AFSC Restructure Update: Staff Uprising? What Happened?

If I was a “consultant” and needed work, I’d get in line at AFSC. By my count, the group is hosting its third round of outside consultants, laboring earnestly (and raking in the billable hours) trying to help it square the circles of what is called at 1501 Cherry Street, Philly “Restructuring.”

The Restructuring plan — and the drive for an internal coup to smash it — were reported here in early January, and this initial post has links to the main documents, and a detailed sketch of the struggle against it. At that point, the Restructuring plan was set to be acted on at a Board meeting earlier this month.

The January coup was spearheaded by Lucy Duncan, who was at the time assigned as AFSC’s liaison with Quakers. She was candid about the goals for her insurgency:

We call on other Quakers to call for a cessation of the planned restructure, an external evaluation of the Senior Leadership Team and a searching, well facilitated internal conversation about how this process proceeded so far despite widespread opposition and how the organization can heal and move forward collectively, honoring all voices especially those most impacted by the issues upon which AFSC focuses.

If the plan wasn’t dumped, she warned, AFSC would be faced with numerous departures:

 Several staff have left or are on the verge of leaving the organization–some of whom have been with AFSC for decades–due to the difficult experience of these processes and their concern about the new direction AFSC seems poised to take.

Well, there was one signal departure in the wake of this manifesto: Duncan, who was suspended and then fired within a week.

Her dismissal stirred up a brief flurry of well-attended Zoom calls, some wringing of hands, and various social media posts.

But within a few weeks, the smoke cleared, and most Quakers  turned back to their already long list of serious concerns, such as the impending destruction of democracy here, the invasion and ongoing destruction of Ukraine there, and the destruction of the entire planet overall, to name a few.

This plethora of distraction indicated that there would likely be no mass movement of Friends marching to rescue Duncan and a once-Quaker-but-now 99+% secular NGO from the fiendish clutches of — the people who were hired to run it, especially by stopping another reorganization in a long string of such over the decades.

For the record, the Restructuring grew out of a strategic plan adopted by AFSC in October 2020 (and online here).

But opposition to it surfaced early, and  despite the often overheated rhetoric, took in practice the more typically Quaker form of a campaign to stall and talk it to death.

This is where the parade of consultants  got into  the  act, being well-compensated to somehow make a series of real differences vanish in a cloud of lavender-scented conflict resolution blather or drown in vats of herbal tea.

The consultants haven’t yet succeeded, except at their bottom lines. The key sticking points were summarized in the early post thus:

After wading through many documents, and cutting through a fog of verbiage and buzzwords, in my view the issues boil down to three:

  1. Power: Who will run AFSC?
  2. Jobs: Will “restructure” mean staff and program cuts? And, not least,
  3. Money: who will control its distribution?

The two sets of answers, in brief, appear to be:

From the “Leadership Team” (aka LT):

  1. Power? To the LT.
  2. Jobs/program cuts? Likely; maybe lots.
  3. Money control? The LT.

From the dissidents:

  1. Power? To the staff (or rather, the staff favored by the dissidents). Out Now! with the LT & its plan.

  2. Job/program cuts? Not just no, but Heck No. Instead, more hires and projects at the “bottom,” in field and project offices.

  3. Money control? Staff (again, the “right” ones).

With l’affaire Duncan now past, it seems clear that the struggle has returned to the question of who will out-stall, out-talk, and out-consult whom. AFSC Deputy General Secretary Hector Cortez told me this week there has not been any staff exodus following Duncan out the door.

But he also acknowledged that the April Board meeting, held in conjunction with AFSC’s annual Corporation session, had come and gone without taking up the Restructuring plan. Which, in light of what I was told in January, suggests the LT didn’t think the Board was ready to say yes.

