SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop

If I believed I was a prophet, I’d say that after three years of agony, a breakthrough in SAYMA’s logjam/paralysis is in sight.

It will soon be a month since the summer representative meeting of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association, or SAYMA. Held by Zoom on July 20, its major business item was the first reading of SAYMA’s delayed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Our account of it is here.

On that budget, the key item was a proposed $2500 for the Uplifting Racial Justice Committee (URJ), headed by Sharon Smith. The Committee had taken $16000 from SAYMA last year. It had demanded $20,000 from this new budget, and a pledge of $10,000 more annually in perpetuity.

There was plenty of murmured unease and even opposition to this demand, and in fact to the activity of URJ and the consistently antagonistic and disruptive behavior of Smith. At least two SAYMA meetings had already sent in minutes opposing any future funding for it, and many individuals had quietly expressed similar sentiments.

Meanwhile, Smith had a claque of supporters who continually repeated her claim that any and all questioning and opposition to her “anti-racist ministry” was “white supremacy/Quaker racism” and nothing else.

Any experienced Quaker Clerk in such a situation would see that there was no unity on this budget item in the body, which means the body doesn’t approve it. It seems clear that SAYMA’s officers do see that, but most have been so fearful of open conflict and/or intimidated by Smith’s cries of “racism” and violent tantrums that they have ducked and dodged every occasion to make an actual stand. Continue reading SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop

Breaking: Friends Central School, Fired teachers, Settle lawsuit.

This just in: a lawsuit filed against Friends Central School (FCS) in Philadelphia in 2017 by two teachers who were fired after a Palestinian speaker they invited in February 2017 was disinvited by school officials. The order of settlement is below. (More text follows.)

The speaker, Sa’ed Atshan, teaches at Swarthmore College. FCS Students protested, walked out, were ignored. The Philadelphia Daily News slammed the administration action:

Philadelphia Daily News: Friends’ Central lacks integrity in shunning controversial speaker

“ANOTHER WEEK, another hit delivered to free speech, this one coming from an unexpected source – a Quaker school.

Ariel Eure, former teacher at Friends community School.
Leila Helwa, former teacher, Friends Central School.

Last week, the head of Friends’ Central School, a Quaker private school in Wynnewood, uninvited a Palestinian who had been asked to speak by a student club. Students protested that decision, in part by walking out of an all-school gathering. This week, head of school Craig N. Sellers suspended two faculty advisers to the student group, saying – in effect – that they were inside agitators who had whipped up the student protest.

Or, as Sellers put it in a statement, the teachers disregarded “our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity.”

We see it differently. In our view, it was Sellers who disrupted the peace of the Friends’ Central community. And you can hardly call the muzzling of an invited speaker an example of integrity.”

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor.

The ex-teachers filed a lawsuit on May 7, 2017, charging discrimination and defamation. The school’s lawyers sneered at the lawsuit in their initial filing, insisting there was nothing to it. But the judge jolted them in August 2019 by denying their dismissal motion.

Mark Schwartz, plaintiffs’ attorney.

The teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed for many documents to begin discovery. At some point, the school chose to negotiate, and the settlement was entered earlier this month, more than three years after it was filed.

The terms of the settlement were not announced. Schwartz’s full statement in response to my query was: “NDA.” That is, “nondisclosure agreement.” I speculate that it was a generous amount of money, enough to move the plaintiffs to agree to keep quiet about it.

In the world of employment lawsuits, such settlements are generally counted as a qualified success: at least the plaintiffs have something for their trouble, and interrupted or terminated career.


For the record: Here is a list of the blog posts on the Friends Central School lawsuit:

A Letter to Students at Friends Central School: Resist! 02/14/2017

Breaking: Friends Central School Officials Issue New Statement; Backpedaling? – 02/14/2017

Philly Paper Slams Friends Central School: “Lacks Integrity” 02/15/2017

Friends Central School Free Speech Case: Negotiations On? 02/21/2017

Update: Friends Central School Fires Teachers Who Invited Palestinian Speaker; Invites Him Back – 05/12/2017

The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . . 05/29/2018

Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back   – 07/06/2018

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case, 8/7/2018

Friends Central School Discrimination Lawsuit: Fired Teachers Win the First Round – 8/7/2019

A Theological Emergency that’s part real & part satire. Can you tell the difference?

Operator: Hello, this is Theology 911. What is your theological emergency?

