General Assembly 2014 Event 338
This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session IV for the complete video and order of business.
MODERATOR: I now call to order the fourth general session of the 53rd General Assembly of this Unitarian Universalist Association. Are we ready to discuss and vote on the congregational study action issues before us this afternoon?
MODERATOR: All right. So please welcome back to the podium, Susan Goekler, chair of the Commission on Social Witness.
SUSAN GOEKLER: Thank you. Mr. Moderator, delegates, based on the results of the congregational poll, the Commission on Social Witness submits to the delegates for a vote to select one issue for four years of study in action the following issues. And you can find them in page 87 in your book. Starting there, escalating inequality, gun violence, a public health issue, renewing and securing our American democracy, ending the war on terror, and empowerment age inability reconsidered.
MODERATOR: And I'm going to interrupt this programming to bring to you a special announcement. Some of you that are following the GA app in Facebook and the like will know that there are some people that have been repelling down the side of the convention center today, as a part of the Brave Souls UUs Pledge Over the Edge event. Brave Souls is a celebration of the audacity of our movement and the power of generosity, in honor of the legacy of stewardship left by the Reverend Terry Sweetser in his 20 years of serving this faith. Many UUs have made brave pledges to increase generosity to the UU community, and a few brave souls have literally gone over the edge for Unitarian Universalism.
One person was noticeably absent from the pre-checkout register, and that would be UUA president, the Reverend Peter Morales. Would you like to see him go over the edge?
MODERATOR: If we can raise $100,000 today, he will repel at 2:45 p.m. And I know you want to be in the hall paying attention to me, but please join in a making a gift. You can do that outside the repelling site, or you can do it online, to the Terry Sweetser fund for stewardship. If we can meet this goal, Peter will go over the edge.
OK. We're now part of the agenda where we will take action to decide on which of the five proposed congressional study action issues that appear in your final agenda. They are on pages 87 through 95, and will be referred to our member congregations and other UU groups for study and action. This is your cue to reach towards things like your voting cards and program, so you can follow along with this. We're not going to vote for a while, but you need to have access to it.
See bylaw section 4-12, statements of conscience, page 106 and 107, for a complete outline of the process. I hope you went to the mini assemblies. This is the first step in a process that may ultimately produce a Unitarian Universalist Association statement of conscience. Susan Goekler, whom you just heard from, has told you what they are, and as noted on page 11 of the rules for procedure—that would be—rule 11 of the rules for procedure—that would be on page 85, the sponsor of each issue will have two minutes to speak in favor of the issue.
And the first proposed congregational study action issue eligible for referral to member congregations and districts is found on page 87 of the program book, also known as the final agenda, and is entitled empowerment age and ability reconsidered. So that's the order we're going to go in. So will the chair of the Commission of Social Witness please introduce the sponsor of this proposed congressional study action issue, who will have two minutes to speak in support of the issue?
SUSAN GOEKLER: Thank you. The sponsor for the congregational study action issue, empowerment age and ability reconsidered, is Reverend Robert Murphy of Falmouth, Massachusetts.
The mic is not on.
MODERATOR: The moderator will recognize the speaker at the pro mic.
BOB MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. My name is Bob Murphy. I'm from Falmouth, Massachusetts, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. OK. I'm going to face the camera. What do you think of that? This is the resolution that works for you, because this is the one that asks you not just for a moment of your time, this asks you to build a strong movement. It'll bring every age group together. It'll help people with disabilities. A strong, liberal movement that can go out into communities and do some good, and it all starts with us.
And if you want to support youth groups, if you want to support retired people, if you want to support Social Security, this is the resolution to support. We need a movement, not a moment. We need to build strong congregations they can reach out in the world. And this empowerment statement is the statement that will do that, not just for five minutes, but that'll help your congregation for the next four years.
So I ask you to vote yes in support of empowerment. Vote yes for congregations. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so the second proposed congregational study action issue eligible for referral to member congregations is found on page 89 of the final agenda and it's titled ending the war on terror. Will the chair please introduce the sponsor?
SUSAN GOEKLER: The sponsor of the proposed congregational study action issue, ending the war on terror, is David Keppel from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana.
MODERATOR: I recognize the speaker at the pro microphone.
DAVID KEPPEL: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. My name is David Keppel, and I'm chair of the Just Peace Task Force of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. We ask you to support ending the war on terror as the next congregational study action issue. Unlike domestic bread and butter issues, the war on terror is not something most of us experience in our daily lives. Armed drones do not inflict death by remote control in the skies over Providence as they do in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. We do not expect to be tortured or unlawfully detained. We may know that virtually all our communications are monitored, but we have had no direct experience of political blackmail.
Yet others across the globe do experience these horrors because they are done in our name. Selecting this issue is a religious act of making the invisible visible, of taking responsibility, of moving beyond fear and reflexive violence, of imagining and creating a new global community. It is also practical because the war on terror has a stranglehold on money needed to rebuild this country and address extreme poverty globally. Drone strikes cannot make us secure. Only sheared security can do that.
Unitarian Universalists can and must come together to become a voice of conscience for a new kind of security that accepts uncertainty, that affirms religious, and political, and cultural pluralism, that champions democracy and equality, not just in this country, but for every person. Please vote for ending the war on terror. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: And may I suggest, before I introduce the next to sponsor, may I suggest that in this is a 21st century of looking for gender neutral addresses, could you address me as moderator key or Jim? Either one will do. That would be preferred by me, and I hope by others.
MODERATOR: The third proposed congregational study action issue eligible for referral to member congregations is found on page 91 of the final agenda, and entitled escalating inequality. I think you're getting the drill now. Will the chair please introduce this one?
