by Jay Kiskel, UUA Board Candidate
With the publication of Used to be UU, The Systematic Attack on UU Liberalism and the submission of my petition for a position on the national UUA Board, I have been staying current by reading the weekly General Assembly updates and the 1st quarter UUA Board meeting minutes. After a careful review of this material, I recommend that alarm is warranted.
Systemic White Supremacy
The document that brought about the immediate cause for alarm was the draft of the Statement of Conscience (SOC) Undoing Systemic White Supremacy: A Call to Prophetic Action from the weekly General Assembly update.
The SOC opens with an embracing call for “universal justice and equity.” However, the method chosen to achieve these goals mires UUism in the ill-liberal ideological eddy formed by the far-left’s embrace of critical race theory. This approach has the practical effect of sidelining the power of our Principles in this battle. I fear shunning our liberal values will, unfortunately, doom this effort.
The other concern is that the Statement of Conscience portrays the moral authority of UUism in the public square as nothing more than a perpetual protester. The SOC asks UUs to commit to “building sustainable communities of resistance” rather than building sustainable loving communities of change, leaving heated rhetoric our only contribution to the public debate.
The Fifth Principle Project tested this reliance on rhetoric at the 2020 General Assembly by submitting an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW), “George Can’t Breathe, but We Can Vote.” The AIW was devoid of rhetoric and drew solely upon the power of our Principles and Sources to bring about change. When I was informed that our AIW would not be brought forward for a vote, I responded, “You can either be mad or you can win. It’s a choice.” Winning means foregoing rhetoric and advocating for the hard work of electing local, state, and federal representatives who share our goals, lobbying for legislation that reflects our values, funding legal efforts that challenge injustice, and building coalitions with other faith communities. Be mad or win. It’s a choice.
Currently, UUs are guaranteed a vote for the denomination’s president. However, from a reading of the draft March 2021 UUA Board minutes, this guarantee may be ended. A section of the minutes entitled “Rationale for bylaws changes” starts with its own alarming assertion.
“The Board of Trustees acknowledges the legacy of racism and oppression in Unitarian Universalism. The Board acknowledges its historic role in condoning, supporting and promoting White supremacy within the movement.”
Following this assertion was a recommendation to change the Association’s bylaws regarding the number of nominees that the Presidential Search Committee must put forward. The current requirement of “no fewer than two” nominees automatically triggers an election. The new language of “one or more” may result, if only a single candidate is nominated, in no election. No voting by UUs.
The rationale for the change continued, “The UUA Board works more closely with the President than any other volunteer group and is best positioned to assess the skills and competencies of nominees for the UUA Presidency.” In effect, the board is positioning itself to pick the denomination’s president.
My candidacy exposed years of neglect to recruit competing candidates for board members. If this bylaws recommendation regarding the election of our UUA president is passed, the last guarantee of a denomination governed by the right of conscience and the democratic process is extinguished.
Time to break glass.
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I’d like to read more about how “the method chosen to achieve these goals mires UUism in the ill-liberal ideological eddy formed by the far-left’s embrace of critical race theory.” The first paragraph in the draft statement doesn’t ring any alarm bells for me, but the second paragraph, with its endorsement of the COIC Report, is a horse of a different color (if you’ll forgive the term). Here we’re told that UUs need to do “internal work within the denomination to overcome the ways in which systemic white supremacy is woven into our group cultures, interpersonal relationships, and individual ingrained… Read more »
Seems to me that the Board wanting to position itself to appoint the President without an election would be worthy of an objection.
I agree; “one or more” is not sufficient; we need at least 2 candidates, preferably 3 or more for a ranked-choice vote, to have a truly democratic election.
As I remember, the vote at the last presidential election (in which I believe we had three excellent, and quite different, candidates) was quite close.
I think that the fact that the board and president work so closely together is even more of a rationale for the board not to be the sole selecting group; that would make the leadership way too isolated and insular!
