Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ben Alexander

Thanks to the bloggers for recognizing the importance of an institutional memory for YRUU. I wish we had this technology during LRY's existence. I am so sad that the UUA still seems to have it's head in the sand about the importance and significance of empowering it's youth program.

First, let me say that I was active in LRY from 1972 until its demise at the end of the 70's. In fact, my current business partner Susan Buis was an LRY executive committee member (aka "Taco") during the development of the SCOYP report that led directly to the end of LRY. During my time in LRY, I served as president of my local group and federation, and was one of the planners of the 1977 continental conference (con-con). As Peter Wadsworth (Grasshopper to his LRY friends) already said, LRY changed my life and the lives of most of my friends. I, too, hoped that some day my 10-year old daughter would have the opportunity to experience something similar, but perhaps it is not to be.

As someone who lived through it, I want to take the opportunity to provide a different perspective on some of the accounts here. First of all, Tim and Heather stated:

"Common Ground's legacy is one of adult-enforced restructuring, prompted by the inability of LRY's leadership to address its own internal problems."

I disagree that LRY's failure was an inability to address its own internal problems. In fact, it was just the opposite: LRY was unable to address external problems, namely, the vendetta waged against it by certain members of the UUA power structure. In the mid-late 70's, LRY was large, active and healthy. Con-cons were regularly attended by 350-450 youth from all over the country, and conferences were being offered and well-attended at local, federation and regional levels throughout the country. We had a widely distributed newspaper, people soup, that was entirely youth written and published. We had local groups doing services for their churches, regionally-sponsored leadership development conferences, and a whirlwind of political activities, including promotion of gay-right issues (before anyone had heard of such a thing) and fighting nuclear power. LRY was not perfect. There was plenty of drugs and sex, which was a reflection of the times. However, to say that it was internal problems that brought LRY down is wrong. The UUA clamped down on LRY because it felt threatened by youth autonomy and it wanted to assert more control, clear and simple.

Tim and Heather went on to say:

"Given this context, it's time we acknowledge the possibility that a Common Ground III may result in a drastic restructuring of YRUU, if not its dissolution. We must also recognize, however, that we have the power to learn from LRY's mistakes. We should insist on having the chance to work out our issues in a way that keeps the ball in our court—and then we need to follow through with passion and commitment."

and Tim added later:

"The Youth Office [was] created as a compromise between the leaders of LRY and the UUA when LRY traded its financial independance for denominational support ..."

This is not what happened. LRY leadership had little say in the matter. LRY did not trade it's financial independence for anything; the UUA seized control of LRY finances in a move that many LRYers felt was unethical at best, if not a downright violation of the terms of LRY's financial endowment.

I am not pointing this out to criticize, I am pointing it out because I suspect that history is doomed to repeat itself. I agree with Eric Swanson, who said: "the actual authority to act has been held in the UUA's back pocket". Until the youth can wrest the power back, youth programming will continue to be held hostage to the interests of the UUA. Although I disagree with a lot of what Wayne Arnussen has to say about LRY, I think he accidentally got it right when he said that ""In my opinion, the biggest problem for LRY…was that it lost its institutional memory for how to sustain a strong service program to districts and churches." Not because LRY should have provided better service to the churches and districts, but because LRY's independence alienated church administrators, who reacted to the perceived threat by asserting their authority. Any new youth program will have to do a better job than LRY (or, apparently, YRUU) at staying in the UUA's good graces. Sad to say, the only hope for youth to regain some control is for UUA board members to support such a move, and that will only happen if enough UUA members have good experiences with the youth programs.

When I first came to school at Evergreen State College, one of my professors said, "I know I will have succeeded when my students kick me out of my seminar." Looking forward to the day when the youth run the youth programs again!

Ben Alexander
LRY 1972-1978
Hosea Ballou Federation (Vermont)
Currently at:
Sound Native Plants
PO Box 7505
Olympia, WA 98507-7505
(360) 352-4122
www.soundnativeplants.com

9 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

:LRY did not trade it's financial independence for anything; the UUA seized control of LRY finances in a move that many LRYers felt was unethical at best, if not a downright violation of the terms of LRY's financial endowment.

Well the UUA has to cut something to pay for that $1,000,000.00, 80 member, U*U "mega-church" in Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas. To say nothing of its multi-million dollar national marketing campaign that is likely to be just as successful at attracting new members. . . Feel free to have a chat with Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris about that fiasco.