SUSAN GOEKLER: Thank you. The sponsor for this proposed study action issue, escalating inequality, is the Reverend Brock Leach, who's a delegate from the UU Church of Sarasota, Florida. He is at the General Assembly as a staff member of the UUSC. The proposing congregation is the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
MODERATOR: I recognize the speaker at the pro mic.
BROCK LEACH: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. I'm Reverend Brock Leach of the UUSC. From its inception, the promise of America has been that regardless of your ancestry, or your means, or your beliefs, you could create the future you envision for yourself, and you could be supported in a democratic community of equals. These are also our ideals. They originated in the Cambridge platform and are expressed in our foundational principles of inherent worth and interdependence. It's been a long struggle to extend that promise to every person, but these two ideas, that every one of us deserves the chance to make the best of our gifts and callings, and that all of us are it in this together, have sustained us. They've brought us together in times of hardship. They've called us to stand against tyranny. They have unleashed phenomenal creativity. They are glue that binds us together as a people.
But after nearly a half century of outrageously widening income disparity, after an erosion in the basics of economic opportunity like adequate food, and housing, and quality education, and health care, even for the children who are the promise of our future. After the pollution of our democracy with unlimited money, today the American promise is being broken right before our eyes. And it breaks my heart because it threatens the principles of freedom, and opportunity, and equality, and justice that we have worked so hard to extend these 250 years.
Without basic economic fairness, all of it is at risk. As a religious movement that hearkens back to the very beginnings of The American promise, it's time for us not to just go on record, but to act. On behalf of UUSC, and our partners who are struggling for economic justice every day, and the thousands of our members who care passionately about our values, please join us in a movement to restore the real American promise, because every one of us does deserve a chance, and we are all in this together.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: The fourth proposed congregational study action issue eligible for referral to congregations, and districts, and regions is found on page 94 of the final agenda, entitled gun violence, a public health issue. Will the chair please introduce the sponsor?
SUSAN GOEKLER: Thank you. The sponsor of this study action issue, gun violence, a public health issue, is Susan Manning from the First Religious Society in Newport, Massachusetts.
SUSAN MANNING: Newburyport.
SUSAN GOEKLER: Newburyport.
MODERATOR: I recognize the speaker at the pro microphone.
SUSAN MANNING: Thank you. This proposal is titled gun violence, a public health issue. Since the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut I've been studying gun violence. I've learned that since 1963—
SUSAN MANNING: 1966—
MODERATOR: Excuse us. Let me let you start all over again once we get the microphones fixed. I need a signal from the tech deck when we get that fixed. Say hello to me, and let's talk for a minute and see if it's working.
SUSAN MANNING: Can you hear me now?
MODERATOR: I cannot hear you now. Do we have a solution? Could I ask you to go over to a microphone that works? Would that be an inconvenience? Try the procedures mic, or the [INAUDIBLE] mic, whichever is closer. Your choice. And let's make sure the clock starts all over again, so we haven't used up your time. I can't see. Is it back to zero? Good.
SUSAN MANNING: Can you hear me now?
MODERATOR: I can. The chair recognizes the delegate from the amendment microphone.
SUSAN MANNING: Thank you I'm Susan Manning. I'm from the First Religious Society in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This proposal is titled gun violence, a public health issue. Since the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut, I've been studying gun violence. I've learned that since 1963, 166,500 children and teenagers have lost their lives to guns. That's an average of 3,470 deaths every year for 50 years. If this number of children were dying because of a virus, we would be demanding a cure.
These statistics do show evidence of a virus, a virus of gun violence, an epidemic. The events of Newtown, Santa Barbara, the Tennessee Valley UU Church, the daily shootings we hear about are not isolated events. They are the direct result of gun manufacturers' dogged pursuit of profit and the NRA's political machinations. As people of faith, we are called on to challenge this unprincipled industry. By bringing our religious witness to bear on this profoundly moral issue, we can insist on much safer products and better regulated distribution of firearms.
Death-causing businesses can and have been changed. For example, tobacco companies and also the automobile industry. With passionate, moral leadership we can change the gun industry, which is getting away with murder. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
We may have to do a little—
SPEAKER 1: One, two, three, pro microphone.
MODERATOR: --dancere here. Are we OK now? All right. The fifth proposed congregational study action issue eligible for a referral to member congregations and districts, found on page 95 of the final agenda, is titled renewing and securing our American democracy. Will the chair introduce the sponsor?
SUSAN MANNING: The sponsor speaking on behalf of the study action issue of renewing and securing our American democracy is James Hall, First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Massachusetts.
MODERATOR: I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.
JAMES HALL: Thank you. Our American democracy is in great danger. The Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to the pouring of overwhelming amounts of money into our election and political processes by super rich donors and narrow special interests. And the outsized influence of big money is on top of the other troubling aspects of our politics today. Increasing voter suppression efforts, negative campaigning, hyper partisan politics and governmental gridlock, extreme gerrymandering of political districts, the disillusionment of ordinary citizens, decreasing voter turnout, the erosion of our civil liberties.
The fifth of our Unitarian Universalist principles is that we covenant to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. And in our history, we UUs have been very active in striving to keep our American democracy alive and well. Just last year this body past an action of immediate witness to amend the Constitution. Corporations are not persons and money is not speech. And in 2011 we strongly supported the AIW Oppose Citizens United, support free speech for people. In the past 10 years we have likewise passed AIWs on clean, honest, and fair elections, freedom of the airwaves, and electronic voting. In 2004, after two years of study, we passed an official statement of conscience on civil liberties.
Now it is imperative that we Unitarian Universalists take a rigorous and comprehensive look at our political system and produce a well thought-out, well-documented, and effective plan to save, renew, and further democracy in America.
