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Voting to Admit Potential Actions of Immediate Witness to the Agenda, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 402

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This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session V for the complete video and order of business.


JIM KEY: Now's the time in our agenda where we vote to admit potential Actions of Immediate Witness to the agenda for voting tomorrow. We're going to do some more of that this morning. So I call on Susan Goekler once again to give us a report on potential Actions of Immediate Witness and a little overview of the process for this.

SUSAN GOEKLER: Thank you. For a start, I just want to ask you to join me in thanking all those who have proposed Actions of Immediate Witness. They worked hard. They are passionate. They were committed. And whether their issue was selected, or will be selected or not, they have raised our awareness of important issues. So please join me in thanking them for all their hard work and their commitment.


Presentation of Potential Actions of Immediate Witness

SUSAN GOEKLER: We had nine possible Actions of Immediate Witness that were submitted to the CSW by the deadline on Thursday. All of them gathered the required number of signatures. The UUA bylaws state in section 4.163 on page 108—I did that for you Jim—that if more than six petitions are submitted, this CSW shall select six that meet the criteria for a General Assembly action of immediate witness. The criteria that the CSW considered were immediacy, is it that something that needs action it right away; specificity, so it's too narrow a topic to be a possible congregational study action issue; the grounding in UU theology and practice, whether congregations could take meaningful action on this issue; and whether there was opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to become respected participants in the public dialogue.

Based on that and the need to limit it to six, the ones that we selected are in your program today on the blue sheet. Moderator key, the Commission on Social Witness submits to the delegates for a vote to select three proposed Actions of Immediate Witness to add to the final agenda for a vote for adoption on Sunday the following six issues. A, support the faith summit on stopping deportations. B, support a fair, ambitious, and binding 2015 global climate treaty. C, affirming congregational commitment to gun violence prevention. D, stop arresting victims of human trafficking. E, calling for humanitarian aid to victims of violence Syria. And F, Unitarian Universalist Association support for Uganda New Underground Railway to safely extract LGPD people from persecution in Uganda.

JIM KEY: Thanks, Susan. So, are we clear on that? We're going to now take the first step of the process for adopting Actions of Immediate Witness, bylaw section 4-16 on page 108 of your program book provides that not more than three Actions of Immediate Witness may be admitted to the agenda for possible final action, and that 2/3 of the delegates must support the admission of each one to the agenda. Delegates have had an opportunity to pick up a copy of the blue sheet, the proposed Actions of Immediate Witness, and if there's any delegate without a copy, raise your voting card and tellers will make sure that each delegate receives one of these.

So you've gotten the summaries. You've heard what the six in front of you are. And I want to call attention that you've got on your ballot, attached to your delegate card, voting stub, with letters A through F on it. And you're going to check—listen clearly—three of those blocks before we're through here this morning. But don't vote yet. We have six groups that have decided that there are some issues that the delegates need to consider. It will be up to you this morning, based on the rules found in the bylaws 4.16 on page 108, to narrow these six down to three.

Tomorrow, you'll vote on the actual language of those. This is important. Today you're voting on the three topics that you feel are worthy and important enough that you want to spend some time on, this morning in mini-assemblies and tomorrow in general session, to see about actually making a statement as a body of delegates. So here's the process. You get the CSA—this alert—and you look at the summaries that are printed there. They're in random order. They're not in any prioritized order. The letters that are there correspond to the letters on your ballot card at the bottom stub. A is the support for the faith summit on stopping deportations, and so on down the sheet.

At the mini-assemblies this morning in rooms 552, 553, and ballroom E, you'll have an opportunity to look at the full statements and then make decisions about whether you want to revise the wording on those. But don't vote yet. We're going to hear statements from the proponents of each of these issues. Each one has two minutes to tell you about their issue. But before I recognize—I see no delegate at the pro mic yet, but I do see folks at the procedures mic. Yes, I recognize the delegate at the procedures mic.

DAVID ANDERSON: Thank you. David Anderson, University Unitarian Church in Seattle. You said, vote on three. I'm just making sure that we can vote for fewer than three.

JIM KEY: Absolutely, a very good question. You can vote on one. You can vote on two. You can vote on three. If you vote on four, the ballot is discarded. If you vote the same one—A, A, A, A—that gets thrown out as well. So A; A, B; A, B, C; some combination. Thanks. I recognize the delegate at the procedures mic.

