A #GC2016 no brainer

David Watson has made a serious and sensible proposal about the 2016 General Conference taking measures to keep the focus of the conference on its appointed work. He argues that the General Conference should only allow delegates and conference officials onto the conference floor.

Some will pick up on his use of the word “close” to criticize what he is proposing, but that is lazy. Read the proposal. Watson is not a journalist or a lawyer, so his use of the word “close” is not intended to be heard the way it is used in those professions. What he is arguing for is completely uncontroversial.

Turn on C-SPAN if you want to see what this looks like.

The Congress of the United States — in both its houses — strictly controls access to the legislative floor. Not just anyone can walk into the space. Indeed, I believe the President of the United States needs to have permission and an invitation to do so.

And yet, these sessions are not closed in any meaningful sense of the word. Galleries around the the bodies are open to the public, although a person can be removed for being disruptive. Cable television cameras carry every moment live. Internet sites collect every document discussed. These are open meetings. The only thing that is closed is access to the actual legislative space by those who are not required or authorized to be there.

Of course, General Conference should do the same thing. There is not a school board in America that does not control the floor of its meetings. Surely the highest body in our polity can do the same without controversy.

Indeed, at the risk of being uncharitable here, if the people in charge of organizing the General Conference don’t endorse the idea, then I would question their fitness to do their job.


26 thoughts on “A #GC2016 no brainer

  1. I completely agree with this. But since there are people (on both sides of current issues) who are probably interested in disrupting Conference, it probably won’t happen. And before you accuse me of being mean spirited for saying that, please remember what happened at GC 2012–there were plenty of people who were perfectly willing to disrupt the conference when things didn’t go their way, and did so.

  2. Like I pointed out on the original post, it was that way in 2008. There were bleachers but the actual space where the delegates were could only be accessed with a credential. I don’t know if it changed because Randall Miller was the chair of the GCGC or not. But, the bishops need to insist on decorum. If the GCGC is going to allow the same in Portland, then they should be told by the bishops to resign.

  3. I attended GC2012, and this WAS the policy there. In order to enter the “floor” one needed the proper credential. Marshals were stationed by the entrances to the floor. In order to get a message to a delegate, I had to write the message down, and give it to a marshal who would hand-deliver it.

    Observers (and protestors) were not on the floor. We were on the outside perimeter. There was a walkway between the observers and the seats for the observers. Protestors were either in the seats, or on the walkway. With glum faces and rainbow stoles, protestors marched together around the delegates. I wasn’t present when the infamous, unholy communion service occurred. I think it was actually during lunch when the conference was adjourned.

    I was grateful to be in attendance at GC2012. I was able to advocate for the petition I submitted, and I was even given about 3 minutes of time in the Finance Administrative Committee to speak to the merits of my petition. I felt like my petition received a fair hearing, and I was grateful for the privilege.

    Live streaming is great, (GC2012 plenary sessions were live-streamed); but I would hate to have been excluded from the live worship services, etc. About the only way to prevent disruptions would be to allow law enforcement to arrest them…Are we willing to do that? I don’t think so.

    1. There is a difference between an invisible, intangible line between the “bar of the conference” and everybody else and actual doors. Amy DeLong’s demonstrators were marching around the perimeter of the plenary session without any physical separation between them and the assembly. That made rushing the floor much easier.

        1. Also, NOTES to delegates were STRICTLY controlled. Notes could not be passed by visitors to delegates unless they were properly addressed with the delegate’s name, and the name of the delegation. Only uniformed marshals could deliver notes.

        2. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between a rope barrier and doors. I don’t know about previous General Conferences before 2008 but it did seem as though any protesters would have to come through doors. Too often, bishops and others were in sympathy with the aims of the protesters and allowed them to take over the floor. But, Tampa seemed to be the first time where it was designed to be easy for protesters to take over the proceedings. I do not know what the layout in Portland will be.

    2. Thanks, Holly. That makes me feel better as I could not imagine any reasonable policy that does not prohibit disruptions and control access.

      Sounds like your experience of GC is much different from what I’ve heard about Tampa from others. I’m not clear on where the marching protesters were. Were they marching around the delegates?

      As for security, I think refusing to enforce the rules is to invite chaos.

