Marcuson, a Baptist minister who serves as a spiritual advisor to a number of UU ministers. She is low key, thoughtful. She gives the board space - and time - to sink into our own questions. She names some of our elephants. We create a covenant -- we begin to identify our work over the next few years, a task that will be picked up and amplified over the next few days: governance, shared vision, and annual plan, ministerial credentialing, and reducing the administrative load of the board (including roughly 250 committee appointments). Saturday's items are moved around to allow the board to join Boston's "Occupy Wall Street".

It's going to be an interesting meeting. Read more about it through my posts over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


It is the third Wednesday of the month, and I am standing in front the the West County Detention Facility with about 75 people. Our numbers have steadily grown over the past few months, starting with 20 at my first one in May. This facility is one of the top 30 in the country in deporting non-criminal immigrants -- nearly 600 in a little over a year with no criminal record other than not having papers. How many families does this represent? how many children whose parents have been taken away?

This evening we hear two stories -- the first from a man anxious and struggling to read his story about being detained by ICE in a 5:30 am raid, flown to Phoenix, and released after significant money changed hands. He is still undocumented and fears where he is. He is seeking "una vida mejor, para mi y mi familia" -- a better life for him and his family.

The second is a woman who has papers -- but her husband did not. He had applied for sanctuary shortly after fleeing to the United States 20 years before, from threats on his life because his father was a high-ranking official in the Guatemalan government. He had stopped to pick up his children at school, and was over the no parking line. "Give him a ticket!" she yelled as they took him away. "Give him a $15 ticket!". He was deported, and before he could make his way back to the US, he was murdered.

"Now I have two children who have no father -- for a parking ticket."

These are the complicated stories of immigration. The man who just wants "a better life" -- can we throw open our borders to everyone in the world who wants a "better life"? Maybe not, but we can treat people with respect. And sanctuary? I do wonder about the relative chances of someone from Guatemala versus what some might consider a more "desirable" ethnic background.

Worst of all is the fear -- fear of picking up your children and being stopped, fear of someone pounding on your own door in the early morning. As I posted earlier, these fears are not strong enough to stop people from crossing the border -- but what causes them should be strong enough to violate our own sense of moral justice.

A poet steps up the the microphone. With soft guitar strumming in the background, he reads his own poem "Cansado (Tired)". Tired of being afraid, tired of running, tired of being stopped for being brown, tired of being treated like dirt.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Singing hymns

Second in a series about General Assembly 2011 and the UUA Board meeting

Forty-nine fully credentialed off-site delegates from 39 congregations were part of this year’s General Assembly. It was a total thrill to watch their virtual banners in the opening banner parade (Susan Lankford from the UU Church of Berkeley is to the right), see the chart with their votes, hear their voices in the plenary hall. On Sunday, delegates overwhelmingly voted to allow offsite voting and electronic signatures.

I have been part of a “virtual team” that met by phone every week this year, and every other week between September and December of 2010. Including members from the General Assembly Planning Committee, GA Staff, UUA IT department, the UUA Board and the user community, this team has been a joy to work with even though we did not meet face to face until GA. Five more technical support volunteers joined the effort for GA, and brought the same spirit of fun, cooperation, and dedication to the effort.

A similar dynamic was going on with the virtual delegates. The Virtual Plenary Hall included a chat site – old friends were becoming reacquainted during training sessions, and a vibrant community sprang up during the plenary sessions. Said one virtual delegate when GA closed: “I really choked up when it was all over and felt the loss of a neat community.”

Acknowledging the limitations of the electronic world, I often say that nothing can replace the experience of being in a hall with thousands of other Unitarian Universalists, singing “Spirit of Life”, so I was struck by one of the stories from the plenary sessions.

Off-site delegates were encouraged to call into an audio bridge and mute their phones during votes to insure that any time delays in the streaming video would not confound the vote. Hearing some background sounds from one delegate’s line, tech support Laura Randall moved to mute it – then realized what she was hearing.

