My vote is to approve the principle, but it is also fair to say “still in discernment,” as I am still reviewing material and listening to other people. I speak for myself but must envision the community context, as that is how this principle will take shape. The 8th principle seemed on first viewing a simple “yes,” but in view of conflicts the past few years, I agree some language could be problematic, like “accountably.” This could mean things like the Equity Tool (which, to be effective, we must use more consistently) or like the recent Right Relations process, on which many of us split.
For myself, I do not want to see public punishments that may also come across as stifling dissent, but nor do I want to see sustained community/public attacks go unchecked. If we look at “accountably” as listening to the people who speak for themselves, making decisions with an equity lens that incorporates this priority, increasing transparency, and using measurable methods, to me these are all ways we could improve our community.
Systemic racism and other oppressions clearly exist and violate UU principles. Despite our kindness and caring, WSUU as a whole is uneven about how we welcome others, whom we listen to, how we make decisions, even whom we help. It is discouraging how often we “other” those who are struggling. As someone with long-term disabilities who understands all too well how refusing to listen can have devastating, concrete effects, I wouldn’t choose the framework of “accountability” in the context of a congregation (I would in the medical and employment fields). To me, this is more legalistic and too cut and dried for a complex community context, in which many different marginalizing and other forces and experiences can make people feel unheard, unwelcome, or without agency,and where there are also other “accountabilities” we owe one another, such as the duty of our representatives to listen to all.
To me, “marginalization” is best understood not as categorizing or reducing people to labels, but as recognizing currents, cross-currents, and ripples that continually interact in the shared pool of our community space. When we talk about progress being “messy,” I think we need to acknowledge that this can include unintended harms because people’s legitimate needs can conflict. But this should not dissuade us from trying to help create a better environment, and especially from trying to improve a world in which dominant viewpoints and unchecked power of decision-makers somehow continually drift towards supporting injustices that none of us want.
In any case, this principle wasn’t drafted by me, and while other oppressions are included, its origins were the long-term experiences of BIPOC folks in UU.
So here are my conclusions: (1) I continue to hear from BIPOC folks discouraged enough with UU to leave. (2) The BIPOC people I know support the 8th principle, and some say it is meaningless without “accountably.” (3) To me, failing to pass it would be less like not posting a banner, more like posting a banner that says “We don’t support the 8th principle.” We should think about what this could mean not only to our own and (future) BIPOC and other potentially marginalized congregants, but to the richness and diversity of the entire congregation. (4) We can draft our own version of this principle (whether or not this happens in a wider context), as we decide how our congregation chooses to implement it.
I do not discount potential concerns people have about co-designing our shared space for the future, but I believe the place to address these concerns is in retooling our Right Relations, Covenant, and governing processes.
I’m sad about those who leave on either side of these conflicts, feeling betrayed, and I’m disappointed that we can’t seem to do better. How can we hope to implement our principles in the larger world if we can’t enact them in a small congregation? I recall the good feelings, incrementally building sharing and revelation, and renewed hope during the workshop by Richard Kim, and how much caring and optimism I felt as part of a second cohort of people taking the Beloved Conversations course and being welcomed by previous cohort members. What has happened to us since then?
My reflections are not merely based on my own experiences and observations but attempt to synthesize my understanding of other viewpoints. The community space I envision will not look like my own particular, imperfect and incomplete synthesis, but will be a synthesis of the synthesized understandings of all of us. I do not know how we will get there, but we have some good tools, like the design of this space and of the Conversations for Connection, the ongoing efforts of this and previous Boards and other committees and ministers to keep enlarging our understanding and improving our processes, the eloquent words of those who, as in recent past services, remind us of all the shared benefits and joys of community, which can outweigh the frustrations, pain, and sadness.
As we move towards the future, can we perhaps arrive at shared decisions rather as do buffalo herds when they want to move to a new site? (A sort of animal version of a promising workshop I attended at 2020 GA about co-owned, equitable governance!)
“[W]hen a female buffalo wants to show her preference, she stands up and positions her body facing in the direction of the spot she favours, makes a show of raising her head, and then lies down again. Several other females “vote” in the same way for their preferred direction, and the herd will then set off in the direction that is the average of all the individual votes, calculating the angles with tremendous precision to within plus or minus three degrees of the mean vote. . . . In cases where two separate directions are chosen, the herd splits in half.”
(Léo Grasset, in How the Zebra Got Its Stripes.)
Are we going to further split our herd over this principle? I would urge Westsiders to view this vote as whether or not to support a principle that broadly signals our intent as a congregation, not as a litmus test for all the related, potential, or tangentially associated conflicts. From that standpoint, my own vote is a resounding yes.
Finally, I am willing to discuss these reflections further, using the same criteria as for posting here, but will not get a chance to do so for a while. If you want to exchange thoughts or ideas, please use my email, as such contacts will be easier for me to find later, or use a public post on Facebook where I’ll list some additional resources I’ve been considering during my discernment.
My thanks to those who have worked to create this space for shared learning and reflection.