      1. Yes…when I was present, they were either marching around the delegates–OUTSIDE the ropes, or they were seated outside the bar of the conference. It should be noted, however that some delegates were in sympathy with the protestors, seated within the bar, sometimes wearing rainbow stoles.

        1. For me this sounds like a plan designed to be a mess.

          Imagine a city council meeting where they put the voting members in the middle of the room and had a parade track around them for protesters to march. What would the purpose of that be? How would such an arrangement possibly be related to effective governance?

          As I picture it in my mind, it is almost comical. I can’t imagine how such a system would be devised if the goal of the organizers was to support the conferencing and deliberation of the delegates themselves. It sounds like is was designed to give non-delegates a way to influence events rather than to observe.

        2. DING! DING! DING!

          Randall Miller of RMN was the Chair of the GCGC. How can any of us be “shocked” when things are designed to allow protesters free opportunity to interrupt, harass and take over the proceedings?

  4. BTW, it is interesting to note that the first business of GC was to deal with the standing rules of the conference. At GC 2012 a number of rule changes were proposed in order to limit or restrict protests, parades, and disruptions. These caused hours and hours of discussion–finally, I believe they were tabled so the real business of the conference could proceed. It was almost ludicrous that dealing with the details standing rules took up so much valuable time. The issues regarding sexuality may have been heard if this had not happened earlier.

    1. When were the “standing rules” adopted?

      Were those voted on in GC 2008 or set in the Book of Discipline?

      1. The rules are adopted at each General Conference. The Rules from the preceding General Conference govern until the new rules are adopted. I think there has been a lengthy discussion about the rules at every General Conference. Trust and distance, again.

        Here were the guidelines about demonstrations for 2008. Why weren’t these followed in 2012? No bullhorns for example. http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/files_import/UMC_Files/General%20Conference%202008/GC08_DEMONSTRATION_GUIDELINES.PDF

  5. As you know I was a delegate at the last 2 GCs. Let me give you my two cents. I agree with that only delegates and individuals invited to speak to the GC by GC vote should be allowed on the floor when in session. [For example Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was invited to address us in plenary. Also in Legislative Groups an LG can vote to ask a staff person of a general agency to come to answer questions.] I also feel that only silent protests that are not disruptive should be allowed (standing wearing stoles in the bleachers would be ok–marching around the perimeter with signs would not be). Here is some background on why we ended up with the mess we had in Tampa. 1) It makes nasty national news when protesters get arrested for trying to get on the floor of a closed conference session. This last happened in 2000 in Columbus when close to 200 people (led by Mel White of Soulforce) were arrested. Protestors will definitely avail themselves of getting arrested if that is an option. The NY Times would be delighted to cover it. 2) Many of our Bishops support the agenda of the protestors and are in favor of allowing the political theatre to build pressure for their cause. Other Bishops are so concerned about being viewed as “fair” and giving an opportunity for discounting voices that they are unwilling to crack down. 3) Having real security instead of nice church member pages to keep people out costs money. I was told real security would have added $200,000 to the bill last time. I’m not sure if it was true or not. 4) Bishops are not of one mind on how to handle the situation. When the protestors took over the floor in Tampa against the rules Bishop Mike was in the chair. He sent us to break and announced that the floor would be cleared and then we would come back in a closed session. Unfortunately the next Bishop in the chair (or the Council of Bishops meeting during the break) decided not to follow through with his ruling.

    1. If the protesters knew that they would face charges that would make a difference. Instead, Will Green is under appointment in New England, for example. As is Amy DeLong in Wisconsin.

  6. I need to correct my previous statement. I don’t think I saw anyone parading around the delegates. Most of the action was OUTSIDE of the plenary floor. RMN had a display area set up across the street from the convention center. They offered free food to anyone who came by. I saw some folks in the lobby of the convention center, and some peaceful folks sitting around the arena with rainbow stoles. I really didn’t see the disruption–but I was intentionally avoiding interacting with RMN. I did not attend the portion of the conference when sexual issues were scheduled for discussion. What I saw was well-managed.

  7. The record speaks for itself. But don’t assume Portland tactics will mimic Tampa. That’s like assuming Notre Dame will use last week’s game plan. “Expect surprises.”

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