DIVESTMENT RESOLUTION VOTE AT 2014 GA by Carolyn Barthel
I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist, with pride, for 30 years as of this fall. I’ve been a member of three UU churches and worked as a DRE for two others, and I attended the Boston GA in 2003, so I’ve seen my share of Unitarian Universalism in different settings. When I learned GA was going to be held in Providence this year, I was clear I was going to go. Hey, how can you pass up the opportunity to be with some of the most passionate, diverse, intelligent, thoughtful people in the world for four and a half days? But, a year ago, when I learned that some UUs were proposing a resolution to have the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund divest from fossil fuels, I was definitely going!
You see, Rand and I have been involved in climate work for a year and a half now, working with 350Massachusetts in a statewide network of volunteer activists from the Berkshires to the Cape, and we had already launched a statewide campaign to have the state’s pension fund divest from fossil fuels. So the idea of divestment was not new to me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with divestment, it’s selling off fossil fuel stocks both to express disapproval of an industry profiting from destroying the planet and to avoid losing money when these companies collapse. You see, we cannot burn all the fossil fuels in the ground without burning up the planet, so the reserves in the ground will become worthless at some point and companies’ stocks will lose value; it’s called the Carbon Bubble. The proposed business resolution allowed for both divestment AND shareholder activism, drawing on the long UU tradition of being thorns in the sides of corporations at shareholder meetings.
Part of the process of getting a resolution on the GA agenda requires at minimum twenty-five congregations each to submit at least ten petition signatures for a total of 250 signatures. This requirement is intended to demonstrate the broad support a particular resolution should have across the denomination; however, additional signatures would show even stronger support. Unfortunately, the signature-gathering process couldn’t have happened at a more inconvenient time–a few Sundays in December–not exactly a low-key time of year. However, you all were great: the first Sunday I explained the process to you, 40 people signed the petition and I sent the signatures in right away to be counted. That made little First Universalist Society in Franklin among the first congregations in the whole denomination to help get this resolution on the GA agenda! We are part of UU history! The following Sunday, 30 more people signed for a total of 70 signatures to help make a stronger case for divestment, contributing to overwhelming support from congregations all across the country.
When the divestment resolution was placed on the agenda for a vote at GA, I knew this was going to be an historic GA where our denomination could significantly contribute to the climate movement. So Rand and I eagerly applied to be delegates and were thrilled when we were accepted to take turns voting on GA business. On the days leading up to the divestment resolution, several workshops were available for people to become educated about its significance.
I was nervous how the rest of the denomination would react to this strange idea of divestment and was hoping I’d be able to get a sense of how they’d feel about it. The workshops were packed, standing room only. In typical UU fashion, people had intelligent questions, they had worries, there were staunch supporters who’d get a round of applause; I was beginning to feel hopeful. However, the day before the vote, there was a workshop in which one delegate proposed an amendment which would have politically blown the whole resolution out of the water–she wanted to get rid of the shareholder advocacy and only have the Endowment Fund divest. It would have meant that the whole resolution would have been withdrawn and there would be no divestment vote after a whole year of pushing to get this issue to GA for a vote. After several speakers pointed this fact out to her, she withdrew her amendment.
On the day of the vote, as Rand had been a delegate other days, he graciously said it was my turn to be the delegate for the divestment resolution. Thank you, dear. During the discussion, there was a whole HUGE line of people lining up to support it, at least 30 people, and just a handful of people against it. I was so excited! Once the last person against the resolution spoke, the moderator quickly declared the discussion over. I was on pins and needles!
When the moderator asked for a show of hands for the divestment resolution, I proudly held up my delegate card and I scanned the whole arena; there was a whole sea of yellow delegate cards, an overwhelming vote, and I was almost jumping out of my skin–we were putting our faith into action addressing the most serious issue of our time, the climate crisis, the Seventh Principle, the interdependent web!
I have never been prouder to be a Unitarian Universalist, belonging to a denomination that is leading the way to a sustainable future for the planet. The news of the vote at General Assembly reverberated around the world, evidence that public opinion is shifting about the future of fossil fuels on our planet. And our little First Universalist Society in Franklin helped make it happen.