In a recent speech at Independence Hall, President Biden called on Americans to stand against an assault on democracy — the ongoing assault waged by insurrectionists and would-be patriots, by election deniers and other extremists. “We are not powerless in the face of these threats,” he insisted. “We are not bystanders.”
Yet that role — bystander — is exactly the one Mr. Biden seems to have assigned himself when it comes to the Supreme Court, which is posing a more profound challenge to the American system of self-government than any violent mob has managed.
The court’s conservative justices have issued a run of rulings that make it harder for many Americans, particularly citizens of color, to vote; make it easier for partisans to grab power by distorting the shape of legislative districts; and make it nearly impossible to counter the corrupting influence of money in politics. This is only a partial list — and is, most likely, only the beginning.
In the term that starts on Oct. 3, the conservative bloc, six justices strong and feeling its oats, will decide whether an Alabama congressional map discriminates against Black voters and will consider a novel theory that state legislatures should have a free hand, unconstrained by state courts, in setting rules for federal elections.
After the court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, Mr. Biden stood in the White House and decried the decision as “the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law.” He hit the same refrain the next week, warning that an “extremist court” was “committed to moving America backwards.”
. . . While Mr. Biden promises to “build back better,” the court’s majority is a demolition crew, razing or gutting legislative landmarks — the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air Act — by means of sweeping opinions. . . . [They are ] the defining project of the court’s conservatives: to lay waste to the welfare state and the administrative state, the civil rights revolution, the underpinnings of an accountable, workable government.
In Philadelphia and on the hustings, Mr. Biden has begun to acknowledge the tribal warfare that consumes this country. Yet the Roberts court is both a product and a sponsor of that conflict, and the president should say so. He needs to “take the country to school,” as Felix Frankfurter, who would later become a Supreme Court justice himself, urged Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, when another ideologically driven court had put democracy on the docket.
. . . In a similar spirit, Mr. Biden should view adverse rulings as opportunities to deliver his own dissents — to expose the designs of majority opinions, demystify them, debunk them, show whose interests they serve and whose they do not, and provide a countervailing view of the Constitution.
A quick recap: In early January 2022, we posted a report on an attempted uprising at AFSC, led by former staffer Lucy Duncan, intended to torpedo a proposed 2021 restructuring. The restructure was meant to carry out a strategic plan adopted in October 2020, and a draft had been debated and stalled for over a year. We were told the restructure was set to be presented for final approval to the national AFSC Board in April 2022.
There was much apocalyptic talk about the restructuring scheme as portending widespread layoffs, the imposition of an iron fist top-down corporate style of governance, etc. The wringing of hands produced some long Zoom calls, and Duncan was fired.
As a delaying tactic, though, the kerfuffle succeeded: April passed with no action by the Board. We reported then that the updated target for Board consideration was its meeting scheduled for June 10-12 2022.
But the Board action was a rather small bite out of a big restructuring apple. It approved creation of a single, grandiloquently titled new executive post, that of an Associate General Secretary to head a new Division for Global Cohesion. Here’s the official ask:
A proposal for the creation of a new Global Cohesion Division [revolving around several specialized “hubs,” was to be presented] to the Board of Directors in June, as well as the framework for its leadership. We are proposing the creation of an Associate General Secretary role to head the Division for Global Cohesion. This will be the only item requiring Board approval. This proposal was developed by the Working Group on Global Collaboration – a diverse group of twenty-one staff from across the organization who have met weekly since November 2021.
The new executive will deal with the international work. The rest of the restructuring plan — involving the U.S.-based offices and programs, the bulk of AFSC’s labors and most of its staff, remains very much “under discussion.”
–We are particularly grateful to the many working groups that convened throughout winter and spring 2022, and their tireless efforts to ensure that the proposals and recommendations contained here and below reflect the best ideas from the full spectrum of staff perspectives.
–On Wednesday, June 1st, the General Secretary met with the US W[orking] G[roup] to begin exploring a path forward for continued work on the US Proposal. [T]he group looked at holding regular consultations between the USWG, General Secretary, and additional members of the Leadership Team. The central theme of the meeting was to come to agreement on next steps for discussion, so the opportunity to substantively discuss specific elements of the US restructure will occur in upcoming conversations.
— It is important that these [new] hubs not be perceived as “Philadelphia”, but be seen as global AFSC structures that are in place to give equal voice and support to all parts of the organization and to build connections/provide support across divisions. . . .