Aunt Mabel: Oh, thank heaven.  OMG it’s so awful!

Operator: Yes, ma’am. Please ma’am, are you in danger?

Aunt Mabel: I sure am, sonny. It’s the guns. And it’s not just me. Please send a SWAT team to my house right away, or it will be too late!

Operator: Right away, ma’am. Let me get some information. Did you say someone else there with you is also in danger?

Aunt Mabel: Yes! Oh, it’s so horrible. It’s God!

Operator: Ma’am, I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying God has guns?

Aunt Mabel: No, no— it’s Biden. Joe Biden.

Operator: Excuse me? Joe Biden is God? Continue reading A Theological Emergency that’s part real & part satire. Can you tell the difference?

Stick to Nonviolence: A Followup

A quick followup to the July 28th post, “Why nonviolent protests are smarter, even/especially today”.

The point, to reiterate, was that lots of academic & private polling research, plus my own movement experience, confirms the idea that nonviolent protests move public opinion in a progressive direction, while violent demonstrations nudge it toward the reactionary right, often with tragic and lasting outcomes.

I didn’t expect to have corroboration so soon. But by sundown there was a raft of it, starting with a brand new Reuters/Ipsos poll with all the data one might need.

First, the new poll. The big number in it was the trend in public support for the latest round of protests. Here’s the summary:

The poll follows a series of late-night clashes between protesters and federal police in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrators have held nightly anti-racism rallies. Trump sent federal police into the city despite the mayor’s objections to deal with what he called “anarchists and agitators,” and he has sent others to Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque.

According to the poll, 52% of American adults say they are sympathetic to those who are still gathering to protest the police treatment of minorities, especially African Americans, about 12 percentage points lower than a similar poll that ran in mid-June.[Emphasis added.]

Twelve per cent. That’s a big drop. And 52 percent is perilously close (within any reasonable margin for error) to tipping over into majority public dislike of the protests.

And there’s another drop to take note of: The percentage of those who are unhappy with Trump’s response to the recent protests has dropped from 58 per cent to 54. Ipsos puts this another way:

. . . [A] majority of Americans remain unhappy with the way [Trump] has responded. The poll showed 54% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests, which is only a slight improvement from a similar poll that ran in mid-June when 58% disapproved.

Another way to slice it is that Trump appears to be reclaiming some Republicans whose support he was losing as the early rounds of protests crested. There the increase Ipsos found, is substantial:

The rise in support comes primarily from Republicans who have backed the president in greater numbers as the protests rage across the country: 78% said they approved of Trump’s response to the demonstrations in the latest poll, up from 67% in mid-June. Nearly nine out of 10 Democrats say they do not like the way Trump is dealing with the protests, and that has not changed over since June.

It’s not time to panic. But what’s important here is the trend, and it’s in the direction of Trump’s strategy: paint the protests as domestic terrorism, fan the flames of hysteria, turn up the media echo chamber volume to full blast, and build the image as the savior of  [racist white] suburbia.

Wait, there’s more: Further backing up this analysis is what Trump said to Iowa voters Tuesday night in a tele-rally via Facebook Live.

Here’s part of a stunning transcript posted today by CNN Politics reporter DJ Judd:

Trump hopes that Karen & Ken are the ones to show him the way to win the suburbs and reelection.
Cory Booker? He’s Trump’s new suburban bogeyman?? Doesn’t he live in the suburbs???

Trump: it’s ridiculous, they [Biden & Democrats] want to abolish, and really hurt the suburbs, because under their plan, they will, under a plan that’s very much agreed to by them, they want to make it worse, they don’t mind if low­ income housing is built in a neighborhood, in a beautiful suburb of Iowa, but a beautiful suburb anywhere in the country, they want low, and this has been going on for years, Obama made it much worse, and now they want Cory Booker to run that program, Cory Booker of New Jersey to run that program, and make it many times worse than it is right now.
People have gone to the suburbs, they want the beautiful homes, they don’t have to have a low income housing development built in their community, which is going to reduce, which has reduced the prices of their homes, and also increased crime substantially. [Emphasis added.]

As one analyst said, this effusion turns his racist dog whistles into train whistles. I would add, foghorns.

The Iowa rant, if typically rambling, was not at all incoherent: it aims to reassemble and harden the racist suburban base Trump plundered in 2016. And I hate to say it, but the poll suggests he’s making some headway with that. And do I think protesters need to take this into account? You bet.

