Saturday, June 23, 2007

Plenary the Fifth (Sean)

Wow, really big day today. I'll try to be brief, but I will also try to be as complete as possible. I have several pages of notes, and, in order to break up the work and also the size of the posts, I will break this up into at least two posts, starting with the business of this morning's plenary. I have plenty of notes on the Open Space process as well, but those will have to wait for a later time.

Before I start, though, I want to apologize here for misspelling Gini's name in several places here. I try to be careful about these things, and when I was unsure of the spelling, I looked it up. Of course, when you look something up you become only as good as your sources, and, apparently, I turned to the wrong source. Many apologies to Gini, who really works hard at her job, and deserves better.

This morning's plenary was the first real business of GA. I know we did some other things there first, but I didn't take notes on them and I don't have the agenda here in front of me (Louise and I are sharing a copy). So I will jump right to the meat: The debate/discussion on draft Statement Of Conscience "Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society" brought forward from GA 2006.

The assembly moved and carried that there will be 15 minutes for discussion of the SOC before amendments are taken up.

During the discussion, I noted more folks lined up at the Con microphone than the Pro.

Too much to capture, but the gist of the con arguments was that we need to spell out our moral values, BUT this document is either not strong enough or not clear enough, or both. One speaker felt the document called on the wrong set of references/sources, and one speaker felt the statement so weak that it would actually provide ammunition to those who would oppose us.

The gist of the pro arguments was that, while this statement is not perfect, it is timely and any further delay in passing an SOC on this matter is unacceptable.

After the 15 minutes expired, the amendments were taken up. I found two problems with the way the unincorporated amendments were presented to us -- on one page indexed only by line numbers. (1) The amendments were not individually numbered or otherwise indexed for easy reference and discussion (so we had to say, for example, "the amendment to lines 13-28 of the original text"), and (2) we did not have before-and-after versions, so we had to keep jumping back and forth between the original text, and the amended (only) text without context.
This puts me at a loss on how to relate what amendments we discussed here, so I will refer to them only as "the first amendment," "second amendment" and so on. You'll have to go to the minutes to figure out just what was discussed.

In fact, though, only the first amendment was discussed before a motion was made to refer (meaning send the entire matter back to committee, for presentation again at GA one year hence).

Since the body was in the middle of an amendment discussion, the moderator asked the delegate making the motion to refer, to hold the motion until after the first amendment was debated and voted upon.

I note here that, just as last year, quite a number of delegates with a real desire for input to the document seemed to have arrived at this point in plenary without having first attended the mini-assembly where the SOC was discussed and worked. These same people now appear upset that there is no more time at this GA to work the document before voting.

Now, every year during the very first plenary, Gini tells all of us to pay special attention to the rules of procedure, and even points out that there will be a mini assembly to work on the statement(s) and that interested parties should go to that assembly. Then the delegates vote in those very rules of procedure, which is always nearly unanimous. And yet people, apparently, do not read the details or follow the procedures, and then are surprised later by what comes before the assembly in plenary. Which finds us at the point of "this doesn't look done to me, so let's send it back."

Moving along, the vote on the first amendment carried (thus incorporating same into the SOC).

The amendment having thus been taken care of, the motion to refer (which is not debatable) was taken up, and this motion was defeated.

Another motion was advanced to refer for only one day, convene another mini-assembly, and take the SOC back up at a later plenary at this GA (a nightmarish proposition that we went through last year at great cost) [editor's note: I managed to lose track of this item in my notes (by somehow starting to type new things above it rather than below) and, while I've tried to put it in the right sequence, it may actually be in the wrong place -- corrections from readers gladly accepted].

Now, related to my diatribe above, in response to yet another attempt to re-do the process, Gini asked for a show of hands -- how many delegates worked this issue in their congregations: almost no hands were raised. She remarked that we couldn't fix that here. Then she asked for another show of hands: how many here went to the mini-assembly: a few more this time, but still almost no hands raised. And again she remarked that we were not going to fix that here.

Thus having, in her own words, "poisoned the well" a vote was taken and the motion was defeated.

A question was asked at the Procedural microphone -- are we not already doing/acting these values in accordance with years of existing SOC's UU values, association policy, etc.?

To answer this Gini called upon Rob Keithan, director of the UUA advocacy office in Washington, DC. Answer: The advocacy office already lives and advocates essentially these values in accordance with existing SOC's and denominational history.

After Rob's answer, the motion to defer was presented again, on the grounds that this answer might represent substantial new information to the assembly. Gini stated that motion was not in order having already been defeated, and could not be reconsidered without new information of an even more substantial nature.

At this time, some CSW members pointed out that some of the more substantial proposed amendments, that might move the conversation further along, are much further down the list (and, due to a printing error, were omitted from the copies distributed to the delegates). Gini acknowledged this, but pointed out that this fact was likely moot since only 20 minutes of discussion time remain and the assembly was unlikely to get as far as even the proposed amendments already printed.

It was then moved, from the amendment microphone, to commence debate on the second amendment. A short discussion pro and con followed, and the amendment carried, thus being incorporated into the SOC.

In the middle of this, a motion was made from the procedural microphone to add 15 minutes to the discussion of the amendments, and this motion carried.

Also during this time, a procedural clarification was asked: Can we now only vote the entire SOC up or down, with down meaning that at least another four years would pass before we can have this kind of SOC before us again. Answer: yes, that's what it means.

That was followed by another procedural clarification: has there now been enough new information to reconsider referral? Gini answered that it was really her call and, yes, she will entertain this motion just before the final vote on adoption of the SOC, if it is made by someone who originally voted not to refer and has subsequently changed his or her mind.

At this point the third amendment was proposed, and discussion began. Since time was running short, even though several speakers remained at the microphones, a delegate came to the procedural microphone to move the question, which motion carried. The motion to adopt the amendment then failed.

With very little time remaining, the fourth amendment was proposed, followed by a very brief discussion. This motion to amend also failed.

At this point Gini entertained again the motion to refer as per her earlier statement. Such a motion requires a 2/3 majority and this also failed.

We proceeded immediately then to vote on adoption of the SOC as ammended, which passed by a relatively narrow (by my observation) margin.

At this time we had the brief daily report from Right Relationships Committee chair Petra Aldrich, which was somewhat troubling. Apparently, once again, racial stereotyping has raised its ugly head at GA, as exemplified by an incident that occurred on the Max. On a less serious note, lack of TG or gender-neutral restrooms had been noted, and Petra informed us that single-stall restrooms were available in selected locations, noting that all UU's had the right to "pee without stress" (to some chuckling). I found those restrooms later, which I was amused to note were labeled "Family."

The Women's Federation report, scheduled for this time, was moved to a later plenary with their agreement, so that the delegates can move on to the Actions of Immediate Witness.

Unfortunately, at this point we were now moving into the 10:45am session time. Even though, as Gini was quick to remind us, we as an assembly voted earlier to extend debate (and thus extend plenary), it was very disappointing to me to see hundreds of delegates leave the room. Apparently, informational sessions (or maybe Open Space?) are more important to many GA delegates than conducting the business of the association. Or at least admitting the AIWs.

In any case, all six proposed AIWs were admitted to the agenda, after a brief presentation of each followed by voting.

More later on Open Space.

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