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2019 General Assembly Report from Allies for Racial Equity

07/26/2019 7:07 PM | Lori Stone Sirtosky (Administrator)

Below is the full report for ARE’s engagement at General Assembly 2019 in Spokane. The audio recording and outline from our July 1, 2019 debrief includes some information and context not contained in this written version. This written report and the recording are intended to augment one another. 

This was the largest post-GA debrief call we had ever hosted, due in part to concerns about a book that was distributed at GA and the many conversations that resulted. We made time toward the end of our call to process in small breakout groups. 

It’s impossible to experience everything that GA has to offer, and many of us invariably miss one or more sessions. Video recordings of full community programming are available at the UUA website for folks who are still “catching up” or who want to review some of the amazing events over the summer.

Last year’s ARE 2018 GA Report and the Commission on Institutional Change General Assembly 2019 Report also can provide additional context. 

Beginning with Gratitude

We have so much gratitude to share! We wouldn’t have been able to do even half of what we did this year without all of our amazing volunteers. So much appreciation—and more than a few massive shout-outs—go to everyone who helped with planning, organizing, chaplaincy, logistics, booth staffing, offsite support, workshop facilitation, and all the incredible collaboration—especially the elephant wrangling, y’all ROCK!

We also want to thank all who contributed to our fundraisers to support our doubling down at GA again! Between direct donations and money given on facebook, we raised over $2,000 to cover much of the additional cost of expanding our outreach and helping UU Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) accountability partners to offset their GA expenses also. If you’d like to support our continuing efforts, please visit www.uuare.org/support.

Most importantly, this year, on the 50th anniversary of the Black Empowerment Controversy (aka the White Entitlement Fit), which came to a head when Black UUs and their supporters walked out of the General Assembly in Boston in 1969, Unitarian Universalists finally made good on a long broken promise (watch video). Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) received the remaining $4 million dollars of the $5.3 promised to them by the Board of Trustees in October 2016! Thanks so much to the individuals, organizations, and congregations (over 600) who contributed to the success of this campaign. 


This was made possible by the overwhelmingly patient, persistent, and resilient efforts of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, contributions from many of you (ARE members, supporters, and other white allies), and ultimately, the power of the UU collective to come together and set things right. THANK YOU!

What a deeply meaningful way to demonstrate the incredible Power of We!

ARE Booth 

The primary way ARE engages in GA is at our booth in the exhibit hall, where we are available for conversation and support, provide print and online resources and work alongside DRUUMM, who holds the booth next door.

This year, collaborating with numerous other organizations and people, we introduced an #ElephantInTheRoom scavenger hunt, where people solved clues to find elephants representing the characteristics of white supremacy culture located all over the convention center. We also provided White Supremacy and Countering Oppression Bingo cards for attendees to use throughout GA.

The new activities were a huge hit, especially with families, and our booth was busier than ever. We’re already dreaming about what we’ll bring to Providence next year!

ARE Sponsored Workshops

ARE Leadership Collective members helped facilitate two workshops this year:

Consensus Decision-Making to Counter Oppression (watch video) and Body Practices for Unlearning White Supremacy

We also collaborated with Shelly Tochluk, who spent lots of time at the ARE booth, graciously volunteered as an elephant handler, and also presented the workshop Expanding the “We” in Racial Justice: White People’s Work. All the sessions were well attended and some of the facilitators are working on providing more online content over the next year.

weARE@GA

Thanks to our General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC) liaison, Cecelia Hayes, we were fortunate to get a private room in the Convention Center this year, where we hosted an anti-racist In-Gathering and the ARE Membership Meeting. It was so good to meet and network with folks in-person who are engaged in this work around the country. 

The room also served as an intentional white-ally organizing space before becoming an ad hoc meeting place for several other organizations, including DRUUMM, who used it for caucusing break-out sessions. We have recognized the need for such a space at GA over the last few years, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 

ARE Chaplaincy

Despite anticipated lower-than-usual GA attendance, we recruited twice as many dedicated ARE chaplains this year in order to provide extra support for white folks in the work of dismantling white supremacy. While chaplaincy was only minimally needed in Spokane—which we believe is a testament to how far we’ve come in these few years since our faith began to tackle this work collectively—we did field numerous calls afterward from people who were troubled by events there. 

The resistance to the proposed UUMA Accountability Guidelines that began the week prior to the gathering in Spokane (see ARE’s statement), repeated micro-aggressions by the 25 Year Speaker during Ministry Days, the dissemination of a book which included language and “talking points” commonly used by the alt-right, and profoundly ugly online activity made our time in Spokane, and the weeks following it, unnecessarily painful for many, particularly those most marginalized by both our society and our faith. 

A number of UUs have since spoken out about the events, both privately and publicly, and a collection of public responses, along with our own statement can be found on our GA Resources, pages 3 and 4

ARE provides chaplaincy along with coaching, consulting, and other support for folks engaged in countering oppression and working to end white supremacy in themselves and in their communities. We heartily encourage people to contact us if locally available support services are insufficient. 