MODERATOR: Thank you, thank you.
JAMES HALL: Thank you.
MODERATOR: So we have heard from the sponsors of the five proposed CSAIs, and now we have time for up to four additional statements of support for each issue. I wonder if we have anybody off site that will be speaking. I'm not sure. It doesn't look like it. Let me suggest a way to do this. Issue one will be at the amendment mic, and they look like they're lined up to do that, the four folks. Issue two will be at the pro mic, which is now working, and they look like they're lined up for that. Issue three will be over here at the con. Oh, you surprised me. I thought you were sitting over there in the wrong line, but that's good. They're keyed up. Issue four will be back at the amendment line. And issue five will be back at the pro microphone.
So we have we got that? This little dance that we're doing? So we're going to hear from four speakers on CSI number one, and then we'll go through all four speakers for each one. And then we'll see where we are.
So when you come to the microphone, tell us who you are, of course, and which congregation to whom you're accountable. So I recognize the speaker at the amendment mic.
ROBIN YATES: My name is Robin Yates. I am a delegate from the UU Church of Tarpon Springs in Florida. I rise in support of issue one for two reasons. Number one, this issue will encourage us to do social justice within the walls of our church. There is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed, and it has to do with how we're treating certain members of our congregations, or people that are trying to come into our church. This will be doable. We will be able to have measurable results that are concrete if we follow this path.
My second reason is my son. In ninth grade his ADHD ballooned into full blown bipolar disorder. This was a total shock to my wife and to me. It is a saying in the community that deals with mental illness that an individual who has mental illness, it's not the individual, it affects the entire family. We had no experience with this. My wife, God rest her soul, addressed this much better than I. She immersed herself in the literature, she learned what bipolar was all about, and she got involved as a workshop leader with the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
I stuck my head in the sand like an ostrich hoping it would go away. Of course, it didn't. I think we have the same issue with our churches. We have our heads stuck in the sand. We're not welcoming to people with mental illness in our congregations, and we need to be. We need to explore that.
My son has antennae that are incredible. He can tell when somebody is welcoming or not. So our choice is quite simple. We address this issue or not. We welcome these people or do not. And if we do not, shame on us.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I recognize the second delegate speaking on empowerment age and ability reconsidered.
SUZANNE FAST: Suzanne Fast, Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, Florida, President of Equal Access. People with disabilities are nearly twice as likely as other people in this country to have an annual household income of $15,000 or less, not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which means we're not covered by the minimum wage. We're more likely to be trafficked than most other groups. We are incarcerated, disenfranchised by voter suppression laws, bullied, and funneled from school to prison at a rate many times our proportion in the population. Then there's Medicaid, transportation, and a whole litany of other things that affect mostly our group.
And yet, at a time when Unitarian Universalist religious voices are needed the most our congregations are rarely engaged in disability justice issues. You won't see an ocean of yellow shirts at our rallies. And until we raise awareness in and through our congregations about the realities of living with disabilities, and on the margins of society, these things are not going to change.
This CSAI can change hearts and minds in our congregations about how we understand disability. When we change it in our congregations then we may be there helping to change the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I now recognize the third delegate speaking on empowerment age and ability reconsidered.
JAY POWELL: Thank you, Jim. As a person who is 83 years of age, I have experienced a variety of—
MODERATOR: Could we have your name? And—
JAY POWELL: All right. My name is Jay Powell. I am from Pittsburgh. First Church. I have experienced a wide variety of discriminative kinds of things. Most recently, married to a person who's T, and that was another form of discrimination that has occurred towards me, and by certain members of the church.
SPEAKER1: Talking from the point of view of Marshall Rosenberg, who has talked about the peaceful resolution of disagreements, what he says is, you've got to open space to give people room, whether it be a person of color, a person of disability, a person who has a different way of looking at things, it doesn't matter. And the way you open space is, instead of making a statement, you ask a question. And then from the response, you ask another question, and that clarifies the differences to give you a place from which to work together to unify yourselves within that new space that has been created. I think that's all I need to say.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I now recognize the fourth and last delegate speaking on empowerment, age and ability reconsidered. Please give us your name and congregation.
MARCIA GILBERT: Marcia Gilbert, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Modesto, California. That's a mouthful.
MARCIA GILBERT: I would like to speak to this because I think is an un-sexy issue. This is not covered by the media. This does not get the support of the main line person that you talk to on the street. It does affect each and every one of us. It involves ageism, classism, sexism, it involves all the isms, including those isms that are invisible to us. If we don't start it at home, where we can actually accomplish something at home, and set an example for people who live around us home, then we are going to lose a lot of people that are very valuable to us. So please vote the un-sexy one, number one.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: So we've heard from the four delegates that are speaking on behalf of empowerment, age and ability reconsidered. Now I'm going to turn to the pro microphone and recognize the first delegate, who wishes to speak in support of ending the war on terror. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.
PAT BRANTLINGER: Thank you. My name is Pat Brantlinger. I am from the UU Church in Bloomington, Indiana. And I am speaking for ending the war on terror. Rather than terror, I'm going to use the word genocide. How many genocides are we, the American people, going to ignore, support and allow our government to perpetrate before we make a stand against what we were doing in the world?
All of us know some of the main facts, things that have been in the mass media, but there are many other events and processes that we may not be aware of. I'll just mention one, the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant during the Clinton years in the Sudan, the Al-Shifa plant. Estimates are—and obviously, very hard to make estimates—but estimates are easily that several hundred thousand Sudanese people have died as a result of that bombing because it wiped out medical supplies, basic needs, not only for people, but also for animals, throughout the Sudan. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I now recognize the second delegate speaking in support of ending the war on terror. I recognize the delegate at pro microphone.