The next Board meeting will be June 10-12. And from documents shared with the Corporation, it seems AFSC will be in full frenzy marathon meeting mode til then. Here’s the schedule (which, as the small print admits, will probably get even more crowded toward the end of May.):

This whirl will likely focus on much the same conflicts as were identified above. Here’s the summary shared with the Corporation (By the way, the BWGPDM stands for the Board Working Group on Governance and Decision Making):

And that’s not all. The remnants of the Duncan putsch echo here:

So, what will happen in June? Here’s the Leadership Team’s vision:

The blue chart above tracks a process which it says started (at top left) in June 2020, and looks to complete in June 2022 (at bottom right).

Seems to me it leaves out some items, so I’ve prepared a revised, shortened version here. One possibility is not on it: I predict that when June arrives, the Restructuring opponents will insist, “We need more time!” (And consultants.)Then . . .

The big Maybe: There are no public polls of the 20-plus member AFSC Board. Maybe they’re as ready as Cortez to be done with all this. Yet after fifty-five years of Quaker business and committee meetings, it is very easy for me to imagine a half dozen members not being ready to act in June, which would be enough to thwart the LT’s yearning for a conclusion, and keep the hopes of the resisters alive.

After all, just a couple weeks ago there was a letter from Friends General Conference about how their planning committee was tied up in knots and essentially fractured over — wait for it — mask rules for a Quaker gathering.

After two years of AFSC’s impasse, Cortez sounded to me like he (and the LT perhaps) was within sight of being fed up: “We are under the assumption and the very very clear expectation a proposal will go to the board in June,” he said, “and we will request a decision.”

If they don’t get one?

Well, there are always more consultants to consult.

Other related posts:

“Hello, AFSC? There’s a Crisis on the Line—And It’s for You.” Posted January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qk

AFSC Restructuring Plan (Draft of April 16, 2021) — posted: January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5q5

AFSC & The Hammer: Duncan Fired — posted:
January 5, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qN

AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died” — posted:
January 13, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5rp

18 thoughts on “AFSC Restructure Update: Staff Uprising? What Happened?”

  1. Chuck,
    I think you’re wrong that the resistance to restructuring has “fizzled”. Since the firing, there have been MULTIPLE local & regional Zoom discussions in opposition to the restructuring. That they haven’t yet stopped the restructuring does not mean the effort has failed.

    1. Ramona, you may be right; still hard for me to tell. Clearly the marathon meetings in the schedule will eventually be at push comes to shove; then what? Are Board members being lobbied? Wouldn’t surprise me.

    1. Shelia, can’t put it more succinctly than the summary from the first January post quoted in the post today: Who will be the boss? Who will control the budgets? Plus there’s lots of background. AFSC staff has mostly been managing themselves; and they’ve managed the org. practically into the ground. Then there’s my main complaint, that they cut loose from Quakers 50 years ago, yet still ride Quakerism like ticks on a deer, sucking out the money that honors Quaker faith & suffering and using for other purposes, while many Quaker projects starve. This is about as short as I can be.

  2. Thank you Chuck, I appreciate your clear-eyed and succinct summary. As you have pointed out before, this impasse is years in the making.
    Is it time for this Holy Experiment to be laid down?
    Could its assets be put to better use if distributed among Quaker organizations doing good works rather than paying consultants who can’t realistically be expected to come up with a deus ex machina?

  3. As a Young Friend in Philadelphia, I admired and trusted the AFSC until 1976, when reports of human rights abuses in postwar Vietnam became too widespread to ignore.

    I sought out a senior AFSC executive, pleading that AFSC was one of the very few U.S. organizations that had built up moral clout with the Vietnamese government and could make a difference in the short run.

    His response: A _very_ patronizing explanation that AFSC wasn’t interested in human rights violations unless those violations were committed by the USA, or sometimes by other Western governments.

    I was so disgusted by this partisanship, I haven’t given any money to AFSC since then. Their subsequent abandonment of Quakers just confirmed my initial reaction. Very sad, but no longer my problem.

    I admire those Quakers who hung on, hoping AFSC could change. Work such as Lucy Duncan’s (or maybe it was her work) almost brought me back to supporting AFSC a few years ago. But when trust is betrayed — and I lost ALL trust in AFSC’s goodness and fairness in that moment in 1976 — it is very difficult to restore.