BTW This would by no means be the first time that the UUA the UUA seized control of finances in a move that many people felt was unethical at best, if not a downright violation of the terms of the charitable trusts they seized them from. Just Google Robin Edgar on Unitarian charitable trusts in Google Groups as well as the main Google site for more information about that. Or just read this sermon by CUC founder Rev. Charles Eddis.

http://www.cuc.ca/who_we_are/accord_eddis.htm

This is worth a read too, for the UUA`s spin on things -

http://lists.uua.org/pipermail/uua-l/Week-of-Mon-19961104/000005.html

Heather said...

Ben,

Thank you so much for this reflective piece, and for correcting that which we had gotten wrong about LRY in our piece about it. While we tried to learn as much as we could about the process, we were relatively uninformed, generally, about the process and trying to focus more on YRUU.

Putting together that history of LRY appears to be a positive side-effect of this current process. I look forward to hearing more accounts such as yours.

And I appreciate your voice and interest very much in this. Anything you can do to get in touch with old friends or acquaintances who were also active in LRY might also be a valuable resource in the coming struggle for youth empowerment. I believe having the voices of people who have lived through one re-structuring will be essential as we, as a denomination, attempt to pick up the pieces of youth programming/youth empowerment again.

-Heather Vail.

Embryo said...
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Embryo said...
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Embryo said...

dear Ben,

Indeed, thank you for your comments. I believe that we used the frame of "here's how we can avoid LRY's fate" as a way to highlight the risks of allowing the initiative to be taken away from YRUU by the UUA establishment... a concern we raised precisely because we feared the same kind of bad faith you mentioned, and which seems to have ended up being manifested.

And if those events went down at all similarly to how these have, I can totally see how if the Youth Office was granted to members of LRY as a result of a trade in exchange for their financial independence, it was done in retrospect, after the UUA's willingness to act unilaterally was already clear. Most people, and organizations, will choose "something" rather than "nothing" in exchange for "everything", if that's the choice they are forced to make.

It's really great to have the kind of perspective you've offered here. Thank you again.

Tim

(sorry... those two deleted posts are duplicates of this one.)

Ben said...

For what it's worth, there are many ex-LRYers out here who care a lot about what happens to YRUU and youth programming. This turn of events has been discussed already by several members of an email list comprised mainly of 70s LRYers. Thanks to Ed Inman for the heads-up. Notice of this was also forwarded to a LRY Yahoo group. I think this move by the UUA has rekindled some of the resentment many of us felt about how the UUA dismantled LRY the first time. In fact, Ed's original email arrived in my in-box with the subject line "Deja vu".

Thank you to everyone who has kept LRY's spirit alive. May YRUU live again!

Robin Edgar said...

Perhaps you and other YRUUers can and should go into more detail about why you believe that the UUA seizure of control of LRY finances that is unethical at best, and possibly even a violation of the terms of LRY's financial endowment. If it really is the latter, and you can prove it, you might want to consider taking legal action.

Robin Edgar said...

I am not sure where the best place to post this is but this comment thread seems to be as good a place as any. Herewith is some UU "institutional memory" that is likely to end up in the internet memory hole because a disillusioned young adult UU took down his blog. I do believe that these words of Donald Wilson, who was involved in UU youth programs and activities, are quite pertinent to the current situation. I believe that these words should not only not be lost to the internet "memory hole" but should be preserved here for posterity as a part of UU history:

Donald O'Bloggin
Recently in UU Category
A sad realisation
By Donald on August 10, 2007 7:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
It's a sad, sad day when you realise that you've been screwed over by the dishonest and short-sighted people of the world more times while doing the work of your faith than anytime else.

ConCentric preview, Part 1
By Donald on July 30, 2007 5:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
The annual ConCentric conference and its associated meetings are coming up for the Continental UU Young Adult Network. With that in mind, here's the first of some posts on the subjects at hand.

When the young adults and their allies come together at ConCentric, there is covenant formed that binds us together as we do the spiritual work in our business meetings. Through the rest of the year, like any organisation the bylaws advise us as to how we should operate, and according to the bylaws, their amendment is the exclusive purview of the ConCentric business meeting.(Section 5.A.3.i)

Before General Assembly this year, I heard a disturbing rumour from one of the General Assembly Young Adult Caucus leaders. They told me that there were no plans to elect a YA Caucus Facilitator, as the SC was changing the makeup of the Conferences Planning Committee, and elevating the Deans of the three C*UUYAN conferences to full seats on the CPC, and getting rid of the intermediary Facilitator positions. This change to the committee structure isn't a bad idea in my opinion, but I do take issue with how the Steering Committee (who supposedly operates the elections at the C*UUYAN conferences) was going about this.

