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:
- Power: Who will run AFSC?
- Jobs: Will “restructure” mean staff and program cuts? And, not least,
- Money: who will control its distribution?
The two sets of answers, in brief, appear to be:
From the “Leadership Team” (aka LT):
- Power? To the LT.
- Jobs/program cuts? Likely; maybe lots.
- Money control? The LT.
From the dissidents:
Power? To the staff (or rather, the staff favored by the dissidents). Out Now! with the LT & its plan.
Job/program cuts? Not just no, but Heck No. Instead, more hires and projects at the “bottom,” in field and project offices.
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
AFSC Restructuring Plan (Draft of April 16, 2021) — posted: January 3, 2022
AFSC & The Hammer: Duncan Fired — posted:
January 5, 2022
AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died” — posted:
January 13, 2022