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General Assembly focuses UUA on immigration

Selects immigration for four-year study; approves UUA election reforms.
By Jane Greer
7.5.10

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Gordon Martin, Gini Courter, and Ned Leibensperger

Retired Massachusetts District Court Judge Gordon Martin, UUA Parliamentarian since 1969, UUA Moderator Gini Courter, and UUA legal counsel Ned Leibensperger. (Nancy Pierce)

Immigration was the dominant theme of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, June 23–27. The Assembly called for a special General Assembly devoted to immigrant justice in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2012; selected “Immigration as a Moral Issue” as a Congregational Study/Action Issue for the next four years; and endorsed an Action of Immediate Witness calling for immigration reform at the state and federal levels.

In other business, the General Assembly adopted a Statement of Conscience on “Creating Peace” after four years of congregational study; amended the bylaws to change the terms of office and the nomination process for the president and moderator; approved two environmental justice Actions of Immediate Witness; and passed Responsive Resolutions supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, reaffirming a commitment to youth and young adult ministry, calling for a “covenant of right relationships,” and urging the planners of the 2012 General Assembly to make the event as accessible as possible, with special consideration for youth and young adults and UUs who “choose not to attend . . . for reasons of safety or personal ethics.”

Delegates overwhelmingly approved of keeping the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, Ariz., although tensions ran high as delegates shaped the resolution brought to the plenary floor. The UUA Board of Trustees had called for a boycott of Arizona in 2012 in response to the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 in April; UUA President Peter Morales, however, urged UUs not to boycott the state but to come to Arizona to transform General Assembly into a “convergence for human rights.” In Minneapolis, delegates met in mini-assemblies to amend the board’s resolution, and developed compromise language that called for a “Justice General Assembly” with a minimum of institutional business. (See UU World’s coverage of the Arizona vote: “‘Justice’ General Assembly to be held in Phoenix,” 6.28.10.)

The debate and vote on the resolution concerning the 2012 General Assembly was preceded on Saturday afternoon by a program featuring a film about UUs and immigration in Arizona, which showed congregants talking about having their families ripped apart through deportation. The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, minister of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla., spoke about the difficulties of navigating the U.S. immigration system. The Rev. Victoria Safford urged delegates to engage in a respectful debate: “What we choose to say this afternoon, and then soon enough in public, matters. But how we speak here matters more. Beloved community is about the way that people commit to move forward together.” Salvador Reza, representing Puente, an immigrant rights organization in Arizona, said, “We come here to invite you to come to Arizona, not only for one moment for an event, but to come to Arizona and participate in this struggle that we call a human rights struggle.” Four UU leaders then delivered prayers before debate began.

Only a few speakers defended the original idea of a boycott, citing the value of keeping money out of Arizona, before delegates voted not to return to the board’s original call for a boycott. When the vote on holding a “Justice General Assembly” in Arizona was taken, an overwhelming majority of the delegates raised their voting cards in favor.

Social justice resolutions

Delegates selected “Immigration as a Moral Issue” as the Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) for 2010–2014. The General Assembly selects a new CSAI every other year. At the end of the four-year process, the Commission on Social Witness drafts a resolution, called a Statement of Conscience, based on input from congregations. The UUA is midway through a CSAI process on “Ethical Eating.” Delegates chose immigration this year over proposals on “Energy, Peace, and Justice,” “Ending Slavery,” “National Economic Reform,” and “Revitalizing American Democracy.”

The General Assembly endorsed a new Statement of Conscience on “Creating Peace.” An earlier version of the statement was referred back to the Commission on Social Witness at last year’s General Assembly, with just war advocates finding it too pacifist and pacifists finding it too militant. According to Commission member John Hooper, “The changes to the Statement of Conscience have not just been modifications or amendments, but a transformation in the approach of the document itself.” The statement was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Delegates approved three of the five Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) they debated. Actions of Immediate Witness are public witness resolutions added to the General Assembly by petition at GA.

One AIW expressed opposition to Arizona SB 1070 and similar legislation targeting undocumented immigrants in other states and called for national immigration reform. Another called for environmental and economic justice on the Gulf Coast. A third AIW urged that the Clean Energy Bill be expanded to include capping greenhouse gas emissions, controlling offshore oil drilling, and stopping mountaintop removal coal mining.

Two other proposed AIWs—one denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the other calling for an immediate end to U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan—failed to achieve the support of two-thirds of the delegates.

Bylaw changes

The Assembly approved several bylaw changes. The most notable amendments change the way that the UUA president and moderator are elected and adjust the length of their terms.

Under the new bylaws, a seven-person nominating committee will be responsible for selecting two candidates to run for UUA president. The nominating committee, which becomes one of the UUA’s six standing committees, will consist of five people elected by the General Assembly and two selected by the Board of Trustees. Candidates will still be able to run for president by petition.

The board will be responsible for nominating at least one candidate for moderator. The moderator, who is the UUA’s chief governance officer, chairs the board and presides over General Assembly.

The terms of office for both the UUA president and moderator have been changed from two four-year terms to a single six-year term. The new system will take effect in 2013 for moderator and in 2017 for the president.

Other bylaw changes include the insertion of a clause in the bylaws saying that trustees and committee members can be removed for “good cause.” Another removes the word “continental” from several bylaws concerning the social witness process, and another gives the board responsibility for preparing and approving the GA agenda, bringing the law into alignment with actual practice. Other changes allow the UUA to send candidate information and notification about draft Statements of Conscience electronically.

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