    I ultimately decided I could still make no difference in AFSC, and I could make a real difference working through other Quaker organizations. Thanks, Chuck, for keeping us apprised!

  4. Would like to know your main source of information. Your depiction of an insurrection led by Lucy Duncan is a gross exaggeration and minimizes the good intentions of many Friend who have been involved.

    Kathy Hersh.
    One of the original 6 co-signer letterk

    1. Hi Kathy Hersh, you asked about my “main source” of information about the attempted AFSC insurrection. There are a number of answers to that:
      1. For the initial blog post about it, on January 3, 2022 (
      https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qk ), the main source was Duncan’s published words, as noted there.
      2. In addition, for the followup posts I read the Strategic plan; and the 40-plus page draft restructuring plan; numerous AFSC Annual Reports; and more letters by Duncan’s supporters.
      I listened on a long Zoom call about it, and interviewed Hector Cortez, and read numerous emails & letters. I also read Greg Barnes’s centennial history.
      3. Beyond the recent documents, my experience and study of AFSC extends back to 1970, when I began five years of service on the New England Regional Office Executive Committee. I first published concerns about developing institutional trends there in 1979, then several more times in my print version of “A Friendly Letter” (all of which are online, free, with an Index linked to the home page). In 1988 I compiled and published a book of essays about these concerns, “Quaker Service at the Crossroads,” (sound familiar?). A number of substantial blog posts on AFSC concerns appeared here, and in the journal “Quaker Theology”, also online free, at quakertheology.org . A book-length issue of the journal (#31) compiled in collaboration with the distinguished historian H. Larry Ingle, of the most significant pieces of this research and analysis based on nearly 50 years of study & reporting, appeared in 2018. It’s online free at: https://quakertheology.org/category/issues/issue-32-summer-2018/
      This issue notes that AFSC has maintained a posture of studiously ignoring or deflecting the stated concerns of us and most actual Friends.
      I invite you to familiarize yourself with this body of work as you gauge the commentary that went with it.

  5. Thank you Chuck and many others above. It occurs to me that the main issue is one of ego versus spirit. IF ( if!) AFSC would claim to be a “Quaker” organization (ask George Fox about being organized), it seems that there should be a concern about real , basic , purpose. When a Quaker Meeting holds worship, and especially Meeting For Worship With A Concern For Business, the PURPOSE is to discern God’s Will for that Meeting, or am I wrong ? If AFSC claims a Quaker basis, a Quaker , “Friend” founding, is it not right for AFSC to judge it’s purpose and actions by that example of Friend’s business and purpose? Subsuming ego to the leading of the Spirit, historically as Jesus’ life and ministry example? “By their fruits shall ye know them”? Many good service organizations, that work and serve for peace, relief of human suffering and justice are not religious at all in foundation, but are very Christian in their action, judged by Jesus’ teaching and example. Where does that leave AFSC? FCNL does Quaker lobbying of congress. Are they less faith based because of their desire of action?

    1. No, AFSC is not less faith-based due to their desire for action/to make change in U.S. society and the world, but FCNL in my view a.) has more Quaker staff and b.) puts a lot more effort into engaging with Quakers and representing more accurately the body and varieties within Quakers, rather than simply the Benjamin Lay variety.

      How AFSC was founded does not necessarily match AFSC’s *current* Quaker purpose and method of doing business – this departure is specifically what Chuck has been writing about. If almost none of the staff are Quakers, do you still believe that business is conducted by subsuming the ego to the will of the Spirit? Monthly meetings of actual Quakers struggle to do this well.

      At best, AFSC today is a nonprofit staffed mostly by non-Quakers who are being paid to advance and amplify the goals of Quakers for changing society and the world (this sounds odd, and it is; Chuck has also discussed AFSC’s departure from engaging Quakers in volunteer service and relief efforts, as many other denominations do, to mostly doing advocacy of radical objectives without substantial Quaker involvement at the ground level). AFSC is not organized like a monthly meeting and should not be expected to operate like one or make decisions like one.

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