Earlier this month, I traveled to St. Louis, MO, where I co-presented alongside fellow UUYACJ member Elizabeth Mount at the MidAmerica Regional Assembly. Our workshop, called Listen & Act: Sociocracy for Just and Democratic Decision-Making, was well-attended and let participants practice a transformative kind of decision-making known as sociocracy, which Ministry for Earth uses in our climate justice organizing.
This presentation happened to be a kind of anniversary, as almost exactly a year ago, in April 2018, members of Ministry for Earth gathered in Portland, OR to agree to “try on” this new structure, exploring how to be in community with each other in the process. Sociocracy is a nonhierachical model of decision-making to reach consensus. Groups assemble themselves in circles, likely based on an identity group. Each circle meets on their own to discuss proposals and needs, gathering responses in rounds, so that each voice is heard before someone speaks twice. Representatives (a delegate, note-taker and/or circle convener) bring concerns and considerations to the general circle, who then continue to discuss. This process continues until consensus can be made. Identity-based caucusing is helpful in avoiding tokenization, because each group is autonomous, and the delegate and note-taker bring the needs of that specific circle, not the identity group as a whole. By being in community this way, we can support and hold each other accountable within and among our circles.
Guided by Jerry Koch-Gonzalez of Sociocracy For All, we practiced taking on new roles and discussed the possibilities of the process. Both the Board of Directors and Young Adults Network had a circle — and this gathering saw the creation of the People of Color Caucus. Together we all agreed to affirm and promote anti-racism in our climate work, while also centering theologies of place.
At the Regional Assembly workshop on April 6, we invited a small fishbowl of volunteers to practice sociocracy with a question Ministry for Earth has been grappling with: what would it look like to form regional Ministry for Earth groups? Though there wasn’t time to really dig into the question, initial responses were positive and curious, and many participants marveled at the ways sociocracy truly allows every voice to be heard.
While regional and local collaborations certainly exist in the environmental and climate justice movement, this question of how best to be in community with one another and coordinate campaigns– locally, regionally, globally — remains ever urgent. The Regional Assembly’s theme, Intersectionalities (taken from intersectionality, a term coined by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw), called attention to the ways oppressions are intersectional and layered. For a UU-informed climate movement, we know our struggles and solutions for climate justice are interconnected, and regional gatherings provide a necessary opportunity to link our movements across state borders, and identity or regional-based caucus groups present a unique potential for strengthening our work.
When I think of the midwest, I think of the Great Lakes, and how this massive freshwater basin nourishes our farmlands, our cities, our daily lives. When I returned from St. Louis to where I live now, in Chicago, nearby Lake Michigan is a visible reminder of the preciousness and power of this lifesource, and I thought of all of the people I met at the Regional Assembly who are fed by its rivers and streams. A conversation with my St. Louis host led me to the Christian Watershed Discipleship movement, which speaks to the interconnectedness of watershed and worship in deep and powerful ways — a fitting spiritual metaphor that is not really metaphor after all.
I am grateful for the structure of sociocracy, the ways we can gather our many streams, lakes and communities, to circle around our common purposes, making room for necessary action. To be sure, this is challenging and slow work, and it is by no means perfect — but, in the words of Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, we can choose relationship over convenience, and a movement of relationships is the climate movement I am here for.
For more exploration on theology of place, check out and submit to the Theologies of Place Zine curated by the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice Network.