JERRY RUBIN: Thank you. My name is Jerry Rubin. I'm from the First Universalist Society in Franklin, Massachusetts. Ending the war on terror directly embraces our sixth principal, the goal of world community. It defines us deeply. Is our way of fighting terrorism reinforcing terrorism? This issue needs to be studied precisely because it is so complex. We saw the damage to our nation and the world when our former president used the damaging Axis of Evil rhetoric. With a bomber at the helm, our image has improved, but the problems remain.
Terrorism disconnects us from people who are different from us, as such, it is a form of racism. Our ability to love is affected when we see the world from adversarial eyes. Taking a stand against terrorism has the potential to role model to other religious institutions the crucial importance of this issue. As UUs our focus on social justice and our striving for thoughtful introspection, places us in a unique position to address this issue in a balanced way.
We have the capacity for thoughtful dialogue on this issue. There is a meeting place between passivism and over-protectiveness, and we can help define it. Looking at this study issue from both sides using the three Cs of closeness, clarity, and compassion, we have the potential to break new ground. Studying this issue will help us to understand how terrorism affects us and our children. We need to fully recognize the extensive human suffering stemming from terrorism. Let us firmly put into practice the most important teachings of all religions, loving one another.
Let us take a stand on an issue which has made Americans polarized or numb for too long. Let us focus a light on an issue which affects our entire planet. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I now recognize the delegate at the pro mice speaking—the third delegate speaking—in support of ending the war on terror.
BILL BREEDEN: Thank you, unisex moderator.
BILL BREEDEN: My name is Bill Breeden. I'm Minister Emeritus, and soon to be retired Co-minister of Unitarian Universalist Church in Bloomington, Indiana. I stand to speak for this study action issue because I am new to the Unitarian Universalism. I came in in the last decade of the 20th century, when my daughter discovered this congregation, and then I became a minister in it.
My sense is that we have long struggled to be the prophetic church we need to be. And when you look over the history of speakers at GA, you hear Martin Luther King, Junior. The first GA that I attended was in 2003, where I received preliminary fellowship. My friend and mentor, Howard Zinn was one of the speakers. We have speaker after speaker that comes to GA, and many of them point to the same problem, the root problem we have of a nation, and that is the extreme militarism that takes the money away from the welfare for the warfare. And I think we need to care for the welfare of our nation.
The next speaker we're going to hear in that line is tomorrow afternoon with Simone Campbell, one of the brave Nuns on the Bus. And what I'd like to see is for the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to take a prophetic stand, and not simply watch the bus go by, but to get on the bus, and to say we need to study the root problem of violence in our society, violence in our nation, and begin to talk about non-violence and ending war as a solution.
I think very seriously about the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism, which replaced my fundamentalist faith of a child. And the very first one is the most important to me, affirming the worth and dignity of every person. I don't see how we can do that while we're dropping drone strikes on them. It's hard to affirm worth and dignity and kill a person at the same time. I ask you to be a prophetic church and vote for number two. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: So we've have heard from four delegates speaking on ending the war on terror. And I'm now going to turn to the con microphone and—oh, I'm getting ahead of myself in numbers. Well then let's come back to the pro microphone and hear the last person speaking on behalf of this CSAI.
DAGA KRACKOWIZER: Moderator key, fellow delegates, you are hearing five outstanding proposals. I urge you to choose ending the war on terror because it is not only inherently important, it is also the central religious act of moving from fear to love and creating a world of shared security. My name is Daga Krackowizer, and I am from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, and I apologize for not coming correctly.
MODERATOR: The nuns of my youth did better than that. So now we've heard from four delegates speaking on ending the war on terror. And I'm now going to turn the con microphone and recognize the delegates who wish to speak in support of escalating inequality.
ISABELLE MARSHALL: Hello. My name is Isabelle Marshall, and we are the UUA GA's Youth Caucus. And we are standing here—
ISABELLE MARSHAL: --to speak in support of proposed CSAI three, escalating inequality. As youth we are inheriting a rigged economic system. The middle class, where the majority of us are supposed to be, is growing smaller and smaller. Each generation has a moral obligation to leave society improved for the next, but we are being left with a corrupt class and economic structure.
Where, as William Howe said, inequality is as clear to the American heart as liberty itself. Is reality we want for our future? Minimum wage is abysmal. Money buys legislation. Students are drowning in debt. We were told growing up that we could be whatever we wanted to be. This is America. And we were taught to believe in America and the American dream, where if you work hard enough you can achieve anything.
But we're getting stuck, and some of our dreams are unattainable because we are not spreading the wealth. This year our theme is love reaches out. Love is connection, support, and security. Those blessings in a modern, technological, globalized society come with possession, and that is a reality.
In a society that has blended security and support with materialistic measures, economic equality is a way for us to channel love. Think of your responsibility to us. We want to change the world, but that can only happen if we are allowed the opportunity. And in the current system will be put in so much debt trying to achieve that, that we will have no choice but to fail, while billionaires can change the world with a check. And that makes us mad, because as UUs we believe in a just world, and that is unfair, and that is inequality. And though it makes us mad, we choose to keep faith that if we tackle this issue it will resolve. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: If I can find the second delegate speaking in support escalating inequality—there you are. I recognize the delegate at the con microphone.
SUZANNE SILVER: I am Suzanne Silver from Ames, Iowa. I am excited to represent a new project called UU Class Conversations, which develops and presents UU specific workshops and class. We are partnered with Class Action, and national class education organization, and we strive to address all forms of diversity. We stand in support of the escalating inequality issue, and we are ready with resources for its implementation.
