GA addresses myriad challenges

“Rooted, Inspired, and Ready”: General Assembly 2020 Brings Together UUs for Deeper Social and Environmental Justice

By Rick Docksai

Amid nationwide COVID-19 social-distancing and rising antiracist social unrest, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) many congregations came together in virtual space last month for five days of heart-to-heart community conversations on race, equity, indigenous people’s rights, and environmental and social justice. The event, UUA General Assembly 2020, ran from June 24-28 with a theme, “Rooted, Inspired, and Ready,” which emphasized our shared roots in the Earth and our shared challenges in dismantling our society’s toxic and deep-running roots of racism, white supremacy, classism, ableism, and ecological destruction. Participants also approved two Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) that directly address the United States’ present-day social upheavals, and resolved a range of items of UUA business, including the organization’s budget, elections, and several adaptations to the rules and bylaws.

Actions of Immediate Witness are Approved

AIWs are statements that represent the beliefs of at least two-thirds of the delegates at a General Assembly (GA). Congregations use them, not as hard rules, but as guidance and inspiration. This year’s GA voted in favor of two AIWs:

  1. “Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism.” The same New England Pilgrim settlements that many UU congregations consider to be their faith’s roots were also responsible for mass genocide and enslavement of this continent’s indigenous peoples, this AIW points out. It calls on UUs to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and their present-day struggles to preserve their cultures, lands, and self-determination; and to work for “de-colonizing” of public education curricula, the removal of racist public monuments and sports team mascots, and continuous work to amend the harmful legacies of colonialist policies on indigenous communities and our natural ecosystems.

 This AIW passed with 96% of delegates in favor.

  1. “Amen to Uprising: A Commitment and Call to Action.” This AIW recognizes the problem of systemic racism and the harms that policing imposes on indigenous peoples and persons of color. The statement also affirms support for Black Lives Matter and for efforts to “defund” police forces nationwide. Congregations should also practice these principles by divesting from law enforcement, removing alarm systems that automatically call the police, and seek alternatives to police action wherever possible.

This AIW passed with 83% of delegates in favor.

Indigenous people’s struggles and Black Lives Matter intersect, GA co-moderator and Board of Trustees member Elandria Williams said during General Session IV, in which both AIWs came up for vote. Williams said that these resolutions call on the UUA to actively dismantle the same white supremacy and racism that threatens the lives of black and brown people as well as indigenous peoples.

“Much of the police violence we see today, we were experiencing in the Standing Rock uprising,” Williams said. “This is an opportunity for us to lift up both actions of immediate witness and to participate in culture change in our time.”

Responsive Resolutions Pass

Delegates also approved the following two responsive resolutions:

  1. A resolution to form a commission on Ongoing Intersectional Accountability, and to retire the current Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee. This resolution passed with 97% in favor.
  2. A resolution in support of investing in youth and young adults in the UUA, with an added focus on supporting youth and young adults of color. This resolution passed with 99% in favor.

Business Resolution for Socially Responsible Investing Passes

The UUA’s Common Endowment Fund has practiced socially responsible investing (SRI) since its inception and has its own written SRI guidelines, but SRI will be an established policy at all levels of UUA life following this GA’s approval of a Business Resolution, “Embodying Human Rights in Our Investment Decisions.” The resolution calls on the UUA, UU congregations, and individual UUs to avoid investing in companies that are complicit in “egregious human rights violations” or “violations of international law” and to divest any assets they may currently have in such companies.

The business resolution additionally calls for the UUA to review these guidelines and update them as needed. And it directs the UUA to create new mechanisms for ongoing communications between the SRI Committee and Investment Committee and individual UU congregations, organizations, and activists on how to implement SRI properly and consistently UU-wide.

“It institutionalizes it in a different way than just us doing it. Because just us doing it, people could change based on their practices. And this is one of the ways to also really lift up what people who are working on human rights want from us,” said Williams. “This is one that would really epitomize what it means for us to be human rights defenders and how that ties to our investments.”

The resolution passed with 71% in favor and 24% opposed.

Budget for COVID and post-COVID Times

COVID-19 lockdowns were an unexpected blow to UUA revenues, but the organization is adjusting to the challenges and succeeding in not laying off any employees while also projecting a fiscal-year surplus of $2.5 million. These were the findings presented in a budget hearing hosted by Kathy Burek, Financial Secretary, with Andrew McGeorge, Treasurer/CFO; and Lucia Santini-Field, Financial Advisor. McGeorge said that in March, the Board of Trustees waived its usual requirement of a balanced budget and approved a fiscal-year 2021 budget with an initial operating deficit of $247,000—with the understanding that ongoing revisions in the year ahead would address this shortfall.

