Five Actions UUCA Youth Took at Justice GA

Note* this blog post was originally published by me on the UUCAVA.org website. I’ve also added another introductory paragraph to clarify some of the UU lingo.

My work as the Director of Youth Ministry with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA (UUCA or UUCAVA) all culminated down to the last trip I took as the DYM with the UUCA Youth Group to Phoenix, Arizona for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly. The GA is a large annual gathering of UU’s conference style to learn together and also take care of “business” as in electing new leaders, voting on issues that UU’s want to recognize/work on nationally and connecting with other UU’s. This year’s GA was a little different in that it heavily focused on social justice issues in partnership with local grassroots organizations in Phoenix which are working to support immigrant rights and are leading the fight against SB 1070. There were 4000 people at the General Assembly this year. I helped to organize and co-led the 13 high-school youth on June 19th. Below is the start of the original post:

I’m sitting on our delayed flight home with our UUCA youth delegation in awe of the actions we took and the results we got in the last five days of the General Assembly. Not only was this one of the best GA’s that I’ve been to, but it was probably the BEST way to introduce youth to a GA. It’s social justice and action components are naturally attractive to the young millennials in our group. As a group we overcame our trials and tribulations, and discovered a powerful force within us to make things happen. Below is a list of FIVE ways our youth were visible at Justice GA this year:

1. CSAI 3: Reproductive Justice: Not only did our youth support RJ at home in UUCA by attending peaceful presences at women’s health clinics, they also spoke in front of 4000 people about it at GA. Our youth delegation, and more particularly – Jeff Paddock, Allison Fontaine, Libby Parker-Simkin, Elizabeth McGrady, Shannon Reiman, Derek Jacobs Robin Taylor and Marisa Kataoka spoke in Plenary and to the 300 members of Youth Caucus to support Reproductive Justice as the selected Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) for 2012-2016. AND GUESS WHAT?! It was voted on and selected! Congrats to our youth and youth group advisor Maggie Clayton for leading the campaign in getting this important CSAI selected! Check out the Unitarian Universalists for Reproductive Justice’s Facebook Group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/156090434471073/!

2. Standing on the Side of Love @ Tent City Jail: The most powerful moment at GA for me personally (and for many of the youth) was attending the tent city jail peaceful, non-violent protest on Saturday night. All 13 of our youth and 4 adult advisors stood out in the hot Phoenix night in solidarity with undocumented detainees suffering in the inhumane conditions that Sheriff Joe Arpaio subjugates them to! We stood out there from 7:30pm-12:00am, and didn’t arrive back to our lodging until 12:45am. The youth sang and chanted at the top of their lungs, they waved at the prisoners who looked through the small slits of their confines to wave back at us. They had a police officer approach them during the protest and thank them for being there, amongst the hostility from other officers and anti-protestors. If we had felt any tiredness, it had vanished as soon as we stepped of the bus at the protest, and were engulfed in the power of love with thousands of other UU’s and allies; this power fueled us to sing/dance/march for human rights and dignity for everyone until we got home and collapsed on our beds! Read the Washington Post coverage here http://wapo.st/LyUKgS.

3. UUs: Youth and Faith, Saturday morning UUCA youth led panel: Two of our youth and I had decided to create a documentary last fall as a way to get to GA, but also a way to research questions always on our minds, what do UU youth want from their faith and how does effect their social justice interests? We had traveled to Boston, New York, and New Jersey, where we interviewed 25 youth- some of whom showed up to our panel discussion. Luckily, we got a grant from the UUA’s Office of Youth and Young Adults & the GA planning committee to put this documentary together! While at GA, Libby, Olivia  and I spoke to a audience of 50 people about research findings from a nation-wide UU youth survey and presented our documentary. We had an engaging and enlightening dialogue, from which new leadership interests emerged for our own youth and others. Furthermore, we had the grant makers present who said that their money was well spent, after the workshop! Congrats to Libby and Olivia for putting together a wonderful project, and to Joy Cobb for helping them put together a wonderfu power point presentation.

 4. Opening Celebration Banner Parade: Our youth delegation carried the UUCA banner during the opening ceremony’s banner parade. We celebrated with 4000 UU’s the opening of the Justice GA with love and hope!

5. Last Day of GA: UUCA Youth committed themselves to taking on several action items to bring GA home, one being changing the UUCA Bylaws to include youth on the board. If the youth and the advisors learned anything at GA, it is that youth have tremendous power and insight in making change happen. We’ve seen it happen all across the world (remember the Arab Spring?). Well, it should happen at UUCA too, and they now recognize that. We’ll focus on bringing home the lessons learned on important social justice issues and start action on immigration rights & reproductive justice, but they’re also eager to participate as full fledged members & official leaders of UUCA.

Also, on the last night of GA, some of our youth delegation went to the closing ceremony, while others represented us at the Puente Party (GA & UUA Arizona partner organization working on the ending discrimination of immigrants). Puente hosted a opening celebration of their Underground library a response to the books that have been banned by Arizona officials who have banned ethnic studies. UUCA youth & advisors had an opportunity to meet and connect with the local community in Arizona…and practice their Spanish. Read the Phoenix New Times coverage of the event here http://bit.ly/NwuAIo!

After this powerful GA, the youth are all looking forward to the next year of UUCA’s youth group to implement the things they learned.

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