We feel that, in the spirit of love, we must look at how class influences our relationships in this faith, and seek to invite greater inclusion. In the spirit of service, we must learn to collaborate with Americans struggling with our current economy. United we will change these broken systems.
As an association, are we ready? Ready to explore how class plays out in our personal lives and congregations? We need a new language to better discuss the dynamics of class and classism. We need to learn how to work more effectively in cross-class partnerships to create systems level change.
When Unitarian Universalists are equipped with class and classism awareness, we can select and implement social justice action more effectively. As an association, are we ready to grow by welcoming and including people from all class backgrounds and all class cultures? Class-based stereotypes about who is and who is not deserving justify escalating inequality.
Challenging this classism is now a moral imperative. Because all oppressions intersect, dealing with class means dealing with racism, disability access, democracy, and the environment. At this critical moment, this issue is both a diversity and social justice issue.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: It's all about good timing. It's all about good timing. Now if I have my numbers right, I recognize the third delegate at the con microphone.
DICK BURKHART: I'm Dick Burkhart from Seattle Church of the Larger Fellowship, and Co-chair of UUs for a Just Economic Community. In the last 40 years, US national wealth has doubled but wages have gone nowhere for the bottom half, even as billionaires have skyrocketed and they buy elections left and right. People are sensing that something has gone deeply and radically wrong.
I'm not just worried. I study history, the rise and fall of empires. Despite our fantastic prosperity, technology, and knowledge, the parallels are eerie. In all those failed empires, the inequality of income and wealth rose to extreme levels before it all came crashing down. Societies lost their sense of community, the social cohesion that brought them to power. The elites overworked their land and resources and damaged their ecosystems, first in the pursuit of ever expanding wealth, then just to keep it. Free workers were turned into serfs or slaves. Collapse came from civil war, or invasions, or pandemics, or whatever, as the regime lost its credibility and its economic power.
Now the United States is at its zenith, and it's more of a plutocracy—that means ruled by the rich—than a democracy, coming in dead last among first world nations on all too many measures of health, education, housing, crime, and consumerism. Besides that, we're seriously into ecological overshoot with global warming leading the way. And bigger crises of energy, resources, and debt are to come.
I'm darn right scared. Yet together we might have some chance of powering down this runaway train, of living more modest lives in a more resilient and sharing society striving for the common good. Justice is the public face of love. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you
MODERATOR: I now recognize the fourth and final delegate speaking in support of escalating inequality.
MARIAN STEWART: I'm Reverend Marian Stewart. It is my honor to serve North Lake Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Kirkland, Washington. Extreme inequality is destroying our country, and its ripping apart the very fabric of what it means to be human. Blinding wealth for a few, and agonizing poverty for the many, steals away the inherent worth and dignity of all.
I live in the same zip code as Bill Gates. I drive by the gated communities and I see that gleaming office towers, and then I drive by the parking lots with tent camps for the homeless. I see the glitz and I see that underbelly, the ugly, dark, agony of despair. I ache at the devastating effects of obscene inequality in the lives of people I know and don't know.
I see this inequality also at church. I serve a congregation that includes seniors who split pills so their medication will last a whole month. I feel the pain of congregants who can't pay their utility bills or put food on the table. I feel the pain of those who are long term unemployed and struggle with depression. I feel the pain of those who can't find affordable housing in a market skewed by extreme wealth. I feel the pain of the youth who face a future of debt.
I have congregations who ask how they can get their son off the streets and into a tent city. I have congregants who are suffering the middle class squeeze, and also those who feel the pain of poverty. But I also serve a congregation that includes one percenters. They get it. They see the pain, and they care.
I serve a congregation that represents America. But beyond the politics and economics, devastating inequality is a spiritual problem. This is a fast human suffering issue, and it's getting much worse. Your vote today to end inequality matters. Please vote yes.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: So we've heard from four delegates speaking on escalating inequality. I'm now going to return to the amendment microphone and recognize the first delegate who wishes to speak in support of gun violence, a public health issue. I recognize the delegate at the amendment microphone.
CRAIG CYR: Thank you, moderator Jim. My name is Craig Cyr, and I represent Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church in Edmonds, Washington, a 310 member congregation located in the Pacific Northwest. I rise in support of the gun violence study action issue. I support this issue because my family, and one of our congregation members, has direct personal experience with gun violence.
Recently one of our congregation members survived a mass shooting event in Seattle. She was one of five survivors. Tragically, five people died. Three weeks ago, she told me, this congregation saved my life.
I'm here also with Reverend Landrum from Clark Lake, Michigan. Her former member, Chris Keith, and her 14-year-old son, Isaac Miller, were murdered this year in an act of gun violence. We need to take action now to seek solutions that will prevent gun violence. And there are successful ways to do this. Our congregation's Peace and Justice Committee sponsored a community forum on gun violence that included our County Sheriff, who was supportive and spoke powerfully. He recently was elected as County Executive. We know we have an advocate there.
And now it is time for our denomination, our denomination to take on this issue directly via this study action. Please, I appeal to all delegates who are hearing these words and this plea for your vote. It is time for our denomination to initiate this gun violence study action initiative. Please vote for CSAI four.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I now recognize the second delegate speaking in support of gun violence, a public health issue.
The delegate at the amendment microphone. I can hardly see you. There we go.
Good afternoon. Thank you my name is Peter Lober. I'm from Arlington Street Church in Boston. The issue of gun violence is presented in our country without any reference to race. In Boston—and Boston is no exception—gun violence is killing black kids almost every day. For example, in Philadelphia 201 gun deaths have already happened this year in 2014.
