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drinking sand

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

So the GA 2012 grid map has been released. I’ve waited a few days to write about it, wanting to let it marinate a bit, to get past my initial reaction, to really reflect on it. I’ll preface my comments by saying I know a lot of people put a lot of time, effort, thought, and heart into planning and negotiating and mapping out this grid.

I had a conversation with a member of my board shortly after the Charlotte GA, in which we discussed some of the work we as a faith still need to do, and I said, “There’s really a whole ‘nother GA that we need to have BEFORE we even think about having a Justice GA.”

This grid is really exactly what I had in mind for THAT General Assembly. So it’s not that I think this is a bad grid. Under different circumstances, I’d have been thrilled. My heart probably would have burst with pride. Because I know that I still need work myself, not to mention the number of people who are in the early stages or who haven’t even begun to dismantle their racial, ethnic, social, and class privilege.

But under these circumstances, I am disappointed on multiple levels.

I’m disappointed by all the vague references I’ve seen about our “Arizona Partners” over the last 15 months and even more disappointed to see the Arizona Worker Rights Center and No More Deaths listed with Puente and NDLON in today’s UU World article, Picture of GA 2012 coming into focus. I wonder what we consider a partnership. The Arizona Worker Rights Center organizers are only vaguely familiar with our General Assembly. The organizers weren’t even aware they are listed as a partner on the UUA website until I mentioned it in a conversation unrelated to GA two or three weeks ago. And while the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tucson is the fiscal agent for No More Deaths, No More Deaths is a completely autonomous organization. There has been no consensus of it’s members to endorse this General Assembly. Yet we have these organizations and many others listed as partners and continually reference the partners that have invited us, describing how much they want us to come to Arizona… these same organizations that seem to be telling us now what we should have already known… that creating a justice tourism experience for us would be an overwhelming burden and a drain on what precious few resources they have.

And while no one who was involved in the drafting of the ransom note is thrilled, and some are downright pissed… while I’ll admit I choked back tears while reading it, part of me is relieved by it. Because for months I have felt like we were crawling through the desert towards a mirage called Justice GA, doubting we would find any water, afraid half of us would drink the sand and not know the difference, and the other half would drink the sand, saying… at least it’s something (virtual prize to anyone who gets that pop culture reference).

It seems like we’re finally going to be honest with ourselves.

I truly believe that we need to have this proposed GA. But I think we should have used GA2011 and/or our district assemblies for this work.  I don’t think Arizona during a boycott is the place for it. To have a Justice GA that is primarily a vehicle for us to educate ourselves will be viewed by many as nothing more than breaking the boycott.

I still have more questions than answers; what answers there are, are still vague. Some kind of citizenship fair, school supplies drive, no real feedback about decentralizing the structure of service projects. I’m completely befuddled by the times we’re scheduled to witness. There’s not time immediately prior to either event to travel to another venue, and downtown Phoenix isn’t exactly a hotbed of nightlife or mecca of culture. What there is, is all sprawled out and not much happens in the area immediately surrounding the convention center during those hours, so I’m not sure who we’ll be witnessing to. I can only hope that the schedule is more tentative and subject to change than not.

So to answer a question I’ve been asked by several (funny how it works when you are really vocal about what you think BEFORE something gets planned, people tend to want to know what you think of the result)…

I don’t know. There is part of me that wants to hold the other end of Kat’s banner (which would tickle the Quaker to no end) and a part of me that wants to meet people where they are nudge them along with Carolina and Rob. Part of me is tired of waiting for folks to catch up and part of me can’t help but hope this could be the catalyst for us to become what we should have been all along.

Memo: Justice General Assembly 2012

September 14, 2011 3 comments

Memorandum: Justice General Assembly 2012 (pdf)

This proposal for the structure of the UU Social Justice General Assembly in 2012 is a collaborative effort of Phoenix and Tucson Unitarian Universalist activists, Arizona-based community organizations and independent organizers working on immigration or human rights/social justice issues. Although we are aware that the decision to not uphold the boycott of Arizona was made at the request of two Phoenix-based community organizations, we also know not all Arizona organizations agree with this decision. Furthermore, we are concerned with the strategy of partnering with only the two or three largest Phoenix-based organizations to decide the direction of the GA. Many organizations make critical contributions to the struggle for justice in Arizona and some incredibly effective work is being done by smaller organizations. We have unique needs, unique perspectives, and unique skills. To truly create change, all of our contributions are needed.

