Earlier this year I posted about a controversy at Friends Central School in Philadelphia, where a Palestinian Quaker, Sa’ed Atshan, was invited to visit and speak, then abruptly disinvited & the two teachers who invited him, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, were suspended.
The news site philly.com reported on May 10 that the two teachers have now been terminated effective June 30. Along with that decision came an invitation from the school to Sa’ed Atshan to speak at Friends Central sometime in the future, on “his personal experiences and path to peace education.”
The report added that
[The suspended teachers] were offered severance pay of $5,500, but that is contingent on their dropping a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit, said Mark Schwartz, their lawyer.
“This is a ridiculous offer,” he said. “I’d be surprised if they took it. Unlike the school, these two have some principles.”
School representatives on Tuesday declined to give a reason for the terminations.
Many Americans of a certain age– who watched the unfolding of the Watergate scandal after the 1972 election, recall it, rightly, as a heroic and spellbinding drama.
In it, unexpected & unlikely champions stepped forth in Washington to snatch truth and the Constitution from the hands of a crooked president and his minions. Two southern Senators, Tennessee Republican Howard Baker and North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin, aided by dogged special prosecutors, led this successful rescue mission. Continue reading Watergate Reruns, Richard Burr & Other Pipe Dreams→
Rev. Dr. William Barber to transition from North Carolina NAACP to join the leadership of the “New Poor People’s Campaign” [Update below.]
The Kairos Center [an organization created by Union Theological Seminary inNew York City] is excited to announce that the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II will be transitioning out of his role as the president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP in June, in order to join the growing leadership of the New Poor People’s Campaign. [The New PPC is a project of the Kairos Center.] The North Carolina NAACP announced the news in a press release this morning . . .
“Rev. Barber will focus attention on the new Poor People’s Campaign co-led by the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary, where Rev. Barber is a distinguished professor of public theology. Throughout 2017 and early 2018 he will lead trainings and organize alongside moral leaders, including poor black, brown and white communities.
The forthcoming report, ‘The Souls of Poor Folk,’ co-developed by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Rev. Dr. Barber, and noted economists, historians and public policy experts, will explore why issues of poverty have changed or remained the same since the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68.
In early 2018, moral activists will lead 40 days of simultaneous direct action and civil disobedience in state capitols, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Congress.
‘Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King called for a radical ‘revolution of values’ inviting a divided nation to stand against the evils of militarism, racism, and economic injustice. In the spirit of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967/68, we are calling for a national moral revival and for fusion coalitions in every state to come together and advance a moral agenda,’ said the Rev. Dr. Barber.
‘There is a need for moral analysis, articulation of a moral agenda, and moral activism that fuses the critique of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and national morality in a way that enables organizing among black, brown, and white people, especially in regions where great efforts have been made to keep them from forming alliances and standing together to change the political and social calculus ,’ he said.”
The story has already broken in several mainstream media sources, including ABC News and the Winston-Salem Chronicle. ABC reports [And this blog].
“Barber also leads a nonprofit called Repairers of the Breach and said that group, along with the Kairos Center, Union Theological Seminary and others will lead a movement that will concentrate on 25 states and the nation’s capital where voter suppression, poverty and other problems are prevalent. The groups plan major actions next summer, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the start of King’s campaign in 1968.”
Late on May 11, Barber sent out a letter. Here are excerpts:
I write with gratitude for each of you who have entrusted me to serve in leadership and with appreciation for the broad coalition of black, white, and brown; Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those who believe in a moral arc of the universe; young and old; gay and straight; Republican, Democrat, and unaffiliated who have joined our work over the past 12 years.
I am writing to let you know that I am stepping down from leadership of the NC NAACP in order to accept an invitation from moral leaders across the nation to serve and help lead a new Poor People’s Campaign & National Call for A Moral Revival. I feel this is a deeply spiritual call in this moment, so I’m stepping down but not stepping away from our work together in this movement.
When I first ran for State Conference President on the platform of moving “From Banquets to Battle,” my family, church and I committed to this work. In our first eight years together we were able to build a people’s coalition with strength to push reluctant Democrats to raise the minimum wage, win same day registration and voting, push back against re-segregation of schools in one of our largest districts, and free innocent black men from prison.
As a result of the work we were able to do together in that time, a foundation was laid for “Moral Mondays,” which emerged in the spring of 2013. Through sustained moral fusion organizing, with a race and class critique rooted in our deepest moral values, we pushed back against extremism for four long years to see the defeat of an extremist Republican governor, the election of more progressive members to the state Supreme Court, and the overturning of the monster voter suppression law that targeted African-Americans, according to a federal court, “with almost surgical precision.”
Our work is not over here in North Carolina. But, as you know, extremism is at work in other states and has gained power in all three branches of our federal government, much as it did here four years ago. This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic racism, poverty, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable.
This is why in this moment I am entrusting the NC NAACP to other strong leaders who can continue its work; I am not stepping away from the NAACP or from you, my NC NAACP Moral Movement family. I will continue to pastor Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro [NC], to support the NAACP’s work here in North Carolina and to serve on the national board of the NAACP. As we expand our moral fusion coalition model to over 20 other states as well as the nation’s Capitol, I am committed, as ever, to moving forward together, not one step back. . . .
