As Chair of the Social Responsibilities Council (SRC), I–Jean Poppei–currently serve as a non-elected member of the Board of Trustees. At the start of the 2020-2021 church year, a formal charge was given to SRC by the Board around the two Actions of Immediate Witness, emerging from the UUA General Assembly last June. A progress report has recently been sent to the Board. SRC wanted to ensure that the wider congregation would also have access to our report, which is presented here. We welcome your feedback.
Progress Report from the Social Responsibilities Council
Actions for Immediate Witness from GA 2020
Jean Poppei, Chair Social Responsibilities Council
At its July 30, 2020 meeting, the Board of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany formally charged the Social Responsibilities Council “with engaging the congregation in discussion and discernment of the UUA 2020 General Assembly Actions of Immediate Witness for recommendation to the Board regarding a course of action for AlbanyUU.” These two AIWs are #1 Amen to Uprising: A Commitment and Call to Action and #2 Address 400 years of White Supremacist Colonialism. They will be appended to this report.
The Social Responsibilities Council (SRC) began its discussion of the charge at its August 2020 meeting. The decision was made to use Rev. Sam’s proposed RE for All as a platform for a congregational conversation addressing AIW #1. At our September 23rd meeting, we decided on three breakout rooms, with a facilitator and recorder in each one. This congregational conversation took place on Sunday, September 27th. At the SRC meeting following the congregational conversation, we heard reports from the facilitators/recorders. In all, 29 congregants attended the congregational conversation.
An action item arose from concerns expressed at the September 27th AIW #1 discussion about the financial straits of the City of Albany School District. The State had withheld 20% of aid to the district, forcing the layoff of 200 staff and elimination of programs, further disadvantaging our neighboring children who were already suffering disproportionally during the pandemic. Karen Kaufmann volunteered to draft a letter to the Governor expressing our concerns, and after some research as well as consultation with Anne Savage, President of the Board of Education, the letter was sent to the Governor on October 7th. The letter cited the disproportionate impact of across-the-board cuts on Albany, which is a high-needs district with a large proportion of students living in poverty and/or of color. No substantive response was ever received; however, in January the State said the district would get its full amount of aid.
At its October 27th meeting, SRC decided the next step for AIW #1 would be to hold a forum—again using the RE for All format—to inform congregants about Governor Cuomo’s June 12, 2020 Executive Order requiring each local government in the State to adopt a policing reform plan by April 2, 2021. The Order authorizes the Director of the Division of the Budget to condition state aid to localities on the adoption of such a plan. In August, the Governor called for the NYS Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative to ensure that there would be broad community input into this work. Two of our church members, Jaye Holly and Jill Peckenpaugh, are members of such a collaboration, in Delmar and Albany, respectively. Karen Kaufmann approached them to discuss their experiences and they kindly agreed. This forum was held December 6th, with Karen as moderator of the discussion. Several members of SRC have followed this up by investigating their own local police department’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaboratives (for example, Albany, Troy, North Greenbush, and Colonie) and have shared some of what they’ve learned at subsequent SRC meetings.
As Thanksgiving approached, AIW #2 was especially on our minds. To that end, information was posted in the Daily Reminder from SRC about the UUA event Harvest the Power Justice Convergence and Teach in, designed to “rethink Thanksgiving.” In December, SRC became aware that Native American tribes were reporting that NYS had reneged on its agreement with the tribes to install murals depicting Indigenous culture on the Northway Exit 3 overpass. The agreement arose from the discovery of Indigenous artifacts during construction of the new exit to the Albany Airport. Rather than honoring the agreement signed by NYS and the three tribes who had a special interest in this, NYS DOT said the murals would be placed in a nearby cultural park; however, there, they would be far less visible to the public. Responding to AIW #2, Karen Kaufmann prepared an email which was sent to the Governor, asking that the signed agreement be honored. A message about this situation was sent to SRC General, resulting in others writing to the Governor in support of the tribes’ request. We are happy to report that in January, DOT installed the murals in compliance with the agreement.
Contributions: In line with AIW #1 Amen to Uprising, which calls for reinvestment in communities that have been victimized by policing and other forms of white supremacy, SRC made the following contributions: $150 to Grassroots Givers which serves people in need in our immediate Albany UU neighborhood; $300 to the South End Children’s Café; $500 to the Troy Sanctuary Coalition to assist an undocumented couple find housing in Albany; $250 to Youth FX; and $250 to the Writing Program for Indigenous scholars at Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community in Fonda, NY, created to be a “Carlisle Indian Boarding School in reverse.” SRC also organized a Give-Away-the-Plate for In Our Own Voices, which raised $505.