The Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (GA) in New Orleans, June 21-25, 2017, was a powerful witness to the sacredness of Mother Earth and our interconnectedness as humanity and with the web of life.

In the days leading up to GA, heavy rains and strong winds of Tropical Storm Cindy poured through New Orleans, causing some to struggle with rescheduled or canceled transportation, and all to worry how the GA would whether the storm. As GA began and as Cindy made landfall, the storm reduced to a tropical depression that primarily impacted the state of Alabama. The rest of our week in New Orleans was characterized by high heat and humidity, and primarily blue skies.

Ruth Idakula and Rev. Deanna Vandiver, Co-Directors of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR), welcome visitors to New Orleans and provide an invocation for the GA Opening Celebration. Photo by Aly Tharp

The Opening Celebration was quite beautiful. The stage was filled with painted trees from the Environmental Justice Forest, created by and representing communities all over the UUA, including:

  • UU Young Adults for Climate Justice
  • UUs who witnessed and marched together in the National April 2017 People’s Climate March
  • Greater New Orleans UU Cluster (First UU, Community UU, North Shore UU, CELSJR)
  • Emerson UU Church – Houston, TX
  • First UU – Houston, TX
  • Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, California
  • Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, New Jersey
  • Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, OR
  • First Parish in Concord, MA
  • The Sanctuary Boston
  • Theodore Parker Church, Boston
  • Youth participants in the UU College of Social Justice Activate! GA program

As GA progressed, trees from the Environmental Justice Forest made appearances in numerous workshop and worship spaces: decorating the Young Adults space and Welcoming Worship, the UU Climate Justice Collaboratory, Decolonization is Climate Justice, CUUPS Solstice Worship, and Saturday Morning Worship (which also included metaphorical, Earth-loving puppet theater).

The Environmental Justice Forest took root nearby the Plenary Hall of the GA. Passers-by were encouraged to answer the question “What Lives in the Environmental Justice Forest?” — responding on a large piece of drawing paper on a table in the middle of the trees.

Amelia Diehl, Communications Coordinator of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice, poses and smiles next to a sign that reads “What Lives in the Environmental Justice Forest?”, painted by Rose Gallogly (member of UUYACJ, Theodore Parker Church, The Sanctuary Boston). The table has a large piece of paper on it where GA attendees personally responded to the question. Photo by Aly Tharp


The Environmental Justice Forest.
Photo by Peter Bowden

So, What lives in the Environmental Justice Forest? The GA responded:

Deep Democracy, Equity, Sovereignty, Solidarity, Soul Work, Love, Abolition of fossil fuels and a just transition to renewables, Accessibility, Respect, Prayer, Gaia, Tranquility, The continuance of life and opportunity, Deep connections and commitment, The Holy, Sustainable food, Healing, Decolonization, Dismantling privilege, Lifting the voices of marginalized folks on the frontlines of environmental injustice, Caring humans, Clean air and water, Trees, Bugs, Biodiversity, Me and my family, Honesty and Integrity, Resisting the commodification of nature and culture, Joy, Our soul, Our future…

Participants in the UU Climate Justice Collaboratory gather & smile together for a photo at the end of a wonderful 3-hour session. Photo by Peter Bowden (UU Planet, UU Climate Action)

Many of the values that live in the Environmental Justice Forest were the focus of workshops in the Commit2Respond “The Seas Are Rising and So Are We” GA program:

  • Advocating Equity & Human Rights For Climate Justice, with Salote Soqo (UU Service Committee Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice & Climate Action), and Bruce Knotts (Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office (UU-UNO)
  • Eye-to-Eye Partnerships for Environmental Justice & Climate Justice, with Salote Soqo (UUSC), Catherine Coleman Flowers (Environmental Justice Fellow of the Center for Earth Ethics; Rural Development Manager of the Equal Justice Initiative, & Founder and Director of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise), and Rev. Karen Brammer (Director, UUA Green Sanctuary Program)
  • People’s Movement Assembly: Shared Liberation Decision-making, with Colette Pichon Battle, Esq. (Executive Director of The US Human Rights Network), Stephanie Guilloud (Co-Director of Project South), Ruth Idakula and Deanna Vandiver (Co-Directors of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal)
  • Emergency! Climate Change & Environmental Justice withRev. Robert Murphy (Minister of UU Church of Tarpon Springs, FL, Moderating), Rev. Jim VanderWeele (Minister of Community UU Church of New Orleans), Paul Dalzell (UU Church of Charleston, West Virginia), MA Sheehan (Director of the Lower 9th Ward Homeowners Association’s House the 9 Program)
  • Living Downstream: The Mississippi River & New Orleans with Dr. Cynthia Bryant, Dr. Nancy Rabelais, Charles Fryling, Dr. Edwin Lyon
  • UU Climate Justice Collaboratory with Aly Tharp (Program Coordinator for Commit2Respond, UU Ministry for Earth, & UU Young Adults for Climate Justice), Rev. Karen Brammer (UUA), Salote Soqo (UUSC), Catherine Coleman Flowers (Center for Earth Ethics; Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise; Equal Justice Initiative), Rev. Mel Hoover (UU Ministry for Earth Board Member, Retired UU Minister), Rev. Beth Johnson (UU Environmental Justice Collaboratory leader, Minister of Palomar UU Fellowship), Rev. Kurt Kuhwald (UU Environmental Justice Collaboratory Co-Convener), Michael Mufson (Professor of Theater Arts at Palomar College), Lavona Grow (UUs for Social Justice in the National Capitol Region – UUSJ), Rev. Earl Koteen (UU Ministry for Earth Board Member), Evan Seitz (Climate Justice Organizer for UU Mass Action & leader of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice), Marla Marcum (Co-Founder of the Climate Disobedience Center), Leonard Higgins (Unitarian Universalist “valve turner“)
  • Activate Joyful Witness: A Workshop on Art & Activism with Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario (Executive Director of ARTE – Art & Resistance Through Education), Angela Kelly (Senior Associate for Justice Education at the UU College of Social Justice), Jayeesha Dutta (Arts-activist, Co-Founder of the New Orleans Radical Arts and Healing Collective), Jimmy Betts (Arts-activist, Community Supported Organizer with the Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) Coalition, & core member of the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice)
  • Decolonization is Climate Justice with Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Author of “All the Real Indians Died Off” & 20 Other Myths About Native Americans), Rev. Karen Van Fossan (Minister of the Bismark-Mandan UU Congregation), Ronya Hoblit (Member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, lay leader of the Mismark-Mandan UU Congregation), Donny Verdin (Tribal Council Member of the United Houma Nation), Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh (Author of Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope & Empowerment, Director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity & Sustainability, human rights activist)
  • The Right to Be Rescued: Climate & Disability with Patty Cameron (GA Accessibility Services Coordinator), Rev. Suzanne Fast (Board President of EqUUaL Access, Community Minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, Florida), Imari Kariotis (Right Relations Committee Chair of EqUUal Access), Els Nieuwenhuijsen (Volunteer Field Test Coordinator of the EqUUal Access Disability/Ability Certification Action Pilot Program)

 I return home from this year’s General Assembly feeling grateful for the many valuable conversations and experiences shared, and ready to continue strengthening UU learning and leadership towards a world with climate justice through the UU Ministry for EarthUU Young Adults for Climate Justice, Environmental Justice Practitioners Network, and Climate Action Roundtable, with you in partnership and community. To see more photos or share your own photos from the Climate & Environmental Justice programs at the UUA GA 2017, click here.