Visit www.breachrepairers.org and learn more about how you can be involved in the Poor People Campaign’s National Call for a Moral Revival.
No, really: Just today I found an unimpeachable source, shown below. I saw the outline of the plan sitting there, exposed & unguarded — and, once an investigative reporter, always an investigative reporter — scooped it up.
The Handmaid’s Taleis a novel. The story below is not. It is true, and it happened in 1990, but its reverberations are still being felt, and are maybe stronger and deeper now than when they burst into view. Margaret Atwood’s fictional vision was directly relevant to it — as well as that of another novel which became its mirror image. Read on to understand why.
It begins with a showdown at Silver Bay, involving witches versus demons.
I. Gilead Meets the Goddess
New York Yearly Meeting gathers at Silver Bay, a resort complex on Lake George, north of Albany. Silver Bay is a lovely and peaceful setting, to which many New York Quakers return as pilgrims each summer seeking rest and renewal among Friends.
When the yearly meeting gathered in July of 1990, rest and renewal seemed in short supply. The 1980s had not been easy for New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).
While many other unprogrammed yearly meetings were growing, New York’s membership declined by about ten per cent; the body struggled to meet its budget; and worst of all, its annual sessions were wracked by chronic wrangling, over doctrine and morals. An effort to rewrite its Faith and Practice, pending since 1977, dragged on abrasively throughout the decade; by 1990, this process had become so acrimonious that the Yearly Meeting put it on hold for a year.
In its travail, New York had become a kind of field laboratory for an ongoing experiment in institutional Quaker ecumenism. Unfortunately, in the latter years of the 1980s, many of the results of this test had not been promising, and never more so than at its 1990 session.
“To every thing there is a season,” says the biblical sage Ecclesiastes,
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away . . .
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,”
and I would add, A time to endure, and a time to resist.
As I write, in early 2017, in the United States, such a time of resistance is upon us.
This new collection (now available in paperback and on Kindle) is for those who have been through “a time to lose” — losses that, as I write, are far from over. Some of these losses will have to be endured for a time, perhaps a long time.
Why? Because he’s having a public meeting. TWO, actually; one of them right here in Durham. And we didn’t even have to ask him!
Now, some fussbudgets might object that there’s nothing “heroic” about a Congressman meeting constituents. “Hey,” they grumble, “this is his JOB. It’s what he was elected to do: listen to us here, and work for us and for a better America in Washington.
Silly idealists. Especially this year. This month. This WEEK. It must be heroic, because so few of his colleagues are daring to do it.
(Has your Rep. been seen in public this week? Our two NC Senators have evidently fled the country. #notkidding.)
According to the Town Hall Project, Butterfield is the ONLY ONE of North Carolina’s 15 Members of Congress holding actual town hall meetings this go round. Maybe the others think it’s now illegal here, like trans-friendly bathrooms. With our current nutcase Legislature, it would be an easy mistake. (But you can bet they’re busy raising campaign money this week. You can take that to the bank.)
I hear that some of the few solons who ventured out have met with somewhat exuberant receptions. Well, we here in the NC First District can get excited too, but Rep. Butterfield will probably hear more applause than protests.
Far as I’m concerned he’s standing on the right side of most things that are important to me. I voted for him in November, and have no regrets. And he even knows how to tweet. Like this:
And that’s definitely not “fake news.”
The Durham session is tomorrow. And wouldn’t you know I messed around and made a commitment to go to another meeting, about some dismal Quaker breakup thing. So I can’t be there.
But I’m sure Rep. Butterfield won’t be lonely. And realizing I’d be away, I already shared some of my views with him. I did it by FAX; and it got through quick.
First I thanked him for holding the meeting, and for being on the progressive side. Then I talked about health care, and the plans to rip it up. And I ended with a request:
I want to tell you about what I would say if I could be [at the town hall]. It is about my grandson Calvin King, who is seven, and a NC resident. And it is about Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
Calvin looks healthy and lively in this photo, which he now is.
But if it weren’t for Medicaid and the ACA, he would not look this way. He has had to have two unexpected, serious surgeries to bring him to his present state of health.
Without Medicaid & the ACA, Calvin would not have been able to have these procedures. It’s that simple.
My understanding is that you support the ACA and oppose plans to repeal it. Thank you for that.
However, I wish I had heard your voice on this more often, and more vocally. And I wish you would lobby your colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to, borrowing the words of a famous populist, “Raise Less Corn and More Hell!” about this issue (and many others, but I’ll stick to ACA/Medicaid here.)
Pardon my language, & I meant no disrespect. But this is not something I feel calm & polite about.
We in your district need to HEAR YOUR VOICE on this issue, more often, and louder.
You’re on the right side. You’re doing your best. Let all of us – and those on the other side – hear it, every day, on this issue.
This is not an academic or “political” issue.
Lives hang in the balance. Lives in MY family & thousands more in this District.
Thank you and keep up the good work!