The draft statement of conscience is interesting, in its assumptions about the way the world works, which I think in many cases are problematic. First, there are the issues they have chosen to emphasize: “police brutality, theft of native lands, environmental racism, mass incarceration, cruel responses to immigration, restricted reproductive rights, transphobia, lack of health care and education, and more.” So, they have clearly chosen to emphasize more cultural and social issues over economic issues — issues such as stagnating wages for many groups, increased disparities of economic opportunities across local labor markets and neighborhoods. I probably have a bias… Read more »
Tim, thanks for your thoughtful analysis! I agree, it is too easy for UUism generally to overlook issues of economic inequality. Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community does look at issues from such a perspective, and things are dire indeed. I agree that the general prosperity of UUs as a whole can make us less sensitive to such issues, even within our own congregations/fellowships/ societies, and adding that perspective into this SoC would make it a stronger statement. I would be interested in collaboration on suggestions for amendments; just yesterday, I was approved as a delegate from my society… Read more »
I guess I think the Statement should be totally rewritten to at least equally emphasize economic equity issues and to downplay the notion that “cultural features” of UUism are a key problem. But I think this requires a total rewrite, and would be hard to do via amendment.
Amendments can include replacements of entire paragraphs. . .! Yes, a lot of work with just about 6 weeks, and that would have to include getting a lot of buy-in. A “We Need a Rewrite” campaign to vote it back to the CSW for revision would probably be more successful. Your credentials as an economist are helpful, having support from UUs with various identities would also be helpful.
Well, if by “white supremacy culture” they mean “economic inequalities” or “capitalism”, they should say so. Economic inequality occurs in all kinds of societies, as does capitalism.
Furthermore — if you’re really against capitalism, that really is a fringe position. Even folks like Bernie Sanders, or the European socialists, are not really against “capitalism” — they just want a more managed capitalism with a larger state regulatory role and a larger social safety net. As an example, all the Scandinavian countries are quite capitalistic.
There are many levels of capitalism, and extreme corporate capitalism—bordering on oligarchy or fascism, depending on the source one reads—is what we have now, and is not serving us well.
I have seen the comment that “capitalism without heart is evil”, and I think that is important to consider—pure winner-take-all capitalism, just like pure no-individualism communism, needs to be tempered by compassion and respect for each individual. How we get there is a big question.
Thank you for bringing up economics, Tim. There is plenty of data out there that suggest many of the inequalities we see boil down to economic disparities as the primary factor. The Washington Post has a database showing shootings, police shootings, etc. So has the FBI. This kind of data have been used by some Black intellectuals (among others) to make the point that class is primary. None of them deny racism but the biggest problem is wealth inequality and all that goes with that. About your comment “I think it is somewhat strange to think that addressing how people… Read more »
Once it starts it snowballs. A point of no return is reached. The institution will fail. The only question is what will grow in its ashes.
“In effect, the board is positioning itself to pick the denomination’s president.” Wow. Like so much in the past few years of UUism, that’s both shocking (in how far it strays from UU “disagreement welcome” values) and yet not shocking (given recent history of UUA leadership). I suspect they were hoping that not many would notice that change until people scratch their heads “wasn’t there supposed to be an election for president this year?” On the topic of elections: poking around the UUA website I noticed the line “Registration for GA is not required to vote in UUA elections” somewhat… Read more »
Not sure what that means. In order to get delegate credentials registration is required.
For presidential elections, not sure about others, congregations get votes even if they don’t send delegates. That should be better publicized.
Just looked a little more into this…the page I mentioned is this one, down near the bottom under the header “Elections” is the phrase, and the words “UUA election” links to this year’s list of candidates. I went to the UUA bylaws to try and see what the actual language is and am attaching a screen shot that I hope shows up correctly. (If it doesn’t, the bylaws here is the one linked on from the UUA website, and it’s Section C-4.9). I think that’s the relevant section – particularly the “except that these requirements…” at the end. That looks… Read more »
“You can either be mad or you can win. It’s a choice.” Whether it is racism or any other problem that has been around for millennia (or even just centuries or decades), there is not a one-size fits all approach to winning — if there were then the problem would have been solved eons ago. Everyone should be encouraged to do what their hearts and minds tell them is the right way for them to achieve change. Personally, I am a pacifist and I am most effective when I use pacifist means, but I do not count as enemies those who… Read more »
Many non-profits are going to a model where there are contested elections for the Nominating Committee but not for other offices. The idea is that putting people up to compete against each other means that several very talented, very ambitious people get sidelined each time. If that can be avoided then that’s a plus that should be considered.
