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Thursday, February 7, 2008

UUA trustee from New York boycotts General Assembly.

Rosemary Bray McNatt, the UUA trustee from the Metro New York District, announced that she will not attend the General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale. The site of the June convention has generated some alarm because it's located inside the port of Fort Lauderdale, which requires photo ID as a security precaution. Rosemary contends: "This means that, for better or for worse, it will be the United States government that decides who can or cannot be with us — in worship, in community, and in our plenary sessions, as we attempt to exercise the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process. This situation exemplifies our Fifth Principle writ large, and I am consumed by the idea that we have given the US government the capacity to dictate to our General Assembly who might and might not join us."

(She writes about her decision from Kenya, where she is meeting with African Unitarians on a trip sponsored by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. She also visited Kenya last month as a UUA representative on a fact-finding trip with the UU Service Committee.)

For more on the General Assembly controversy, about which I can't work up a lather, read "UUA leaders respond to General Assembly security concerns" ( 12.14.07), "Frequently asked questions about security in Fort Lauderdale" ( 12.07), and "UUA board reaffirms Florida General Assembly" ( 2.1.08). I express my skepticism about clerical indignation here: "Next year's General Assembly brouhaha today!" (Philocrites 12.6.07).

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 7 February 2008 at 7:52 AM

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Christine Robinson:

February 7, 2008 10:23 AM | Permalink for this comment

Too Bad about Rosemary. We'll miss her and the others whose stand of conscience you have so vividly publicized.

Lots of UU's who have examined the issues and their consciences and the story of how this ID business came about have decided that their responsibilities or needs require their presence at GA in spite of the fact that they will have to show their ID's to a bus driver each morning. Big drag on the "We're together and we're powerful" fun of GA. Interesting questions about who is excluded from GA and how. Piercing question, whether it is worse that people are excluded because they are illegal aliens or have lost their ID, or because GA costs more than most Americans can afford to spend.

Are you going to cover the stand of conscience of those who feel that, in balance the General Assembly is a valuable event and they should go anyway?

Donald O'Bloggin:

February 7, 2008 01:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'll be at GA, and I'm paying for it completely out of pocket, as I (don't believe) I'll be a delegate from My congregation.

Personally, I'd be very happy if GA was a bit smaller, and congregations actually did their job and paid for their delegates to go. Why should we pay out of pocket to do the work of our congregation?

Of course, I also think the work of GA needs to become closer to the work of our congregations, if our congregations actually do any work (which I often doubt).



February 7, 2008 05:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm much more ticked off about the inconveniences of GA in Fort Lauderdale in general than the ID kerfuffle -- no attractions anywhere near the hotels, the hotels not within walking distance of the convention center, the necessity of relying mostly on very expensive convention center food because of the convention center's lack of walking distance back to one's room or to a grocery store or proximity to restaurants, not to mention that we're going to FLORIDA in LATE JUNE, one of the most humid, uncomfortable climates in the country -- this is going to be one inconvenient, uncomfortable and expensive GA. Simply not a good choice by the Planning Committee for all kinds of reasons.

I'm still thinking about skipping out but haven't yet made up my mind.


February 7, 2008 07:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Amen, Jess.


February 7, 2008 08:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

In Portland, my GA hotel was really far. Portland is also insane to travel to from the East Coast. My connection was in Phoenix and the flight cost like $600.

Every GA location sucks for one reason or another.


Steve Caldwell:

February 8, 2008 08:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

Congregations in theory can do something to reduce the economic barriers to GA travel. All it takes is a line item for GA delegate travel subsidies in the congregational budget.

This would give the congregation a greater voice in who is a delegate and might encourage delegate responsibility (e.g. the credentialed delegates attending more plenary sessions) and increased responsiveness to what the local congregation would want in GA delegate voting.

The hard part for taking GA from an annual event to a biannual event is getting people who many refer to as "GA junkies" to reduce their number of fixes. It would require a bylaws change and that requires a vote at GA to make it happen.

Elizabeth J. Barrett:

February 8, 2008 12:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

Although I'm a GA junkie, I think switching to a biennial conference would be great. My first time was Nashville in 2000; I've only missed one since then. But, it is such a huge undertaking for all of us that having a year to focus on our home congregations and districts would be terrific. Maybe if more of us took our GA energy and used it at district conferences every other year, we would create more inspired districts.

At my congregation in Madison, WI, we charter a bus when GA is close by and invite other congregations to join us. We have great GA attendance whenever we do this (Cleveland and St. Louis were close enough.) I've already told a few people to mark their calendars for June 23-27, 2010, when we hope to charter two buses to Minneapolis!


February 9, 2008 10:21 AM | Permalink for this comment

Elizabeth, a congregation or district could propose a bylaw amendment changing the frequency of General Assemblies. Although I suspect GA delegates — who love being at GA — would vote down a change to biennial gatherings, if a group of group of congregational leaders decided this was worth investing energy in, they could initiate an important conversation.


February 9, 2008 05:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

Other blogs respond to Rosemary's decision to opt out of this summer's General Assembly:

Dan Harper is going to G.A., but adds: "I guess I have never believed that General Assembly is an open meeting." He points to the expense of attending, which erects an economic barrier, and also laments the environmental impact of having thousands of UUs fly across the country for an annual gathering.

Joel Monka has a hard time imagining who can't get access to the necessary ID, especially when the UUA is offering to subsidize the modest expense for any G.A.-goer who doesn't have one.

Meanwhile, the February issue of the "CUUPS Bulletin," the email newsletter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, reports that the pagan group is planning a scaled-back presence at G.A., adding: "[A]ll UU clergy and seminary students on the CUUPS board have reluctantly decided not to attend this year's General Assembly." I don't know for sure who's currently on the CUUPS board, but based on this set of bios, the boycott mentioned in the newsletter might consist of no more than two people.

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