Category Archives: Fire This Time

Rename the Pettus Bridge? I’m in no hurry.

[NOTE: See also this UPDATE to this post, here.}
I feel torn about renaming the Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. On the one hand, Pettus was all those odious things: traitor, KKK leader, etc., etc.

On the other hand, John Lewis & many others shed their blood under that sign, and seared its letters onto the conscience of the world. They made it  a sacred place of pilgrimage on the long road to justice.

History is like that: sometimes ironic, paradoxical— thank God.

So I say leave it be, as a sign that sometimes much unexpected good can come out of much unrequited evil.

Whenever I imagine how Pettus would react to the Bridge’s renown among those who rolled back the slavery & oppression he upheld, it brings a smile that’s rare in these haunted days. 

I know the decision will be made by others, mostly younger. But I still carry my memories of standing with Lewis and others when the “Bloody Sunday” March was announced, then crossing the Pettus bridge behind Lewis, more than once. (I was lucky; the clubs & gas were in abeyance for these treks; but the armed federal troops guarding us were very real.)

1965, Selma: John Lewis, left, in a tie: me, right rear.

It’s something to study & debate peaceably. There are many other places & memorials that could be named for John Lewis. Yet things change. I’ll accept the verdict. There are bigger fish to fry.

The grave of Edmund Pettus, Live Oak Cemetery, Selma. My photo.

 

SAYMA Representative Meeting: Summary & Comment

I. Summary

SAYMA’s Representative Meeting gathered on Zoom the evening of July 20, and lasted amost four hours. More than forty persons were on the line. It was not an easy session.

The main agenda items were a summary review of the 2019-2020 budget, and the initial reading of the 2020-2021 proposed budget (their fiscal year begins in October). SAYMA budgets are typically presented at one business session (usually at their yearly meeting, canceled for 2020), then acted on by a later  session.

While the budget was the stated main item, the elephant in the room was the URJ Committee and its Clerk, Sharon Smith, and her demand for $20,000 of SAYMA’s funds for next year. This “elephant” appeared in comments about how URJ’s reporting on how it spent funds granted this past year lacked adequate accountability and raised “integrity issues” for the body. Indeed, these concerns are broadly shared enough that some meetings (e.g., Celo and Chattanooga, here)  and individuals have called for an end to any funding for URJ and its replacement after careful and searching SAYMA-wide discernment.

So the elephant made itself known frequently, but without any clear resolution.

The proposed budget includes a $2500 allocation for URJ, quite a comedown from Smith’s $20,000 demand, but still $2500 more than than some preferred. That figure was not discussed, however.

What was discussed, at length, was a proposal not in the budget, but put forth by the new Finance Committee Clerk, Geeta McGahey.
McGahey wanted to add $500 as initial funding for a new Committee on “Conflict Transformation,” which would hire a facilitator from the Friends Center for Racial Justice, a project based in Ithaca, New York. The new Committee, she explained, would begin consultations in SAYMA aimed at “transforming” the ongoing conflict over URJ and Smith.

The proposal evoked strong pushback.

Continue reading SAYMA Representative Meeting: Summary & Comment

Exclusive: The SAYMA Enemies List; and Two More Minutes

The internet is a mystifying thing: emails can go round and round, and some end up in my inbox that have been many other places on their electronic journey.

One such came yesterday, and it is germane to the current issues roiling SAYMA (Southern Appalachian yearly Meeting & Association). It is no less than the Enemies List of Sharon Smith, the self-styled uber-anti-racist activist and Indian elder/matriarch, whose demand for $20,000 of SAYMA’s funds (& $10,000 per year thereafter indefinitely) will come  before the group’s representative meeting this evening.

Of course, it is not titled as an “Enemies List. ” The email was originally sent to the Friends Center for Racial Justice, a relatively new project based in Ithaca new York. But Smith does say explicitly that the above list are those known to be upholding white supremacy, causing the most harm to Friends of color, particularly URJ members, through their leadership roles in SAYMA . . .”