We are asking for a decentralized GA structure, described below, that allows a multitude of community organizations to define their own goals based on current needs and to create service projects that enhance, rather than burden, their organizations and increase the likelihood that their efforts will proliferate across the U.S. A decentralized structure is being proposed for several reasons:

  1. We believe that this structure is more likely to create mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationships between GA attendees and Arizona community organizations through shared expertise, resistance strategies relevant to attendees’ home congregations, and interpersonal relationship building.
  2. People who are already involved in social justice organizing in Arizona will be able to determine their own goals and needs.
  3. Smaller community organizations can be involved. With this structure, organizations who would like to draw on the resources and expertise of attendees do not need a “seat” at the planning table. All that is needed is the infrastructure described below in order to allow everyone to participate as they see fit.
  4. Many community organizers and members are unable to travel to the Phoenix Convention Center (PCC). Checkpoints in the southern part of Arizona make it impossible for undocumented organizers to travel to Phoenix without serious risk to themselves. Even those in the Phoenix metro area face substantial risks when traveling outside their barrios. The risk of harassment or detention is escalated by the proximity of PCC to the MCSO offices and 4th Ave Jail. We should also take into account Arpaio’s reputation for retaliation against social justice organizers and public officials. Aside from the likelihood that Arpaio remembers the Unitarian Universalists from the last time they came to Arizona in droves, PCC is located in District 4 under Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, with whom Arpaio has long had a deeply divisive political and legal rivalry.
  5. The people who would most need services are also the most likely to rely on public transportation. The inadequacy of our public transit system limits the participation of families with minor children, elderly, differently-abled, and undocumented persons. The light rail doesn’t go to the hoods and barrios, many of which have limited bus service. It takes an hour by bus to travel to PCC from many of the barrios, and depending on the route, transfer wait times vary considerably, especially in summer months when public transportation typically has lighter demand. Even for those who are able to drive, free parking in the downtown area is limited and parking fees may be an expense families cannot afford.

For these reasons, we propose a General Assembly in the addendums that follow which will suit the needs of community members/organizers across the entire state of Arizona. For each point we are proposing below, we provide detailed ideas and concrete examples in the pages that follow. The following points are how we believe the GA may prove most useful to us:

  1. We would like people to know what is going on regarding immigration issues and the rights of undocumented people within their own communities (see Addendum A: Needs and Assets Report (PDF))
  2. We would like people to come prepared to share strategies being used in their own communities to stand with undocumented people and change the narrative regarding immigration (see Addendum B: Roundtable Structure (PDF))
  3. We would like people to come prepared to participate in community service programs that have been requested from a wide variety of community organizations (see Addendum C: Service Programs(PDF) )

If the General Assembly is structured in a way that allows us to establish our own goals and needs, we are willing to commit to sharing our time and expertise in a meaningful and reciprocal way. We have many organizers and volunteers who are happy to commit time toward making the GA successful if we feel that the GA will provide us with tools and resources that will improve our ongoing work or further related work in other communities throughout the United States and beyond. In return, we would like the Planning Committee to commit to developing the infrastructure needed for us to build ongoing relationships with attendees, including the online infrastructure. Finally, we are asking the Planning Committee to support a “bring it home” atmosphere wherein attendees are encouraged to consider how immigration issues are being played out in their home communities. In this way, we hope that attendees will realize that we are all Arizona.

Being experienced organizers, we realize that not all of these ideas may be realistically and effectively implemented given the time constraints and somewhat dramatic shift from the traditional GA structure. We have hopes, however, that if the majority of these plans could be executed, it could result in a significant step toward doing more meaningful justice work in the future, both at upcoming GAs, as well as in our home communities.

Addendum A: Needs and Assets Report

We request that all delegates perform a needs and assets report of social justice and social services for their own communities and congregations. For our purposes, we need to strategize with people who are actively working on social justice issues within their own communities or who are committed to implementing the plans we develop together in Roundtable Discussions in their own communities. We do not need people to come and tour Arizona; this is a distraction from our work and does not benefit our communities and organizations. We need people who can work with us on an ongoing basis regarding problems we are facing. We believe that the best way to ensure this ongoing relationship is for attendees to involve themselves in Roundtable Discussions and Service Projects that are relevant and transferable to their home communities.