One other meaningful tidbit from this busy day; The Minneapolis police department said they’re closing in on a suspect who was the “umbrella Man” who broke windows in protests there on May 27, clearly “lighting the match” of fiery protests later. The New York Times has an affidavit police filed for a search warrant:

Umbrella Man at work, Minneapolis May 27. Where else has he been since then?

“Erika Christensen, an arson investigator with the Minneapolis police, wrote in the affidavit that the vandalism ‘created an atmosphere of hostility and tension’ two days after Mr. Floyd’s death. It unleashed a chain reaction of arson and looting in the Twin Cities, she wrote, after protests had been relatively peaceful.

‘In a short time after the front windows are broken out in The AutoZone, looting started, the affidavit said, noting that the AutoZone store burned down later that day. ‘This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city.’”

They allege that the suspect is associated with white supremacy groups and racist prison gangs. The Washington Post had a video clip of the suspect, showing other protesters pleading with him to stop, unsuccessfully.

Unless the Minneapolis cops are completely wrong, this disclosure cements the case that Umbrella Man was no more than a provocateur, who fully achieved his goal of undermining peaceful protests and touching off violence.

And if that happened in Minneapolis, my sense is that it has happened elsewhere.  The conclusion that strict nonviolent tactics is the best defense against such subversion is plain.

Is help on the way? There’s an outfit in DC called the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and it has published the title & an abstract of a new monograph which addresses this head on: “Agents Provocateurs, Violent Flanks, and Nonviolent Movements: A Historical and Strategic Perspective.” The abstract sounds totally on point:

“When the adversary of a civil resistance movement sends infiltrators to join the movement, what do these covert operators do, and what impact do they have? Furthermore, how can civil resistance organizers respond creatively and strategically?”

Yes how? In Minneapolis, the video shows two other protesters appealing to Umbrella Man to stop breaking windows. He ignored them, kept swinging the sledgehammer, then walked away. Peaceful protesters need help on this.

Unfortunately only the paper’s title & abstract are online; the actual paper is “forthcoming.” Better get the lead out, folks: it’s burn-the-midnight-courthouse—err, oil time.

Nevertheless. Most of the protests have been peaceful, and many have been quite imaginative.  Such creativity is an important tactical resource. (Looking at you, Wall of Moms.)

Keep it up.

If you find this post useful, please pass it on.

Why nonviolent protests are smarter, even/especially today

One of the less useful of the recent media tempests involved a report about the fate  of David Shor, a somewhat lefty data analyst.

Shor had tweeted a summary of a paper by Princeton scholar Omar Wasow.  Wasow argued that his research on 12 years of Black-led protests, particularly in election years, moved public opinion in a progressive direction, whereas those marked by violence to property and persons moved the needle toward support for reactionaries, helping bring Nixon, Reagan et al to power. In his own words:

Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, Congressional speech and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share among whites increase 1.3-1.6%.

Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968 . . . I find violent protests likely caused a 1.6-7.9% shift among whites towards Republicans and tipped the election.

Shor’s tweet provoked a storm of online denunciation of its purported racism, and in a few days Shor was fired from his job at Civis Analytics, a Chicago-based “data science software and consultancy company,“ for somewhat lefty clients.

The incident was cited by writer Jonathan Chait as an example of the illiberal tendencies of some left-liberals, and fodder for his article, “The Still-Vital Case for Liberalism in a Radical Age.”

I mention it not to rehash the cliched debate about cancel culture. Instead, I want to say a few things about Omar Wasow’s overall thesis, that violence in protests helps reactionary politics, while nonviolent direct action boosts progressives.

First, I strongly agree with Wasow’s main point. My conviction is not based on academic research, though; it comes out of fifty-plus years of surviving the ’60s and their aftermath, under the heels of Nixon, Reagan, two Bushes, and the Orange Menace.

Oh—and second, if it’s not permitted for a lefty progressive to say such a thing, so shoot me. Though that would be a waste of ammunition, given my age and retired status.

Third, and most important, there are others who also agree with Wasow, and are acting vigorously on that conviction, but with very different and anti-progressive ends in view. Also with far more clout than I’ll ever have.

A vivid glimpse of that reality is what moved me to write this post. It came in the latest edition of “The Righting,” an email newsletter that brings “Top news headlines from the Far Right for the rest of us.”

The rightwing media this letter aggregates rant about many issues and topics.

