A dispatch from Quaker flyover country.
Let’s see now: I’ve been in North Carolina for twenty years. Twelve years ago, in 2010, the state government was taken over by a rightwing party that was a militant forerunner of today’s authoritarian MAGA movement.
In the 12 years since then, Carolinians of more progressive views and values have had to struggle and push back against constant assaults on (a partial list) voting, women’s full rights, poor Blacks, whites & Hispanics, the stifling of Medicaid expansion, green lights for major, deadly polluters, hostility to immigrants, degradation of public schools and colleges, entrenched anti-union laws, undermining the integrity of teachers, and much more.
There have been high points of open resistance: we mostly beat back a viciously anti-trans “bathroom bill”; enough non-extreme candidates fought their way into the legislature so our moderate governor’s vetoes of the worst bills can mostly be upheld.
We’ve also seen some memorable public protests: many big marches and rallies were mounted against transphobia, Confederate monuments and voter suppression: the “Moral Mondays” campaign of 2013 saw nearly a thousand citizens arrested in disciplined nonviolent civil disobedience against voter suppression (and one among them was me).
The issues have also been skillfully taken to the courts, and we were making some progress until COVID and the radicalization of the Supreme Court in the past year. As I write, vigorous political campaigns are underway all across the 100 counties as the midterm elections draw nearer.
North Carolina is distinctive in another way: it has lots of Quakers. Current numbers are only estimates, but it wasn’t long ago when there were more Friends here than in Pennsylvania. Really.
None of these current troubles, by the way, came from Philadelphia, and none of the struggles is near over, and we could use all the real help we can get, from wherever.
But then why, when I read the (repeated copies) of the “Urgent Call” letter that have arrived (Click here for the full text), was my first reaction an eye-roll, followed by embarrassment, then some serious annoyance?
One reason was clear right away: just whom did the authors of this screed of Phillysplaining think they were writing to? As here:
“In this country, in 2020, we witnessed an attempted coup. The January 6 assault on the Capitol was a deliberate, violent attempt to prevent Joe Biden — the clear winner of the 2020 election — from taking office and keeping then-president Donald Trump in power. To maintain that the last election was riddled with fraud is demonstrably false.”
Really? Do y’all feel a need to tell us about January 6? I mean, really? Do you think we’re all still stuck in a 30-month unending total masked-up, shades drawn pandemic lockdown? Or maybe we’re so preoccupied with finding new ways for cooking grits, or frying up pork rinds, we didn’t notice?
“Jed — hey, Jed!”
“Did you know there was a coop in Washn’ton??”
“A coop. Sez here this Trump fella said Biden stole the ‘lection race!”
“A race, Andy? Is this another one o’ your NASCAR stories?”
Or something. But just where do some people get the notion that as summer began in 2022, we outside the Delaware Valley needed to be informed about the coup? And, after these twelve years, we also need to have the January 6 “threats to our democracy” explained to us?
Can anybody up there spell “condescend”? Do they know that “patronize” rhymes with “open your eyes”?
Then I scanned the suggestions for “action,” which brought on the embarrassment.
Such as urging “Quaker meetings and organizations to issue public statements calling out lies and the purveyors of lies, all in the context of our understanding of love, equality, and justice for all.”
“Hey, Jed, it sez we oughta “issue public state-ments” against a bunch of bad stuff.”
“Look, Andy, idn’t that what we call minutes?
“Oh. Ya think so? Hey, don’t we do them minutes ev’ry month, to bizness meetin’?”
“I reckon. Thy all do, roun’ here. But then, Philly is a long ways off. Maybe they ain’t figgered how to do that up there yet.”
And then, that we “Speak, write, and protest in support for full equality of all people in American society, whatever their racial or sexual identity, gender, or class.”
Well, bless your hearts; we had no earthly idea.
Oh yes, we did.
In Carolina, some might be surprised to know, Quakers were doing that more than 250 years ago. Not perfectly, by modern notions, but at their peril, and for the long haul. Lots of Quakers got run out of the state for their efforts. But I suppose all that’s fixed in Philly, so they’re qualified to instruct us bumpkins down here.
“Jed, is that like when Ron from the meetin’ went & told the county commissioners to take down that rebel statue outside the courthouse next door?”
“Ya think? But heck, Andy, they didn’t pay no ‘tention. Then he went out with protestors and got a dose of tear gas fer his trouble. Who was that group again?”
“Lemme think. Oh yeah, it was, uh, the Black Lives Matter. I b’leeve he was one o’ the only white people in it that day.”
