My name is Matt Moore, and I served as a Youth Council Representative for the Ballou Channing District and two terms on the YRUU Steering Committee from 1999-2002. I then served one year as Youth Observer to the UUA Board of Trustees, followed by two years as a member on the Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee. My mom, my sister and I have collectively served five terms on the YRUU Steering Committee over the last eight years.
In my tenure and subsequent observations, I've learned that YRUU has never possessed an effective institutional memory. Year after year, YRUU was presented with a constant flood of novice enthusiasm and energy. The byproduct of this system what twofold: it could create quick and and dramatic changes in culture (e.g. the sudden shift of YRUU focus towards anti-racism/anti-oppression work, the rapid adoption of consensus, or proliferation of new ice-breakers). Also, this constant turnover of energy was an inherent weakness. Given the motivation, more powerful institutional bodies like the UUA Board of Trustees, the President's Office or the General Assembly could culturally and methodically dismantle the structures which had served youth for over two decades. So what happened? Why was YRUU such a threat?
The current Steering Committee (of which my sister is one of the active members) gave a good summary of the issues which have unfolded in the final hours of YRUU. However, I believe this dismantling started many years ago during my years of involvement. I want to explicitly underscore that this dismantling happened because the UUA felt threatened by the greater youth movement and exploited the inherent high turn-over of leadership and the poor institutional memory of YRUU.
Youth in church basements and at weekend cons don't represent a threat to congregations. That is, they rarely have an opportunity to upset the structures of power and authority which guide the congregation. In the eyes of churches, weekend cons and church basements are suitable places for youth because they don't interfere with the stewardship of the congregation or district. More often than not, participation of youth within congregations is by invitation only (e.g. an offer to light some candles, participating in a coming of age ceremony, serving food at church functions, reading during a service). But the continental youth moment represented something much greater than the invitation only status.
This started at Youth Council 1999. Four important events happened at this Youth Council: 1) the adoption of the resolution “It's Time We Do Something About Racism in YRUU!”, 2) the rejection the annual budget for the first time in anyone's institutional memory, 3) the first time there was an anti-oppression training at Youth Council, and 4) the approval of a resolution to support the adoption of a Youth Trustee to the UUA Board of Trustees. The next Youth Council was the first to do away with Roberts Rules of Parliamentary Procedure and, in it's place, introduce Formal Consensus. This was a tremendously exciting time for YRUU. The YRUU leadership of time, including that of the Youth Office, was one of radicalism and a strong thirst for destroying the status quo. The main voices in the movement were ones of passionate dissent.
It's also significant to point out that the youth population of the Youth Caucus at General Assembly 1999 (Rochester, NY) was huge. No longer were a hundred or less youth attending General Assembly. Three, four, and even five hundred youth were attending—each summer bigger than the last. I consistently attended GA from 1997-2004 and saw this steady upward growth. The youth community was spotty and disjointed but politically they were energized. Youth were workshop organizers, delegates, and rowdy participants. They rallied around statements of conscious, they sat in a block in plenary, they voted for their youth observer to the Board of Trustees. For such a small part of the entire Association, they constituted a significant voice at General Assembly and even more importantly, they were heard.
At the same period of time, small groups of youth were also meeting regularly with the UUA Board of Trustees as part of an internal restructuring effort. And here is the problem: the youth that were participating politically in all these decisions had no officially sanctioned accountability to the Association. The UUA is an Association of Congregations, as I was repeatedly told when I was a Youth Observer to the Board. Youth Council nor Youth Caucus nor Con Con nor district YACs nor Steering Committees nor district conferences were viable memberships to the Association. The only thing that mattered in the eyes of the Association were invitation-only congregational youth groups. When they are talking about accountability of youth, they are really talking about money, membership, and dues. While these youth organizations represented a significant part of a youth's experience in Unitarian Universalism, none of the youth institutions paid dues to the Association. Yet, they had the privilege of being given an annual budge—a privilege not given to Affiliate Organizations (for instance, CUUPS). (Technically, both YRUU and CUUYAN are considered “Sponsored Organizations”, although that's a meaningless definition—literally)
The Board of Trustees now had the motivation and the means to dismantle YRUU. The budget for Synapse (the annual YRUU newsletter) was removed, the funding for Con Con was removed, the Youth Office was restructured and given new leadership, and now Youth Council is being removed. These things were changed as a direct result of the leadership decisions of the Association. In addition, the Board of Trustees took it as their prerogative to appoint the youth working in the Youth Office and the adults At-Larges at Youth Council (both previously selected by the YRUU Steering Committee) as well as the selection of the Youth At-Large Trustee. The Board not only controlled the money but now they had a direct mechanism to hand-pick youth leadership.
If you look at many of the youth that were hand-picked by the Board and put onto Committees and in positions of power—and I unfortunately include myself in that group—they are what a former YRUUer would call “STARS”. Which stands for: Smart, Talkative, Articulate, Responsible and Solo. These were talented youth but who were able to adapt to the adult culture but who were not part of the larger youth movement anymore (the term “Uncle Tom” comes to mind). They were individual young people that were coaxed and nurtured into these token positions with no meaningful political ties to decision making bodies of YRUU—mainly Youth Council.
Simultaneously, many of the youth that had been instrumental in becoming a catalyst for change at the 1999 Youth Council were quickly aging out. The voices of radicalism and dissent had become phased out and the intense internal struggle with racism and oppression had momentarily crippled the spirit of YRUU. The youth movement was in desperate need of energy and new youth leadership. Instead, funds that were once used to create community were funneled into educational training conferences—where the primary goal is not to build culture and community but to teach leadership, anti-racism, spirituality, and youth advisor skills. I've lead these conferences and on day one described the conference to the participants as a “working conference.” Trainings don't constitute a threat to the Association and they are an adequate consolation prize for the YRUU death.
For those of you that have an institutional memory to share please help construct the rest of this picture so that future generations of youth in Unitarian Universalism can see what a fucked up deal they inherited.