— Organizing and facilitating regular conferences, issue-based convenings, and other events (both internal and external) to enhance learning and shared impact.
— Supporting and encouraging staff and program exchanges/learning, site visits, delegations, etc. to build understanding, cross program fertilization, and shared identity.
— These hubs should be built through a participatory process led by collaborative teams of key stakeholders including program staff from across the organization, rooted in their needs and experience. At least six months should be allowed for the hub building process.
And so forth. Further, this is focused only on the international programs.
As for the U. S.-based projects, the leadership memo is very vague, except for a repeated emphasis on more discussion/consultation. Here’s one summary chart:
This chart is already outdated; the calendar of discussion is now pushed out to October, and the track record suggests it could well extend beyond that. What the 20-page outline quaintly calls the “new Strategic Plan” will be two years old by then, with most of it still waiting to be unwrapped. The initial phase of the new Global Cohesion “hub-building,” is expected to take at least “six months.” (Six months from, when?)
Will the new Associate General Secretary for Global Coherence (whose salary, by the way, is set at $135,000) be named by October? And will any revamp of the U.S. programs and structures be yet in sight? The memo is equivocal, except about the need for discussion:
— As proposal development advances, there are elements of the US structure that require more and deeper consultation, to ensure the proposal results in a truly collaborative co-design. . . .
— [Leadership supports] The creation of a US Programs Council (composed of thematic group leads, regional leadership, AGS US, US Programs Director, and representatives from OPPA, PMEL and administrative staff) that serves as a decision-making, consultative and information-sharing body focused on the integration, support and resourcing of work within the US Programs Portfolio.
— Over the next several weeks, the group will continue to refine and further develop the proposal, and begin deeper exploration and discernment around issues related to program-based (thematic) planning and budgeting, budget sustainability, roles and responsibilities of thematic and regional leadership, reporting relationships and decision making. . . .
–We recognize the importance of ensuring that essential voices are at the table to participate in decision-making. It is likely that new leadership groups and subgroups will need to be created to inform and support organizational functions. . . . Restructuring conversations are never without their difficulties, and we recognize that this process has not been easy. At the same time, we recognize this moment as one rich with opportunity . . . .
Difficulties? Which to my ears, means more plainly that any hard decisions have yet to be made. Are they any closer? Further, the restructuring “moment” described here seems to be most richly endowed with opportunities for more conversation, consultation, convenings, discernment, exploration, feedback, and yada yada, all of which equal more delay. The January uprising raised the specter that internal AFSC practices could be shaken up and maybe even –good grief — changed, and Duncan’s appeal was determined to squash that. It said
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.
So the January uprising has succeeded in delaying any actual major changes for half year, with many more months of the same on the horizon. Lucy Duncan lost her personal battle, but she and her supporters appear to be winning the war.
By contrast, one section of the June leadership memo, which seemed to ring with the voice of General Secretary Joyce Aljouny, talked turkey about money:
COSTING TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY: . . . For the past four years we have worked diligently to break the cycle of deficit spending and depleting our reserves. We have not only produced balanced budgets, but have achieved surpluses that have rebuilt our reserves to a healthy level. . . .
The Leadership Team remains committed to all of the above, and to collaboration with the Board Treasurer and the Stewardship Committee to ensure sustainability. The costs of additional positions due to restructuring will be slowly incorporated as we continue the careful budgeting process that ensures our strategic vision is implemented and programs are strengthened. . . .
As we build budgets, we are committed to implementing multi-year budgets with realistic assumptions and projections, and monitoring strategies for economic conditions, including downturns in the economy, and monitoring program, organizational and staff spending to ensure continued sustainability. . . .
Here I detect echoes of the hard years of AFSC, when it was forced into several rounds of painful layoffs, which appear to have been due in part to sloppy and improvident financial management. Maintaining such no-nonsense fiscal discipline is likely AFSC’s best chance for long-term survival. The memo even promises no layoffs, and continued COLA raises.
But while these job and pay pledges are doubtless sincere, one hopes the staff realizes they are also unavoidably contingent. For instance, however much of AFSC’s surpluses were invested in stocks, their value has likely diminished by more than 20 per cent this spring, with no end in sight to the market turmoil. Such deep declines could eventually make a hash of leadership promises to avoid layoffs or salary freezes, no matter how fervently made. Just sayin’.
