by Jay Kiskel
If you ever wondered what it looks like when democracy dies, you now have a front-row seat. We are witnessing such a demise in our own denomination. Hyperbole? No.
When I submitted my name by petition to run for a position on the UUA Board of Trustees, I naively believed that the UUA administration would remain neutral and not tip the scales. It is now apparent that my faith was sorely misplaced.
Just brought to my attention was a May 14, 2021, UU World article demonstrating the UUA Board’s willingness to use its administrative powers to tip the scales in this year’s trustee election.
“The UUA Board of Trustees endorses the UUA Nominating Committee’s three candidates for the Board, the Rev. Elizabeth Mount, JeKaren Oloya, and the Rev. Sam Trumbore.”
The rationale for this election intervention is an effort to install new board members who are committed to the recommendations from the Commission on Institutional Change’s report, Widening the Circle of Concern. This report is heavily flawed. My call for a peer review of the report has been brushed aside.
This election intervention is an undeniable effort by our UU leadership team to self-select their members without being constrained by pesky UUs who believe in our Fifth Principle. In our book, Used to be UU, we postulated that the Nominating Committee has become nothing more than “a gatekeeper to preserve the ideological mindset of the board.” We now know that our observation is true.
No Presidential Election
This effort to stifle democracy is not limited to the election of UUA Board of Trustee members. The board has also offered a bylaw amendment at this year’s General Assembly to eliminate the only election that UUs are currently guaranteed. The proposed amendment to Section 9.5 reduces the number of candidates the Presidential Search Committee must put forward, lowering the requirement of “no fewer than two” to “one or more.” One candidate means no election.
The rationale for this proposal is most disturbing. The first rationale is that requiring competitive races for the presidency of the Association is too costly. The “cost argument” went out the door with the $5.3 million grant to Black Lives UU (BLUU). We all spend our money on what we value. The second rationale explains why democracy should be avoided. Competitive democratic elections are “unnecessarily divisive.” Democracy is messy but allows many voices to be heard. Should our voices be silenced?
As Americans from all political persuasions decry Republicans passing bills to curtail voting access, our own UU leadership has conjured their own clever solution. Just wholly eliminate the election. As the chairperson of the 2009 Fifth Principle Task Force once retorted, “We should get serious about governing ourselves democratically . . .” If not, let’s just rescind the Fifth Principle.
Larger Context: Suppression of Voices
This suppression of democratic processes must be seen in a larger context to suppress debate and dissent. The 2019 controversy over The Gadfly Papers was a highly visible example of our UU leadership’s effort to ban ideas they find inconvenient. The effort is ongoing. As we earlier shared, UU leadership has banned the promotion of our book, Used to Be UU, at our General Assembly booth. Frank recently asked if all booths are prohibited from promoting a book or was our book singled out?
The answer we received on June 1 confirmed that special treatment was applied. “Used to be UU makes critical claims about the UUA that generated concern from GA attendees.”
What is our UU leadership doing to UUism?
We feel we provided an accurate and coherent recounting in Used to be UU of what is happening in UUism. UUism is being betrayed by our own leadership in favor of a far more ecclesiastical organization where decisions at the top will no longer be subject to debate. Voting among rank-and-file UU’s will be curtailed or stopped altogether.
We must all determine how much we are willing to be engaged in saving democracy, our liberal values, and the spirit of UUism.
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Join the Fifth Principle Project. It’s free. The Fifth Principle Project is an organic grassroots initiative to gather into community Unitarian Universalists who want to reinvigorate the right of conscience and renew the democratic process in the governing of our denomination.
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