You can argue against this, and you should if you feel called to do so. But this isn’t an example of democracy dying.
So, please inform me how UUs who think the UUA Board is going in a fundamentally wrong direction are supposed to influence it to change its direction? Currently, very few UUs pay much attention to the UUA Board, and there is only limited debate over this direction in local congregations. Do you think this is healthy?
It’s not these races are restricted to a single candidate. It’s only that there is no need for the Nominating Committee to force competition — likely between two like-minded people. UUs who think that the UUA Board is going in a fundamentally wrong direction have many options — that’s democracy for you! Yes, one good possibility is to run for office! There are many things that could use our attention and keeping people informed about the UUA and urging change where you see fit are two of them. The question is only how to prioritize things. I urge you to… Read more »
I understand what you are saying, but as I understand it, it is very hard for someone to run for office by petition. I do understand the rationale for nominated boards rather than those chosen by contested election, but for the president in particular, that is a problem for me. Also, I think when that practice is used, generally all board members are being elected simultaneously, so they are considering balancing skills, etc. If there were more resources for those choosing to run for board seats and someone running by petition were more common, I would be less worried about… Read more »
If it is onerous to get on the ballot by petition then that is bad. Let’s urge change there. If staggering the terms of Board Members helps — I know less about that — but surely that is something that could be put forward too. I am less sympathetic to allowing last-minute write-in campaigns; can’t we simply urge people to get on the ballot? It would save a substantial amount of effort that counting write-ins involves. But if you are for it, then I urge you to speak up. But can’t we do all of these things without describing the… Read more »
There is a consent agenda being planned for GA, the moderator decides what goes on it (IDK when)—that was introduced last year, I think, or two years ago, with no notice; because of the confusion, it was dropped. If there are any amendments proposed in the miniassembly, those items are pulled from the consent agenda. Of course, without knowing what those items are. . . . I fully intend to offer the sort of requirements I mentioned, at least the requirement for a confirming poll and 50%-of-voters to “win”. I have never tried to run, Jay can tell us more… Read more »
I note that the proposed bylaw amendments change the proposed change the date of the reports by the Presidential Search Committee and Board of Trustees of candidates for president and moderator, respectively*, to November from February, but no such change is proposed for nomination by petition (By-law proposed amendment #2, Sections 9.5 & 9.6, Rule G-9.13.7, lines 1103–1132).
*also eliminated in a separate proposal is the requirement for at least 2 candidates for president; already a single moderator candidate is sufficient—though we seem to be moving toward a moderator-team model, which helps include an extra voice.
Who’s on The Board, Who’s President, now moderator, etc. didn’t really matter much when the UUA operated as an Association. (Think Am Library Assoc.) Now the UUA is corporate headquarters. Think McDonalds Corp and individual Congregations are franchises. When corporate headquarters decides on a new menu item, all franchises are expected to offer it up on Sunday morning menu. But, what if members of a certain congregation does not like crabmeat. Too bad! Perhaps restricting the power / influence of the Corporate Headquarters is needed. Require more open “discussion forums” (such as this one) would provide the opportunity to get… Read more »
Mr. Kiskel, I’m curious for your thoughts on Rev. Cindy Landrum’s response piece to your comments here. Her response can be found here: https://revdennismccarty.com/a-response-to-jay-kiskels-when-democracy-dies/ In particular, I was struck by this excerpt: “Last year at General Assembly, [Jay Kiskel] and Fifth Principle Project leaders presented the offensively-named resolution “George Can’t Breathe but You Can Vote.” It was a horrible misappropriation of George Floyd’s name and death, for a resolution that carried no other statement about the death of George Floyd or police violence, or the situation of violence against people of color. It was, frankly, a title so egregiously awful… Read more »
I share these questions. I hope we will hear from Jay Kiskel.