Tina Chery, a black woman, lost her son 20 years ago. He was shot on his way to a meeting about peace and nonviolence in Boston, just before Christmas. Tina then organized an organization named after a son called the Louie D. Brown Peace Institute, and she organized a walk for peace with other moms who lost their kids to gun violence in Boston. This year there are thousands on the walk, including UUs from many different congregations.
This issue, this CSAI, gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves, to build alliances with black organizations, to build interface alliances, and the build alliances with groups of other people of color as well. We have the opportunity here to build the kind of broad and inclusive movement we need to end gun violence. We need our denomination to take a stand on gun violence now. Please vote for this CSAI. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I now recognize the third delegate to speak in support of gun violence, a public health issue.
MATT GOEKLER: Thank you, Jim. I'm a gun owner. My name is Matt Goekler. --and a member of Davies Memorial UU Church in Camp Springs, Maryland. I am also a gun owner. The guns handed down to me will be handed down the next generation. These family items all have history. These guns, and similar family guns, are not an issue in preventing gun violence. The issue here is not the guns, but who has the guns.
I've lost friends to suicide, all by gunshot. Would they be alive if guns were not present? I think some would be.
There are people who have clearly shown that they would be dangerous with a gun, yet they get guns. This must stop. Some are criminals, some are suicidal, some are mentally ill. Do we know who they are? Yes we do.
This is a public health issue, a public welfare issue. This is a moral imperative. Can we fix this problem with one grand single action? No. Can we UUs fixed this issue all by ourselves? No. Working in coalitions, state by state, city by city, we can bring sanity back to gun ownership. Law by law, court action by court action, many small victories will make this a safer world for you, your children, and your grandchildren. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I now recognize the fourth and final delegate speaking in support of this CSAI. I recognize the delegate at the amendment mic.
BETTY MCGARVIE CROWLEY: Thank you. I'm Betty McGarvie Crowley from the UU Church of Annapolis. I'm also the former Co-chair of our UU Legislative Ministry in Maryland. I am in support today for this resolution because our experience in Maryland shows that UUs can really make a difference on this issue. Passage of this will give UUs around the country resources to help change attitudes, and laws, and public policies.
The Maryland legislature convened soon after Sandy Hook, and our governor and key legislators introduced legislation. We recruited Reverend Nancy McDonald Ladd to lead our efforts and join with a newly-formed coalition. We became a valued and active participant. We testified, were at rallies, and we were often asked to be out front with our banners and our signs. They really appreciated it.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, we were outnumbered, as you might expect, by thousands of people coming out for rallies and testimonies. But despite the larger amounts of money and people, our factual and compelling testimonies and defense won over. UUs had really turned out. It was an issue that they gravitated to.
Passage of this strong legislation has already reduced homicides by gun violence in Maryland this first quarter by 21%. This is not alone because of the legislation, but other actions that were added to this. This resolution, or C—getting the initials right—CSAI number four, could help UUs have an important role in reducing gun violence. And you can make a difference by voting for four. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: So we've heard from four delegates speaking on gun violence, a public health issue. And now I'm going to turn to the pro microphone and recognize the first delegate who wishes to speak in support of renewing and securing our American democracy.
WENDY PAGE: Thank you, Jim. I'm Wendy Page, First Parish, Arlington, Massachusetts. Two compelling reasons why we should select the democracy proposal as our next CSAI are that one, the future of our American democracy is an issue of overwhelming importance, and two the efforts of Unitarian Universalists could well make the difference to what that future will be. With our brain power and resources, our liberal denomination can think through, study, develop, and work to implement ways to overcome the distressing problems with our politics today. We can positively renew, and make more effective and durable, democracy in America.
We need the liberal religious voice to be heard. Here are a few ideas people at First Parish, Arlington have on how we might revitalize and improve our American democracy. Publicly finance public campaigns. Vigorously oppose voter suppression efforts. Require greater education in our public schools in the areas of civics, economics, current events, foreign affairs. Support the national popular vote for president campaign. Defend our civil liberties. Develop and publish educational guides on political issues with other non-partisan groups.
I believe this is the underlying problem we study and resolve now so that we can have a healthy democratic infrastructure to address climate change, economic injustice, immigration reform, gun violence, ableism, the war on terrorism, and other critical issues. The future of the Democratic idea and ideal in our country, and in the world, is at stake. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
I now recognize the second delegate speaking in support of renewing and securing our American democracy, the delegate at the pro microphone, please.
RICKY CARTER: Thank you. I am Ricky Carter, First Parish Arlington, Mass. At this perilous time in our history, when many of our fundamental democratic traditions are being trampled, we as UUs must draw on our own history and marshal our intellectual and activist traditions in order to find principle-driven solutions to these real dangers that many argue threaten our very way of life. We cannot sit by and allow the current destruction of our democracy take place. As a faith community, we must do what we do best, that is, gather, study, and create ways that will help our congregations to take innovative action driven by our belief in the dignity of every individual and the right every person to be heard and to speak their own truth.
We need to find new ways to counterbalance the ongoing disenfranchisement that is driven by racism, and usurping of the political power of the citizenry by big business money. Here, now we need to mobilize our people power to protect our endangered democratic traditions. And, if our own democracy becomes more deeply compromised, how will we be able to maintain our currently diminishing role as a beacon of hope for other beleaguered people around the world?
At home, this is problem number one, and if we cannot restore the fundamentals of our democracy, I believe we will be deeply hindered from addressing many other key problem, such as those articulated in the other four important action issues before us. I am frightened for our country, and I yearn to get the energy and force of the UUA to help our congregations focus their creative energy on the endangered state of our democracy.