“Lucky he didn’t get throwed in jail.”
“Yeah, that sheriff puts the ME back into MEAN.” [Based on real Quaker witness.]
Then the letter drops another surprise innovation, for us to do or join voter registration drives! Wow; another bit of unneeded patronizing, for a state that, in the face of all the voter suppression, saw record turnout in 2020.
Which is to say, all this email’s Phillysplaining reads as useless and even inane here. Which is too bad, because it ignores the way in which these “urgent callers” could really help.
How’s that, Andy?
Well, here I get to do a bit of Carolinasplaining:
Among the email’s list of mostly Philadelphians, many are former top managers or development staff for Quaker-related organizations — AFSC, FGC, FCNL, FWCC and so on.
Now, as persons, y’all are a diverse group. But such managers in my experience have at least one crucial skill in common, namely (wait for it) . . . raising money.
Top nonprofit executives think and do fundraising every day; and if they don’t get it done, they’re not around long.
So as political advisers, this group would clearly make much better . . . fundraisers.
And that’s what this Carolina Quaker advises y’all to do: come to the big Zoom calls with a plan to raise a boatload of money, to facilitate the preparations among Friends and meetings. I’m talking about preparations for more than the coming elections, too.
In fact, I hope most of all they’ll gather support for coping with the election’s aftermath and fallout.
Keep in mind that the electoral machinery is already clicking full-tilt here, as the volume of campaign calls, emails and texts clogging up my phone & inbox every day testifies. (I expect the same is happening even in Philadelphia.) Further, Friends are a small, scattered, and independent-minded group, likely to be active in many places and many ways, but unlikely to act as a coordinated political operation.
So in my view, the time for Friends to really “get organized,” if that’s practical, will come afterward. I think this will be especially true if the elections go badly; but it would still apply even if they turn out great.
That’s because the fact is, Friends have had a lot of experience in dealing with authoritarian, oppressive governments. (Click here for a recent collection of studies of Quaker resistance; online, free.)
This is especially true of Friends in the South, who for 150 years before the Civil War lived in & struggled with dead-serious slave-owning state authorities; then for almost a century after the Civil War they lived under a regime of distinctly American racialized fascism (assimilated to a lot of it, too, and have largely avoided remembering and coming to terms with it).
Since then, South and North, for the most part we’ve been immured in the cozy and pampered classes. So if our condition is to be downgraded by the rise of authoritarian forces, it will take serious study and engagement with this largely forgotten history and its insights to learn how to survive and cope with the change and its impact.
I’m mindful as I write this that for persons of color in the South, the period of formal post-bellum disfranchisement, backed up by terror, lasted at least sixty five years — three generations — before it was pushed back for two more by the witness and courage of Black citizens and martyrs like Dr. King.
Now the wheel of fate is turning again, in many ways rolling backward, and I see no reason to think our wounded culture will be set right in one or two elections more.
So this is where the experienced fundraisers who populate the Urgent Call signers list could do their best real service, not Phillysplaining stuff that <ahem> many or most of us in flyover country already know (and in some ways — dare I say it? — maybe know even better than many in the Delaware Valley). Instead, be ready to deploy the special resources you all have mastered to assemble support for a Quaker relaunch into long-term resistance.
So I hope your big calls go well, and way opens for future service.
PS. For your big calls, one more thing. Above all, steadfastly resist any urge to tell us to write to Congress. Especially from present or former executives of national groups, that’s a sure sign of being completely out of touch.
PPS. One other thing. The “urgent call” letter was addressed to, and sorta speaks for, the “Religious Society of Friends.” But in a whole lot of flyover states, that is mostly not the real audience for it. In fact, here in Carolina, most of the places of worship with “Friends” in their names are built among, and populated overwhelmingly by, people who voted in favor of the coup planners and supporters, and their predecessors. Here in Carolina, most “Friends”are in counties who voted that way by three to one margins, and have done so several times.
So another bit of Carolinasplaining is in order here; your “Urgent Call” letter is actually addressed not to “The Religious Society of Friends,” but to the politically “liberal” subset thereof, which is very much smaller. This constituency is confined mainly to the Delaware Valley, a handful of Northeastern and other large cities, and then mostly quite insular college communities elsewhere (this too-true two-minute satire shows what I mean), plus a scattering of renegades in and (soon-to-be) expats from pastoral and evangelical groups.
Your appeal will have much more authenticity and credibility if you adjust it to this perhaps unwelcome, but inescapable reality.