Finally, two other items went almost entirely unmentioned in the 20 page leadership memo: the first was the war in Ukraine. One would not know from this 20-page document whether AFSC had even noticed that since its little uprising in January, and the subsequent marathon of internal parleys and rigmarole, the biggest war in Europe since 1945 had made refugees of 14 million Ukrainians, pushed the U. S. and Russia to the edge of nuclear confrontation, ballooned the Pentagon war budget, expanded NATO and resurrected the Cold War. The Ukraine war was referred to only in a brief passing reference to its possible impact on AFSC’s fundraising from European sources.
The other missing item was Quakerism. The Leadership Team would doubtless object, pointing out that it was indeed included in their June Memo. Yes; and here is the nub of what was said:
Finally, we are committed to bolstering AFSC’s relationship with the Quaker community explicitly in many places of this structure; but all our initiatives are encouraged to keep Quaker engagement in mind. . . .
There was a bit more to it; but placement, and the word “Finally” were giveaways: this was the very last specific item mentioned in the 17 pages of the memo’s main text; it made clear that “Quaker relations” will continue to dangle at the very bottom of the priority list, tucked into AFSC’s work for “Advancement,” which deals with promotion and fundraising. That may sound like “engagement” to the authors; but it looks like more empty hype from outside.
Indeed, much the same can be said of this whole interminable restructuring enterprise. What difference will it make to the world? What difference will it make to actual Quakers? My answer: very little.
In fact, those are questions on which there’s very little interest remaining for even superficial discussion/consultation/feedback, etc.
Washington Post: Ukraine is running out of ammunition as prospects dim on the battlefield
Hopes that Ukraine will be able to reverse Russian gains are fading in the face of superior firepower
By Siobhán O’Grady, Liz Sly and Ievgeniia Sivorka
June 10, 2022 – ET SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The euphoria that accompanied Ukraine’s unforeseen early victories against bumbling Russian troops is fading as Moscow adapts its tactics, recovers its stride and asserts its overwhelming firepower against heavily outgunned Ukrainian forces.
Newly promised Western weapons systems are arriving, but too slowly and in insufficient quantities to prevent incremental but inexorable Russian gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, which is now the focus of the fight.
The Ukrainians are still fighting back, but they are running out of ammunition and suffering casualties at a far higher rate than in the initial stages of the war. Around 200 Ukrainian soldiers are now being killed every day, up from 100 late last month, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC on Friday — meaning that as many as 1,000 Ukrainians are being taken out of the fight every day, including those who are injured.
The Russians are still making mistakes and are also losing men and equipment, albeit at a lesser rate than in the first months of the conflict. In one sign that they are suffering equipment shortages, they have been seen on videos posted on social media hauling hundreds of mothballed, Soviet-era T-62 tanks out of storage to be sent to Ukraine.
But the overall trajectory of the war has unmistakably shifted away from one of unexpectedly dismal Russian failures and tilted in favor of Russia as the demonstrably stronger force.
Ukrainian and U.S. hopes that the new supplies of Western weaponry would enable Ukraine to regain the initiative and eventually retake the estimated 20 percent of Ukrainian territory captured by Russia since its Feb. 24 invasion are starting to look premature, said Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian government on defense and intelligence issues. Continue reading Ukraine, War Notes: The End of Euphoria, A Shift in The Odds→
Writing Quaker history & theology is not exactly the road to fame and fortune.
But a few still take it, and among those of the passing generation, one that I most admire is Douglas Gwyn, who is always Doug to me.
One reason for admiration is that Doug has produced some outstanding work. My favorite is his book, Personality and Place, which I consider his masterpiece (and reviewed at length here).
He calls the book a “theological history” of Pendle Hill, the Quaker center near Philadelphia which has been a main crossroads and watering hole for Friends for nearly a century.
In a style that is always gentle but nonetheless relentless, he charts Pendle Hill’s evolution/devolution from being (as the first sign at its entrance declared) “A Center for Religious and Social Study”, to serving as what a recent board member sadly decried as “a navel observatory.”Gwyn convincingly shows how Pendle Hill’s trajectory mirrors and illuminates a “modern” and “liberal” Quakerism sliding largely into decadent, self-absorbed conformity and irrelevance.
But important as his written work is, book reviews are not our subject here. I want instead to pay tribute to Doug’s other “career,” that of a singer/songwriter,which he has pursued for almost as long as his scholarship. Maybe longer, since he retired from theology in 2017, and is still busy with music five years later.
