News from the 96th American Ethical Union AssemblyChoices That Matter — 2011 American Ethical Union Assembly Report
Susan RoseLeader of the Ethical Society Without Walls
"There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about." (Meg Wheatley)
These were the opening words of the 2011 American Ethical Union Assembly Platform which took place recently. The community of members of Ethical Societies across the country came together in Columbus, Ohio to meet one another, take care of some business, learn, and have fun.
The theme of the Assembly was "Choices That Matter," and it was emphasized throughout the conference, in workshops, business meetings and Platform addresses.
The primary AEU business this year did focus on choices that matter in the form of the annual budget. AEU President, Jen Scates, an ESWoW member, did a wonderful job of presenting the issues to be considered at the meeting. AEU Treasurer Tom Weishaar, a member of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, gave a good presentation of the current financial situation of the AEU. As with so many organizations, the AEU financial picture is one that presents challenges. There is a great effort to be as economical as possible, as well as being creative in new approaches such as more AEU Board meetings being conducted by teleconference. Of particular note, the ESWoW funding remains the same as for the previous fiscal year in the budget that was passed by the delegates to the Assembly. I'm impressed by the determination to keep the AEU fiscally sound and to put new energy into growing Ethical Culture.
The program was extensive, and I'll give you the highlights of the events I attended.
Our opening night was filled with energy by Leader Mary Herman of the Washington Ethical Society. Mary's energy, enthusiasm and talent brought life to the evening; she even wrote and performed an Ethical Culture rap song. Hugh Taft-Morales, Leader of the Philadelphia and Baltimore Societies, as well as a regular contributor to ESWoW, and Catherine Bordeau, Leader-in-Training at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture led a getting to know you treasure hunt. I met someone who had attended a birth, someone who had an unusual pet, and someone else who was raised in Ethical Culture.
Early Friday morning, eight people gathered to talk about ESWoW. We got to know each other and shared ideas for ESWoW. The primary ideas are to try having Community Calls at a variety of times and to include information about the importance of relationships in Ethical Culture and the particular challenges we have in ESWoW in having relationships at a distance. I'll be writing more soon and seeking your input.
The Friday morning plenary session opened with a short, yet inspiring Platform by Randy Best, Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle (North Carolina) and President of the National Leaders Council. Randy had the audience join in a chorus of "I am an Ethical Culture Humanist" throughout his talk, and created a greater level of dedication as we moved into the business meeting which was conducted by AEU President Jennifer Scates.
Friday's lunch was an energetic talk by Dot Maver, a founder of the National Peace Academy
. Her presentation was part of the National Ethical Service presentation, and was a hopeful accounting of how more people in the world are learning to work in new ways to promote peace. Saturday began with the Platform Meeting, which I had the honor of presiding. Just that morning we learned that Rose Walker had died. Rose was a key member of the National Ethical Service, spending many years working at the United Nations. Rose had been a member of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture and I had known her for over 50 years. It was moving for me to conduct the short memorial moment we incorporated into the Platform. I invite you to read the piece I wrote about Rose
for further reflection.
Bart Worden, Leader of the Ethical Society of Westchester presented the Platform on the topic "Choices That Matter." Much of Bart's talk focused on our decision making process for choices that matter. He talked about decision making in a variety of areas, but I remember and have been thinking about his comments on how he and his wife made the decision to contribute more money to causes that are important to them, certainly a choice that matters. The Platform Service ended with congregational singing, including a chorus assembled by Joan Klips of the New York Society (see "AEU Songbook Sampler Brought Joy to the 2011 Assembly"
Saturday's lunch included the presentation of the Anna Garlin Spencer Volunteer Award to three members for their work at their respective Societies (see "Anna Garlin Spencer Award Given to Patricia & Charles Debrovner and Julia Lamborn"
). Richard Kiniry, retiring Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, was honored for his many years of service there, and Howard Radest, was presented the Felix Adler Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Ethical Culture. Howard's acceptance of the award was funny and inspiring (see the video in "Felix Adler Lifetime Achievement Award Presented to Dr. Howard B. Radest"
On Saturday evening, the Elliott-Black Award was presented to Frances Fox Piven, a long-time academic whose work has focused on economic injustice and voter registration among other areas (see "Elliott-Black Award Honored Dr. Frances Fox Piven"
). She has been a consistent proponent of peace and justice from her efforts against the Viet Nam war to her analysis of the previous administration's military interventions. The program for the event told us that she has been vilified by a popular media spokesperson which resulted in her receiving death threats. I didn't know about her until she was nominated for this award, but have learned more about her work, her dedication and the recent publicity she received. I especially appreciated reading an interview with her on DemocracyNow
. Her talk made it clear that we have a lot of work to do to promote any sense at all of economic justice. She talked about the positive outcomes of sit-down strikes and other labor organizing in the 1930's and suggested that we need such commitment to activism now as well.