Charles Fager Durham NC First District NC
A North Carolina Member of Congress who actually wants to listen to constituents, in public. Right now, there’s only one.
According to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Sa’ed Atshan, the Palestinian Quaker professor of peace studies whose February 10 speech at Friends Central School (FCS) was canceled last month, is a Jew-hater in a class with –well, you know, the guy who had the pencil mustache:
“. . . if Palestinian speaker Sa’ed Atshan supports Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – an international movement designed to delegitimize, weaken and ultimately destroy the Jewish State of Israel – then students at Friends’ Central School would be exposed to vicious, hateful lies with little hope that the same teachers who invited Atshan would offer students the actual facts about Israel, Palestinian-Arabs, and the Middle East that would set the record straight.”
Feldman is Director of the ZOA’s greater Philadelphia office.
And the college office of the ZOA has already devoted whole webpages to denouncing Atshan. A sample:
“Sa’ed Atshan is a leading activist in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, which spreads lies about Jews and Israel and seeks to destroy the only Jewish state.”
Indeed, to read these ZOA screeds, one would expect to find Atshan saying things like the following, which appeared in the Comments section of the Harvard Political Review in March 2013, while Atshan was a grad student there:
“The real issue is not The [Harvard student paper the] Crimson’s anti-Palestinian prejudice but the overrepresentation of Jews at The Crimson, in the Harvard student body and on the faculty.
We have to face the facts that . . .
Unqualified Jews are taking places from qualified white non-Jews, African Americans, and Asian Americans throughout the US academic system.”
Only, Atshan didn’t say that. A guy named Jonathan Affleck did. (Affleck said lots more like it. And he has a Facebook page that’s exclusively devoted to anti-Jewish fulminations, including a defense of the Nazi “Final Solution.”)
But Sa’ed Atshan did writeabout this. His Comment on Affleck’s statements was, in full:
“The Anti-Semitic comments of “Jonathan Affleck” here are morally reprehensible. As part of the Palestinian solidarity community at Harvard none of us would ever condone such racism. This is absolutely unacceptable (quotas against Jewish students, etc.). With “friends” like Affleck, we definitely do not need enemies. The struggle for Palestinian human rights is a just one based on universal values of equality and the fundamental dignity of all human beings…. and our movement should not be associated with Affleck and the like. NO ONE has authorized him to speak on our behalf.”
This exchange occurred before Atshan returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, as a professor, and long before the flap about a speech at Friends Central blew up. But it’s an intriguing and revealing item just the same. It’s a reminder that apples aren’t oranges.
And speaking of the FCS flap, that pot has continued to bubble since our last posts (here, here and here). Two FCS teachers, who protested the cancellation, have been suspended; their fate is still uncertain. There has been continuing media coverage. Op-eds and letters have made impassioned defenses of Atshan, as well as criticism. A petition signed by more than 400 FCS alumni, parents and other Friends has gone to FCS officials. Numerous private approaches have been made.
And yesterday, February 20, media reports surfaced that on Sunday, Atshan, who has maintained public silence amid the controversy, met with FCS head Craig Sellers to begin negotiations about resolving the controversy.
Mark Schwartz, a lawyer and friend of Atshan, said Sellers apologized to the professor and extended an invitation to speak at the school. He said Atshan maintained he was not comfortable accepting the offer unless two teachers who had been suspended over student protests that followed the cancellation were allowed to return to their jobs.
Atshan “has a strong conviction that the teachers should be back,” Schwartz said. “The reason he met with this guy, I’m sure, he was hoping this would get resolved.”
Friends’ Central spokeswoman Lisa D’Orazio gave a different account of what transpired. She said Sellers did not invite Atshan to give a talk but is “keeping the lines of communication open.”
A recently formed task force will look at all future programming, including speakers, at the school. “He’s still on the table,” D’Orazio said of Atshan.
That’s an unfortunate statement: “He’s still on the table.” The operating table? The autopsy table? Better try again.
In a letter Monday to Friends’ Central families, Philip Scott, clerk of the [FCS] board of trustees, said of the controversy: “Outside groups have tried to falsely paint this as a free speech issue. I want to be clear, this is not a free speech issue. It is about the school taking the time and effort to formulate and present intellectual, respectful, and comprehensive programs for its students.”
Well, I want to be clear too: I don’t believe Scott’s “not a free speech” meme for a minute.
One has to maintain a determined sense of isolation not to know that groups like the ZOA are working overtime to keep discussion of BDS and just about anything else that diverges from strong support of current Israeli government polices out of college and other educational spaces. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not. And when they succeed, free speech takes a hit.
As it has at Friends Central School. This IS a “free speech issue.”
I hope Sellers and Scott can persuade those who forced the cancellation and suspensions to back off. Otherwise, this travesty can only further damage the school’s already battered reputation.
In a welcome letter on the FCS website, school head Sellers grandly proclaims that for FCS:
Our Vision: To awaken courage and intellect — and peacefully transform the world.
Nice words. But to get clear about that “vision” again, those in charge need to clean their glasses and see that they have screwed up bigtime here, both as carriers of Quaker traditions, and as educators.
They’ve got the intellect to fix this. What about the courage?