RICHARD BOCK: Richard Bock of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock. Jim, you are referring to A, B, C, et cetera. The blue sheet has one, two, three. Would you give us instructions?

JIM KEY: You noticed that. Very good.

RICHARD BOCK: I certainly did.

JIM KEY: See we do these things—as your moderator I do these things just to see if you're paying attention. I see that you are. Thank you for that. So let's go through that. Thank you

RICHARD BOCK: Thank you.

JIM KEY: The one called 1 on your blue sheet—you really need the blue sheet—you could take a pen and mark that A, as I have done. And then—I want to step you through this—proposed AIW 2 would be B, and C, and D, and E, and F. We're good with that? Excellent. So, I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.

MELISSA CARVILL-ZIEMER: My name is Melissa Carvill-Ziemer. I serve as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Kent in Ohio. Like many people, I have been heartbroken to see the photos and read the stories of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing into our country on a quest to save their lives. Border patrol has already picked up almost 50,000 children this year, and even more are expected next year. The United Nations reports that more than half of the children would likely qualify for refugee status, but without adequate access to attorneys, I fear that many will face deportation instead.

President Obama has called this situation a humanitarian crisis. However, it cannot be understood apart from the larger crisis caused by ongoing deportations. Over 1,000 deportations each day, over 2 million in the last five years. The epidemic of deportations is separating families, traumatizing children, and fracturing communities. There is widespread and growing chorus of voices calling on President Obama to take executive action to respond to this crisis too. Immigration activists, faith leaders, even members of Congress, have called upon Obama to halt the deportations until Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform.

We have been invited to add our voices to this urgent call. From July 31 to August 1, our interfaith and immigrant justice partners will host a faith summit on stopping deportations in Washington, DC. They need us to turn out and to consider participating in planned civil disobedience as a faithful response to this crisis. This action of immediate witness is a call to support the faith summit, to go yourself or send a delegation from your congregation to DC if you can. And if you can't, to find a way to add your voice to the chorus of people calling for another way. We may be heartbroken, but we are not helpless and we are not hopeless.

JIM KEY: I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.

DORIS MARLIN: Good morning, GA. I'm Doris Marlin from All Souls Church in Washington, DC.

STEVE BUCKINGHAM: And I'm Steve Buckingham from the Goodloe Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bowie, Maryland, and co-chair of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland. UUs understand that climate change is real. And we accept the human role in creating greenhouse gases that are the root cause. We know the tragic consequences that are already affecting our planet. And we know that the window to take remedial action is closing and time is short. This is the time to act. This is a simple proposal.

While individual UUs and congregations can and have acted to take remedial action to mitigate climate change, we also know that they have acted at the state and local level to take action as well. But we need the world to agree to a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty in Paris next year. This is the time. Only such a treaty will hold nations accountable. And since the US is the largest producer of greenhouse gases—one of the largest—active American participation and support is essential. Why should other nations participate if we don't agree to do our part? As people of faith, this is the time for us to speak out and call on our government to make a global agreement happen. This is a moral stand that we're asking you and your denomination to take. And worldwide action is needed now. This is the time.

Keep in mind that voting for this AIW must only be the first step that you take. It's imperative that we pledge, each of us, to act. If you vote for this AIW, we expect you to contact lawmakers and become a personal advocate for the cause. If you've never done this before, there are plenty in UU circles who are willing to help. But this is the time. This is the time to take a stand to bear witness to the immorality of future inaction.

JIM KEY: Thank you very much.

JIM KEY: I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone, the tall delegate at the pro microphone.

BOB HATFIELD: And the helpful person next to me.

JIM KEY: Takes a village, doesn't it?

BOB HATFIELD: Mr. Moderator, my fellow delegates, I am Bob Hatfield from the UU Congregation of Fairfax, Virginia. I feel honored and humbled give voice to the thousands who, sadly never had, never will have the opportunity. AIW 3, or C, is titled, "Affirming congregational commitment to gun violence prevention." Once you get past the several because and whereas statements, you see that it has one clear and definitive purpose, to motivate and inspire our 1,028 congregations to each adopt their own resolution or statement of conscience to work for gun violence prevention, taking ownership for the critical resource to make a difference, a broad, faith-based coalition of committed advocates.

