"GAdding About" Day 2

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Prepared for UUA.org by Doug Muder


Yesterday morning my wife Deb and I drove to St. Louis from my parents' house in Quincy, Illinois. On the way we passed one of Missouri's famous Unitarian landmarks, the UU Bowling Green. I've never been to the Green, but I've often wondered about it as I pass its sign on Highway 61.

We spent most of Tuesday settling in—we found our hotel and the convention center, registered, met some of the other people who are doing the web coverage of GA, and then walked down to the river to see the Arch at sunset, when it looks golden and fiery. I'm hoping one of the official photographers gets a shot of it, because my digital camera wasn't doing it justice.

Formal activities don't get started until this afternoon, but Tuesday evening the public spaces of the Renaissance Hotel were full of UUs milling about, trying to figure out who had arrived and where they might be staying. I don't consider myself particularly well known or connected, but even I was running into familiar faces: Elizabeth Jas from First Parish Lexington (where I was a member years ago) was putting her innate cheerfulness to official use as a greeter. (I can't imagine doing that job. After the fifth person I'd be barking, "Whadda you want?") And as I walked down the sidewalk towards dinner, I heard a rap on a window and saw Ron Cordes, from my home congregation in Bedford.

This kind of thing gives GA a small-town feel, which can seem a little odd in the middle of a major city. And even though I don't like to think of UU as a type, when you look at a room full of us it is apparent that certain characteristics repeat. I haven't tried to figure out what they are yet, but as I ate dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant, it was obvious that the place had been overrun by Unitarians. I kept looking up and thinking I was supposed to know this person or that one. In fact I didn't know them, but my unconscious kept identifying them as the kind of people I know.

Today's agenda contains a lot of running around. This morning I'm hanging around the web-workers' room, snatching free bagels and coffee, writing this blog entry, and hoping to run into the person who is going to design the web page it appears on. After lunch I head back out to the airport to meet two teen-age girls coming to their first GA. One of them I've known since she was a baby, and the other (her best friend) I've also met several times. I'm hoping their presence means I'll be plugged into the youth gossip. I'll probably sit through the youth orientation with them, then come back here for the official web-workers' orientation. Tonight is the official opening of the conference, which I'm told includes a procession of banners and the kind of formal pageantry UUs often scrimp on. Then, if I'm still awake, there are evening activities.

At least that's the plan.

late night.

As so often happens, many of my plans for the day went astray. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow, when I've had more sleep. Now I just want to get some thoughts out of my head so that sleep has a chance to get in.

One part of my plan did work out: I made it to the reception for UU bloggers after the evening plenary. We didn't get started until almost 10 p.m., and then ran until about 11:30. People trickled in by twos and threes, and we ultimately wound up with about two dozen bloggers in the room.

The reception was sponsored by the Information Technology Services staff group of the UUA, which seems to be fascinated by the blogging community and wonders how the UUA and UU bloggers can work together to our mutual advantage. I don't think the UUA people knew exactly what question they wanted to ask, and the question we ended up discussing was something like: How can the UUA create the kind of buzz it wants among bloggers?

It was an interesting conversation that I'm sure will be adequately covered by the other bloggers—I'll try to point you to their blogs as they show up. But I came out of the room thinking about the conversation we might have had, so I think I'll say a little about that. The question they should have asked—and maybe they even did ask it, but we misinterpreted—is more like: How can the UUA help UU bloggers become more effective at spreading the values of liberal religion?

That question has an answer that is very simple to state: Create community infrastructure that helps us find readers and helps readers find us. A very good example is what DailyKos did for politically liberal bloggers. Someone who is totally new to blogging can post a piece on DailyKos, and if it strikes a nerve, that post can wind up with tens of thousands of readers in a few days. Hundreds of them will leave comments. That's not going to happen if you create a political blog on Blogspot and wait to see who notices it. (I speak from experience. You can still be the first commenter at my Open Source Journalism blog.

Nothing similar exists for UU bloggers or religiously liberal bloggers in general. (A DailyKos spin-off called Street Prophets provides a home for bloggers whose liberal political values are religiously inspired, but that's not the same thing.) If the UUA could get such a thing off the ground, it could develop a community spirit in much the same way that DailyKos did, and could develop into a strong collective voice for liberal religion.