It was one of our octogenarian delegates, singing the hymn along with the plenary body. She had applied to be an off-site delegate because at 87, she could no longer travel, but really missed being part of GA. This year, she still was.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


First in a series of posts about General Assembly 2011

In providing the position of the UUA Board on its own reduction in size from 23 trustees elected mostly from districts to 11 elected at large, trustee Susan Ritchie said "you can do better than us". I concur. That does not mean I think we have been a bad board, or that we are not qualified to sit at the 25 Beacon table.

The greatest impact of this General Assembly on me personally is the passing of the resolution to downsize the UUA Board. Just re-elected at the June Pacific Central District Assembly, this means I serve a second term of two years, rather than four.

Standing in line at Starbucks in the convention center, a woman about my age asked how the board members felt about the change: “how did it feel to be identified as “less than”, that those of us of a certain age and color were somehow not good enough to serve on the board?”

I ached for her. She had just been passed over in her job for someone younger. This is not what happened in the position taken by the UUA Board.

I am proud of the contributions I have made to the UUA through my board service, and just as determined to have the next two years be even more meaningful. And I am also aware of the privilege that allows me, a 61 year old white woman who is financially independent, to serve this Association. “Be the change you want to see”: I want to willingly step aside to allow other voices as the table. Will they have the life experience, or the knowledge of institutionalism, or the skills I have assembled from leadership positions in corporate power structures? Some will, some won't, but I don’t think that is what matters most. What they will have is a different life experience, and will bring that to bear in all its richness in how we shape our future.

As I walked through the hall after the affirmative vote on downsizing the Board, I ran into several delegates from the district that elected me—each said to me “this is about trust” – trust in the board to follow through on commitments made.

This board does not take that trust lightly. I would like to know what that looks like to you -- a year (or two) from now, what will this board have done that makes you feel really good about the delegates' decision?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A smaller board vs. greater democracy?

Third is a series of posts about the April 2011 Board meeting

During the November District Presidents meeting, as the presidents were struggling with several difficult issues, I heard several express understanding of the UUA Board's need to be smaller -- they were struggling with having substantive and complicated discussions with 19 around the table -- how do you do 26?

When I first joined the Board, the Finance Committee played part of this role -- in a more relaxed environment, with fewer people, we often had the kind of discussion that would have benefited the entire board, but instead created a situation where some board members had more information than others. But setting efficiency aside, can a smaller board be more democratic?

My dictionary defines "democracy" as a "system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members, typically through elected representatives". A look around the Board table might suggest that we do not fully represent "all eligible Unitarian Universalists" -- we are mostly of a "certain age" and class, and nearly all Caucasian. Our current district selection process does insure geographic diversity, an important factor, but at the unintended cost of other kinds.

This is why the Board is submitting a by-laws revision that would change the current process of 19 trustees elected by districts plus 4 at large to 11 at large on a slate of 11 from the Nominating Committee. The suggested by-law includes language that says:

The Nominating Committee shall endeavor to nominate individuals so that the membership of the Board of Trustees and each elected committee reflects the full diversity of the Association, especially in regard to historically marginalized communities, but also balancing amongst size of congregation, lay and ordained, geography, age (including youth and young adults), and gender, among others. The Nominating Committee shall consult with groups and organizations including those traditionally underrepresented in Unitarian Universalist leadership, to help inform the nominating process.

So to coin a phrase (or quote a president), a smaller board vs. greater democracy is not only a false choice, but depends on the methodology to select the smaller board.
The full set of recommendations also includes shorter terms for trustees, and a transition plan that starts in 2013. I will be running webinars for all Pacific Central District delegates in early June that will provide the entire text of the by-laws recommendations and a chance to discuss them.

