Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Livestreaming General Assembly

Warning: Presbygeekery about to commence. Abandon ship ye polity-haters.
I swore I was a polity addict, but when push came to unemployment this year, I decided a summer job for 10 weeks was more important than attending General Assembly for 1. Some day I will have a job that sends me or at least excuses me to attend such festivals of relationality and Robert's Rules, but the guys at the air conditioning manufacturer where I am temping didn't seem to consider it work-related. harrumph.
But while they may not be related, GA and temping are compatible... BECAUSE, for most of the 8 hour day I'm generally waiting for phones to ring or for someone to ask me to do an errand. Thus, the livestream addiction was born. General Assembly broadcasted all the plenaries live, and with the addition of, twitter, and the various news sources I managed to keep a pretty close connection all week long.

What did I think of it? I had to pinch myself and remind myself that good things happen at GA regardless of votes, because most of the big votes moved in the opposite direction from my hopes and dreams. Divestment was struck down, gay marriage was denied, and many things were denied because of funds... that is to say, the assembly tended to be both socially and fiscally conservative. I also had to pinch myself when anti-choice issues were raised by conservatives yet AGAIN, notwithstanding decades of Presbyterian history supporting women's reproductive rights. But if I were in the opposite kind of boat I probably would do the same for gay rights... and that is what we will do, raising the issue year after year as a faithful practice of engagement. I do hope it is not many more years before gay marriages are allowed. The hard thing is to believe that the arc is still slowly swinging toward justice, even though it was stopped in its tracks.

Divestment: This issue really rankles me. The Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions and all those people that take care of large sums of money have tried to engage Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard regarding their business in Israel and Palestine, specifically regarding the use of their products to further the occupation of Palestinian territories. By agreeing to do business in Israel, Caterpillar indirectly demolishes the homes of innocent Palestinians, and in the rubble, Motorola and HP indirectly construct the technological walls which block freedom of movement even in local neighborhoods. Yes, it's indirect -- BUT THEY PROFIT FROM THIS USE OF THEIR EQUIPMENT. Our Presbyterian money-people tried to engage them on these issues and were ignored. We have sent stern letters, etc. The only remaining option, if we want to impress on them the gravity of our concern for the Palestinian people and our disapproval of their profitmaking on non-peaceful measures, the ONLY remaining option is to divest.

PC(USA) failed to do so by only 2 votes out of 660. Not surprising considering how heavily they had been lobbied (commissioners were offered free trips to Israel in an attempt to sway them) and how they had been threatened, as if the respect of the entire Jewish community rested on the results of this vote. Believe it or not, "Jews" are about as united as "Presbyterians," generally speaking, which is to say, they disagree sometimes too. Make some friends with the Jewish Voice for Peace folks and you'll learn they are as vehemently opposed to the Palestinian occupation as anyone could be.

So, church, we haven't divested. We did agree to boycott products MADE in the occupied territories (Ahava cosmetics and King Solomon dates... man, boycotting rare items is pretty darn easy). And we decided to INVEST in peaceful pursuits in the area.
Pause for ironic silence.
Have fun investing, people. Maybe by the next general assembly we'll understand why investing doesn't work. Invest in an olive oil company, and watch the olive orchard get seized because of "improper permitting." Invest in a hand-craft company, and watch your precious investment get buried under rubble pushed down to build homes for Israeli settlers. 94% of building proposals submitted by Palestinians are rejected, while Israelis have no such problem. Invest in a company that can't build a shop, and send them materials that will be blockaded and never arrive. Have fun trying.

If, like me, you despair of that task, jump on over and join the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction). If boycotting Ahava cosmetics doesn't hit close enough to home, boycott all products made in Israel. Those of us who do not regularly buy Caterpillar equipment can turn away from Motorola and HP. I have an HP printer and am going to commit to buying those ghetto non-HP ink cartridges until the day I replace the printer. Make it real. Israeli cous-cous in Trader Joe's is the other item I will avoid, but SODASTREAM is on the list in case you were looking at a big purchase, and you could spend all day reading more information here:

And to put a positive spin on things... the Church refused to add funding to an HIV/AIDS competency program at Johnson C Smith Theological Seminary. It would have been pennies per person, but it would have added up. So if you disagree with the church's refusal to fund, go over here and donate your pennies (or dollars, if you want to pay someone else's fair share too). Designate it!

Thus ends my General Assembly roundup at least for now. But next GA I am going to remember how much I love these crazy contentious assemblies, and I am going to do my darndest to be there. Also, I'm going to make BINGO cards.

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