Climate Justice highlights from General Assembly 2019

PleasPhoto of the aerial message created at the end of the UUMFE Procession of the Species with the Backbone Campaign

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) is a massive, multi-layered event with thousands of people having widely-varying experiences. It’s impossible for me to paint the full picture for you. Thankfully, much of what happened at GA can be viewed online — though much of it cannot.

Below is a highlight of GA events related to climate justice, through the lens of my personal experience and perspective. This is an incomplete account. There were many fabulous workshops, debates, and prophetic statements that I completely missed. There were multiple upsets and breaches of covenant that I was largely peripheral to or entirely unaware of. With that said:

This was a significant, powerful, and imperfect-but-generally-good General Assembly.

Many of UUMFE’s constituents and lay leaders have a strong yearning and expectation for more acknowledgement and action around climate justice in GA programming and from UUA leadership — I’ve had this conversation during and after every GA for the past four years, and I’m sure that some of the people who read this have much longer memories of this critique than I do.

While I think that there is still great truth and growing urgency to this critique, I want to emphasize that I see many things actively shifting and growing in positive directions. This is not a stagnant, nothing-has-changed, “everyone’s head is in the sand”, situation to lament. This is a time to realize the possibility and potential to fortify, unite, and expand UU efforts for climate justice.

Screenshot of Rev. Lindi Ramsden during the Service of the Living Tradition

If I could only highlight one thing in this blog (and thankfully that is not the case), it would perhaps be Rev. Lindi Ramsden’s sermon for the Service of the Living Tradition. As I was listening to Rev. Ramsden’s sermon, still riding on waves of elation from the Procession of the Species just before, I was moved to tears and could barely keep from weeping. Please watch and listen to it. Please share it with your ministers and UU communities. Her words are very powerful, and it is quite a meaningful milestone that this was the sermon for one of the UUA’s biggest annual ceremonies about the living tradition of our faith.

Another really big highlight of the GA this year was the UUMFE Procession of the Species event and 30th Anniversary celebration.

In response to a recent United Nations report that 1 million species are at risk of extinction within this century, and in the spirit of the 7th UU Principle, UU Ministry for Earth  put out a “call to arts” for UU congregations to make a piece of artwork representing and honoring a threatened or endangered species in their local area and bring it to the UUA General Assembly for a Procession of the Species event.

UUMFE also partnered with the Washington-based Backbone Campaign to bring imagery for the procession, particularly uplifting and honoring the salmon and orcas of the Pacific Northwest.

The procession was live-streamed by UUA staff and is viewable online. Here are some photo highlights:

After the procession and aerial photo message, UUMFE hosted an entirely vegan dinner in the Spokane Riverfront Park with pizza from Allie’s Vegan Pizzeria and gourmet cupcakes from Boots Bakery. The event was an incredibly beautiful and inspiring experience and I am looking forward to having an even bigger Procession of the Species during GA next year (so please share the Call to Arts with your local UU communities and make plans to participate at GA 2020)!

In addition to these amazing events, other notable GA climate justice happenings include:

  • An amendment passed in the deliberation of the Statement of Conscience called “Our Democracy Uncorrupted” to add the following language:

    Compounding this corruption is the existential threat of a global climate crisis which our current federal government is failing to address. The impact of this crisis will fall most heavily on low-income communities of color. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ We can no longer wait for that to happen. We must act to bend that arc now or face the unthinkable consequences of a destroyed environment and unliveable planet. If we are to rise to the moral challenge inherent in the climate crisis we must embrace the struggle to achieve an uncorrupted democracy.”

  • An Action of Immediate Witness about “Building the Movement for a Green New Deal” (which will soon be viewable on the UUA website) was passed nearly unanimously
  • A video report about shareholder advocacy & the UUA 2014 Fossil Fuel Divestment Business Resolution  shared in the GA Business Meeting
  • A very well attended poster session and workshop about the Create Climate Justice  initiative, and powerful conversations with UU State Action Network leaders to strengthen collaboration for Create Climate Justice
  • A shout-out to UU Ministry for Earth from the amazing Paula Cole-Jones in the Sophia Fahs Lecture, “Growing a Community of Communities”
  • Many fabulous workshops, including a “Community Arts & Embodied Prayer” worship service by UUMFE and Church for Our Common Home:
  • Singing processions with the orca puppet and inflatable salmon:
  • Despite being a relatively small GA, UU Ministry for Earth’s booth in the GA exhibit hall was the busiest it has been in 10 years. It was a new experience for me to see numerous people sporting UUMFE t-shirts every day!
  • UUs of Color passionate about climate & environmental justice went out to dinner together to build community and connections with each other and with UUMFE
  • A well received sneak preview screening of Necessity: Oil, Water, & Climate Resistance

I hope these stories, visuals, and highlights help you sense what I sense — that things are shifting and growing in positive directions for the UU moral call to create climate justice. I am heartened and (after a week of sleep and recovery from GA plus a two week speaking tour) renewed.

As UUMFE celebrates 30 years of bringing the UU 7th Principle to life in our faith tradition, we must also seriously question what the next 30 years are going to be like and what Unitarian Universalists’ roles and moral obligations are in these critical times. As the young adult speakers reminded us during the procession, “the web of life on Earth is unraveling” and as UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray has said many times, “This is no time for a casual commitment to your faith, your community, and your values, and this is not time to think we are in this alone.”

My focus is now set on the UU climate justice convergences on the near horizon:

  • A week-long climate justice retreat at The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in North Carolina, August 4-9th;
  • An Inter-Cultural and Inter-Faith convergence in the sacred Black Hills, August 22-25th;
  • A UU convergence in Washington D.C. from September 15-17th about economic justice, climate justice, & the Green New Deal;
  • A Global Climate Strike from September 20-27th.

I hope you will consider joining one or more of these convergences. There are also just a few days left on the $10K Faithity campaign to support participation in these events and  Catalyze the UU Climate Justice Movement! Please help make this campaign a success by donating and encouraging your UU friends and community to support as well.

Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp is the program director at the UU Ministry for Earth and has been with UUMFE since 2014, initially serving as the network coordinator for the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice. Aly lives in Austin, Texas, and in their free time is an arts-activist and community organizer supporting a local food forest on public parkland and Gulf South climate justice movements.