The  names are below. I’ll point out here that for a Quaker body, it’s a pretty weighty lot. It includes

>> A former YM Clerk, the current YM Clerk, and the incoming YM Clerk;

>> The former Clerk of its Finance Committee, and the Committee’s incoming Clerk; the Clerk of its Ministry & Nurture Committee; a distinguished Quaker historian; an experienced CPA; and

>> A founding member of SAYMA, and at least one who has been arrested in civil rights protests.

It’s also worth noting that they are scattered from Asheville to Memphis, and are hardly a homogeneous, well-oiled machine. What they do have in common is the temerity to have questioned, or even opposed, Smith’s demands for money and control.

And so, these are the “white supremacists” who she identifies as obstructing her path to a SAYMA sinecure, and she wants them out. Note that her “list” of “Root Causes” actually specifies only one: “White supremacy/racism among Friends.” That is the only basis she has been known to recognize for pushback against her plans and demands. She has also stated in other emails that she intends to block the nominations of those on the list who are incoming officers.

If  she were to achieve her organizational and financial goals, the apprehensions about a schism, or at least a major purge, in SAYMA would be all but realized.

One might think that, as Smith is neither a member of SAYMA nor of any other Friends meeting, such a cleansing might be difficult. But in fact Smith has already driven away numerous former SAYMA stalwarts, so she is not to be underestimated.

Here is the list, with her intro, unedited: Continue reading Exclusive: The SAYMA Enemies List; and Two More Minutes

SAYMA and Smith: “Judging the Fruits” by Their Own Words

In yesterday’s post, we revisited a letter from the late Friend Alan Robinson on making some sense of the controversy over SAYMA paying Sharon Smith for her “ministry” on racism among Quakers. He proposed applying the test in Jesus’ parable (in Luke 6:43-45) about judging trees by their fruits.

One of the “trees” targeted by Smith in her harangues about SAYMA was the plan by some of its meetings to host a workshop on Native American concerns. Smith denounced the idea and the invited group in lurid terms. The sponsors later replied. This correspondence circulated on the net and is brought together and excerpted here as a case study for judging these “trees” and their fruits.

The operative query they can help readers weigh is: should SAYMA be paying for this behavior? That’s on on the agenda for the representative session on July 20.

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:46 AM Sharon Smith fired the first rhetorical shot:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch. . . .

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down. . . .

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.


There was soon a response circulated from one of the local planners, Friend Maggie O’Neill: Continue reading SAYMA and Smith: “Judging the Fruits” by Their Own Words

SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed and reported on the breakup of five U.S. Yearly Meetings.

This “assignment” was at best unpleasant, and often disheartening. After the fifth schism, I had hoped the ugly epidemic was over.

Graphic by Doug Gwyn

But now there’s a possible Number Six. A showdown for it is coming on July 20.

The previous five were all pastoral-evangelical YMs, and the matter of welcoming/affirming LGBT persons was the tripwire issue in most. But there were others too: the place and work of Jesus; interpretation and authority of the Bible; church governance (more plainly, who’s the boss), etc.

It’s early for grand interpretations, but in my view, what I refer to as the Separation Generation looks to be as extensive and consequential as that of the Hicksites-Orthodox fracture in 1827.

Deepening that sense is the fact that, after a two-year lull, it turns out the schisms may not be over. Continue reading SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Goya is Hearing from its customers. But is it getting the message?

A Brief Editorial: Mr. Bob Unanue, president of Goya Foods, doesn’t quite get it.

He’s catching hell since visiting the White House and fawning over the president, talking about how we are “blessed” that his mainly Latino customers have a president who built his political rise on denigrating them in so many ways: building walls, caging children, and much more. Continue reading Goya is Hearing from its customers. But is it getting the message?

Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming

This Washington Post  article, “Trump pushes schools to open in the fall, downplaying risks as virus spreads,” in my view seriously understates the convergence of tensions rapidly approaching panic among many of the stakeholders involved:

> depression-strapped school districts lackIng funds to pay teachers;
> legions of teachers are angry & resistant about facing life-threatening classroom conditions of chronic exposure;
> many parents feel the same anxiety for their children;
> teachers & parents of color fear they & theirs will be left in the lurch, again.
> Congress is out to lunch almost continuously through Labor Day, then will quickly be off campaigning til past Halloween . . .