This year’s deficit arose largely from a drop in revenues: Whereas the UUA accrued $27.9 million in income in the last fiscal year, this year’s approved budget includes only $26.3 million in income. At the same time, the approved budget includes $27.8 million in expenses—a shortfall of $1.5 million.

McGeorge explained that this $1.5 million shortfall decreases to $247,000 after a series of spending cuts: reducing UUWorld publication from quarterly to twice a year; cutting travel expenses from $1.76 million to $1.64 million; and eliminating some vacant offices and positions. The UUA also reduced employer contributions to the UUA Retirement Plan, eliminated the cost of living adjustment, and achieved a 49.3% cut in administrative costs: $2.3 million, down from $4.6 million. In addition, the UUA transferred $126,000 from reserve funds and an estimated $500,000 in surplus sharing from Beacon Press.

But this smaller deficit turns into a surplus, he said, after factoring in additional anticipated revenue sources, including $103,000 in expected revenue this year from Beacon Press; $5.3 million from UUCEF; and $17,000 from GA; and others.

A participant noted that the UUA will save significantly this year in travel expenses due to COVID-related travel restrictions and all meetings this year being virtual-only. Also, Beacon Press is a substantial revenue source, she said. McGeorge agreed but cautioned that it might not be until 2022 or 2023 when we really see the full effect of COVID-19 on our expenses, either positively or negatively.

McGeorge noted that despite the spending cuts, not one UUA employee has been laid off. Also, the UUA will continue to fund the annual retreat of TRUST, and continue funding for other identity-based groups, such as DRUM.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is the UUA’s commitment to dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy and advancing equity and liberation within and beyond our faith community,” he said.

Featured speakers.

This year’s GA featured seven guest lectures from prominent UU authors, scholars, and activists across a range of research disciplines, cultural backgrounds, and gender identities. Several examples are described in depth below.

  1. Ware Lecture: Naomi Klein: “The Age of Consequences”

We are living in the “age of consequences”—COVID, social unrest against racism, ecological destruction, and other present difficulties that all stem from our continuous exploitation of the Earth and of other human beings, warned Ware lecturer Naomi Klein, Canadian bestselling author, filmmaker, and activist. She described these problems as “interlocking crises” that we must come together as a society to solve.

“Ours is an economic and social system built on the endless extraction and abuse of the naturalized world, as well as the endless extraction and abuse of black and brown bodies. Eventually, a system like that is going to blow back on itself, and that is what is happening now,” Klein said, adding that, at the present moment, “All of our culture’s accumulated debts seem to be coming due all at once.”

The good news is that our society is capable of fast, dramatic change, and COVID is proof, she said. She pointed out the U.S. government’s unprecedented intervention in recent months to directly distribute aid to people in need, enact mortgage, rent, and debt relief, and direct businesses such as car manufacturers to begin producing medical supplies, as well as businesses across the nation choosing to shut down for public safety and people everywhere willingly sheltering in place and wearing masks.

She hopes that some COVID-related changes, such as replacing business travel with virtual meetings and cities converting more roads into bike and pedestrian lanes, will continue long-term. But she sees much more work to be done: Workers’ rights continue to be violated, and many people in poverty are being shut out of aid. We must demand more fundamental changes, and these changes have to address racism, environmental and climate crises, and socioeconomic inequalities all at once: Piecemeal reforms that address the climate while ignoring racism or poverty will not suffice, she said.

“We cannot craft a response to the climate crisis that hides it off from the other crises that we face,” she said. “Whoever was treated as disposable before the disaster, after the disaster gets downgraded to sacrificial.”

She cited the Green New Deal as the kind of reform that society needs. The legislation was criticized at the time for demanding too much and for trying to solve too many problems at once, but in Klein’s view, the COVID crisis rendered these arguments irrelevant: “The pandemic has provided a crash course in why disaster response must be intersectional, or it will fail.”