Doug hasn’t pursued music-making for money, except for an early stint managing a blues-oriented coffee house called “The Morgue” on the Indiana University campus, and selling the odd cassette. He began writing songs in the late 1970s, and has often performed, but mostly for coffee house-sized groups at Pendle Hill or other such venues. As he explains, he’s done most of his recording himself:
My first attempt at multi-track recording was during the summer of 1999 at Pendle Hill. My friends, Peter and Annie Blood-Patterson, well known folk singers and producers of the Rise up Singing songbook, lent me their four-track recorder and effects box. I spent hot summer nights with the windows closed (to keep out the roar of crickets and katydids) and the loud air conditioner turned off, sweating profusely as I learned how to overdub harmonies and vocal sound effects along with my faltering guitar and singing. The recording persona “The Brothers Doug” came out of that experience.
And several albums later, he’s made his music available to the world, on a dedicated website: https://brothersdoug.me/free to listen to and download. On the site he’s included (by my count) 103 songs, and he’s ditched their copyrights for what he calls “commonrights,” making them part of the general wealth of untrammeled creativity.
Many of his early songs had Quaker references, often satirical and sometimes trenchant, such as “A Process In the Wind,” “That of Odd in Everyone,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, as in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”
One of his sharpest Quaker satires was “Pendle Hill Revisited.” In a way it prefigures in compressed rhymes his book “Personality & Place”. (BTW, the tune here is that of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:
Bill woke up and said to his wife, honey, I’ve got to change my life! Where can I find that higher path, with courses that don’t require math?” His wife said, “Let me think for a minute, Bill– one thing will help (if anything will), try spending a term at Pendle Hill!
Bill enrolled and had the time of his life, He finally got round to calling his wife: He said, “My dear, I’ve found myself, It’s drying now on the pottery shelf.” His wife said, “I’m so glad for you, Bill, Come home for Christmas and review your will, Then spend another term at Pendle Hill!
Next thing he knew, the year was up, Joy overflowed sweet William’s cup. He said, “I’ve got to stay somehow, I’m on a roll, I can’t stop now . . . .” [So yes, you guessed it, our old Friend Bill Spent the rest of his career at Pendle Hill . . .] Bill’s last years were in managed care, Still trying to learn that centering prayer, Till death took Bill out on a date, And he met St. Peter at the pearly gates.
St. Peter said, “Should I let you in, Bill?” Bill said, “Hell, do what you will, I’d rather be at Pendle Hill!”
And on moonless nights you’ll find him still, Along the path at Pendle Hill.”
Many of Doug’s newer songs are more philosophical than theological, though the distinction is often fuzzy. Not a few have an apocalyptic cast, “The Other Shoe”:
Well we all know that the climate is changing, If we care to admit it or not, We take positions on the same condition, But we all know what we’ve got.
We all know something’s got to give, Oh, yes we do, But Who? And Why? And What? While we wait, for the Other Shoe– To drop . . . .
This near-term gloomy outlook fits his scholarly background (Doug’s dissertation, which became his first book, Apocalypse of the Word, published in 1986). They also have increasing echoes in the social, environmental & political currents of our era.
One I like that straddles the line is “FAQ,” which consists entirely of questions:
FAQ October 2018
How did we get here? How soon can I go? Are you for real? How would I know? Where did that come from? What’s your excuse? Is it just me? What’s there to lose? Refrain: FAQ, frequently asked questions, FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .
Where is the restroom? How much is enough? How will the end come? Which end is up? Does he still love me? How much does it cost? Why did she do that? Could we be lost? FAQ, frequently asked questions, FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .”
But one question that he has answered with glee involves letting go of a lot of what he grappled with for so long, and his song about it brings a smile to the faces of many who are, or are nearing, a certain age:
Well, I’ve been hired, and I’ve been fired, I’ve jumped through every hoop required, Til my sell-by date expired,
And now My very soul is tired.
So I’m putting on that cardigan sweater, And I’m already feeling better — Baby, I’m retired!” (He’s retired, baby.)
On the website, there are 103 songs, including twelve written just last year.
Now, giving away your music resembles doing Quaker theology in one respect, namely that it’s not a road to riches either.
But Doug is already a wealthy man in a lot of other ways, if you ask me: several good books, a quiet life in Social Security simplicity, in his home state, and with access to low-cost technology that makes both his writing and music widely accessible, for those who seek it out, and many more should.
And this is not the first time Doug has shown that, contrary to popular wisdom, there can be a free lunch, at least intellectually/spiritually.
On Christmas 2015, with a little assistance from this blog, Doug posted an entire book, Words In Time, including many of his best essays on Quakerism and its discontents, as an absolutely free download.