Washington Post: “Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing.
On Monday, Florida fell in line with the Trump approach, though coronavirus cases in the state are rising. Florida’s top school official ordered all schools in the state to reopen buildings for in-person instruction this fall. Hybrid models, as many Florida districts have proposed, are allowed, but schools must offer full-time instruction five days a week for families who want it.”
“Parents have to get back to the factory. They’ve got to get back to the job site. They have to get back to the office. And part of that is their kids, knowing their kids are taken care of,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.. . .

“We cannot simply focus on virus containment at the expense of everything else,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS.

Betsy Devos

The confidence projected from the White House stood in contrast with the angst in many local districts working to develop plans for the fall. Most big cities and many others are developing hybrid models that alternate days in the building and days at home to minimize the number of students present at any given time.
Those models are being developed in part to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends “enhanced social distancing” in buildings. For instance, the CDC recommends that desks be placed at least six feet apart, something that might not be possible if all students are on site.
Administration officials did not address these hybrid plans directly, though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that schools “must fully reopen and fully operate this school year.”. . .

Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing .. . . “

Continue reading Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

7

So– the City of Charleston wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously this week to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, of a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?

Just read a very striking piece by E. J. Dickson in Rolling Stone. It says the “Cancel  Cops Crusade,” in order to root out systemic police racism, killings & impunity,  also has to take down the media images of the police. Even — especially– those of the “good cop.”

Why?  because the problem isn’t “bad apples” but rotten trees — in fact, a national forest of 18000 rotten orchards.

To get to the core of the rot, this media dethroning, Dickson argues, has to include even the very best of the media good cops, including the clear favorite of the author and so many progressive TV viewers.

That would be Officer Olivia Benson (played so persuasively by Mariska Hargitay) the main character in “Law & Order-SVU.”  In this role she has fought the good fight against every kind of sex offender one could think of for 21 seasons.

An anguished sidebar here: in February 2000, SVU ran an episode called “Limitations,” much of which centered on Quakers. In it they  had to confront issues of forgiveness, defying the law because of conscience, and having a Quaker rape victim pay dues for her victimizer with no remedy in sight. Continue reading Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?

Removing the Statue of John C. Calhoun will be easy. Banishing his Ghost will not.

For Juneteenth, I should be completely pleased with the news that the City Council in Charleston SC will be doing its best to dethrone a statue of John C. Calhoun.

The plan was announced in connection with the fifth anniversary of the horrible mass killing of nine black worshippers at the city’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. Its projected deconstruction is part of the swell of collective revulsion after the George Floyd killing that is felling one Confederate monument after another. The removal would also defy a state law protecting such monuments.

[Update: on June 23, The Charleston City Council voted 13-0 to remove the statue. The council said the statue will be preserved in “an appropriate site where it will be protected and preserved,” at an as yet undisclosed location. They did not set a specific date for the removal.]

Maybe here is  where my hesitation is triggered: not over civil disobedience against such a statute; but starting with the seemingly technical point that Calhoun was not a Confederate leader, or even a Civil War figure: he died in 1850, eleven years before hostilities started.

(Once the war began, the rebel government sought to enshrine his iconic status by adding Calhoun’s visage to the Confederate $100 bill {at lower left}. When that plan didn’t work out so well, the Defenders of the Lost Cause turned to more durable monuments.)

The fact that Calhoun was a pre-war actor is not a reason  to leave his monument alone. But it does raise the questions of why it’s there, and why it’s so “monumental” — 115 feet high, and officially venerated since its erection in 1896. As an ode to Calhoun by a local poet, Miss E. B. Cheesborough, crowed,

Float it above the city’s spires,
And o’er the bay’s blue tide,
Tell how he battled for the South,
And battling thus—he died. . . . Continue reading Removing the Statue of John C. Calhoun will be easy. Banishing his Ghost will not.