  1. Ware Lecture: Robyn Henderson-Espinoza: “Reconnecting With Our Roots”

To grow in our spiritual and ethical paths, we need to reconnect with our roots, said transqeer Latinx activist and scholar Robyn Henderson-Espinoza in a Ware lecture. They said that we must each affirm where we have come from, what we have inherited, and the common humanity that we all share. The message is a personal one for Henderson-Espinoza: As a transgendered person, queer person, and Latinx person, they made personal epiphanies five years ago when they became aware of how dominant culture had disconnected them from their true deep-rooted identity.

“I was disoriented and positioned to perpetuate a kind of life that doesn’t work to dismantle supremacy culture. I was rooted in work that wasn’t serving me or serving the communities in which I was entrenched,” Henderson-Espinoza said.

They have since then pursued continuous work of self-healing and social healing, and becoming aware of their ancestry’s history of struggle, migration, poverty, and affection for the spiritual. At the same time, they worked to reject the parts of the past that were not healthy, such as colonialism and racism.

“Learn to love your ancestry and dis-identify with it. Because you are not your ancestors,” they said, adding that they now root themselves “in the tradition of Latin American liberation theology.”

Henderson-Espinoza encouraged all audience members to similarly reconnect with their roots. The effort is not a step backward into the past, but a deep-rooted aspiration to a better and more equitable future for all.

“Let us imagine the world we long to inhabit,” they said. “I’m offering an invitation to act in such a way that our becoming human with one another weaves together a tapestry of revolutionary love. That doesn’t quiet the spirit of action, but rather fuels the spirit of action.”

  1. Featured Speaker: Dina Gilio-Whitaker: “Indigenous Knowledge in the Time of Coronavirus

Humanity must learn to live on the planet more sustainably, and it must incorporate “different kinds of knowledge”—in particular, indigenous knowledge—for ways to do so, said Dina Gilio-Whitaker, policy director and senior research associate at the Center for World Indigenous Studies and an indigenous author (Colville Confederated Tribes) who coauthored All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (published in 2016). She pointed to the social and ecological crises taking place today and talked about how the collected knowledge of indigenous people, who control 80% of the world’s biodiversity, can be “key to planetary stability.”

She said that while human health worldwide has improved over the last few decades, the data show that we are now at a “tipping point”: Life expectancy is now declining. The spread of infectious diseases, including COVID, are a part of the problem: She said that the emerging study of “planetary health” has found that viral outbreaks occurring more frequently and becoming more deadly; and we are more vulnerable to these diseases because of climate change and environmental destruction.

“If we understand the way humans live in the environment in a capitalist system, this creates a framework for the exposure to the pathogens that lead to these pandemics,” she said. “The reason we are at this point is failure of imagination, failure of governance, and over-reliance on economic measures as measures of human progress.”

Indigenous peoples have suffered disproportionately from environmental destruction, she said: She recalled the massive spikes in cancer and illnesses that native communities in the southwest United States incurred from uranium mining, for example. But more than a pollution problem, she said, the crises consist of philosophical problems: beliefs that indigenous peoples are inferior and should be subjugated by the dominant settler culture.

But she finds hope in indigenous and youth activists who are fighting to keep indigenous culture alive and defend indigenous land and water rights. The world needs indigenous cultures, as these cultures are models for healthier living in balance with the natural world.

“Science and political leaders need to be listening to indigenous peoples, because these societies are the very definition of sustainability. When you live in one of these ecosystems sustainably for tens of thousands of years, that is the very definition of sustainability,” she said. “People who know how to live sustainably in particular places are the ones who have the most knowledge to contribute.”

She is also encouraged by the outpouring of youth activism in Black Lives Matter. Social movements throughout history have started with young people who challenged the ethical failings of elder generations. Indigenous cultures usually stress honoring elder wisdom and looking to the elders for knowledge, but in present-day society, our elder generations have gotten locked into “conservative values” that are harmful to society. Young people see their own futures are looking bleaker as a result, and they are organizing to demand better.

“So if we have a convergence of youthful rebellion that looks to the wisdom of ancestral knowledge, then we have the best of all worlds. That’s what I’m hoping for, and that’s what I’m placing my bets on,” she said.

  1. Featured Speaker: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: “Settler Colonialism and a History of Erasure and Exclusion

The white nationalists who form President Trump’s most loyal base are descendants of the first U.S. settlers, and their ideology is not a fringe view but a founding principle of this nation and has shaped its laws, institutions, and government to the present day, according to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian and author of An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (published in 2014). Dunbar-Ortiz assessed U.S. history, starting from the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, and pointed out the brutal colonialist genocides and wars of expansion that built the United States into its present-day geographic form; and the systemic discrimination and suppression of Black, immigrant, and Latinx populations that have occurred and recurred up until today. This nation was founded as a colonialist, white-supremacist entity and remains one at its core, she concluded.