General Assembly is in June.
ConCentric is in August.
The SC is proposing an amendment to the bylaws that will change the makeup of the CPC (Section 7.A). There is at least one other proposal to change the same committee in different ways that is also being presented to the ConCentric body, which would retain the Facilitator positions. It's also not uncommon for the ConCentric body to make major revisions to resolutions and amendments before passing them.

So, knowing that it's possible the bylaws won't be amended to do away with the YA Caucus Facilitator position, or will pass a different one, why would the Steering Committee not hold an election that the bylaws require them to? Is this the SC members working in Right Relationship with the body of C*UUYAN?

I'd say not.

This all would have been very simple to do in a respectful and honest way. There was a ruling made at ConCentric 2005 in Boone, Iowa, that clarified that all newly elected C*UUYAN leaders take their offices at the end of ConCentric that CALENDAR year. Thus, a Facilitator elected by the GA Young Adult Caucus 2007 would take office after ConCentric 2007.
Similarly, C*UUYAN Bylaw amendments take effect that same ConCentric, unless specifically stated otherwise in their adoption.

The person running the elections during the GA Young Adult Caucus Business Meetings could have stated that pending the outcome of bylaw amendments, the Facilitator said Caucus elected may never take office, as there was a proposal to remove the conferences Facilitators from the CPC entirely. This didn't happen.

So, for members of C*UUYAN and members of Congregations who pay into the UUA which then gives grants for C*UUYAN to operate, how are we to trust what it is the C*UUYAN Steering Committee and Conferences Planning Committee do with the power we give them? These committees were elected in covenant to serve C*UUYAN, according to the bylaws and procedures we have put in place, and these committees have violated that trust, by not following those rules.

How can they gain it back?

end quote

I expect that there may be more testimony from Donald Wilson that is pertinent to this situation and would encourage those UUs most concerned with this matter to enter into a free and responsible search for what may still be available to read on the internet before it disappears into the internet "memory hole". You might want to contact Donald Wilson directly to get more testimony from him.

Tea said...

Hi LRYers, YRUUers, and other ageing UU youths! I know it is a bit late, 2 yrs later, to agree wholeheartedly with Ben Alexander's post, but I am encouraged to do so here by my new congregation on the west coast trying to expand this 'Institutional Memory'.

I was a New England regional and local con coordinator of LRY from 78 to 81. I went to one concon and eagerly awaited conversations, meetings, and People Soup articles to discuss on email and paper mail (we had no blogs or websites in those days) the results of Common Ground (turned out to be the 1st of 3).

I particularly agree with Ben's comments:"many cons well-attended at local, federation and regional levels throughout the country. We had a widely distributed newspaper, people soup, that was entirely youth written and published. We had local groups doing services for their churches, regionally-sponsored leadership development conferences, and a whirlwind of political activities, including promotion of gay-right issues (before anyone had heard of such a thing) and fighting nuclear power." We who frequently protested Seabrook and Yankee and other environmental hazards and held peace vigils weekly at almost all our congregations and abortion clinics and LGBTQ centers in New England (I attended churches and these rallies all over VT, MA, NH, and frequently in ME,NY and CT) felt optimistic that Common Ground would rejuvenate our powerful LRY councils and nationally reconnect us with UUSC and other UUA 'adult' groups. I went off to university shocked and dismayed and heart-broken that LRY was effectively disbanded for our future generations.

I too, see similarities to this YRUU "demise at the hands of the UUA". As it was then, the ageing AND the current youth, and adults of all ages need to continue to work together, trying to widen the consensus-based decision-making table (power structure). I was too sad and angry and busy to get involved at the continental UUA level. I regret that.
So, this new century eve (2010), I'd only suggest to those of you college-age YRUUs who are busy and hurt and angry and heart-broken, to re-energize at all levels, your current congregations and regionally and keep on talking nationally, to make your voices heard in new consensus decisions where the UUA (and UUSC) will allow them to be heard.

Not just memorializing. Invite us "42 forever" young-at-hearts to YOUR tables and blogs, like Kara did here. We are eager to be in mutually supportive consensus on societal improvements once again, for the new intergenerational century. Gaia is certainly not yet improved enough for any generation, right? If not now, when? Lots of Love, Thia Elle Artemis aka "Mouse Pup" in LRY days, "Tea" now.