Open Letter to the GA Planning Committee
I’m crossposting an open letter to the GA Planning Committee that was written by my friend Rob and also signed by friends Carolina, Jim, Nastasha, & Rachel… mostly because I think it’s a great letter and it addresses some logistical issues that we didn’t attempt to address in our memo (I mean really, you have to draw the line somewhere, and we decided it would be at the end of page 5), and partly because a great many of our mutual friends have assumed that Carolina was involved with what some of us jokingly referred to as “the ransom note.” If that proposal winds up being wildly unpopular, I wouldn’t want to take an innocent party down with me. 😉 The authors and signers of each document didn’t know about the others’ efforts until the documents were in the next to final draft stages.
We are writing today as a group of UUs involved in various social justice efforts, and not representing any particular congregation or committee.
As you meet in Boston this week to begin in earnest the momentous task of charting our course toward next summer’s Justice General Assembly, we wanted to share a few thoughts and concerns that have been discussed here recently in Phoenix. Certainly one of the greatest challenges we are presented with is one of balance. How do we balance the understandable need to plan and schedule the activities of each day, with the need to maintain flexibility (to allow those activities to be as relevant and current as possible), reduce barriers to accessibility, and allow the greatest variety of community organizations to participate as possible? By providing a space to hear from, and work with a broad spectrum of community organizations operating and evolving here locally. In doing so we believe we can serve an important need in the local community for networking and idea sharing. Additionally we will be able give our members exposure to the newest and most exciting developments in community organizing to maximize the value of the learning they take back home to their local communities. We believe that experience will be much more meaningful if we can provide people with opportunities to get out into the community, to work with and learn from these organizations first hand on their own turf.
So what might this balance look like? Our understanding is that the planning committee is already discussing a “track” based model, that would provide attendees the opportunity to focus more deeply and meaningfully on aspects of justice work that are particularly of interest to them. We would like to suggest that we might either have a dedicated track for community organizing and engagement, or possibly consider adding a community engagement aspect to each track. In support of this we suggest a section of the exhibit hall be reserved for local community organizations, with little to no cost associated. We would also suggest as late a registration deadline as possible. Participating organizations would be able to plan activities with immediate volunteer opportunities and provide an estimate of how many volunteers they could use on each day, for how long and for what type of work. We would suggest a portion of the morning worship/assembly be dedicated to highlighting some of the day’s coming opportunities, with the time after the worship devoted intentionally to sending people down to the community engagement area to talk with these organizations and find an opportunity that matches their interests and abilities.
To achieve this, we can see the need for several important infrastructural components. A central volunteer coordination booth/team would be very useful to help direct attendees toward organizations with opportunities that match their interests, skills, and accessibility needs. Ideally this team would get live feedback from the organizations as their opportunities fill up, or are under-subscribed. A transportation coordinator (or likely team) would be needed to manage a pool of vans and buses, likely in real time, to make sure that everyone can get to the activities they want to participate in and that accessibility needs in transportation are met. Additionally it might be worth reserving space and resources within the convention center, so that organizations have the option of hosting events or activities there as well. Having access to technology, such as computers or a phone bank might be very useful to these organizations for example. To amplify the power and impact of these experiences and make sure we are taking care of each other, we should provide attendees with opportunities to come back together, return to their spiritual grounding, and share the things they have seen and done out in the community.
Thanks to you all for the work you are doing on our behalf, and may the power of our faith give you the strength and clarity you’ll undoubtedly be needing in the coming months.
Yours in Service and in Faith,