She noted that the United States is often called “a nation of immigrants” and traced this expression to John F. Kennedy, who coined it in a 1958 book. The phrase went mainstream, particularly among white liberals, according to Dunbar-Ortiz, but she rejects it as it erases the U.S. destruction of indigenous peoples and the roughly half of U.S. territory that was formed by the U.S. Army’s seizure of Mexico’s territory during the U.S.-Mexican War. It also ignores the discriminations that immigrants suffered throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—Kennedy himself systematically deported tens of thousands of Latin American migrant workers, even some who were U.S. citizens.

She explained further how this white supremacy took hold in right-wing politics. White anticommunists and wealthy counter-revolutionaries such as the Koch family attacked nascent Black and Native American civil-rights movements. White nationalists later took over the National Rifle Association, and evangelical Christians became intertwined with the right in the antiabortion movement. These developments, coupled with populist anti-immigrant sentiments, were critical to the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the 2016 election of Donald Trump, and the right gaining control of the Supreme Court to ensure that it ceased interpreting the Constitution in ways that undermined white power.

“White supremacy and anticommunism were the connective tissue,” Dunbar-Ortiz said.

Dunbar-Ortiz said that it is “ironic” that the musical Hamilton is so popular even among progressives. Although the musical celebrates the “nation of immigrants” narrative—Hamilton and General Lafayette proclaim that “immigrants get the job done”—the real Hamilton was an enforcer of anti-immigrant laws, and he and his English contemporaries were colonial settlers, not immigrants, who built their nation on slavery and colonial theft of native land, not on immigration.

“The Broadway musical employing hip hop and black and Puerto Rican actors, playing white founding fathers, most of whom were either slaveowners or speculators in the slave trade, while no slaves themselves appeared in the script, created near hysteria and ecstasy and became a hit among young people, white, Black, and especially descendants of immigrants, and is being reenacted and taught in K to 12 schools,” she said. “It is a cruel deception we need to think deeply about.”

Workshops

Nearly 80 workshops took place as part of GA, each one spotlighting topics relevant to congregation life and the principles of anti-racism, de-colonizing society, Earth justice, and social equity. Examples include:

  1. Being a Social Class Ally for Social Justice. Members of the Steering Committee of UU Class Conversations led a discussion on how class and classism shape our lives, our congregations and organizations, and our work for social justice. They described classism—when people are valued based on their social class—as a form of oppression, just as racism is, and said that we see it in our current economic system, in the form of excess inequality and basic needs going unmet. Workshop participants talked in groups about their own class roots and how those backgrounds had both benefited them and disadvantaged them. The presenters noted that our class backgrounds shape our worldviews, but explained that talking about our class differences, recognizing them in positive ways, and finding ways to work together to challenge classism and build class equity will make us a more fully inclusive faith community.
  2. Dismantling Ableism. Members of EqUUal Access, an association of UUs with disabilities, led participants in a discussion of ableism—discrimination against persons with disabilities—and what UU congregations can do to be fully welcoming and accessible to disabled people. The hosts recommended that congregations offer amenities such as wheelchair ramps and live-captioning of services; and consult their communities’ disaster-response plans and make sure that disabled people are included in disaster planning and adequately protected. Cohost Doris Maldonado, a co-chair of the Unitarian Society of Hartford Accessibility & Inclusion Ministry, shared an article she wrote on disabilities and COVID, and noted that while wearing masks is difficult for persons with certain disabilities, face shields are a safe alternative and should be encouraged. She also recommended the National Disability Rights Network as a helpful resource for public policy information and guidance.
  3. New Paradigm for Young Adult Ministry. UU congregations can and should invest more in young-adult ministries, which engage young people in UU life and provide them with potentially life-changing support, connection, and personal growth, said Joseph Chapot and Yvonne Marcoux of the San Francisco-based Young Adult Ministry Initiative (YAMI). Marcoux shared testimonials of the friendships and solidarity that she and other young people found in UU young-adult groups. And Chapot described his launch of YAMI, with help from Marcoux and other young adults, in 2019 to jumpstart a UU-wide conversation about how to better reach out to teens and young adults. The program has grown into a thriving networking hub, and Chapot and colleagues hope to carry YAMI’s work forward with a new National/Continental UU Young Adult Committee, which will be a nationwide vehicle for “young adults to come together to envision the future of young adult ministry.”
  4. Decolonization and Earth Justice. Colonialism is not over in the United States: It persists today, in our exploitation of the Earth and its resources, said Aly Tharp of UU Ministry for Earth, along with indigenous UU ministers Rev. Gary McAlpin (Oklahoma Cherokee) and Rev. Dr. Clyde Grubbs (Texas Cherokee). They discussed the legacy of settlers, who treated the land as commodities to be owned and extracted and saw indigenous peoples as mere obstacles to be removed so the extraction could go on. U.S. industries have continued mining, drilling, and fracking on indigenous lands to the present day, usually without local tribes’ consent, and left the indigenous communities with deadly water and land pollution that causes human and animal diseases and birth defects for generations to come. Indigenous activists and their allies are fighting the polluters with court battles and public awareness campaigns, however, and together they can help society restore the balance between humans and nature.
  5. Spiritual Friendships Transcending Differences. GA attendees delved into UU and U.S. history with Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, former UU president (served 1993-2001) and author of Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice, published this year. Buehrens discussed the Transcendentalists, the 19th-century philosophical and literary movement of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and others who espoused principles of reverence for nature, the unity of all creation, and the inherent goodness of every human being. The transcendentalists were Unitarians and our spiritual ancestors, too, according to Buehrens, who presented the roles that Fuller and other transcendentalists played in the movements for slavery abolition, worker’s rights, women’s suffrage, and other progressive social causes. Buehrens said that these historical figures such as they “were not perfect models, but they came together to listen and to seek change, and pave the way for our activism today.”
  6. The Presence of Black Women in Unitarian Universalism. Very little has been written about them, but many courageous and driven Black women in U.S. history left the churches of their childhoods, found their way into Unitarian Universalism, and became not only pillars of their new church communities, but also ringleaders of movements for women’s suffrage, abolition, and Black women’s rights. This is according to Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman, who presented on the history of these “sheroes” and told their stories. They include:
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a Unitarian who had leadership roles in women’s Temperance, abolitionist, and suffragette movements, authored 11 books of poetry and prose, and provided money and support to John Brown and his family during Brown’s imprisonment.
  • Fannie Barrier Williams, a member of All Souls Unitarian Church of Chicago and speaker at several World Parliament of Religions gatherings. She helped establish Provident Hospital and the Frederick Douglass Center, fought against employment discrimination, and successfully lobbied for membership into the all-white Chicago Women’s Club. She was also the first black woman appointed to the board of the Chicago Women’s Library, and a friend of Susan B. Anthony.
  • Mary Louise Baldwin, an educator, the first Black principal in MA, and a popular lecturer on poverty, women’s suffrage, and history.
  • Florida Ruffin Ridley, a teacher who organized the Women’s Era Club, a Boston-based Black women’s civic organization; and was a founding member of the Second Unitarian Church in Brookline, MA.
  • and many more.

This discussion is the first of the 2020 Minns Lecture Series, an annual UU series of discussions on liberal religious topics dating back to 1942. A followup lecture on contemporary black women and a third lecture on black women clergy in Unitarian Universalism will follow, independently of GA.

Discussions Continue on the Eighth Principle and Dismantling Racism

Sarah Dan Jones, a Board of Trustees member, said in a “Board After Hours” meeting that the UUA has an Article II commission that will spend the next several years reviewing the UUA Bylaws’ Article II principles and purposes, and determine how they fit the UUA now and in the future. The Board is supposed to study Article II every 20-25 years, she explained.

The Eighth Principle is also a frequent discussion topic, she said: Many congregations have already adopted the Eighth Principle, although the UUA has not yet adopted it. She said that many ongoing discussions are taking place at the Board on a variety of approaches for building diversity and dismantling racism, and that the Board will play a leading role on these issues as the Board exists to provide “policy and oversight on the UUA’s mission and vision and how the administration is working toward it.”

Dan Jones talked more generally about the Board itself in this session, saying that the Board has changed a lot over the years, becoming much more diverse, and that the relationship between board and staff has changed much and is “very productive and healthy.”

Other Reports

Presentations on the following reports took place as part of GA.