Yet the current issue is essentially focused on just one: how violent protests are terrorism unleashed, that are burning up the cities, threatening the country. They must be stopped, and only harsh repression by their preferred leader can save us.

Looking this over, and remembering the Shor & Wasow hoo-haw, it suddenly hit me: the far right totally believes both of them: they’re convinced violent protests can move the needle.

And they’re desperate to move the needle. All the credible polls are showing Trump lagging Biden, many by huge numbers. Some foolish pundits are already announcing that it’s all over, and trotting out their pet names for a Biden cabinet.

But it’s not over yet. And every urban nightscape that is lit up with flames and resounds with gunfire presents a chance for them to stop the Trumpist slide. Maybe their only chance. Will the violent protests give it to them?

Americans are not overall a radical, or even radical-leaning people. They want some peace, quiet, a real crusade against the pandemic, a way for families out of the new depression, open and SAFE schools, and action on police misconduct and the racism behind it.

Violence in the cities threatens the positive momentum that has been built up on all these matters since George Floyd’s murder. And putting up with or excusing it is no better. Here I am following the words and example of those who have been most honored this month: C. T. Vivian, John Lewis, and both Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.

This appeal is particularly aimed at “my people,” the liberal Quakers and those of similar outlook, who have largely stuck with this heritage during my lifetime, I know it’s tempting to rationalize or give into the rage that’s loose. The sight of unidentified federal stormtroopers snatching mostly peaceful protesters off the streets is enough to send most of us over the edge.

But resist that impulse, Friends. As the old freedom song says, “keep your eyes on the prize.” Advocate for, plan, and carry out protests and actions that are strictly nonviolent.

It’s not only safer. It’s both strategically and tactically smarter. And the stakes could hardly be higher. If Americans become desperate for safety, many can be persuaded they will only get that from the right, and they can and will turn that way — it’s happened often before.

The far right knows this. So they are all out for the opposite to happen. Don’t fall into the trap.

If you approve of this post, please pass it on.

John Lewis Said DON’T Rename the Pettus Bridge. Here’s Why:

Yesterday I published what I thought was a mildly-worded post stating my preference for not renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

In saying that, I was following what I believed was the stated view of the late Rep. John Lewis, whose passing is being marked across the country this week — just as I had actually marched behind him across the Pettus Bridge on the historic march to Montgomery in 1965.

But to judge by some of the comments the post evoked,  saying this was tantamount to admitting that I had really been an undercover Ku Klux Klansman & hardcore white supremacist back then and all along.

Unless, many said, I demanded that the bridge be renamed for Lewis, right now, I was unmasking myself as a stone racist and a supporter of every evil up to and including the Nazi holocaust.

John Lewis

Good grief.  Shaking my head, I asked, almost in despair: “WWJD”??

That is, What Would JOHN [Lewis] Do?”

Fortunately, this is not a question made unanswerable by his passing. John Lewis told us what he would do, in no uncertain terms.  Continue reading John Lewis Said DON’T Rename the Pettus Bridge. Here’s Why:

Rename the Pettus Bridge? I’m in no hurry.

[NOTE: See also this UPDATE to this post, here.}
I feel torn about renaming the Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. On the one hand, Pettus was all those odious things: traitor, KKK leader, etc., etc.

On the other hand, John Lewis & many others shed their blood under that sign, and seared its letters onto the conscience of the world. They made it  a sacred place of pilgrimage on the long road to justice.

History is like that: sometimes ironic, paradoxical— thank God.

So I say leave it be, as a sign that sometimes much unexpected good can come out of much unrequited evil.

Whenever I imagine how Pettus would react to the Bridge’s renown among those who rolled back the slavery & oppression he upheld, it brings a smile that’s rare in these haunted days. 

I know the decision will be made by others, mostly younger. But I still carry my memories of standing with Lewis and others when the “Bloody Sunday” March was announced, then crossing the Pettus bridge behind Lewis, more than once. (I was lucky; the clubs & gas were in abeyance for these treks; but the armed federal troops guarding us were very real.)

1965, Selma: John Lewis, left, in a tie: me, right rear.

It’s something to study & debate peaceably. There are many other places & memorials that could be named for John Lewis. Yet things change. I’ll accept the verdict. There are bigger fish to fry.

The grave of Edmund Pettus, Live Oak Cemetery, Selma. My photo.