While you say your proposed AIW was “devoid of rhetoric,” the largest rhetorical problem was the appropriation in your title, “George Can’t Breathe, but We Can Vote.” Your AIW, written only a month after the death of George Floyd, had nothing to do with George Floyd. There was no mention of police violence, no mention of the deaths of Black people, no connection to Black Lives Matters or other organizations working on these issues. George Floyd’s name and death were invoked in the title only. The result was a feeling that his name, and his death, were being used by… Read more »
To begin with, all AIW’s must meet certain criteria even to be accepted for consideration. Jay’s clearly met those criteria. Those criteria do not evidently include some condemnatory notion of appropriation. If you’re so concerned with that then perhaps you should take it up with those responsible for writing such rules. More importantly, in your eagerness to condemn Jay’s AIW for what it doesn’t say, according to you, one cannot help but notice you omitted anything it actually does say. Among its “Whereas” clauses is the following: WHEREAS, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957 said, “Give us the… Read more »
Right on! 100% agree!
Disagreement is one thing. Name-calling is another. Cindy asked a reasonable question about the composition of the AIW.
People all over the country–and world–were incensed (and grieving) the egregious murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis officers.
Apologies, I hit the “return key the wrong way, and my previous half-comment was incomplete and not quite what I meant to say. So to get to my point. Given the heinousness of the murder of George Floyd, some sensitivity was called for in bandying his name about. One reason the AIW was denied, is that the use of his name in the AIW title seemed–frankly–less than sensitive. And, as Cindy notes, was never referenced again in the body of the AIW. Obviously, a LOT of delegates picked up on that. So this AIW suffered the same face as many… Read more »
You appear to be claiming to know the specific reasons the AIW was denied. What is your source for this knowledge? And tell me, since you repeated it twice, what names was Cindy called?
Her post was called despicable; that is not name-calling, but strong characterization of a piece of writing. She was told that she should be ashamed of herself, also strong, but again, not a name, and no stronger than her post.
I have to note that despite Frank’s query, “what names was Cindy called?” implying that he didn’t see any problem, Sally G. went right to the terms used. Before I came back and named them.
I’m just saying–that makes it hard for Frank’s question to stand up as sincere.
But those are NOT names; they are descriptors of a POST and suggestion of feeling ashamed. Those are the terms, yes, but they are NOT “name-calling”.
“Your post is simply despicable and you should be ashamed of yourself.” That’s literally an ad hominem logical fallacy, at best. It does not address anything Cindy wrote.
As to “how do you know?” Cindy already explained that “It would have been a difficult vote, given the discomfort I was seeing in the chat boxes with the title’s appropriation of George Floyd.”
You can disagree with the implication of what she saw. But seeing it–and naming it–is hardly shameful or despicable.
So did the group ask for a title change? Or did that end all conversation? I am presuming that Cindy is on the CSW, though her name does not show on the UUA site as a member. What chat boxes, where? Having learned of this proposed AIW only through this discussion, I am utterly baffled.
No, I am not on the CSW. I am not pretending to know exactly why the AIW was not accepted, just speculating based on the numerous statements I saw about it in the chat, the conversations I saw about it in other places online, and my own reaction to it.
Thanks for the clarification. We should not need to be speculating on this; from my limited experience, I would suspect that the proposers were given little if any rationale, but I cannot be sure even of that. UUA communication overall leaves a lot to be desired; the active discussion here and my former experience on the GA e-mail list (before it was closed and moved to the uua.org/ga page, where little happens), and the vibrant-if-brief discussion when the Global Warming list moderator suggested closing it, shows me that UUs are hungry for ways to have meaningful discussions, and likely not… Read more »
Actually, it does address the writing; “your post is” simply despicable—not “you are”.
I agree that it was not tactfully phrased, could have been better, but it was neither obscene nor an attack on a person, but on written material and on authorship.
I prefer that we all keep to substance more than style. (Yes, criticize style, but focus on content.)
I think “you should be ashamed of yourself” is to the person, not the argument. That’s the way it read to me.
I read it as “you are better than your argument”, but I will not contradict your interpretation; each of us truly knows only how we ourselves feel.
The entire post was about what you said as the reason you should be ashamed. But you and Dennis seem intent on reading it as an attack on your person and not your post. I’m really not interested in trying to disabuse either of you of something you seem to need.