· Places to start with to compile a Needs and Assets Report

  • Talk to leadership of churches that hold services that are not in English
  • Talk to members of these churches who are involved in social justice organizations
  • Talk to UUs who are involved in social justice organizations
  • Talk to community members who are historically marginalized ·

Other places to start:

  • Does your community have a prison or detention center nearby? What groups are working with prison populations?
  • Does your community have free/reduced legal services? Are these services provided to undocumented people?
  • Does your community have a workers’ rights group? A women’s rights group? An LGBT rights’ group? A domestic violence shelter? A health collective? Are these groups providing services to undocumented people as well?
  • Does your community have a group dedicated to affecting legislation or public policy? Does this include immigration issues?
  • Are there family support systems within your community (e.g., childcare collectives, mentoring programs, protection networks, sanctuary movements)? What are they doing? What do they need?
  • Does your local police force have 287(g) status? What has been your community’s reaction to the Secure Communities mandate?·

 Four main things to think about regarding Needs and Assets:

  • What resources are being provided?
  • What is currently working?
  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What do you need? ·

Things to think about:

  • Are current social justice organizations in your community aware of immigration issues? Could you expand them to work with undocumented people? What would this look like?
  • Are members of your congregation involved with these organizations? If not, why not? What concrete steps are you willing to take to involve other congregational members in social justice organizing?

Best practice: Have organizations that provide services for undocumented people help with the drafting of the needs and assets report

With a detailed Needs and Assets report, attendees will be able to identify Roundtable Discussions and Service Projects that are most relevant. For example, people who volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter may be most interested in a roundtable dedicated to strategies for successful filings for U visas or VAWA petitions. (Both are ways to file for protections for undocumented victims of domestic violence.) If VAWA programs are not currently available, attendees could begin to implement them in their home communities; if they are currently available, attendees could discuss problems they have had and brainstorm solutions with other people who file VAWA cases. We hope this example demonstrates the potential for being able to implement current strategies across the U.S. and to provide for ongoing relationships between people engaged in similar work.

Addendum B: Roundtable Structure

We propose that Arizona community organizations be allowed to structure Roundtable Discussions. These discussions should be held in a collaborative way with attendees who are either familiar with similar programs within their own communities (and are prepared to discuss the strategies and obstacles relevant to these programs) or who are committed to implementing similar programs within their communities. In other words, all attendees should also be participants. These would not be lectures or presentations; they would be strategy sessions. We request this restriction out of respect for our time and energy and to maximize the productivity of these Roundtables.

During our brainstorms regarding GA, several suggestions came up repeatedly. First, Roundtable Discussions should run for at least two or three hours so that all attendees, including people from our organizations, can develop strategic plans regarding next steps. Although Roundtables could be repeated to allow more individuals to participate, each session should be small. Second, the deadline for Roundtable topics should be no more than three months before GA to ensure that they are current and relevant for our organizations. Third, we would like to explore possibilities for interactive, online participation so that people across the country who are working on these programs but cannot attend GA will be able to participate. Finally, we suggest that a wiki-style, self-generated posting system be developed for several reasons:

  • To reduce bureaucratic obstacles, this can discourage participation from smaller organizations.
  • To allow attendees to do their Roundtable homework (via the Needs and Assets reports) before coming to GA.
  • To allow attendees and Arizona organizers to post resources, ideas, and obstacles on an on-going basis before and after GA. In other words, this would serve as an online resource and discussion board for congregations and organizations across the country who are working on similar topics. We could also post notes from the Roundtable for people who were not able to attend.
  • To provide a ready-made space for continuing to build relationships and develop collective wisdom.

When we have considered how Roundtable Discussions would function, the following suggestions have been made. Discussions would start with a “crash course” on the topic for people who are interested in implementing similar programs but do not yet have them. This would be followed by brief presentations from all attendees on how the issue is related to their home community. Then there would be a group brainstorm regarding strategies that have worked, things needed to adapt program/service for their home community, and the possibility for resource exchanges and ongoing conversations. Finally, each attendee would create a plan for implementing the program in their home community including obstacles and adaptations they can anticipate.

We believe that Roundtable Discussions will be very useful in helping us be more strategic regarding our work. As an example, the Childcare Collective of Tucson and the Valley of the Sun Childcare Collective/Valle del Sol Guarderias Colectivas are small community organizations that provide childcare services for community meetings and events. Their goal is to enhance the ability of women with children (who are historically responsible for childcare) to participate in community organizing and critical resistance. They have identified two possible topics for Roundtable Discussions:

  • They would like to hold conversations with people who are involved in Early Childhood Education and identify bilingual curricula that could be applied with children of varying ages (preferably with a social justice flavor, and even more preferably, with a “know your rights” component). If such curricula is not available, they would like to brainstorm about how such curricula could be developed so that it is both culturally and developmentally-appropriate.
  • They would like to hold conversations with people involved in other childcare collectives (The Tucson Collective has had phone consultations with several collectives across the U.S. and have found them to be very valuable). Their main concerns are: helping other CDBs or social justice organizations increase accessibility for primary caregivers (i.e. going to scale), maintaining parent involvement, and enhancing community building through childcare (i.e., being a vehicle for change rather than a service provided).