I will take your time telling you what you already know, the devastating carnage of gun homicides, the powerful industry-funded opposition of the NRA, the cowering legislators more dedicated to protecting their seat than the public. When my northern Virginia advocacy group was founded a month after the Newtown, Connecticut Sandy Hook School tragedy, we adopted the mantra of our partner, the Newtown Action Alliance, "To honor with action." A more recent tragedy at UC Santa Barbara has sadly provided another mantra, from Richard Martinez the father of a 20-year-old son killed there, at the end of his impassioned plea for sensible gun legislation Richard cried, "Not one more."

Please say it with me. Not one more. Not one more. We can do this. It is in your hands to make a difference. You won't be alone. The three northern Virginia congregations have passed resolutions standing ready with guidance as needed.

JIM KEY: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.

AMY ZUCKER MORGENSTERN: Thank you. I am the Reverend Amy Zucker Morgenstern of the UU Church of Palo Alto and the UU abolitionists. And I woke up this morning with my mind state on freedom. 20 to 30 million people worldwide are enslaved, held against their will and compelled by threat of violence to work without pay. This most appalling violation of human rights occurs in every country, including the US.

To add a trauma to trauma, when the police act against trafficking situations, they often treat trafficked people, not as the victims of a crime, but as criminals. Right now, sex trafficked children are being handcuffed and thrown into juvenile hall. Adults are being transferred from sweatshops to prisons. Immigrants of all ages, who thought they were being rescued from their traffickers, are instead languishing in detention camps or being deported. This must stop. We can stop it. Legislation is pending in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Congress, that would prohibit the arrest and detention of human trafficking victims and, in many cases, offer help instead. Our UU values and history exhort us to pass these laws and support the survivors of modern slavery in securing justice and rebuilding their lives.

The words of our foremother Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the 19th century Unitarian abolitionist, in her poem "Bury me in a free land" ring in our ears this morning. "All that my yearning spirit craves, is bury me not in a land of slaves." She saw her people liberated, and yet this land is tainted by the suffering of 21st century slaves. Will we heed her prophetic cry? Will we hear theirs? The need is urgent. The opportunity for action is immediate. And the cause is ours, the cause of justice, dignity, and freedom. Thank you.

JIM KEY: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the pro microphone.

ANN JOHNSON-LUNDBERG: I am Ann Johnson-Lundberg from the Westport Unitarian Church in Connecticut. Syria, 10 million people driven from their homes. We may have a wrong impression from the websites of World Food Program or UNICEF showing aid to Syria. They are not reaching the war zone. That's because sovereign governments pay for the UN, and Assad forbids aid to the rebel-held territories. And that's where the bombing is, the chlorine gas, the starvation, that makes Syria hugely different from homelessness in other places like Iraq. In Syria, the government blocks aid.

The second mis-impression comes from TV, that a family reaching Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, gets one of those huge fluffy tents and stands in food lines that are serviced by the care, for example. Instead, 80% of the Syrian refugees are turned away from bursting camps. They live on the streets. And that's terrible for the fragile countries receiving the refugees, 9,400 of them a day. And yet, Syrian immigrants are not welcome in the EU or in the United States. 5,000 in Germany, 31 in the United States. Pope Francis says, there is a "globalization of indifference" to the sufferings of Syrians. UUs believe in the inherent dignity of every person.

We need to publicize in the media the unknown story of how UN organizations cannot reach the war zones, that neighboring countries take in only 20% of the refugees into camps, and that the United States needs to increase the number of added immigrants. Above all, we need to make humanitarian programs a priority. For example, the UUSC trauma program for Syrians in Lebanon and to partner with our community Muslim friends, whose refugee organizations are effective in getting help into Syria.

JIM KEY: Thank you. Moderator recognizes the delegate at the pro microphone.