Find out more about ARE’s services and programs.

For those experiencing trauma around violations of covenant, particularly from staff and clergy in positions of power and authority, we also recommend contacting UU Trauma Response Ministry: 888-760-3332.

weARE@GA Debriefs

During the last two GAs, we hosted nightly debriefs via Zoom to better connect offsite and onsite GA participants. Since we were in Pacific time this year, our intention was to host these at lunchtime while in Spokane. They didn’t happen this year. We apologize for this and plan to resume them again in Providence.

What’s Next?

We encourage white UUs to keep deepening our understanding of how to effectively dismantle oppression and disrupt white supremacy. Along with our website and LEARN section, we just released a piece on Medium with a great list of recommended authors, educators, and thinkers who can help guide us through our personal and collective transformation.

In addition to already existing monthly networking sessions (open) and healing circles (for members), we are starting online small group learning circles for ARE members in the next few weeks to provide more opportunities for us to connect and grow our shared understanding. If you’re interested, sign up soon so we can create the most inclusive possible schedule. Sincere apologies to those who already signed up and expected to start in mid-July! We’ll be contacting you soon to arrange scheduling.

Save the Date! ARE’s Fall Gathering is October 3-7, 2019 in Phoenix, AZ, beginning with in-gathering on Thursday evening, followed by four full days of programming. Part training, part organizing session, part retreat, this Praxis-style event is designed for those wanting to move into the next level of their anti-oppressive practice. Details and signups will be available in early August.

Lastly, we have begun to recruit for 2020 Field Organizing and are planning for a robust ARE presence at District and Regional Assemblies again this year. We’ll be creating and facilitating workshops, hosting networking sessions, and collaborating with other justice-centric organizations. To get involved, please send us the proposal deadline and theme for the 2020 District or Regional Assembly in your area, and we’ll get the ball rolling. 

Also, if you’re planning on attending GA next year and would like to be in on planning ARE’s activities (there will be even more elephants in Providence), let us know in the next month or two—we’ll need all the help we can get!

Ending with Joy

In the months leading up to GA, we in the ARE Leadership Collective grappled with confusion and uncertainty about what to expect at this year’s General Assembly. We knew it was going to be “different” and that it would be about doing collective reflection about where (and how) we, together, wanted Unitarian Universalism to go in continuing to dismantle white supremacy in our communities, systems, and structures. Some of us expressed frustration about the delays in information, odd deadlines, and what appeared to be a general lack of communication. More than once, we almost succumbed to the demoralizing effect of not having our very white need for clarity and certainty met. Thankfully, we were able to disrupt this in ourselves and each other. In doing so, we came to the realization:

That’s not how it works in a collective committed to justice, equity, and inclusion; it’s not how it’s ever going to work. And if there was ever an experience that “proved” that, unequivocally—it was GA 2019 in Spokane.

What we learned at this GA . . . 

Many years of hard work, relationship building, organizing, Praxis (education, action, reflection) over and over, visioning, revisioning (and refining), listening to (and taking leadership from) those most affected by systems of oppression, getting to know our social location and what that means, cultivating humility, being honest about our history and clear about our context, disrupting our culture of ownership, releasing our fear of scarcity, sharing power, and diligently focusing on developing more equitable systems actually works! 

Even with the pesky disruptions, breaches of covenant, and feelings of betrayal, the hard-won wisdom—cultivated and passed down to us by so many of our ancestors throughout our history—actually is transformative. It had already begun to transform us, the alchemy of Praxis worked on the ground in Spokane, continues to transform us today, and into the future. Those of us who have experienced more than a few General Assemblies agree; we have never felt more “together” as Unitarian Universalists, with shared common purpose, and with the fierce resolve to stay this course than we did in Spokane.

For a mission that became amplified in the wider UU collective dialogue less than 10 years ago, that’s amazing! For an effort that’s been embraced (collectively) by UUA administration and elected leaders for less than 5 years, that’s phenomenal! For a cultural shift that gained momentum, even as widely available UU anti-racism education was being all but completely defunded by the previous administration—and many of us had to pursue avenues outside of Unitarian Universalism to educate ourselves—that’s practically miraculous! 

Yes, for many of us true justice, equity, and compassion is hundreds of years overdue and will never come soon enough—and maybe not at all. Yes, we still have a very long journey ahead, and we may lose folks less committed to nurturing a fully anti-oppressive faith along the way. And yes, this work is many times overwhelming and disheartening . . .

. . . and yet . . . and yet . . . our time in Spokane was a triumph worth celebrating—“The Power of We” held incalculable joy!

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Bishop William Barber of Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign: Forward Together, not one step back!

Let’s do it with JOY!

We look forward to connecting, collaborating, and celebrating with you soon!

In Solidarity, 

On behalf of the ARE Leadership Collective,

Laura Bollettino and Carolina Krawarik-Graham
2019 ARE GA Co-coordinators

We are building an anti-racist movement of white Unitarian Universalists to dismantle white supremacy in ourselves, our congregations, and communities.

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