 

SAYMA Representative Meeting: Summary & Comment

I. Summary

SAYMA’s Representative Meeting gathered on Zoom the evening of July 20, and lasted amost four hours. More than forty persons were on the line. It was not an easy session.

The main agenda items were a summary review of the 2019-2020 budget, and the initial reading of the 2020-2021 proposed budget (their fiscal year begins in October). SAYMA budgets are typically presented at one business session (usually at their yearly meeting, canceled for 2020), then acted on by a later  session.

While the budget was the stated main item, the elephant in the room was the URJ Committee and its Clerk, Sharon Smith, and her demand for $20,000 of SAYMA’s funds for next year. This “elephant” appeared in comments about how URJ’s reporting on how it spent funds granted this past year lacked adequate accountability and raised “integrity issues” for the body. Indeed, these concerns are broadly shared enough that some meetings (e.g., Celo and Chattanooga, here)  and individuals have called for an end to any funding for URJ and its replacement after careful and searching SAYMA-wide discernment.

So the elephant made itself known frequently, but without any clear resolution.

The proposed budget includes a $2500 allocation for URJ, quite a comedown from Smith’s $20,000 demand, but still $2500 more than than some preferred. That figure was not discussed, however.

What was discussed, at length, was a proposal not in the budget, but put forth by the new Finance Committee Clerk, Geeta McGahey.
McGahey wanted to add $500 as initial funding for a new Committee on “Conflict Transformation,” which would hire a facilitator from the Friends Center for Racial Justice, a project based in Ithaca, New York. The new Committee, she explained, would begin consultations in SAYMA aimed at “transforming” the ongoing conflict over URJ and Smith.

The proposal evoked strong pushback.

Continue reading SAYMA Representative Meeting: Summary & Comment

SAYMA, Activists & Money: How Dr. King Almost Got Ten Years

Here’s a quick racial justice history lesson, with a moral:

In January, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was indicted by an Alabama grand jury on two counts of felony perjury, charges that could have tossed him into one of the state’s rotten, segregated penitentiaries for up to ten years.

This case is forgotten now, but was a harrowing, months-long  ordeal for King.

The indictment charged that King had evaded taxes on $45,000 of donation income from his civil rights work after the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and had perjured himself by signing false state tax returns.

Alabama Governor John Patterson, who aimed to have Dr. King locked up for several years.

The segregationist state administration of Governor John Patterson thought the indictment was a slam dunk, their chance to take King off the board for maybe the next decade.

The trial started in May, 1960. King wrote of it,

“This case was tried before an all-white Southern jury. All of the State’s witnesses were white. The judge and the prosecutor were white. The courtroom was segregated. Passions were inflamed. Feelings ran high. The press and other communications media were hostile. Defeat seemed certain, and we in the freedom struggle braced ourselves for the inevitable.”

The personal impact also went deep: King was often depressed  about his prospects. The case

. . . attacked a core aspect of [King’s] self-image and of his reputation—his honesty. He acknowledged as much. His wife Coretta recalled that the case brought with it the greatest suffering of any event in her husband’s life up until that time: “[D]espite all of the bravery he had shown before, under personal abuse and character assaults . . . this attack on his personal honesty hurt him most.” Dr. King’s greatest fear was that his reputation for honesty would be destroyed with a conviction, replaced by the public image of a greedy liar who was out for himself.

If he went down, King knew the movement and its organizations would be tarred as well.

But King wouldn’t go down without a fight. Movement friends raised money to hire two top black defense lawyers.

And it turned out King had a secret weapon: he had long kept a detailed diary of his expenses. This, plus receipts and paperwork, showed that almost all the money involved came as reimbursements for the near-constant travel King was called to do for civil rights work. And reimbursements were not income, and were non-taxable. His returns were not false, his taxes were not evaded.

After a grueling six-day trial, on May 29, 1960 the case went to the all-white jury. Continue reading SAYMA, Activists & Money: How Dr. King Almost Got Ten Years

SAYMA: Quick Update [Note: Adult Language]

I’m getting inquiries about what happened at the SAYMA representative session Monday evening.

I’m working on a report, which will be on this blog soon.

Meantime, here’s a pop quiz/teaser:

Can you guess which participant piquantly referred to the session today in a circulating email as:

“That shit show of a meeting last night . . .” ?

(Hint: Not me.)

Make your guess. Answer soon . . . .

Getting some Sh** Together.