If that is the case, was the proposer contacted and asked about changing the name? Or simply never contacted and the decision made without communication? (tl/dr) I have 2 very specific reasons for asking this: Last year, the UUJEC proposed an AIW titled The Pandemic: A Religious Response. It was denied and we were given no explanation until just this week, when they sent a note about their decision a year ago. We were able to work with the parliamentarian to reframe it as a responsive resolution to Pres. Frederick-Gray’s report, but were limited in the number of words, making… Read more »
I hope Frank or Jay or someone else involved with the AIW will answer this question. I am not on the CSW, so do not know if they were contacted and told what the issues were in the AIW. I have a limited experience with the AIW process in that I proposed an AIW once and shepherded it through to a successful vote. I know that in that process, there were some seemingly little things the CSW was sensitive to, that if I hadn’t had interaction with them up front asking them if my AIW was acceptable, would have seen… Read more »
Thanks, Cindy, that is helpful. I have been involved in 2 UNsuccessful attempts to bring an AIW—3 if you count my impulsive, quixotic attempt in 2009 (when I realized that it takes a team and a lot of preGA organizing). I have not been the leader on any, but from what I have understood from those who were, it appears that if the CSW finds a problem, they do not alert the proposer, but wait to be contacted. We (UUJEC) have had to nag the CSW to get our description posted on the CSW planning page (at least there is… Read more »
This rhetoric from the Fifth Principle Project co-founder calling a minister’s comment “despicable” and saying they should be ashamed of themselves is disturbing. I thought the Fifth Principle Project organization wanted to be inclusive of all viewpoints, including dissent. Clearly, that is not the case.
I hope Jay Kiskel will answer the questions posted in these comments about why and how the name for the resolution was chosen, and whether and how he is connected to and supportive of those impacted by police violence, such as the family and community of George Floyd.
You should read the posts above from Sally G. That Cindy is here and still posting establishes her views are being expressed. That does not shield anyone from having what they write pejoratively characterized.
What’s clear here so far is that neither Cindy nor Dennis have any idea why the AIW they find so wanting was declined. They’re just making it all up out of their own prejudices. And I want to thank Sally G for offering the rather simple and obvious distinction between calling someone names and characterizing something someone said. That should not have to be explained.
“They’re just making it all up out of their own prejudices.”
“What is your source for this knowledge?”
Apologies–I’m just expressing my confusion. Feel free to ignore the above.
I, too, however would like to echo Karen’s, etc. question as to why that particular title was chosen. That’s a relevant question, and it seems to me that all parties concerned might benefit from a thoughtful answer.
I would be interested to hear about why that title was chosen, I am more interested in the substance than in the title. I would also want to know the specifics of the CSW response, whether the title was the reason for rejection, or if it was something else—or if they communicated in detail at all. My speculation, worth virtually nothing, is that it was intended as a memorial and in recognition of how even a racist police department and court system was forced to recognize that reality after such a brutal murder was captured on—not film, video; I am… Read more »
There seems to be a sudden groundswell of obsession with this AIW, mostly either insinuating or, as in Cindy’s case, outright condemning a good and thoughtful piece. I don’t pretend to understand it, except to say that it appears to be a willful effort to malign it and it’s author for reasons unsavory, a circumstance that can’t help but cast a cynical eye on all these questions about it.
Frank Casper wrote:
I was interested to see that the Fifth Principle Project has a code of conduct for discussions here:
The code of conduct includes the following text:
“We do not accept obscenities, threats, or ad hominem attacks.”
Telling the person you are responding to that they should be ashamed is an attack on the person’s character.
To borrow from your code’s language, you have left the neighborhood of “play the ball” and are now “playing the person.”
I honestly don’t see an attack on character, I see an attack on actions and a call to do better. i see scolding, not personal attack.
I am ready to move on from this conversation to consider by-law amendments, promote the UUJEC AIW, and respond to any others, including this one (renamed or otherwise) at General Assembly, but of course I will be reading e-mails and likely tempted to jump in again.
See you “in” Minneapolis.
While I know you’re going to insist on this, telling someone they should be ashamed of something they did or said is not an attack on their character. As Sally G said, it is a call on their higher self. To do otherwise is a failure of responsibility. But you’ll insist otherwise because you’re committed to an effort to paint us in the worst possible terms. If there is an attack on anyone’s character, it is you attacking ours.
Accepting, for the moment, what Stephen just posted, I’d be very interested in knowing exactly what it was in the post being condemned that Cindy is supposed to be ashamed of?