Every time I see a chalice lit, I think that the potential we have to shine a national light on renewing and re-empowering our democratic traditions. I urge and I beseech you to vote for study action issue number five, renewing and securing our American democracy.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I now recognize the third delegate speaking in support of renewing and securing our American democracy. I recognize the delegate at the pro mic.
KINDRA MUNTZ: Thank you. I'm Kindra Muntz from the UU congregation of Venice, Florida, and I'm also Chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of Florida that is now called UU Justice Florida. Our democracy is at risk. It's urgent. Our faith calls us to address this problem that underlies all others. We will never solve income inequality, the new Jim Crow, gun violence, or the war on terror until we do this.
Thank you for the steps already taken, for the great work of Reverend William Barber and all UUs who supported Moral Mondays in North Carolina and elsewhere.
I was at the Moral March in Raleigh, February eight, with 80,000 people, including 1,500 UUs. Were you there? Together with interfaith partners, we can rally for justice for all.
But we can do more. We can work with congregation-based community organizing groups such as PICO to let the people vote. We can support many proposals before Congress for campaign finance reform and overturning Citizens United. We can support the gold standard of those proposals. Move to Amend, spelled out in the 2013 Action of Immediate Witness. Amend the Constitution. Corporations are not persons and money is not speech. The UUA, UU Service Committee, and UUs for a Just Economic Community have endorsed Move to Amend. 15 UU congregations in Florida have passed a resolution for Move to Amend. Yours can too.
We can take other actions to be the media. In Florida, October 13th, at 81-year-old lady named Ronna Bazini will start a 330 mile walk from Sarasota to Tallahassee for campaign finance reform in Granny D. Footsteps, in memory of Granny D. Haddock of New Hampshire, who walked across the country at 89 for campaign finance reform. UUs throughout Florida may join her for portions of her walk and offer support along the way.
You know the latest trick they're doing in Florida? Your state may be next. Miami Dade County, with the longest lines of voters in the 2012 election, just banned use of all bathrooms at church polling places in 2014. What is that?
We say, let the people go!
Please vote number five!
MODERATOR: Thank you. I now recognize the fourth delegate speaking in support of renewing and securing our American democracy. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.
CHINA RAY NEWMAN: Thank you, Jim. My name is China Ray Newman, and I'm from Phoenix, Arizona. So, the truth is, all of the issues here today are very important and very relevant in today's world. And I commend the youth caucus for speaking on an issue that is so close to my heart. However, I believe that if we want to affect change on a national level, we first need a just and functioning democracy.
We can work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens on any issue, but if the people don't have power in our own government, we will not be able to create widespread legal and societal change in support of any issue. When we have a government that is truly by the people, for the people, we will be better able to create change for all—sorry—for all issues that need healing. But before we have a just and functioning democracy, we will not be able to do that on a national level.
Vote number five. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
So you have heard the delegates speaking in support of the CSAIs brought to this final agenda. Now it's time to vote. Let me explain the voting card each delegate should have. It will be used to vote for a CSAI today and an AIW tomorrow. So you've got two voting activities on that one card. I want use only the bottom stub and enter a number that represents the CSAI you wish to support.
This is pretty clear, but let me state it. If you wish to support CSAI one, you should write a one in the box. If you want to do two, two in the box. And you get the picture through your choices. Then you will detach it from your voting card and pass it toward the tellers. The tellers have baskets, and you can recognize them by those spiffy vests they're wearing.
These ballots will be counted while we do the rest of our business. Occasionally someone will vote for more than one, and they write two numbers in there. If you write more than one number, or number six or higher, your ballot will not be counted. You only get to vote for one. I know the passion on all of these interests us, but you only get to vote for one. So the tellers will collect and count the ballots. We will announce the results at the end of this general session.
This is important, so listen up. Yes, the moderator recognizes the procedure mic.
SPEAKER 2: At the first assembly, we voted that we would not use anything other than this unless it was necessary.
MODERATOR: That's for this process, and it may be the only thing necessary. The rules are very clear that if we have two—no CSAI gets a majority, then we have a runoff. So that's in the rule book.
SPEAKER 2: Why we not voting like this first?
MODERATOR: Because the rules have us voting using the card. That's what we approved on Wednesday night. Thank you.
SPEAKER 2: This I thought was the card, not—
MODERATOR: You have to pull off the bottom vote. We got that? So this is important. If no CSAI receives a majority of the votes—that's what I was saying—cast, there will be a runoff vote at the end of this general session using your yellow voting cards. That's when we'll use those. We will vote between the two CSAIs receiving the highest number of votes. That's what our bylaws, and rules, say. If you're not here and we have to have a runoff, your vote will not be counted in the runoff. So you want to stick around until the entire General Session. And we have some good stuff in this session, so you don't want to miss them anyway.
If your ballot hasn't been collected, I need you to hold up your voting card so the tellers can see it come forward. Oh, lots of them. So let's give some time. You can put those cards down. We're still collecting votes, and we're going to continue that process, while we get Larry Ladd up here to talk about the fossil fuel divestment business resolution. But let's give a few moments to collect the ballots.
I recognize the delegate—excuse me—delegate at the procedures mic.
ANNIE BUCHANAN: Mr. Moderator—Moderator Jim. This is Annie Buchanan, I am a delegate from the UU Church in Long Beach, California. Would you be so kind as to simply say, one is this two is that, three is—
MODERATOR: Sure. Sure.
ANNIE BUCHANAN: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: I can do that.
ANNIE BUCHANAN: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I can do that. CSAI one is empowerment, age and ability reconsidered. So you write a one if you like—if you support that one. CSAI two is ending the war on terror. You'd write a two in the box. CSAI three is escalating inequality. CSAI four is gun violence, a public health issue. And CSAI five is renewing and securing our American democracy. We good?
