General Assembly 2012 Report

GA delegates for the Justice GA in Phoenix, AZ June 20 - 25 were Evan Hertafeld, Judy Olson, Gwen Wyatt, Mary Clark, Jerry King, Bob Lovell, and Kathy Lovell. The following is a report of the main events at GA and personal reflections. Business issues were kept to a minimum, and the main focus was on Social Justice issues, especially those related to immigration, but including others as well. The primary social witness event was a candlelight vigil the night of June 23 outside Maricopa County’s “Tent City” jail, where County Sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps prisoners outdoors in tents without air conditioning in Arizona heat. Busloads of Unitarian Universalists, partnering with other groups, traveled from the downtown Convention Center to the jail site at dusk, where organizers estimate approximately 2,400 people sang, chanted, and held up battery-powered candles for a two-hour vigil.
A Congregational Study/Action Issue is selected every two years for a four-year period of study and action. The issue of Immigration as a Moral Issue is ongoing (selected for 2010-2014). There were five issues proposed for 2012-2016 (see for more information on each). Evan Hertafeld made an eloquent speech before the entire assembly (see reflections below) to support the Exploring Class Barriers issue, and it was included in the top two for a runoff vote. Reproductive Justice, which calls congregations to champion reproductive rights and reproductive justice as a religious issue, was selected. Stay tuned for more information about this issue nationally and locally. 
Also, delegates voted to repudiate the more than 500-year-old “Doctrine of Discovery,” the doctrine that declared indigenous peoples subject to the Christian explorers who “discovered” them. The resolution calls on the U.S. government to fully endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. See for more information.

Personal reflection from Evan Hertafeld:
This having been my first GA, it's hard to say how much the Justice initiative flavored the experience. I did, however, feel a very strong push throughout for taking action, primarily about issues related to immigration. This in particular was very educational for me, not having known much about immigration as a social action issue. 
There were very empowering times during the conference, one example being my push for the UUA to select a particular issue for congregations to study, as they do every two years. The potential issue of exploring class barriers resonated with me, so I attended the workshops and meetings related to the selection of one of the five issues. I listened to the advocates and made remarks in favor of the one I supported until the primary advocate of the class issue approached me and asked me to speak for the issue during the plenary session. This had been my aim, so I accepted. I wasn't sure what one person's two-minute remarks could do, especially considering that the issue I was supporting didn't have much attention at the time. Nonetheless, I prepared a speech. It was a truly empowering moment when I made my speech in front of the plenary of four thousand. It was met with thunderous applause, and the issue was voted into the final two. The issue didn't win in the end, but I felt that I made a difference that I never thought I could make.
GA also held many humbling experiences for me. The people there were amazing. From workshop leaders to worship speakers, there was a lot of wisdom, and I felt honored to hear many speak and was inspired by what was said. My fellow youth were no less invigorating--One of the most memorable moments of the conference was simply a conversation with a fellow youth. We spent several hours standing at a balcony discussing the mysteries of life, skipping programming and simply making a connection. 
On the whole, GA was an adventure. I felt big, I felt small, I felt inspired, and I felt enlightened. It's definitely something I intend to do again as soon as I have the resources, and I'd recommend the experience to any UU.