By Irene Keim, UU Church in the Pines, Brooksville, FL and UUMFE Board Chair

(05/2013) In February 2013, three accomplished keynote speakers from three different disciplines and participants from many UU congregations in Florida came together to explore ways we can connect the dots to heal ourselves and our world in the face of social, political, and environmental challenges. The speakers and their topics were:

  •  “The Rights of Earth” – Patricia Siemen, Director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, Barry University School of Law;
  •  “Maintaining the Right To Be Heard” – David Cobb, National Projects Director of Democracy Unlimited and the national spokesperson for Move to Amend; and
  •  “Addictions in the Broadest Sense” – Bruce Alexander, professor and author of The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit.

The speakers provided many ideas to ponder. For example:

  • Real change happens when human beings raise hell.
  • Environmental law is based on property law, not rights of Nature.
  • Social movements need to do homework and build coalitions BEFORE deciding strategies.
  • We can’t win at Whack-A-Mole.
  • There is no ‘away’ for all of our stuff.
  • The faith community is one of the pillars of the movements founded in sustainable values.
  • Humans must reclaim our ecological identity.
  • It is important that we listen to Earth before we speak up for Earth.
  • Two of the most damaging addictions in society are the addiction to money and to the media circus.

The unique learning experience of the conference was, however, the interaction of these creative leaders. None of the three had met or shared ideas before the conference, yet in a panel discussion after their individual presentations, they modeled for the audience how to begin to illuminate the intersection of their fields of concern and expertise, how to do some systems thinking. For many of us venturing out of our congregations into the wider community, this was a valuable exercise. Wisely, the conference planners allowed time later in the conference for the connecting to others, processing the ideas flowing around us, and planning the next steps. One session to facilitate this connection to action was a panel of activists from Florida including myself, who represented UU Ministry for Earth.

The creative exchange of information and ideas at the conference was the result of visioning by three different organizations: the UU Church of Brevard, Florida provided much of the planning and organizing; the UU Legislative Ministry of Florida participated in the planning and is supported in part from a grant from the Fund for UU Social Responsibility; and the members of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando hosted the event. The conference was so meaningful for the attendees that planning for the next conference began the very next week and a Facebook group has kept issues and information flowing across the state.