This past weekend, over 140 Unitarian Universalists from across North America came together for the UU Office at the United Nations‘s annual Spring Seminar to learn about global climate justice and deepen our commitments to creating change. The intergenerational spring seminar, normally held every year in New York City to engage UUs on different social justice themes, was moved online this year in response to the COVID-19 crisis. While participants tuned in from different locations, First Nation Chief George Stonefish opened the weekend with a land acknowledgement, welcoming participants to the traditional homelands of the Lenape tribe, in and around what is now known as New York state. This centering of Indigenous and First Nations peoples set the tone for the weekend, as participants were invited to reflect on how they arrive into climate justice work given their own identities and histories, and how we can all act in solidarity with Black, Brown and Indigenous communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. To round out the weekend, participants had the chance to meet one another in informal breakout rooms for youth, young adults and intergenerational crowds.
Check out these highlights from the weekend:
Instead of showcasing an individual keynote speaker, a “keynote conversation” highlighted a conversation between youth climate strikers from around the world. Sophia Geiger, a youth climate striker from Maryland, led the discussion between Mitzi Tan (Convener of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines), Kallan Benson (Quaker and National organizer with Fridays for Future USA) and Dylan Hamilton (Activist with Scottish Youth Climate Strike). Youth leaders spoke to the emotional toll of organizing in the face of their uncertain future, and urged adult allies to support them by listening and providing practical resources, like offering organizing spaces. Watch the full keynote conversation here!
Bruce Knotts, director of the UU Office at the United Nations, moderated a riveting panel between Indigenous leaders and United Nations officials, who spoke to the urgency of uplifting Indigenous communities, who carry the solutions to the climate crisis, and the historic debt of climate reparations owed to marginalized nations by more privileged nations. Panelists included Chief George Stonefish (First Nations member, activist, artist and speaker), Craig Mokhiber (Director of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), Big Wind (Indigenous climate activist and water protector, and delegate to the 2019 UN climate talks with SustainUS), Isabella Tibbetts (No Pipeline Fellow with Rogue Climate and Honor the Earth, and delegate to the 2019 UN climate talks with SustainUS), and Ashley Yong (Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Representative to the United Nations). Watch the full theme panel here!
In between compelling worships and presentations, intergenerational collaboration groups explored how environmental racism affected their communities, and reflected on actions they each can take for positive change. This group reflection was deepened by the Workshop on Identity and Climate Impacts, led by Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario and Dr. Charis Boke of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. Facilitators invited participants to share their individual ancestry (biological, adopted and chosen), and how their ancestors have traveled; and then to reflect on what communities each person feels connected to, privileges they might carry, and how one is affected by the climate crisis.
Nonviolent Direct Action Training
To close out the weekend, Amelia Diehl, convener of the Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice Network, led an introductory training on the basics of planning an effective campaign and taking direct action for climate justice. Drawing on examples of UUs living out our faith in bold protest, the training aimed to empower emerging and seasoned activists alike to meet the challenge of the climate crisis head-on. After some guided reflection, participants left with a renewed commitment to fighting for climate justice, just in time for Earth Day. Find a list of resources from that training here.
Follow the UU Office at the UN, and stay tuned for next year’s Intergenerational Spring Seminar, to be held April 2021!