I conducted Sunday's closing session, giving participants an opportunity to share some of their highlights, appreciate the workshops they'd attended, and share plans for how they would bring the inspiration of the Assembly home with them. In small groups Assembly participants shared their experiences at the 16 workshops or work sessions, the Presidents' Council meeting and the social service work Hugh Taft-Morales had arranged. We also had another opportunity to sing together.
I left the Assembly feeling pleased by all the dedication there is to Ethical Culture. My time at the Assembly was enhanced by renewing some old connections, deepening some, and especially making some new connections. I also have a renewed commitment to paying attention to all the choices that matter in my life, and as a member of the Ethical Culture community.
I hope you'll consider joining us for next year's Assembly. It will be in Albany, New York. Save the date — June 14–17, 2012.Check out photos from the 2011 Assembly here!Ethical Culturists Take Action in Columbus
Hugh Taft-MoralesLeader of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Societies
Ethical Culture’s call for “deed before creed” came alive at the Columbus AEU Assembly thanks to 15 spirited volunteers from around the country. Reflecting the 2011 assembly theme “Choices That Matter and Economic Justice,” we contributed our energies to the Faith Mission Soup Kitchen and the Mid-Ohio Workers Association. Bob Gordon (Bergen) joined Steve Klips (Brooklyn) and his parents Bob and Bonney Klips in delivering and serving food at Faith Mission in downtown Columbus. Faith Mission is a Lutheran Church project offering meals, beds, and hope to the economically disadvantaged. Thanks to Donna Greenman of the First Unitarian Universalist Church for providing food and guidance for the project!
Later that evening, 11 others drove to the Mid-Ohio Workers Association (MOWA), a dynamic grassroots effort to help low-paid and temporary workers. MOWA offers clothing, food, job training and more to clients who become community leaders, not just recipients. This empowerment aspect of the organization made it particularly attractive to Ethical Culture. After a short presentation by Volunteer Director Cathy Steele, and a shared dinner of pizza and salad, we stuffed and hand-addressed 400 invitations to MOWA’s anniversary dinner. We learned and shared more about the economic traps more people are falling into every day with less job security and benefits making self-help efforts like MOWA more necessary. As Cathy Steele emphasized in her thank you note to us, we share the principle that it is unacceptable for a wealthy nation to allow anyone to go without the basics necessary for self-development.
Good energy and conversation rose over the course of the evening and we all left in better spirits, proving once again the power of bringing out the best in others. Participants included Andra Miller (New York), Richard Koral (Westchester), Katrina Karro-Gassner (Northern Virginia), Lucy McNair (Brooklyn), Gus Lindquist (Essex), Anja Moen (Essex), Joy McConnell (Ashville, St. Louis), Tom Hoeppner (Chicago), Aimee Newman and her son Will (Chicago), and me, Hugh Taft-Morales (Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington).
Next year in Albany we hope to promote criminal justice reform and look to Ethical Culturists from around the country to contribute ideas, resources, and energy to the project. Be a part of the planning team by contacting me (hugh_taft-morales[at]eburke.org) as soon as possible.