SARA HUISJEN: My name is Sara Huisjen. I'm honored to serve the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth, Maine. If ever there was a crisis that deserved being named an action of immediate witness, it is this. Even as we speak, gays, lesbians, transgender, and bisexual people and their allies are being hunted down and killed in Uganda. In February 2014, the Ugandan parliament approved and President Museveni signed a new law criminalizing homosexuality, with sentences up to and including life imprisonment. The law makes aiding and abetting homosexuality a criminal offense, carrying a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Since the law passed, attacks on lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people have increased. In fact, in the last two weeks, LGBT people and their supporters are being rounded up and killed at an escalating pace. A Quaker group has formed Friends New Underground Railway. In the past week, the group reports in two different incidents in two different locations, they've had 58 LGBT people evicted from their safe houses and running for their lives. This follows on the heels of suicides by two people who lost hope of getting out, and also with the names of LGBT folks who are being hunted, read over the radio.

Due to some extraordinary acts of heroism on the part of several of their conductors, the 58 are now in two separate locations and temporarily out of harm's way. The group has been successful in moving people to Kenya and then to shelter in several countries in Europe. The UUA and the UUA Service Committee have proud histories working to rescue persecuted people in harm's way. This action of immediate witness calls on us to speak out and to act again. What could be a better symbol of love reaching out than to stand with the Quakers in support of the New Underground Railway.

JIM KEY: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at procedure microphone.

SPEAKER 1: Yes. Mr. Moderator, I believe you indicated that the votes where a duplicate selection is made would be discarded. I would move to amend that, that ballots on which is more than one mark is by one selection should be counted simply as one vote for that selection, and that the ballot would not be discarded.

JIM KEY: That would be out of order, but let me make a suggestion. If you put the wrong letter in and you want to change it, just cross it out very carefully and put the letter that you really wanted beside it and we'll count those votes.

SPEAKER 1: I'm just concerned that those who do it out of emphasis, rather than selection, would then be disenfranchised.

JIM KEY: We will be fine as long as people aren't voting for four or three for the same one. But we'll be fine when we count them. I'm pretty sure. Thanks. We don't have time for any more comments at the pro microphone. I'm sorry. We've heard from the six proponents, passionate and persuasive proponents of these AIWs. And so if you've gotten an overview of these six. So now's the time to vote. Take out a pencil, a pen, a crayon, something you could write with, and select up to three that you would like to see move forward. As I said earlier, if you do more than three, your ballot will be invalid. These are our rules. If you select one three times, that will be invalid. So you can check just one, or just two, but no more than three.

Then you're going to tear this stub off ever so gently. And this is going to be passed down the aisle to the ushers, and they're going to collect them. And we're going to continue doing that quietly. You don't need to raise your card, just pass your votes to the ushers. They'll be up and down the aisles with their baskets. So are we good? I want to welcome back Susan Goekler to tell us what Actions of Immediate Witness might move to the final agenda tomorrow. So, Susan? It's the last item of business, so just take a deep breath.

Thank you. And again, I want to thank all the proposers and all those who worked with them on gathering signatures. All were important issues. It was a hard choice. The votes were close. But those three that you selected for consideration—remember they are not adopted yet. There will be mini-assemblies after this in rooms 552, 553, ballroom E. And I'll tell you which one is which. And tomorrow, you will actually vote to decide whether to adopt these.

At the mini-assembly today, if you decide that you are interested in a particular one, but you'd like to change the language—all you've seen right now are the summary statements. At the mini-assemblies you will get the full text. And that's the only opportunity you'll have to propose amendments or changes to those texts of the full AIW statements.

Those that were selected are number one, or A- deportations. And that will be in the ballroom E. The second one is number three, or C- on preventing gun violence. And that mini-assembly will be in room 553. And the final one is number six, or F- on the Underground Railroad in Uganda. And that will be in room 552.

JIM KEY: Thank you. So admitting them to the final agenda for consideration tomorrow requires a 2/3 vote of the delegates. So all those in favor of admitting the first issue—which was it Susan? Bring the paper back so I know which one we're voting on, as do they. I don't know that it's up there.

A, C, and F.

JIM KEY: OK. A. Those in favor of admitting A to the agenda tomorrow, please raise your voting card. Hands down. Those opposed. Clearly that will come to the agenda tomorrow. C, those in favor, raise your arm. Hands down. Those opposed. That will clearly come to the agenda tomorrow. And the last one, F. Those in favor of admitting them—Oh I think I know the answer to this—Cards down. Opposed.

All three of those will go to the agenda tomorrow and you can attend those mini-assemblies to have some impact on the language of those.