Next post: a shared "shared vision"

A Shared "Shared Vision"

Third in a series of posts about the April 2011 UUA Board Meeting

Several thousand Unitarian Universalists contributed to the current UUA "shared vision", or ends, first through Open Space Technology at GA 2007 in Portland, and then through Appreciative Inquiry at GA 2008 in Fort Lauderdale. The initial draft was vetted in 25 smaller meetings across 12 districts, with 85% of those in the meetings saying the ends capture "almost all" or "most" of what our members wanted to happen. The Board made the most common recommended changes, and we have been working with this set of ends since April of 2009.

In light of our Unitarian Universalist value that says everything is open to question, this vision too is subject to change. The stakes are higher now -- 12 districts have either adopted these ends as their own, or are in the process of doing so. The "ends" have been shared between UUA Board and the UUA President, and now the district boards.

This is one of the reasons "Gathered Here" is such a powerful concept. Using Appreciative Inquiry as the underlying mechanism, there will be hundreds (thousands?) of conversations over the next 18 months that identify what is important to us, and what differences we want to make in the world. These will be both one-on-one, and in congregational settings, including voices that are not always "at the table", such as Young Adults who identify as UU but may not currently be congregation members. Common themes will be identified across congregations, clusters, and districts -- by fall of 2012 we expect to have enough information to consider revisions to our current shared vision.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Making Progress -- April 2011 UUA Board meeting

Second in a series of posts about the April 2011 UUA Board meeting

There was a lot I liked about this board meeting. It was still our version of the Boston marathon, but at least there were fewer 7:00 am meetings. More importantly, it felt like some of the changes we have been attempting to make in governance over the past few years were finally starting to happen:
  • the Shared Vision, or Ends, of the Association moved from esoteric rhetoric to something alive and guiding our efforts
  • we considered new ways of looking at old issues, such as the Ministerial Fellowship credentialing process
  • financial processes put in place to protect us when things are not so great, such as the policies of the Endowment Committee, and the formula used for the payout, are working
  • a Justice GA that was exciting and truly different was taking shape in front of our eyes
  • we were able to come to agreement on the grubby part of by-laws changes that would downsize the board while strengthening democracy
  • we began tackling something we had been admiring from afar since the Summit on Excellence in Ministry: is there mutual accountability between the Association and our two "identify schools", Meadville Lombard and Starr King?
I will be posting on these -- and more -- over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Springtime in Boston

First in a series of posts about the April 2011 UUA Board Meeting

Next week's UUA board meeting includes finalizing several resolutions to put before delegates this summer, and some deep discussions about critical issues. In the latter category is a discussion on Thursday night about funding theological education, on Friday morning ministerial credentialing, on Friday afternoon the strategic view of ministries put together by the UUA staff, and on Saturday night the vision for GA 2012. Thursday afternoon also includes a 3 hour workshop on "right relations training" in preparation for GA 2012. There is also significant time devoted to reviewing the content of the President's "Ends" Monitoring Report, essentially the "state of the state" for how we are doing on meeting our long term goals as an Association.

By-laws proposals involve reducing the size of the board, eliminating Actions of Immediate Witness (at least temporarily), and the details of the selection process the board will use to nominate the moderator.

At various times we will be joined by the GA Planning Committee, members of the GA Accountability group, and leadership from our two theological schools.

These topics -- and more -- will be covered over the next few weeks. You can download the packet here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Insult to Injury

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

Cesar Lopez is no ordinary community organizer. Though come to think of it, I have not met many ordinary community organizers. His combination of passion, knowledge, and humility enables him to provide a compelling case for what he believes in.

Cesar was one of our hosts at Tierra y libertad organization (TYLO), along with Imelda and Teresa. He clearly had more organizing experience, but was coaching and mentoring the two younger women, supporting them as part of the leadership of the organization. Radio Station KPFA (Berkeley) was in Tucson at the TYLO house at the same time we were to interview Cesar as part of their nationally syndicated program Flashpoints -- you can hear that interview here. Cesar starts 17 minutes into the one hour program, but it is all worth listening to, including the interview with two Tucson high school students about the elimination of ethnic studies.