And while we're collecting the ballots, we've been lighting our chalice at worship each morning, and this is the first day with the second General Session, and we didn't light our chalice. I'm going to light our chalice while we take up the cards.
MODERATOR: We are doing holy work this afternoon, so we should have the symbol of our faith while we're doing that work.
MODERATOR: So how are we doing, tellers, on collecting? How many people still haven't handed in their ballots? So we still have a little ways to go. Are we good, tellers?
I now want to bring back Susan Geckler to tell us about the results of CSAI. I can hardly wait.
MODERATOR: Woohoo! You want this? No. You don't need this.
SUSAN GECKLER: I want to thank all the advocates, all those people who have worked so hard to put forward issues. And before I give you the results of the vote earlier this plenary, I do want to say that all the issues are worthy. Whether an issue was selected or not, it's still something you can take back to your congregations. It is still something you can work on. If it doesn't make the top, it doesn't prevent you from doing that. So I hope that you will keep that in mind as I do this and we go forward.
Also, as you're getting your voting cards out and finding them, there will be a runoff, we don't have any one issue that got majority of the votes. And after we have the vote, at 5 o'clock, or shortly thereafter today, there will be a hearing on the newly-selected CSAI. And that will be in room 552. So if—once we know what that issue is—if you have thoughts that you think would be worth sharing with others about that particular issue, I invite you to join us and come to the hearing.
And now I am pleased to announce that the two issues that received the top votes are CSAI number three, escalating inequality—
SUSAN GECKLER: And CSAI number five, renewing and securing our American democracy.
MODERATOR: So you are now going to vote to using your yellow cards. And that runoff is going as our rules and bylaws lead us to do. And we're going to have that runoff between CSAI number three, you just heard, escalating inequality, and number five, rescuing our American democracy.
But before we do, I want to hear—I've asked the—let me follow my script here. So we're going to ask—that we have two statements, one from each of the sponsors, so that you can—you don't need to understand the detail of that. This is just understanding what the genesis of all of this was, the two minute statement, and then the mini assembly that follows at 5:15, where you'll do the really informative work on this.
So we'll now be hearing from the speaker four CSAI number three at the pro mic. Have we got these folks teed up? Apparently not. But they're making their way. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone. Name, and where are you from?
BILL SCHULZ: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. I'm Bill Schulz, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
BILL SCHULZ: I wish we could support both these superb resolutions. But I urge us to support the resolution on economic inequality because I want us to make the hardest choice today. Unitarian Universalists have the third highest per capita income of any religious group in the United States. I want us to choose the resolution that will make us the most likely to squirm.
Economic justice is implicated in everything we say we care about. Immigration, incarceration, climate change, I want us to choose the resolution that will most challenge the gap between our stated values and our lives. I want us to choose solidarity with the poor and a hand to all who suffer. I want us to cast our little might of power, and it's nothing more than that, but our little might of power on the side of those who have the least of it.
The hardest choice today is the resolution on economic inequality. I want us to make the hardest choice today.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So we'll now be hearing from a speaker for CSAI number five, renewing our American democracy—renewing and securing our American democracy. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.
SPEAKER 3: Very good. Thank you. Maybe I should be happy that I'm asking you to make easy choice.
SPEAKER 3: I would just like to review what we think are the most important reasons why the democracy proposal should be our next CSAI. First, of course, is the proposal concerns a matter of utmost importance, the future of our American democracy. Second, is that we UUs, with our brain power and resources, could make all the difference as to what that future will be. Third is that the questions of what we can do to revitalize and secure our American democracy, and what we should do, are perfect issues for us to deal with in our CSAI process. In our three years of CSAI study and action, we UUs will have the time and ability to undertake a comprehensive review of our political system and produce a well thought out and effective plan to renew and further our American democracy.
Fourth, how we can make our democracy work is the seminal issue we Americans confront. We won't be able to solve the many other critical challenges we face, climate change, the increasing militarization of our country, economic injustice, and so many others, if we don't have an effective and strong democracy.
Finally, that we Americans get our democracy to work well is critical to our fellow citizens around the world. For if our democracy falters here, all of us will lose faith in government of, by, and for the people. And remember, let our people go.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So now we're going to vote. We're going to use your yellow cards. But I must caution you, some of you received a yellow card solicitation from Awake Ministries, and I want you to put those away. I want to be able to know that the cards you're holding up are your voting cards. So I want you to use that the one that has the darker, blacker piece in the middle, so I can sort of visually understand that we're all legitimately voting and we're using the appropriate voting cards.
So are we ready? I'm going to do them in the order that they were presented. So beginning with CSAI number three, economic injustice, could you raise your voting cards if you favor that one? Lower your cards. Those that favor five, renewing our American democracy? Lower your cards. I'm going to do this again.
MODERATOR: I think I know the answer, but it is pretty close. So let's do this again. We're doing number three now, economic injustice. Those in favor of economic justice? Lower those cards. Those in renewing and securing our American democracy? Very energetic, but three carries the day, economic injustice.
So we will be working with congregational study action issue number three. I love your passion for all of these. Go to the mini assembly that follows. And the new congregational—this will decide what we will do in 2014 and our 2018 period. So they'll be hearing on that in just a minute. Because we still have a little bit more business. Don't you want to hear from Susan, our Secretary? Of course you do.
Does she have the puppet? She does not. You have no announcements? No announcements. Well, there being no further business to come before us, and in accordance with the schedule set forth in your program book, I declare that this general session of the General Assembly shall stand in recess until 8:30 tomorrow morning.
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