Beacon Press Report
The last year has been a productive one for Beacon Press, according to Helene Atwan, Beacon’s director. In a live report, Atwan said that the firm has received 325,499 website visits; 890,800 visits to its YouTube channel; 258,861 blog visits in the last 12 months, and had two authors interviewed by Trevor Noah. One of these authors, disability-rights activist Judith Heumann, recently published a memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, which will be coming out in an audiobook narrated by Tony Award-winning actor Ali Stroker, the first person to win a Tony while singing from a wheelchair.

Beacon has published numerous indigenous voices for decades and is releasing new ones, including a book by Chickasaw poet Linda Hogan upcoming in October. It is a platform for LGBTQ voices, also: New York City school system recently purchased 1,400 copies of A Queer History of the United States for Young People, by Michael Bronshi (published in 2019).

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DeAngelo (published in 2018), is still Beacon’s second-bestselling book (the number-one bestseller is Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, published in 1946, which has sold more than 16 million copies) and was the second-bestselling book in the nation as of Jan. 27, 2019, according to the New York Times Review of Books. DiAngelo is currently completing a new book, Niceness is Not Courageous, as well as a young-adult version of White Fragility.

UU Service Community Report
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) has been working to dismantle systems of oppression and advance human rights since its inception 80 years ago, according to UUSC president Mary Katherine Morn. She said that its programs and partnerships “are designed for impact,” and that over the past year, the UUSC has:

  • Funded indigenous activist participation in global climate talks at COP25.
  • Was the main funder of a November 2019 youth conference in London on Rohingya human rights.
  • Contributed an interfaith amicus brief on rights of asylum for survivors of domestic violence. The court ruled in favor of the right to asylum and cited this brief.
  • Created and led advocacy in many states in support of Temporary Protective Status for immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean.
  • With coalition partners, shut down the Homestead Detention Center.
  • Established a Congregational Accompaniment Project for asylum seekers.
  • Supported the creation of a complaint to the United Nations on the conditions facing indigenous communities in the United States due to climate change.
  • Provided staffing and research for study of new philanthropy funding models; and offered justice education and opportunities for advocacy.

Morn said that the UUSC has also been partnering in Nicaragua over the last four years with FEM, a Nicaraguan feminist organization, to build and spread feminism that empowers local women to resist multiple forms of structural violence. With FEM, the organization has also been organizing and fostering a new cooperative farming model that replaces the capitalist model of food production, which Morn said “has displaced families and promoted violence against women and the Earth.”

Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Report
The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF), founded in 1963, is “committed to gender justice and intersectionality,” said UUWF Clair Sexton. Sexton said that the UUWF cosigned a community letter this past year calling on the U.S. government to end the global gag rule (the U.S. policy prohibiting NGOs that receive U.S. aid from providing, referring, or even advocating abortion services) and joined in advocacy for a bill increasing access to menstrual products in homeless shelters, women’s prisons, and public schools.

She discussed the UUWF’s own development over the past year, as well: It is in the last steps of combining with UU Women and Religion. As part of this process, it is embarking on a listening campaign to better understand UU women’s needs and interests. Women are invited to visit UUWF.org/survey and provide their input.

The UUWF also mourns the loss of Betty Habach McCollum, who died of COVID-19 in April.

“She was on  the team for too short a time, and she was a fierce and faithful advocate for women,” Sexton said.

Sexton additionally talked about education opportunities that the UUWF is offering:

  • The Marjorie Bowens-Wheatly Scholarship provides financial support to aspirants to the UU ministry, religious education, or music leadership to women of color.
  • Margaret Fuller Grants program provides women with funding for academic exploration of religious feminism. This year’s grant winners include developers of a peer sexuality education program, a prison ministry curriculum for ministers to women’s prisons, and new models for community decision-making and participation, and for the study of historical feminism.

Conclusion

“We are in the midst of two pandemics. The first has been around since the founding of this nation: racism,” Williams said in General Session VI. “Both of those pandemics have caused us to be where we are today. So as we are in the midst of these pandemics, there is a pandemic of hope springing up here and around the world.”

This year’s GA participants connected in virtual space to share, reflect, and unite to address the many complex challenges facing this nation and the world today. Conversations called for honest and sometimes difficult assessments of society and even of ourselves—where we have come from, the advantages or disadvantages that shaped us, and the biases that we might or might not be aware of—in order to see how we can help ourselves and our communities grow toward justice, equality, and sustainability. Participants came away rooted, inspired, and ready for shared action to dismantle the systems that harm us and to build a better future that serves all.