We also propose that Immigration or Anti Racism 101 level lectures be kept to a minimum and that intensive trainings and workshops be offered on topics such as accountability in AR/AO/MC organizing for allies, intersecting oppressions, leadership training for young adults, crowd management strategies, organizing a health collective, establishing a rapid response teams, crisis hotlines, English/Spanish Language Exchanges, or Spanish for Social Justice courses.

Addendum C: Service Programs

In comparison to Roundtables, Service Programs would be less collaborative and focus on using attendees’ specific skills sets to help with a short-term project. We suggest that a wiki-style website, similar to that for Roundtable Discussions, be created wherein community organizations can post service opportunities up to one or two months before GA to ensure that projects are timely and relevant to the current needs of our organizations. We propose that this structure be adopted so that organizations are allowed to identify and determine for themselves how short-term volunteers can best be utilized. On the wiki-site, we would post information on the background of our organizations, an overview of the project, what skills would be needed, how many people were needed and for how long, and additional concerns about accessibility (including checkpoints, terrain problems that would restrict participation for those with mobility issues, etc.). This will also give local organizations that already have an established relationship in the community an opportunity to lend their expertise and experience, which will be critical to the success of any service project. Projects that were posted well ahead of time would also invite further collaboration (e.g., several CDBs (Comites de Defensa del Barrio or neighborhood defense committees) have discussed expanding their community gardens. They could use the expertise of attendees familiar with rainwater management to help plan their project before GA and then have attendees help dig the garden during GA).

As a more specific example, No More Deaths, an allied organization that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the Sonoran Desert, does not allow volunteers to serve for less than two weeks at camp because orientation and logistics are a continual drain on infrastructure. Therefore, many attendees would not be able to provide this specific service. However, No More Deaths has a continual need for volunteers to help with strengthening and streamlining their infrastructure. Although they cannot anticipate now what their service project needs will be next year, recent projects could have benefited from short-term volunteers as long as they had the appropriate skill sets. For example, the volunteer donation system was recently transferred into an online format for merging with a general mailing list database. To automate this transfer, several macros needed to be written by volunteers who were only somewhat familiar with this. If a computer programmer were available, this would have taken much less time. Therefore, the time spent by volunteers to orient the programmer would have been recouped by the time saved by having a programmer. For this organization, this would have been a worthwhile investment.

Most importantly, we request that service programs and opportunities hosted at PCC also be offered at decentralized locations based on community needs and interests. We are concerned that service projects held at PCC will be neither relevant nor practical for our communities. For example, we have heard of several references to setting up health clinics, voter registration and/or citizenship fairs at PCC. We recognize that the UUA is accountable to delegates and attendees to provide an accessible General Assembly, but we must also hold ourselves accountable to and provide accessible services for the Arizona community. There is an inherently troubling dynamic in asking undocumented and otherwise disenfranchised communities to bear the risk and burden associated with travel to a centralized location when those of us who have the privilege of documentation and are physically able to do so could, with comparative ease, travel to satellite locations in the barrios. If CDBs feel that health clinics would be valuable for their specific barrios, they could request these clinics on the wiki site and identify a location that would be accessible to people in their barrios. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that the primary purpose of a community health fair is to get people without access to medical services into an ongoing relationship with a medical provider and the people most likely to attend such an event will be more likely to have conditions that require follow up care. There are concerns about how relationships will be established with medical providers from outside Arizona, how follow up care would be managed for those who require it, in addition to the reality that many undocumented people will not travel to PCC due to concerns previously cited. It will be critical to partner with the local medical community already providing services that can coordinate follow up care for those in the community who need it.

Justice GA, #UU Accountability, and the #uualtoaz hash tag

August 1, 2011 2 comments

I was mentioned in a twitter comment over the weekend by a fellow UU I’ve long admired and respected, I think as part of a twitter chat that included a couple other UU’s that I have a great deal of respect for. But throughout that conversation was a hash tag that made me terribly uncomfortable.

#uualtoaz

I immediately made my reservations known, and my concerns were acknowledged… but as blurbs from that chat are retweeted and posted in other forums, I’m concerned that hash tag may have taken on a life of it’s own, as I saw it associated with twitter posts unrelated to the original chat when I was online this morning.

Folks outside Arizona may not be familiar with the Alto Arizona. Folks not familiar with the campaign may think it simply means Stop AZ in Spanish (which it does). But Alto Arizona is a campaign of PuenteAZ and NDLON, not the Unitarian Universalist Association. Alto Arizona is also a campaign for which the UUA is not listed as a partner organization. Alto Arizona is a campaign that, among other things, calls for a boycott of Arizona.

A boycott that we are violating at the invitation of some Arizona human rights groups and to the irritation of others. Read more…

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