Signed into law last May by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the law makes it a crime to "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." According to the interviewed teens, the popular ethnic studies courses at Tucson High had made a huge difference in the lives of those who took them, significantly increasing standardized test scores and almost doubling graduation rates. The interview also contains a conversation with a teacher of ethnic studies who has refused to stop teaching them, and has been arrested along with several other teachers.

Next post: what else the UUA Board discussed

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Building a Bridge

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

Saturday morning included discussion with members of Puente (Spanish for bridge), a grassroots community-based groups devoted to justice, non-violence, interdependence and human dignity. We heard about success in boycotting the Diamondbacks and Budweiser, and how Sheriff Joe Arpiao, who had targeted North Phoenix with massive raids prior to the July 27 Day of Resistance, had not tried one since. Puente's organizers have been going door to door, signing up voters. They are filing complaints against the school that has allowed their children to be harassed by authorities looking for undocumented people, setting up English schools so they can defend themselves.

We also heard from 3rd Space, an immigrants rights group which is helping undocumented BLGTQ youth know their rights, and Tupac Enrique Acosta, from Tonatierra who is working to "create and sustain a Cultural Embassy of the Indigenous Peoples that will support local-global and holistic indigenous community development initiatives in education, culture, and economic development in accord with the principles of Community Ecology and Self Determination". All were moving, and I found Enrique Acosta's mix of spiritual presence and empowered defiance particularly eloquent.

One of the common themes from all of our speakers in the past week has been heightened expectations for what Unitarian Universalists will add to this effort. This is not just about a "Justice GA" in 2012 in which several thousand UUs parachute in, do stuff, and then go home. We have started something -- our partners are stretched even thinner than our local congregations and UUA staff are. They -- and our UU partners from traditionally marginalized groups -- are looking to us to fulfill the promises we painted in May and July with hundreds of yellow T-shirts. We have begun to build this bridge -- do we have the will to strengthen and use it?

Friday, January 21, 2011

How we are with each other

Third in a series of posts on the January UUA board meeting

One by one they stood up, giving their names, congregations, and when they had been arrested. Several talked about their strong conviction that this was a justice issue, how they could not NOT do it. There was a realization that being white made it easier, but mostly what made it easier was that there were at least 7 or 8 others standing on the sidewalks for every person who was arrested.

They knew they were not alone.

These were, of course, the Unitarian Universalists who were arrested in connection with the July 29 demonstration against SB 1070 in Arizona. Coming from across the country, those arrested included Arizona UUs, several from our district (Pacific Central), as well as President Peter Morales. Most of their charges have been dismissed.

This was Day 5 of a very different UUA Board meeting. The morning included meeting with heads of various activist organizations, including Somos America and ministers from other denominations who said to us "you don't know how much it meant to have you here. We have been discouraged. We have felt alone. All those yellow shirts told us we were not. You have inspired us."

In the evening the Board, GA2012 Accountability Committee, and members of the GA Planning Committee were joined by the board of the Pacific Southwest District and members of local congregations. We broke into small groups and talked about what made the idea of GA2012 different: it was a real chance to make a difference, to work together, to do something different. Yes, some people who normally came would not, but there would be space for others who had not attended before, especially our youth and young adults. And one by one we stood up to say what we needed to make this work for us: media attention, money, accessibility concerns in 120 degree heat, interfaith coalitions, singing, impeccable logistics skills, support to bring in youth and young adults, support for an immigration ministry, and opening our capacity for love: "we need a little bit of knock down roll around love".

And my favorite was the person who stood to say "this has the potential to be transformational or a failure. The difference will be how we are with each other".


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Me llamo Lourdes

Second in a series of posts about the January UUA Board Meeting

Her name was Lourdes. We met her at the comedor (eating area) in Nogales, where she was spending her third month, first as a deportee, then as a volunteer. She was desperate to get back home.