You do NOT sign in. You do NOT pay. (Not now. Not ever.) You do NOT leave your name or email address.
(And since we won’t have your name or email, we won’t sell it or trade it or send you stuff or do anything else with it. Because –did we mention? — we won’t have it.)
Here are the pieces you’ll find in this book. Most are otherwise very hard to find:
Part I: Covenant
1. The Covenant of Light 2. Renewing Our Covenant: Can Our Branches Be Olive Branches? 3. Sense and Sensibilities: Quaker Bispirituality Today 4. The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism 5. Can’t See the Covenant for the Contracts
Part II: Seed
6. The Seed: The Power of God Among Us 7. “Sink Down to the Seed”: Going Deeper in Quaker Life and Witness 8. The Seed: Captivity and Liberation
Doug said about Words In Time, when it was first published: This book is a collection of short pieces, most of which have appeared in print elsewhere. They cover a nine-year period, 1988-97. I chose the title Words in Time because several of the pieces were written for particular occasions, and address specific dilemmas facing Friends at the time. As such, these keynotes and essays are somewhat time-bound and situation-specific. For example, “The Covenant of Light” addressed Friends United Meeting shortly before the “Realignment” controversy erupted at the end of 1990. But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.
[Thee Can Say THAT Again! Okay, he will: But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.] Doug continued: All the pieces in this collection attempt to place current Quaker struggles within a larger context. The rootstock of our Quaker tradition, in its unique expression of the ancient Hebrew- Christian faith, can provide important perspective on today’s dilemmas. In particular, two themes encompass this collection: covenant and seed.
One more song i want to mention, which is in the collection: Here’s the concluding verse:
Yonder stand those Quakers on the far side of the back of beyond misfit mystics, a boil on the bum of Babylon they’re too few to make much difference too peaceful to break many laws an endangered species of spiritual life practiced in the art of lost cause.
Yonder stand those Quakers singing “We Shall Overcome”; yonder stand those Quakers
God help those poor fools carry on God help those poor fools carry on
“The irony here,” Doug says, “is that the song adopts the perspective of someone in the cultural mainstream, pondering Friends from the outside. We Quakers sometimes forget how odd we can seem to others . . . In spite of the song’s cynical tone, the bemused observer still affirms, “God help those poor fools carry on.”
Doug’s music, like much of his writing, also energizes me. And theological Quaker folksongs?
Why not? Better than a lot of the field’s product.
Having read and pondered the lengthy memo from General Secretary Joyce Aljouny laying out the plans for the latest AFSC Restructure, I think I’ve figured out what’s going on there.
It has little to do with the current effort to stoke a staff rebellion, so we’ll deal with that only in passing. Its roots, I think, go back years before, fourteen in fact, to January 27, 2007, which is better remembered as, “The Day The Movement Died.”
I remember that day well, because I was there too.
Before dawn that morning I helped fill a bus in Fayetteville, North Carolina, headed north on I-95. We got off the bus near the Mall in Washington, and joined a big antiwar rally.
How big? One estimate said 500,000, another sniffed it was merely “thousands.” I don’t know, but it was big. There were banners and flags and speeches and music and all that. It was aimed at building pressure on Congress, newly taken over by Democrats, to stop the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The umbrella sponsor for the rally was, as noted by the Washington Post: “United for Peace and Justice, which describes itself as a coalition of 1,400 local and national organizations. Among them are the National Organization for Women, United Church of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee, True Majority, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Farms Not Arms, CODEPINK, MoveOn.org and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
While AFSC was third among the groups listed above, it was among the top in UFPJ by internal weight. It had staff; it had money; it had a web of ten regional offices and thousands of contacts; and it carried an air of respectability which had been ratified by a Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
While not large as Washington lobbies went, AFSC’s activist clout dwarfed that of most of the peace groups on the UFPJ roster. Further, AFSC had held this unofficial but key position for decades, ever since the national “peace movement” surged out of the civil rights struggles and onto the streets of Washington and New York in 1965, during the escalation of the Vietnam War, and then spread across the country.
Spirits were high that January 2007 rally day. Hopes also. Former U. S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle told a reporter at the rally, “Its primary value is that it keeps up the pressure. There is a sense that by summer, a march like this will be two or three times as large.”
Our Fayetteville busload was hopeful too. In fact, we were planning to quickly ratchet up the pressure from our little base in flyover country, with a follow-up rally seven weeks hence, on the doleful anniversary of the Iraq invasion. Continue reading AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died”→