"Home" was California, where she had a 9 year old son and 14 year old daughter. She had lived in California for nearly 20 years -- without documentation. An aunt was caring for her two children.

Hers was one of many stories we heard in this border town, where hundreds of people are deported daily from around the United States. The couple from Guatemala, who would try again to cross that very night, the woman whose 8 year old daughter had been sexually abused, the 60 year old man who had lived in Chicago since he was a child.

Between UUA Board members and local Tucson congregation members, over 40 people spent two intense days talking to migrants and various groups who worked with those migrants -- No Mas Muertes, a ministry of the UU Church of Tucson; the Samaritans, who left food and water in the desert for those who crossed; Tierra y libertad organization, "dirt-roots" organizing for the barrios in South Tucson, and the hard-working public defenders who described the inhumanity and indignities of Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is our tax dollars at work, designed to wage "war on terrorism" by prosecuting border crossings with mandatory jail sentences, under the illusion that this will deter someone whose children need food, or whose mother needs medicine. Currently over half of all Federal prosecutions are small scale immigration offenders -- nearly all of them are solely for crossing the border without papers. This means prosecution of serious offenses like violent crimes, forgery, larceny, and theft have decreased as the courts are clogged with migrants. And the cost is astronomical -- $7-$10 million per month in Arizona. In Texas alone the incarceration costs since 2005 have been $1.2 billion.

The beneficiary of this is the Correction Company of America, who is building the prisons and according to our hosts, helped write Arizona SB1070.

Most striking to me was the dehumanizing of migrants as the "other". We heard Border Patrol referring to them as "bodies". Operation Streamline runs 60-70 people through the court together, in chains at their ankles, waists, and hands. They show up in the clothes they crossed in, without showers, days or weeks later. Having eaten little, and with shoelaces and belts taken as standard procedure, it is not unusual for a migrant to approach to bench and lose their trousers -- and their dignity. Immigration attorneys are assigned as many as 80 clients at a time, leaving them little opportunity to do other then tell them their basic rights.

And it is not working. According to Heather Williams, who runs the Public Defenders office in Tucson, 30 days in jail is not about to scare people who brave robbery, rape, or death in a desert crossing.

There were several posters on the wall of the comedor, warning people not to cross. It included the one at the top of this post -- each of the red dots is where a body -- not alive -- was found.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walking North

First in a series of posts about the January UUA Board Meeting. A similar version of this post is appearing on the UUA Board blog.

On Monday, January 18, 14 members of the UUA Board of Trustees will walk across the border with other UUs and members of the group No Más Muertes (No More Deaths, a ministry of the UU Congregation of Tucson) to Nogales, Mexico, where we will speak with migrants and just-deported migrants. The afternoon includes a panel discussion with human rights and immigration rights activists, and the next day will find some of us in court, observing the deportation process, and some of us back in Nogales, serving the same groups of people we saw the day before. On Wednesday we return to Tempe and the start of the January Board meeting, part of it joint with the 2012 GA Advisory Team. Chaired by (Rev.) Leslie Takahashi Morris, this team was convened to represent many of the stakeholders in a “justice GA” and reports to both the board and the GA Planning Committee.

The Board meeting includes time with several immigration rights groups and local Unitarian Universalist congregations. The events in Tucson of January 8, in which 6 people were murdered, and a US representative is still in critical condition, add both deliberation and urgency to these meetings. Many of our local congregants knew Representative Giffords and other victims of the shooting, and worked on her campaign. We all shared the shock expressed by President Peter Morales that day.

The immigration issue has become more and more personal for me. As posted previously in this blog, reading “The Death of Josseline” forced me to abandon my own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding many of the service people I come into contact with. Many of them are illegal, including one who is college-educated from El Salvador, fled because her father and his family were targeted by crime gangs, and spent 10 days in jail when she was caught crossing the border to the United States illegally.

When they let her go, she kept on walking north.

Next post: how we expect to spend 60 hours in Board meetings